Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Wal-Mart Killed At Least 400,000 Jobs In A Dozen Years, While The Waltons Got Richer

January 22nd, 2016 | Jonathan Tasini

If you want to know why a political revolution is necessary (and why the status quo’s most intellectually fraudulent campaign in recent Democratic primaries is such a threat to working people), you need only check out this new report from our friends at the Economic Policy Institute. Wal-Mart (that would be the board the status quo candidate sat on without uttering a peep while millions of women were discriminated against and the Waltons pursued their middle-class killing business plan) essentially obliterated, conservatively, 400,000 jobs in a decade or so.

Here’s how:

This paper updates earlier work (Scott 2007) to provide a conservative estimate of how many jobs have likely been displaced by Chinese imports entering the country through Wal-Mart:

  • Chinese imports entering through Wal-Mart in 2013 likely totaled at least $49.1 billion and the combined effect of imports from and exports to China conducted through Wal-Mart likely accounted for 15.3 percent of the growth of the total U.S. goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013.

  • The Wal-Mart-based trade deficit with China alone eliminated or displaced over 400,000 U.S. jobs between 2001 and 2013.

  • The manufacturing sector and its workers have been hardest hit by the growth of Wal-Mart’s imports. Wal-Mart’s increased trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013 eliminated 314,500 manufacturing jobs, 75.7 percent of the jobs lost from Wal-Mart’s trade deficit. These job losses are particularly destructive because jobs in the manufacturing sector pay higher wages and provide better benefits than most other industries, especially for workers with less than a college education.

  • Wal-Mart has announced plans to create opportunities for American manufacturing by “investing in American jobs.” To date, very few actual U.S. jobs have been created by this program, and since 2001, the growing Wal-Mart trade deficit with China has displaced more than 100 U.S. jobs for every actual or promised job created through this program.

China has achieved its rapidly growing trade surpluses by manipulating its currency: it invests hundreds of billions of dollars per year in U.S. Treasury bills, other government securities, and private foreign assets to bid up the value of the dollar and other currencies and thereby lower the cost of its exports to the United States and other countries. China has also repressed the labor rights of its workers and suppressed their wages, making its products artificially cheap and further subsidizing its exports. Wal-Mart has aided China’s abuse of labor rights and its violations of internationally recognized norms of fair trade by providing a vast and ever-expanding conduit for the distribution of artificially cheap and subsidized Chinese exports to the United States. [emphasis added]

And:

Since Wal-Mart’s exports to China were negligible, the rapid growth of its imports had a proportionately bigger impact on the U.S. trade deficit and job losses than overall U.S. trade flows with China (since the rest of U.S. trade with China does include significant U.S. exports to that country). On average, each of the 4,835 stores Wal-Mart operated in the United States in fiscal 2014 (Wal-Mart Stores Inc. 2014) was responsible for the loss of about 86 U.S. jobs due to the growth of Wal-Mart’s trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013.

So, if for some reason, you shop at Wal-Mart, think about each of those workers whose job you helped eliminate by supporting this scar on the economy. While middle-class jobs disappear and people become even more impoverished, forcing them to shop at Wal-Mart, the Waltons became the richest family in the country, with $149 billion in wealth for six people.

Be my guest: continue to believe the fraudulent rhetoric coming from the status quo. Continue to live in a dream world and ignore the reality, and the record, continue to embrace the most amazing individual cognitive dissonance imaginable and fawn over a fraud in complete ignorance of the facts laid out.

And, then, don’t be surprised and weep when Wal-Mart grows, poverty widens and nothing changes.

This blog originally appeared in workinglife.org on December 22, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Jonathan Tasini is the president of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.  Hiss goal is to find the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. He is also publisher/editor of Working Life.

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Obama administration cracking down on bosses who use temp workers to dodge labor laws

January 21st, 2016 | Laura Clawson

Businesses don’t just use temp staffing agencies to add workers for short periods when they need extra hands. Staffing agencies can also serve the valuable (to crappy employers) purpose of dodging responsibility. “That person may work in our business on our terms, but the staffing agency is their employer, so we’re not responsible for violating labor laws to exploit them,” is how the dodge basically goes. Now, the Department of Labor is taking steps against that, issuing guidelines on when the company using the staffing agency to hire temp workers should be considered a joint employer that’s responsible for the people working in its facilities.

“I think the majority of noncompliance that we see is people just not getting what the law is, and what their responsibilities are under it,” [Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division director David] Weil said in an interview. “We also find cases of people who are clearly playing games, and clearly trying to shift out responsibility, and often have structured things in a way that lead towards more noncompliance.”

Weil’s division has stepped up its proactive enforcement of situations where companies are functionally controlling the workers they order up from labor providers — and broadcasts its enforcement of egregious violations. Back in October, for example, investigators found that temp workers at a snack food producer in New Jersey were cheated out of overtime wages, and ordered the company to pay back wages, damages, and civil penalties.

That’s the most typical form of joint employment — a “vertical” arrangement, with one company hiring another, as the guidance describes. But joint employment can also be “horizontal,” when a worker might employed by two subsidiaries of the same company, but they never get overtime because their hours are tracked separately.

Business groups and congressional Republicans are predictably pissed that the Obama administration would have the nerve to suggest that employers follow the law, with House Republicans pointing out that the Department of Labor talked to the National Labor Relations Board, which is also cracking down on joint employer issues.

Low-road businesses have found a lot of ways around laws protecting workers, from these joint employer dodges to misclassifying workers as independent contractors to deny them minimum wage and overtime protections, unemployment insurance, and more. And every time the Obama administration cracks down, it’s a reminder of what’s at stake this November. The next president won’t just argue with Congress or even appoint Supreme Court justices. The next president will make the appointments that determine whether the Department of Labor is trying to make sure workers get paid for the hours they work or is looking for ways to let bad bosses off the hook.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on January 20, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Supreme Court Should Approve Policies that Will Provide Much-needed Relief to Immigrant Working Families

January 20th, 2016 | Richard Trumka

Richard L. TrumkaWe applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the DAPA and expanded DACA case, which will have profound consequences for our immigrant brothers and sisters who live and work every day under a cloud of fear, as well as for the state of racial and economic justice in our country. We are confident the court will reverse the decision of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and allow the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policies to go into effect, affording millions of people the opportunity to apply for work authorization and temporary protection from deportation. We encourage the Department of Homeland Security to take all steps necessary to ensure these much-needed policies can be implemented as soon as possible after the court issues its decision this summer.

At a time when working people feel increasingly disposable and deportable, when corporations are allowed to profit from the mass imprisonment of people of color, when our government is rounding up refugee families from their beds at night, and when we are confronting at so many levels the racial bias deeply entrenched in our laws and their enforcement, the outcome of this case will have a significant impact on the direction our nation takes moving forward.

At heart, the question the Supreme Court will consider is whether our immigration enforcement regime will be allowed to take modest steps to begin to protect and empower hardworking people, or whether it will continue to serve as a tool to exclude and oppress.

Much is at stake in this case, but working people do not need a court ruling to tell them what is just. In the face of criminalization, exploitation and base attempts to sow division, we will continue to work in every community in the country to build what we believe is the only true antidote: solidarity.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Trumka is the president of AFL-CIO, the largest organization of labor unions in the country.  He is an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.  Trumka heads the labor movement’s efforts to create an economy based broadly on shared prosperity and to hold government and employers accountable to working families.

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Working People (and the Facts) Stand Up to Right to Work Push in West Virginia

January 19th, 2016 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth Quinnell

That didn’t take long. As the West Virginia Legislature opened Wednesday, the first bill out of the gates was “right to work” legislation that does nothing more than attack the rights of working people. As the video above shows, workers weren’t happy about the proposal and flooded the Capitol to express their opposition to the dangerous bill.

We’ve already seen what right to work does elsewhere, like Oklahoma, which became a right to work state in 2001. In 2006, Jesse Isbell from Oklahoma City lost his job of 36 years. While in West Virginia to speak out against right to work on Wednesday, Isbell said: “In my case, and in the case of 1,400 brothers and sisters at that facility, the law did not work as advertised. There’s absolutely no anecdotal or empirical evidence that right to work has benefited the Oklahoma state economy in any way. The truth is that it has driven down wages.”

A better approach, Isbell said, is to focus on education and workforce development: “If Oklahoma would have taken this approach 10 years ago instead of the disastrous right to work route, I wouldn’t be talking to you here today. I’d be working at the Bridgestone–Firestone plant in Oklahoma City.”

Proponents of right to work in West Virginia point to a deeply flawed study from West Virginia University but, as the Economic Policy Institute notes, that study gets basic facts wrong, doesn’t follow standard economic models and really only includes one state from which to come to its conclusions. EPI analyst Elise Gould explains:

In a WVU study about the effect of right to work on employment growth, the authors mismeasured both right to work status and employment growth….The point of so-called right to work laws is to hamstring unions, thereby lessening workers’ bargaining power and driving down their wages. This law has the potential to hurt all workers in West Virginia, union and nonunion alike.

EPI makes the case against right to work in West Virginia:

  • Right to work is associated with lower wages and benefits for both union and nonunion workers. In a right to work state, the average worker makes 3.2% less than a similar worker in a non right to work state.
  • Through cutting wages, right to work may undermine West Virginia’s small businesses, which depend on the state’s residents having wages to spend.
  • Many of the arguments made by advocates of right to work ignore that under federal law it is already illegal to force anyone to be a member of a union, and it is already illegal to force workers to pay even one cent to political causes.
  • Companies that are primarily interested in cheap labor are going to China or Mexico, not to right to work states like South Carolina or Arizona.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 15, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

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Woman sues Walmart after being told to 'choose between her career and her kids,' then fired

January 18th, 2016 | Laura Clawson

Women filing discrimination lawsuits against Walmart are nothing new. Walmart firing people for questionable and controversial reasons is also nothing new. Now a woman is suing the low-wage retail giant, saying she was fired after complaining about discriminatory treatment. Specifically, Rebecca Wolfinger says her boss told her she had to “choose between her career and her kids.”

Wolfinger’s suit focuses on what she claims was her mistreatment while working as a shift manager. She was being required to work seven days a week when she received the “career or kids” threat, she contends.

Other male shift managers weren’t on a seven-day work schedule, Wolfinger claims. Her February 2012 firing occurred after she reported her boss’ comment to a company human resource officer, the suit states.

Wolfinger was officially fired, she says, for selling Pampered Chef outside of work—but coworkers who engaged in similar activities weren’t fired. And of course a sophisticated company like Walmart doesn’t admit to having fired someone for complaining about illegal discrimination.

Several years ago, 1.5 million women who worked or had worked at Walmart attempted a class action lawsuit against the company, only to have the Supreme Court say that “[e]ven if every single one of these accounts is true, that would not demonstrate that the entire company operate[s] under a general policy of discrimination.” That’s despite evidence like this:

Many female Walmart employees have been paid less than male coworkers. In 2001, female workers earned $5,200 less per year on average than male workers. The company paid those who had hourly jobs, where the average yearly earnings were $18,000, $1.16 less per hour ($1,100 less per year) than men in the same position. Female employees who held salaried positions with average yearly earnings of $50,000 were paid $14,500 less per year than men in the same position. Despite this gap in wages, female Walmart employees on average have longer tenure and higher performance ratings.

Doubtless all just a coincidence, though. Just like Rebecca Wolfinger was coincidentally fired for something that other workers did after she reported being discriminated against.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com/blog/labor on January 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is the Daily Kos contributing editor and has been since December 2006.  She has also been the labor editor since 2011.

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Unions Must Address Racism

January 15th, 2016 | Ian Haney-Lopez

 

Unions must mobilize to defeat racism because it destroys solidarity and brutalizes union members, the demographics of working people are changing rapidly and morality demands action. But mobilizing all of labor to join the fight against racism will not be easy: Race fractures the labor movement itself. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said of Ferguson, Mo., “our brother killed our sister’s son,” and, in doing so, he spoke to the tragic facts and also to the internecine racial fault lines that shatter worker solidarity.

For unions to recover, they must both fight the injustices done to people of color and simultaneously emphasize the common interests that all working people share. César Chávez knew this when he built a farm worker coalition across race lines, uniting Filipinos and Mexicans in California’s fields. Martin Luther King Jr. embodied this in joining the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis and in organizing the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington. Seeking to build a bridge between labor and the civil rights movement, King said to the AFL-CIO in 1961, “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs, decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

Fostering a shared commitment to challenging racial and economic injustice depends on everyone recognizing that racism is more than prejudice by one individual against another. It has been, and remains, a way to structure society, the economy and government. Consider slavery—the Southern way of life was built to rationalize this barbarism, the economy depended on it, and government was designed to protect it. Though not to the same extent today, racism nevertheless continues to play this structuring role.

This is most evident in our politics, especially when viewed from the perspective of the past half-century. Fifty years ago, the civil rights movement transformed the place of African Americans and other non-whites in society, ending formal segregation laws as well as racist restrictions on immigration. In turn, however, these changes contributed to rising anxiety among some made nervous by racial change, and politicians quickly sought to harness and then to foment this seething sense of insecurity.

The Republican Party, in particular, though eventually many Democrats, too, began to campaign by scaring voters. They did so by dog whistling: Using coded terms like “inner city crime” and “silent majority” that on the surface did not mention race, but that just underneath coursed with racial power, telling a story of decent whites under threat from dangerous minorities. Today, nobody better symbolizes this toxic politics than Donald Trump.

Yet for all its ugliness, this was strategy, not bigotry. Keeping minorities in their place was never the main point. Instead, the goal was to win elections and also to satisfy the demands of the billionaires funding political campaigns. This required stoking resentment, not only against nonwhites, but also against an activist government, which was painted as coddling minorities with welfare while refusing to control them through lax criminal laws and weak border enforcement. In effect, powerful elites used the politics of fear and division to hijack government for their own benefit. Pandering to racial anxiety and enflaming hatred against government, they distracted voters from recognizing the threat posed by increasing concentrations of wealth and power.

Today, the richest 0.1% of Americans holds 22% of the country’s wealth—the same share held by the bottom 90% of the population. These are levels of wealth inequality not seen in a century. As we slowly emerge from the Great Recession, we find ourselves confronting levels of poverty and economic hardship we thought we had left long in the past, with pensions gone, home equity erased, jobs scarce and little promise for our children. Once again, robber barons rule a rigged system, with government and the marketplace in their pockets. In their greed, they are stifling shared economic prosperity, limiting the mobility of current and future generations and endangering our democracy.

It’s time to stop segregating the race problem as one that harms only minorities. A deeper conception of how racism structures politics, government and the economy connects minority concerns to the issues faced by all workers. This approach makes clear that when racism triumphs, all workers lose.

Dog-whistle politicians constantly warn the racially anxious that liberal government and unions care more about coddling minorities than about protecting hardworking whites. This drumbeat makes it risky for labor to mobilize around nonwhite concerns because it can make conservative accusations ring true to many white workers.

But the solution cannot be to avoid race and to exclusively address class interests. To talk solely about economics leaves racial demagoguery unchallenged, allowing it to continue dividing workers. It also leaves workers of color alienated and angry that the labor movement is ignoring the gross injustices they confront.

The only way forward is to connect race to class, and class to race—by building an inclusive social movement that silences dog-whistle politics and demands that government put people irsft.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Ian Haney López is an author and professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Employment Equality - When is the Federal Government Going to get on Board with LGBT Employment Rights? A Lawyer’s Look at State & Federal Workplace Protections

January 14th, 2016 | Branigan Robertson

BraniganRobertsonThe topic of LGBT rights has dramatically increased in the last few years. Most have heard about the recent Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the nation. Whether on the legislative floor or in the courthouse, there is no question that LGBT rights have really come a long way in America in the last few years. But what about in the workplace? What employment law protections are there against LGBT discrimination at work?

What many people do not know is that workplace protections for LGBT employees vary by state jurisdiction. This can be confusing as many people may assume that the law is uniform throughout the nation. It’s not. Simply put, federal and state laws may differ as to whether an employer may discriminate against an employee because of his or her sexual orientation.

Federal Law Does Not Ban Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Federal law is not very good at protecting LGBT employees in the workplace. The main federal anti-discrimination law is Title VII. It doesn’t ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some federal courts have held that discrimination by an employer based on an employee’s sexual orientation is not a violation of federal law. See Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Ctr., Inc. (7th Cir. 2000) and Bibby v. Philadelphia Coca Cola Bottling Co. (3rd Cir. 2001) (“It is clear…that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.”) What is really interesting is that Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based upon their “sex,” but some courts have interpreted that to refer only to their biological gender, not someone’s sexual orientation or identity.

However, just because an LGBT employee is not be protected at the federal level does not mean they are out of luck. Most states have some sort of protection banning discrimination in the workplace based on an employee’s sexual orientation. For example, California explicitly bans employment discrimination based on “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression.” See CA Government Code § 12940. Case law supports this as well.

State Law is Better for LGBT Employment Rights (Depending on Where You Live)

Complicating the matter, there are still a few states (eighteen in total) that have no state laws whatsoever prohibiting LGBT discrimination in the workplace. To make it even more confusing, some states prohibit discrimination in all workplaces (public and private) but some states, such as Alaska and Arizona, only prohibit public employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

The good news is that there is an increasing amount of states joining the movement of implementing laws that are very favorable to LGBT employees. From 2012 until present, three states have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. I’m an lawyer in California which has had laws protecting LGBT employees in the workplace since the early 1990s. So why is the federal government not on board with most of these states yet?

Answering that question is pretty difficult as there are so many factors to be considered as to why the federal government has not followed the majority of the states yet. But what can be said is this; in today’s legislative environment, the federal government usually does not implement controversial or hotly debated law until an overwhelming majority of the states have already done so. Rather than anger many states by forcing them to adopt a law they dislike, the federal government will sit on the sidelines until enough political pressure has built up that Congressional leaders and the Supreme Court align with the states. For example, the Supreme Court did not legalize same sex marriage until thirty-seven states had already done so and public opinion swung towards legalization. So if that is the case then when is the federal government going to implement favorable laws protecting LGBT employees in the workplace?

The Momentum is Growing for Federal Protection

As stated above, most states offer some level of protection to LGBT employees, but some states provide a higher level or protection than others. So arguably, there is not yet an overwhelming majority of states that offer LGBT employees total protection like that of the laws in California. But every year a state or two adopts favorable LGBT employment laws. Thus, assuming a state or two adopts favorable laws every year we may see some major changes to federal law within the next decade protecting LGBT employees.

Moreover, aside from statutory changes, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken a stance on the issue. In 2015, the EEOC released a statement that federal law prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based on his or her sexual orientation because it is a type of sex discrimination. Considering that the EEOC is the federal administrative body that handles employment claims, this is a huge step in the right direction. However, such statements made by the EEOC are not binding on the federal courts or the legislature, but they can influence a court or the legislature to take a certain stance.

At the end of the day, LGBT rights in the workplace have come a long way from what they used to be only a few decades ago. In the span of only a couple decades, most states have adopted some sort of law protecting LGBT employees, and almost half of the states have total protection for LGBT employees. Things are looking good for the LGBT community when it comes to protection in the workplace, but there is still some work to be done. In light of Obergefell v. Hodges and the most recent stance taken by the EEOC, I would not be surprised if in the next decade or so, whether it be by the legislature or a Supreme Court ruling, that the federal government amend Title VII to offer more protection to LGBT employees in the workplace.

Branigan Robertson is an employment attorney in Orange County, California. He is a member of the California Bar, California Employment Lawyers Association, and the National Employment Lawyers Association. He exclusively represents employees (the little guy/gal!) in lawsuits against employers and focuses his practice on discrimination and wrongful termination. Mr. Robertson attended Chapman University School of Law and was President of the Employment Law Society.

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State of the Union Address Barely Mentions Unions

January 13th, 2016 | Mike Elk

WASHINGTON. D.C.—Last night, President Obama gave his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress—but barely mentioned unions. The president did touch on a number of issues important to workers—such as increasing manufacturing in America, taxing the rich more equitably, increasing education funding and increasing enforcement of trade laws—but said nothing about increased attacks on workers’ rights around the country during the last 12 months.

This despite 2011 being the a year in which unions (especially those representing public-sector workers) have been under unprecedented attacks in places like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.

The only time Obama explicitly mentioned a union was in reference to  “Master Lock’s unionized plant” in Milwaukee, which he said is now running at “full capacity” because the company brought back jobs from overseas.

At the beginning of his speech, Obama said: “At the end of World War II, when another generation of heroes returned home from combat, they built the strongest economy and middle class the world has ever known.” However, he did not mention the fundamental role that unions played in building that middle class. Unions represented nearly one-third of all workers in the decade following World War II.

One of the only times that President Obama did indirectly to address union issues was in what could be interpreted to be a reference to wanting more “flexibility” in contract language “to replace teachers.” Obama said:

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making.

While some could interpret this language as attacking the contract clauses of teacher union contracts, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten did not see this as an anti-teacher union statement, telling In These Times, “I heard a different tone about what teachers and students need—as well as what he has always said about teacher accountability.” Weingarten further praised the speech, saying that it was about “fighting for the middle class, for economic fairness, taking on the banks, telling others to stop bashing and leading with accountability—it’s an important populist message for the times we are in. I think the president deserves that acknowledgement.”

The only other time that Obama referenced an event involving a union was in speaking about the role of workers (represented by the United Auto Workers union) in helping to revive the auto industry. Obama said: “In exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We got workers and automakers to settle their differences. We got the industry to retool and restructure. Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number one automaker.”

While praising GM’s return to profitability, Obama did not mention how, despite the auto industry returning to profitability, the industry has done nothing to eliminate a two-tier wage system that was implemented as part of the bailout. The UAW did not return request for comment on the president’s section of the speech.

“There is little or nothing in this speech to oppose what most employers are doing; cutting jobs, busting unions, slashing wages, liquidating benefits, and running roughshod over workers in every way possible,” said UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend. “As for workers, we are forced to work for a poverty existence at a “competitive wage” until we tipple into the grave. How inspiring is that?”

Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, criticized the speech for failing to emphasize the importance of protecting living standards and workers’ rights. “We need a national jobs policy that creates enough jobs for all those who are able to work, raises core standards around living wages and family-supporting benefits, stops and deters wage theft, and ensures that public and private sector workers have the right to collective bargaining,” she said in a statement Wednesday.

But despite the lack of positive references to the role of unions and organized labor, the speech did receive good reviews for Obama’s calls to renew America’s manufacturing sector, enforce trade laws more fairly, crack down on Wall Street, and reform tax laws to tax wealthy people at higher rates. (Billionaire Warren Buffet’s secretary was actually present for the speech to symbolize America’s dysfunctional tax code; her boss actually pays a lower tax rate overall than she does.) Specifically, he called for the creation of a “Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

President Obama’s speech tonight shows that he has listened to the single mom working two jobs to get by, to the out-of-work construction worker, to the retired factory worker, to the student serving coffee to help pay for college. …And tonight he made clear that the era of the 1% getting rich by looting the economy, rather than creating jobs, is over—what a contrast to the vision presented by presidential candidates squabbling over how much further to cut the taxes of the 1%.

The call for reviewing manufacturing and cracking down on unfair trade practices drew particular praise from United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard. He said:

President Obama has listened to us as American workers and laid out a vision of the America we want and need, one that creates jobs and prosperity for us and not the 1% who have looted the economy….The President’s commitment to discourage job outsourcing and promote insourcing is a ticket to a better economy.

We especially applaud the announcement to renew his policy to get tough on trade enforcement with a new unit to bring together resources and investigators from across the government to go after unfair trade practices in countries around the world, including China.

The GOp chose Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to deliver the party’s response to the State of the Union address. Daniels has spearheaded the effort to pass “Right-to-Work” legislation in Indiana, which would weaken private-sector unions. On its website, the AFL-CIO said the choice of Daniels sends a “clear signal the party is making attacks on working people a top priority in the 2012 elections.”

Surprisingly, though, Daniels didn’t say anything about unions. At least from my perspective last night, it was as if the massive fights for collective bargaining rights we witnessed in Wisconsin and Ohio last year (which, of course, continue in Wisconsin) never even happened.

Full disclosure: the UAW and USW are In These Times sponsors.

This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on January 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Mike Elk is a labor journalist whose investigative work has been cited on the front page of the New York Times and debated by Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters on ABC’s The View. Elk won a Sidney Award for his coverage of how corporations crafted legislation to exempt prison labor from U.S. minimum wage laws.  Elk has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Reuters and The Nation and is currently a reporter at Politico.

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Obama: The First Farewell

January 13th, 2016 | Robert Borosage

The common sense was a necessary corrective to the stuff and nonsense of the political campaign trail. Noting the progress made in recovering from the Great Recession, the president reminded that the U.S. economy is the “strongest and most durable in the world,” now enjoying the longest streak of months with jobs creation in its history.

In contrast to the hysteria generated by the Trumped-up campaign, he said that the U.S. is the “most powerful nation on earth.” Its military has no competitor; “It’s not even close.” He sought to put the fears fanned by the ISIS and the acts of terror in perspective. We’re threatened less “by evil empires, more by failing states.” ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists can create terrorist acts across the world. But this is not “World War III,” and it is a disservice to call it that. The terrorists are violent thugs but “do not threaten our national existence.” Needless to say, Republicans immediately panned this common sense and revved up their hysteria. Good sense is a first casualty of terror.

The president celebrated the reality that he has begun to transform our energy policy and essentially declared victory in the debate over climate change. The debate is over. The world was acting together to begin to address climate change. And America is leading, with the president claiming that we had cut carbon pollution more than any other country on earth.

If the economy is so strong, why are the people hurting? Here, Obama reiterated his passive voice populism. Americans “feel anxious” because we live in a time of “extraordinary change.” Technology is transforming our economy in “profound ways.” That’s why workers have less leverage, companies less loyalty, wealth and income is more concentrated. We have to make change our friend, and navigate its currents. He then offered a sensible, if modest, agenda on education, extending shared security guarantees, greater support for the working poor.

But technological change has always been with us. Globalization is the result of policy, not an act of nature. Yes, we have to navigate the changes wrought by technological change. But the reason Americans are “anxious” is that the rules have been rigged to favor the few, not because technology mandates less worker leverage or company loyalty.

The president did offer a dollop of more active voice populism later on, an unstated tribute to Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, when discussing the fierce debate over “what role government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.”

“Working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules…Food stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in boardrooms…”

“In this economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.”

Yet this populist frame led nowhere. The president offered no agenda for empowering workers, no pledge of executive action to give government contract workers the right to join a union. Instead he pledged only to “lift up many businesses” that are doing the right thing.

Similarly on foreign policy, after stating the fact that we are the most powerful nation in the world, the president argued that our challenge is how to exercise leadership without pretending to police the world. Sensibly, he argued this would require a sense of priorities. Yet, he suggested that the U.S. would be on patrol against instability in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ukraine, Central America, Africa and Asia. The challenge was to mobilize allies to “pull their own weight” in acting with us. But if the U.S. is on guard across the world, then it isn’t surprising that our “allies” as in the Middle East have their own priorities and are happy to let us do the heavy lifting elsewhere.

The president returned, somewhat wistfully, to the themes that launched his presidency – the need to recover our sense of one America, to overcome partisan division and discord, the strengths and spirit that sustain us as a nation. In doing so, he reminded us of the historic nature of his presidency, and of the dignity and decency with which he has borne the burdens of office.

He also used this theme to call for us to “fix our politics,” to change the system so people don’t think it is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or the narrow interests. That requires changing how we draw congressional districts, reducing the influence of big money, and making voting easier, rather than harder. The president pledged to spend part of the next year supporting these reforms at the state and local level, even while pushing against the wall of opposition at the national level.

Obama knows how to deliver a speech. Like Lincoln, he uses logic and common sense to stake his position and make his case. He has an author’s care about language. But in trying to describe our common ground, he has chosen not to “litigate the past,” either on our economic course or on our foreign policy follies. At a time when Americans had to learn clearly how failed conservative doctrines had led us into the fix we are in, the president chose not to issue the indictment. That was true at the start of his administration as he inherited a failed war and a collapsing economy. And it is true as his term draws to a close, despite the unrelentingly bitter partisan and ideological opposition he has endured.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on January 13, 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.

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State of the Union: Don’t Let the TPP Sink Our Wages

January 12th, 2016 | Celeste Drake

CD speaking at UCSD FairTrade RallyThe president will give his final State of the Union address tonight. Traditionally, this annual speech reviews the accomplishments of years past and sets out a “to-do” list for the year ahead. Although the White House has indicated that this year’s speech will be “nontraditional,” it has made clear the economy will be a major focus.

I hope the president will talk about the importance of the proposed overtime rule, which could raise wages for some 15 million of America’s working people. I also hope he talks about how the auto manufacturing industry has soared back to life since the so-called bailout, which saved 1.5 million jobs in its first year alone.

While the economy isn’t perfect, and most of us are still feeling the pinch of student loans, too-smallpaychecks, threats to retirement security and not enough voice in our workplaces, there are a lot of successes the president can look back on with pride in his speech.

On the other hand, there is also a new trade and economic deal on the horizon—the Trans-Pacific Partnership—that could poke a hole in the progress our economy has made since the president came in to office in 2009.

The thing that’s dangerous about the TPP, and the reason we should worry about it shrinking our paychecks, is not the idea of trade. Trade is good—but we shouldn’t confuse “trade” with so-called “trade agreements,” which set down rules not just for “trade,” but for food safety, Wall Street regulations, prescription medicines and investor rights. These are the kind of rules that should be made in public, in democratic fashion, not in a secretly negotiated agreement that can’t be amended. The TPP’s corporate giveaways are dangerous.

Existing trade rules (including those in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.–Korea trade deal) already cost the average U.S. worker $1,800 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and preliminary studies on the TPP by Center for Economic and Policy Research and Tufts indicate that we can expect that figure to get worse.

Working people are deeply disappointed that the opportunities to put workers’ interests first and eliminate corporate entitlements in the TPP were largely ignored.  And more importantly, working people are disappointed because we know that all of these things mean fewer good jobs in our communities and fewer opportunities for our children.

The TPP is the latest example of the failed U.S. approach to trade that started with NAFTA, which drives down wages and creates special rights for corporations.  The TPP could have been different, but instead it is a collection of minor tweaks designed to get congressional votes rather than ensure workers’ wages rise.

The AFL-CIO wants trade agreements that grow our economy, create good jobs in America and give working people in all countries the chance to succeed when they work hard. Instead, passage of the TPP will mean lost jobs and lower wages.

Compared to eight years ago, the U.S. economy is afloat and heading toward improvement. The TPP will undermine that progress and give us rocky sailing ahead. There is simply no good argument for trading away our right to control our economy in exchange for more corporate power.

I hope the TPP doesn’t come up at all in the State of the Union speech. We’d be better off without it. But if it does—let’s be clear about what it really means for America’s working families.

Let’s raise our voices against this corporate giveaway and make it clear the TPP must go down to defeat!

This blog appeared on aflico.org on January 12, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Celeste Drake is a Trade & Globalization Policy Specialist at AFL-CIO.  Her experience with the labor movement was as a UFCW member while bagging groceries during college.  She also served as the Legislative Director for Representative Linda Sanches (D-CA).

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