Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Bernie Sanders’

Did You Get a Text Inviting You to a Picket Line? It Might Be from Bernie Sanders.

Friday, June 7th, 2019

As graduate student workers at the University of Chicago began a three-day work stoppage this week to demand union recognition, Sen. Bernie Sanders—one of the university’s most notable alumni—called on his army of supporters to join their picket lines through an email and text message blast.

One of Sanders’ supporters who received the message was UChicago graduate instructor Laura Colaneri, a member of the union Graduate Students United (GSU) and a PhD candidate in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Studies.

“It was a really awesome boost to get that message because I’m one of the workers involved in this action,” Colaneri told In These Times. “I’m excited to see a candidate using his status to support workers directly, not just by giving us a rhetorical line, but helping us out with an action that we’re doing.”

While candidates traditionally use their extensive contact lists to focus on fundraising or bringing people out to their campaign rallies, Sanders is undertaking an apparent first in modern presidential politics: using his lists to help mobilize turnout at worker-led actions.

Last month, the Sanders campaign helped turn supporters out to a one-day strike at the University of California campuses, where representatives said 1,000 people “responded with interest or committed to go to a protest.” The campaign also called onsupporters to join thousands of McDonald’s workers who went on strike across the country May 23 demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

Sanders supporters were also recently encouraged to join healthcare workers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on their picket line, as well as nurses at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio. The campaign is currently working to turn supporters out for a march of McDonald’s workers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 9 that Sanders will join.

“I think it’s fair to say this is a workers’ movement as much as it’s a presidential campaign,” Bill Neidhardt, Midwest Press Secretary for the Sanders campaign, told In These Times. “And that’s exactly how we want it to be. That’s how you win. With a movement.”

Neidhardt noted that the Sanders team has previously used its contact lists to drive turnout for labor actions at Delta Airlines, Disney, Amazon, General Motors, Wabtec, Nissan and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Meanwhile, Sanders’ own employees recently unionized themselves, winning the first union contract for staff of a major party presidential campaign. Among other gains, the contract includes a $20-an-hour wage for interns at the Washington, D.C. campaign headquarters and a cap on manager salaries. Since the announcement, three other 2020 Democratic campaigns have unionized: those of former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“[Sanders’] objective is to strengthen unions as they’ve dwindled and been busted,” said Nanci Ponné, who joined GSU’s picket lines at UChicago on June 5 after receiving an email from the campaign. She was one of hundreds of people who joined GSU for a mass picket and rally that afternoon, many of them directed there by Sanders.

“Unions bring strength and power where workers didn’t have it before,” Ponné, who works in the Chicago hotel industry and identified as a member of Unite Here, told In These Times. “There’s no reason for Bernie not to use his awesome email list to empower unions that will help bring more benefits to workers.”

The three-day work stoppage at UChicago this week comes nearly 19 months after an overwhelming majority of graduate workers there voted to unionize with GSU in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

As at many other private universities where graduate workers recently voted to form a union, the UChicago administration continuously refuses to recognize GSU, claiming grad workers are more “students” than employees and therefore ineligible for union representation. With the NLRB now controlled by anti-union Trump appointees—who are poised to undercut the legal basis for grad worker unions—GSU has withdrawn from the formal Board process and is demanding voluntary recognition from the university.

“They’re stonewalling,” Colaneri said of the UChicago administration, adding that administrators called extra campus police out to the GSU pickets. “They keep saying it’s your free speech to do this, but then they’ve sent out emails to undergraduate students and their parents telling them to report if your graduate instructor isn’t in class. But we’re not letting it intimidate us.”

As a UChicago alumnus, Sanders has supported GSU throughout their fight for union recognition. “I hope very much that you will set an example throughout the world by supporting a democratic decision made by graduate students and teaching assistants,” the senator wrote university president Robert Zimmer in November 2017. “To appeal this decision to an anti-worker, Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board is not something that a world class institution of higher learning should do.”

No stranger to campus activism, while a student at UChicago in the early 1960s, the future presidential candidate helped lead a 13-day sit-in to demand an end to the university’s housing discrimination policy, was arrested protesting racial discrimination at Chicago Public Schools, and joined the youth wing of the Socialist Party.

“My four years in Chicago was an extraordinary moment in my life, and very much shaped my worldview and what I wanted to do,” Sanders said earlier this year.

With classes at UChicago now over for the spring, on the evening of June 5 GSU members voted to suspend their work stoppage. “We have shown the university, the world, and ourselves what we are capable of as a union, and how fundamentally the university depends on our work,” read a statement from the union.

“The amount of energy we’ve been able to sustain over three days is really incredible,” Colaneri said. “This doesn’t come from Bernie, it comes from us, from the workers being ready to fight for what we deserve. And it’s great to be supported in that, but not overshadowed. It’s not about Bernie, it’s really about us.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

Bernie Sanders brings the fight for a $15 minimum wage to Walmart’s shareholders meeting

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) brought his battle for a $15 minimum wage and workers’ rights to Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting in Arkansas on Wednesday.

The Walton family controls just over 50% of the company’s stock. They are the richest family in the United States. Sanders has called out the Walton’s refusal to raise wages for its workers, asserting that it is “outrageous that the Walton family makes more in one minute than a Walmart worker earns in a year.”

At the invitation of Cat Davis, a longtime Walmart employee, Sanders went to the meeting to issue his demands in person: raise hourly wages from $11 to $15, put an employee representative on the company board, grant part-time workers the opportunity to work full-time, and stop obstructing workers’ efforts to unionize.

He addressed an enthusiastic crowd following the meeting. His audience booed when Sanders announced the current starting wages at Walmart and at the astonishing wealth of the Walton family.

“You have a company here that is owned by the Walton family … worth about $175 billion,” Sanders said. “One might think that a family worth $175 billion would be able to pay its employees a living wage. And yet, as you all know, the starting wage at Walmart now is $11 an hour. And people cannot make it on $11 an hour. You can’t pay rent. You can’t get health care. You can’t feed your kids or put gas in the car on $11 an hour. What we are also saying: It is a little bit absurd that many, many Walmart employees are forced to go on government programs like Medicaid or food stamps or public housing subsidized by the taxpayers of this country.”

In an interview with CNN, Sanders explained why he believes it is so crucial that workers be represented on the company’s board. “At the end of the day, working people have got to have some control over how they spend at least eight hours a day,” Sanders said. “They cannot simply be cogs in a machine. To be a human being means that you have some ability to control your life. And that includes your work life.”

If Walmart raises its starting wage to $15, it would be joining the likes of Amazon and Disneyland, both of which faced criticism from Sanders for paying workers poorly and, last year, started paying their workers $15 an hour. (Disneyworld employees will see that raise in 2021.)

Last November, Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced the Stop Walmart Act, “a campaign to raise wages at Walmart and other large, profitable corporations that pay poverty-level wages.” Under their legislation, large employers would be forbidden from buying back stock unless they paid all employees, including part-time workers and contractors, at least $15 an hour; allowed workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave; and made sure that the compensation of the highest-paid employee — probably, though not always, the CEO — was no more than 150 times the median pay of all employees.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is a reporter for ThinkProgress covering culture and politics.

Today Amazon, Tomorrow the Railroad Industry: The Fight for $15 Rolls On

Monday, October 1st, 2018

After being called out by labor activists and progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders for paying poverty wages despite receiving tax breaks and raking in billions of dollars, Amazon has caved to the pressure and announced it will offer all its workers a $15-per-hour minimum wage starting next month. Now, a new coalition of workers and community leaders is taking aim at another major player in the logistics industry: the railroads.

Class I railroads like CSX, Norfolk Southern and BNSF benefit from billions in taxpayer subsidies and are reporting high profits. Yet the people who transport their rail crews between trains, cities, hotels and homes are paid low wages and receive few benefits. To keep costs down and evade liability, the railroads use subcontractors like Hallcon and Professional Transportation Inc. (PTI) to hire their crew drivers.

On September 27, several dozen rail crew drivers with the United Electrical Workers (UE), United Steelworkers (USW), Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and United Public Services Employees Union (UPSEU) protested outside a conference of railroad executives in downtown Chicago. The drivers and community allies are calling on the Class I railroads to implement responsible contractor policies to make companies like Hallcon and PTI pay a $15-an-hour minimum wage and offer decent benefits.

“We’re dedicated drivers out here,” said Devin Ragland, a PTI driver with USW District 7. “It’s not fair that we’re out here from sundown to sunup, running these crews back and forth where they need to go, and then we get mistreated when it comes time for pay.”

Ragland and the other drivers were joined by Cook County Commissioner and congressional candidate Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, who called for an “end to the poverty wages in the rail yards.”

“I join your voices in saying to these railroad companies that they should adopt responsible contractor policies to ensure that the prosperity that they are experiencing is shared with all of the workers in the industry,” Garcia told the drivers.

UE, USW, SMART and UPSEU represent crew drivers from coast to coast. UE has been organizing Hallcon drivers nationwide for the past several years, recently winning a union election at the company that added 650 more drivers from 8 states into the union’s ranks, bringing the total number of UE-represented drivers at the company to nearly 1,700. 

“Everywhere we go at Hallcon, people are at minimum wage or just above,” UE International Representative J Burger told In These Times.  Drivers say they earn so little that many are forced to rely on public assistance.

UE is currently negotiating a new master contract at Hallcon. Burger said the company is resisting demands for living wages, instead arguing that drivers should only get a one-time bonus or miniscule raises of between 15 to 20 cents per year.

“I’ve been told we were offered 21 cents. I can’t make a phone call with 21 cents,” driver and UE member Vickie Bogovich said on September 27. “Is that all I’m worth? I don’t think so.”

“They’re offering us pennies and we need dollars,” added Clarence Hill, a Hallcon driver who serves as Chief Steward of UE Local 1177. Hill said he is paid only $12 an hour after 8 years on the job.

The drivers are on-call at all hours of the day, required to hop in a company van at a moment’s notice to shuttle a rail crew from one location to another. Frequently, they wait hours at a time before finally getting a call. After one trip, they often have to wait several more hours for the next call, sometimes stretching their work day to 24 hours or more. Drivers are only paid for their driving time, not for the hours they spend waiting.

Burger noted this “stretch out” is not only unfair to drivers, but it also endangers the rail crews they transport, putting them at the mercy of fatigued drivers operating on little to no sleep. In contract talks, UE is fighting for on-call pay and more compact hours when the company is unable to put drivers to work. 

Additionally, the union is demanding improved benefits, including paid time off and affordable health insurance. “We’re trying to make the job something people can actually live by,” Burger told In These Times.

UE’s current contract at Hallcon was originally set to expire in August, but has been extended to October 21. Meanwhile, USW, SMART and UPSEU—which represent drivers at both Hallcon and PTI—will also see some of their current contracts expire later this fall, setting up the potential for a nationwide strike that could disrupt retail freight in time for the busy holiday shopping season.

The unions have been increasingly coordinating efforts over the past year, trying to “have a united front approach,” Burger explained. “We’re all talking about raising the standards in the industry. We’re united for the betterment of the drivers.” 

In addition to Chuy Garcia, the drivers also have the solidarity of the rail crews they shuttle. Other union workers in the railroad industry—including from the Brotherhood of the Maintenance and Way Employees and the Chicago All Rail Craft Coalition—joined Thursday’s protest.

“The labor movement was built on the simple concept that an injury to one is an injury to all,” Mark Burrows of Railroad Workers United, a coalition of rank-and-file rail workers from across North America, told the drivers. “We’re doing all that we can to educate our coworkers and get them behind this struggle.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

Labor Department tells senators it’s too ‘complex’ to collect sexual harassment data

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

The Labor Department told Democratic senators that it can’t collect data on sexual harassment in the workplace because it would be “complex and costly.” On Monday, Democratic senators dismissed that justification.

In January, 22 Democratic senators sent a letter to labor department officials requesting the department act on studying sexual harassment. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) signed the letter and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and others co-signed the letter, according toBuzzFeed.

Referring to the #MeToo movement, the letter noted that “there has not been an exact accounting of the extent of this discrimination and the magnitude of its economic costs on the labor force. We therefore request your agencies work to collect this data.”

CNN was the first to obtain the Labor Department’s response, which was addressed to Gillibrand. The department’s letter read, “There are a number of steps involved in any new data collection, including consultation with experts, cognitive testing, data collection training, and test collection. Once test collection is successful, there is an extensive clearance process before data collection can begin.”

The department went on to say that employers would have difficulty providing the information they’re requesting and that requesting additional information for the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey “may have detrimental effects on survey response.”

The letter mentions “alternative sources of information on sexual harassment,” such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, but senators sent a letter in response that essentially balked at that recommendation.

“…the Department is surely aware that not all sexual harassment rises to the level of a violent criminal act and therefore would not be captured by this survey,” the letter read.

Senators called the justifications for declining to work on the issue “wholly inadequate” and wrote that since they “hope that the Department would always consider rigorous methods inherent in data collection,” the department’s mention of its complexity should not justify the decision to not study sexual harassment. Senators also mentioned that the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board did this type of data collection and analysis in the ’80s and that “Surely the government’s capacity to collect this data has only become more sophisticated over the past several decades.”

Senators from both parties asked the labor secretary to take some kind of action on sexual harassment at an April Senate panel on the budget. According to Bloomberg, at the time, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta “expressed willingness to act.”

Many researchers have looked at the economic cost to harassed women themselves. Heather McLaughlin, an assistant professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University, has studied the career effects of sexual harassment and found that a lot of the women who quit jobs because of sexual harassment changed careers and chose fields where they expected less harassment. But that meant that some of those fields were female-dominated, and many female-dominated fields pay less. Some women were more interested in working by themselves after the harassment.

” … but certainly they’re being shuffled into fields that are associated with lower pay because of the harassment,” McLaughlin told Marketplace.

People who have been harassed also experience effects on their physical and mental health, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of sexual harassment can also experience headaches, muscle aches, and high blood pressure.

Fifty-four percent of U.S. women said they received inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances from men, with 23 percent saying those advances came from men who had influence over their careers and 30 percent coming from male co-workers, according to a 2017 ABC News/Washington Post poll.

“Right now, we don’t know how many gifted workers and innovators were unable to contribute to our country because they were forced to choose between working in a harassment-free workplace and their career,” Gillibrand wrote in her January letter to the department.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Hints of Progress for Labor in the United States

Friday, June 9th, 2017

With Donald Trump sitting in the White House and right-wing Republicans controlling Congress, there is not much for labor to cheer about on the American national political scene. In addition, the overall prospect for union organizing does not look very good. Republicans are pursuing policies at both the national and state level to further erode union membership. But with all the bad news, there have been some important victories at the state and local levels that can perhaps lay the groundwork for gains nationally in future years.

The most important of these battles has been the drive for an increase in the minimum wage. The national minimum wage has been set at $7.25 an hour since 2009. In the intervening eight years, inflation has reduced its purchasing power by almost 17%. Measured by purchasing power, the current national minimum wage is more than 25% below its 1968 peak. That is a substantial decline in living standards for the country’s lowest-paid workers.

However, the situation is even worse if we compare the minimum wage to productivity. From 1938, when a national minimum wage was first put in place, until 1968, it was raised in step with the average wage, which in turn tracked economy-wide productivity growth. If the minimum wage had continued to track productivity growth in the years since 1968, it would be almost $20 an hour today, more than two and a half times its current level. That would put it near the current median wage for men and close to the 60th percentile wage for women. This is a striking statement on how unevenly the gains from growth have been shared over the last half century.

The Obama administration tried unsuccessfully to make up some of this lost ground during his presidency. While it may have been possible in his first two years when the Democrats controlled Congress, higher priority was given to the stimulus, health care reform and financial reform. Once the Republicans regained control in 2010, increases in the minimum wage were off the table. Needless to say, it is unlikely (although not impossible) that the Trump administration will take the lead in pushing for a higher minimum wage any time soon.

Although the situation looks bleak nationally, there have been many successful efforts to increase the minimum wage in states and cities across the country in recent years. This effort has been led by unions, most importantly the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose “Fight for $15” campaign is pushing to make $15 an hour the nationwide minimum. The drive gained momentum with its endorsement by Bernie Sanders in his remarkable campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. While Sanders was of course defeated for the nomination, his push for a $15 an hour minimum wage won the support of many voters. It is now a mainstream position within the national Democratic Party.

However, the action for the near term is at the state and local levels, where there have been many successes. There are now 29 states that have a minimum wage higher than the national minimum. The leader in this effort is California, which is now scheduled to have a $15 an hour minimum wage as of January 2022. With over 12% of the US population living there, this is a big deal. Washington State is not far behind, with the minimum wage scheduled to reach $13.50 an hour in January 2020. New York State’s minimum wage will rise to $12.50 an hour at the end of 2020 and will be indexed to inflation in subsequent years.

Several cities have also jumped ahead with higher minimum wages. San Francisco and Seattle, two centers of the tech economy, both are set to reach $15 an hour for city minimums by 2020. Many other cities, including New York, Chicago and St. Louis have also set minimum wages considerably higher than the federal and state levels.

What has been most impressive about these efforts to secure higher minimum wages is the widespread support they enjoy. This is not just an issue that appeals to the dwindling number of union members and progressive sympathizers. Polls consistently show that higher minimum wages have the support of people across the political spectrum. Even Republicans support raising the minimum wage, and often by a large margin.

As a result of this support, minimum wage drives have generally succeeded in ballot initiatives when state legislatures or local city councils were not willing to support higher minimums. The last minimum wage increase in Florida was put in place by a ballot initiative that passed in 2004, even as the state voted for George W. Bush for president. Missouri, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in this century, approved a ballot initiative for a higher minimum wage in 2006. South Dakota, Nebraska and Arkansas, all solidly Republican states, approved ballot initiatives for higher minimum wages in 2014. In short, this is an issue where the public clearly supports the progressive position.

These increases in state and local minimum wages have meant substantial improvements in the living standards of the affected populations. In many cases, families are earning 20-30% more than they would if the minimum wage had been left at the federal minimum.

In addition, several states, including California, have also put in place measures to give workers some amount of paid family leave and sick days. While workers in Europe have long taken such benefits for granted, most workers in the United States cannot count on receiving paid time off. This is especially true for less-educated and lower-paid workers. In fact, employers in most states do not have to grant unpaid time off and can fire a worker for taking a sick day for themselves or to care for a sick child. So the movement towards requiring paid time off is quite significant for many workers.

This progress should be noted when thinking about the political situation and the plight of working people in the United States, but there are also two important qualifications that need to be added. The first is that there are clearly limits to how far it is possible to go with minimum wage increases before the job losses offset the benefits. Recent research has shown that modest increases can be put in place with few or no job losses, but everyone recognizes that at some point higher minimum wages will lead to substantial job loss. A higher minimum wage relative to economy-wide productivity was feasible in the past because the US had a whole range of more labor-friendly policies in place. In the absence of these supporting policies, we cannot expect the lowest-paid workers to get the same share of the pie as they did half a century ago.

The other important qualification is the obvious one: higher minimum wages do not increase union membership. The SEIU, the AFL-CIO and the member unions that have supported the drive for a higher minimum wage have done so in the best tradition of enlightened unionism. They recognize that a higher minimum wage can benefit a substantial portion of their membership, since it sets a higher base from which they can negotiate upward. Of course, it is also a policy that benefits the working class as a whole. For this reason, unions collectively have devoted considerable resources to advancing the drive to raise the minimum wage.

However, this has put a real strain on their budgets at a time when anti-union efforts are reducing the number of dues-paying members in both the public and private sectors. This will make it more difficult to sustain the momentum for raising minimum wages and mandating employer benefits. For this reason, the good news on the minimum wage must be tempered. It is a rare bright spot for labor in the United States in the last decade, but it will be a struggle to sustain the momentum in the years ahead.

This blog was originally published at CEPR.net on June 7, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Dean Baker co-founded CEPR in 1999. His areas of research include housing and macroeconomics, intellectual property, Social Security, Medicare and European labor markets. He is the author of several books, including Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer. His blog, “Beat the Press,” provides commentary on economic reporting. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Michigan

Ahead of Pope Francis Visit, Bernie Sanders Joins Low-Wage Worker Strike in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

in these timesSen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) threw down the gauntlet for Congress and President Obama Tuesday morning, joining hundreds of low-wage contract workers from federal buildings who are striking in advance of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C.

Speaking to the assembled workers at a nearby Catholic Church, Sanders urged U.S. lawmakers to take seriously the pontiff’s message on “social and economic justice.” He also challenged President Obama to sign an executive order raising the wage for federal contractors to at least $15 an hour and allowing them to unionize.

“There is no justice in America when the largest low-wage employer is not McDonalds, it is not Burger King, it is not Wal-Mart, it is the United States government,” he told the cheering crowd. “The United States government has got to become a model employer.”

Sanders told The Hill that as “one of the great moral forces on earth today,” any statement by the Pope on the issue of wealth inequality during his trip to D.C. would be influential.

The rallied workers later marched to the steps of the Capitol, where they held a prayer service asking for lawmakers to listen to the Pope’s words. Some workers also organized a brief sit-in at the Senate cafes.

The strike, organized by Good Jobs Nation, had been planned as early as last week to coincide with the Pope’s visit, whose various statements on inequality, neoliberalism and economic justice have pegged him as an ally of the labor movement. Striking workers had written a letter to Pope Francis asking him to meet with them in addition to those in power.

“We may be invisible to the wealthy and powerful we serve everyday—but we know we are worthy of a more abundant life as children of God,” the letter reads.

Although President Obama granted federal contractors a wage increase to $10.10 in February 2014, the workers charge this is not enough in a city that, according to one study, requires a salary of $108,092 to live “comfortably” in. Reports abound of cleaners and cooks resorting to food stamps, working second jobs and even going homeless as a result. Critics charge that the federal government bears large responsibility for this by awarding hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts, grants, loans and more to companies that pay low wages and offer no benefits.

According to a report from Demos, nearly 2 million federal contractors currently make less than $12 an hour, far less than MIT’s calculated living wage for D.C. of $20.27. At the same time, according financial data analyzed by OpenSecrets.org, the median net worth of U.S. lawmakers climbed to over $1 million.

This Blog originally appeared on In These Times on September 22, 2015. Reprinted here with permission.

About the Author: Branko Marcetic is a Fall 2015 In These Times editorial intern.

Did I Hear the Words "Full Employment"?

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

jonathan-tasiniAmong the many reasons the country would be better off if Bernie Sanders was president is that the man just refuses to deal in silliness. He wants the country to have a serious debate — and whether the next head of the Federal Reserve Board is a man or a woman, or the current president is more “comfortable” with one person or another running the Fed, is entirely irrelevant to Sanders. And, so, Sanders goes really wild — he invokes the two words that most people will not speak in this debate even though those two words are part of the Federal Reserve Board’s mission:  FULL EMPLOYMENT.

Last week, I tried to suggest that the critical questions are not being asked in the discussion about who should run the Fed. Sanders can actually communicate with the guy in the White House, as he does in this letter. The entire letter is worth reading but this is the paragraph that almost made me cry (I’m desperate here, politically speaking):

The top priority of the Federal Reserve Board must be to fulfill its full employment mandate. When Wall Street was on the verge of collapse, the Federal Reserve acted boldly, aggressively, and with a fierce sense of urgency to save the financial system. We need a new Fed chair who will act with the same sense of urgency to combat the unemployment crisis in America today that has left 22 million Americans without a full time job. [the underline and bold is in the original]

There is a lot to learn from this short letter.

First, how many people know, as Sanders points out, that it is the Fed’s responsibility to bring about full employment?

Wait a second: who even talks about full employment anymore? Not the Congress (except for a handful of people…or maybe it’s only Sanders). Not the president. Not either of the two parties.

It’s seen as, well, quaint. We’ve now adjusted our attitude, thanks to the constant chatter of the transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”), so that we now think of under 7 percent unemployment as somehow “okay” and 6 percent unemployment as if everything is going great guns…with the millions of people out of work that those numbers represent.

Obscene.

But, reaching full employment is the Fed’s job. And Sanders, wacky guy that he is, actually wants someone in the position who understands that. Uh, good luck with that, Bernie.

Correctly, Sanders targets the Big Three. No, not the auto companies. The Big Three who were key architects in the financial crisis: Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers. Those guys had a mission: destroy regulation, let Wall Street run wild and make themselves and/or their friends rich along the way.  To the president, who is out now talking about the divide between rich and poor, Bernie says: keep those turds away from the Fed (yes, he uses far more Senatorial language)

I got to have one quibble with Sanders, otherwise it will seem like hero worship (close). And that’s that he doesn’t call out in his letter the puppet master who laid the groundwork for this mess in the 1990s: Bill Clinton. Because it was the Big Dog himself who led the charge of the Big Three against Glass Steagall — which was the law that did not allow investment banking and commercial banking to mix.

But, if the world was right, and we had a serious political debate, Sanders’ letter would be driving policy the decision about who will be looking out for the interests of the people.

This article originally posted on Working Life on July 30, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor and the economy. On June 11, 2009, he announced that he would challenge New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in the Democratic primary for the 2010 U.S. Senate special election in New York. However, Tasini later decided to run instead for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010.

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