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Posts Tagged ‘Chamber of Commerce’

CFPB Forced Arbitration Study To Go Foward As Consumer Survey Approved

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

PaulBlandWeb-172Great news Monday. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can finally continue a crucial study on the effects of forced arbitration on consumers. Under the Dodd Frank Act, the CFPB has to complete a study as to whether the use of forced arbitration clauses by lenders is harmful to consumers. If the Bureau finds that forced arbitration is harmful, then it is required by the act to ban the use of forced arbitration by lenders.

We, among some others, had urged the Bureau to weigh the fact that very few consumers know anything about forced arbitration. While the clauses are justified under a bunch of rhetoric that consumers have supposedly agreed to them, in fact almost no consumers know about the rights they’ve supposedly waived. The Bureau decided it wanted to do a survey of consumers to find out what they do and don’t know about arbitration.

The Chamber of Commerce and corporate groups have vehemently argued that the Bureau should not consider whether consumers know anything about the rights that they use. So long as consumers formally have rights, banks argue, it doesn’t matter whether they know about their formal rights or not. I have been very critical of that position, arguing that of course it makes sense for the bureau to survey consumers. (We believe that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the Bureau banning arbitration in any case, but this is an additional reason.) Here’s something I wrote a while ago on this point: http://www.publicjustice.net/blog/cfpb-surveying-consumers-see-what-if-anything-they-know-about-arbitration

Anyhow, the consumer survey appeared to be slowing things down, because the Office of Management and Budget (picture the little trolls in Dilbert who work in accounting, slowing down everything and killing every good idea) was taking forever to approve this simple survey.

The roadblock has been lifted – the OMB has FINALLY gotten out of the way.

This blog originally appeared in Public Justice Righting Wrongs on September 10, 2014. Reprinted with Permission.

About the author: F. Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy.

As staff and senior attorney, he was responsible for developing, handling, and helping Public Justice’s cooperating attorneys litigate a diverse docket of public interest cases. Paul has argued and won more than 30 cases that led to reported decisions for consumers, employees or whistleblowers in six of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the high courts of nine different states. Paul’s Twitter handle is @FPBland.

Paul has presented at more than 100 continuing legal education or professional conferences in more than 25 states; has testified in both houses of Congress, several state legislatures and administrative agencies; has been quoted in more than 100 periodicals throughout the country and has appeared in several radio and TV stories.

 

New Labor Split? Trumka Refuses to Denounce Obama Chamber of Commerce Speech

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Mike ElkWASHINGTON, D.C.—Many in the labor movement objected to President Barack Obama speaking at the Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Yet there was little protest from AFL-CIO leaders to the president’s speech.

For the first time, President Obama ventured over to the Chamber of Commerce to speak. While the speech was full of the usual platitudes of most Obama speeches, what mattered most was not what he said, but the speech’s symbolism. By speaking at the Chamber, President Obama was offering an olive branch to the very organization that has led attacks against him.

President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on February 7 in Washington, D.C. He talked about the importance of working together on job creation and growing the economy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on February 7 in Washington, D.C. He talked about the importance of working together on job creation and growing the economy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The president defended some of his regulatory agenda and tax policies. He also called on CEOs to create more jobs in America. But he made no mention of the Chamber’s tolerance of unionbusting policies that lead to nearly 30,000 reported cases of unfair labor practices against U.S. workers by companies every year.

The symbolism of the speech upset many in the labor community. Ralph Nader wrote an open letter to the President suggesting “What about walking next door and visiting your political friends at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, whose member unions represent millions of working Americans? You can discuss with Richard Trumka, a former coal miner and the new president of the AFL-CIO, your campaign promises in 2008. Repeatedly you said to the American people that you supported the “card check” and a “federal minimum wage of $9.50 in 2011.”

The AFL CIO neither organized a protest of the president’s speech nor extended an invitation for the president to cross the street and speak at the AFL CIO headquarters (where Obama has never given a speech).

Two unions—the National Nurses Union/California Nurse Association (CNA) and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), though, did organize a protest of the president’s speech at the Chamber. Both unions, it should be noted, have traditionally been more politically independent of the Democratic Party. Both unions endorsed Ralph Nader in his 2000 presidential run (At that time the CNA hadn’t merged with other unions).

The AFL CIO refused requests to endorse the protest. Still, 75 union members and allies picketed the president’s speech, chanting “Hey Hey, Hoo Hoo, Union Busting Got To Go”! One labor union member, who wished to remain anonymous, told me afterward that “I feel like by protesting today, we at least salvaged the dignity of the labor movement.”

Following his mantra “The President doesn’t communicate well with me in the press,” AFL-CIO President Trumka refused to denounce President Obama in remarks on MSNBC. In fact, Trumka disagreed with IAM (machinists union) President Thomas Buffenbarger‘s remark that “this isn’t a truce with business. I think he capitulated.” Instead, Trumka defended the president’s speech. He also praised the selection of former JPMorgan Chase Director William Daley as Chief of Staff, suggesting his selection might make things better for organized labor.

Why is organized labor’s top leader so unwilling to criticize the Chamber of Commerce appearance?

One CNA official told me that the AFL CIO was hesitant to protest the Chamber as a result of their rare joint statement last month in which they endorsed increased spending on infrastructure program. The AFL CIO, it seems, is hoping that by teaming up with the Chamber, it has a better chance of seeing Congress pass funding to keep its members employed and its unions financially solvent and vibrant.

But I can’t help worrying that by teaming up with the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO is undermining energy the labor movement needs to win the war against the country’s business class.

*This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on February 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout.

U.S. Chamber's "Card Check Compromise" Poll Compromises the Facts

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Image: Kate ThomasYesterday, the U.S. Chamber released a “nationwide poll,” which claimed to reveal the public’s fears about how the “Employee Free Choice Act” would hurt job growth.

If the Chamber really wanted to stir up some press on their reinvigorated anti-worker campaign, perhaps they should have picked a less-obviously right wing polling company to make their intentions appear less transparent. Although the sources of every dime of the $144.5K the Chamber spent last year on lobbying may be completely anonymous, the Republican client list of the Chamber’s partisan bent polling company

Voter/Consumer Research is not. Consider their list of clients:

Political – National Bush Cheney 2004 and Bush Cheney 200 || President George W. Bush || Republican National Committee (RNC) || National Republican Senatorial Committee || National Republican Congressional Committee || Mitt Romney for President

Political – States?Governor Don Carcieri || Governor Charlie Crist || Senator Mitch McConnell || Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison || Senator John Cornyn || Senator Richard Shelby || Congressman Mike Castle || Congressman Brett Guthrie

Corporations/Associations Wal-Mart || RJ Reynolds || Credit Union National Association || PhRMA || The Business Roundtable

Chamber Poll Neglects Truth, Sticks to Anti-Worker Rhetoric

It’s telling that the Chamber’s new poll also neglects to mention one of the most important aspects of labor reform: adding strict penalties for companies that break the law and intimidate or fire workers who want to form a union.

In the last 20 years, employer opposition to unionization has increased dramatically. Employers threaten to close plants and factories in 57 percent of union organizing drives and threaten to cut wages and benefits in 47 percent–while ultimately firing pro-union workers 34 percent of the time. Those are not good odds.

The authors of the poll say if employers and workers can’t reach an contract agreement in a reasonable amount of time, government bureaucrats will swoop in to mandate a binding agreement. This simply isn’t accurate. In arbitration, either side can bring in an independent, trained arbitrator to settle the dispute who both sides agree on. The bottom line is that arbitration encourages compromise, and no one has anything to fear from a process that is fair, neutral and promotes compromise instead of confrontation.

When confronted with legislation to improve American workers’ lives, the Chamber of Commerce invariably threatens economic ruin and rampant government control. This time, their fear hyperbole takes the form of this “Card Check Compromise” poll, which was writtenby and for people who want to keep the power to deny workers the choice of a union. The Chamber says their poll found little enthusiasm for various “compromise” proposals floated by labor supporters–but the only thing the Chamber is compromising away is workers’ interests, on behalf of the corporate special interests that pay them.

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on February 2, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

Big Business's Skewed View on Paid Sick Leave

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

In the last couple of weeks, there’s been a rise in the debate over H1N1 and paid sick leave policy. Emergency H1N1 legislation has been introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd that would require employers with more than 15 workers to provide seven days of paid sick leave if they or their children come down with either H1N1 or seasonal flu.

Big business, however, appears to be completely in denial over the importance of the issue.

As the self-described “voice of business,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims to represent the viewpoint of both large and small businesses on sick leave policy, and according to Mother Jones, insists that a global epidemic is not a good reason to start treating employees like human beings:

“The problem is not nearly as great as some people say,” said Chamber Vice President Randel K. Johnson. “Lots of employers work these things out on an ad hoc basis with their employees.”

President and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council Karen Kerrigan echoes this sentiment:

“Employers and their work force appear to be handling this challenge just fine without the federal government’s involvement. Unlike the problems that the government is having getting the flu vaccine out to Americans, employers and organizations are working through this national health emergency quite smoothly.”

Uh, we beg to differ, Randel and Karen. As a direct result of relying on voluntary employer policies to provide paid sick leave to employees, over fifty million U.S. workers have no paid sick days at all!

As the swine flu spreads across the nation — and the CDC continues to advocate for flu sufferers to stay at home until the fever goes away — the significant portion of the American workforce that faces a tough choice about whether to call in sick or go to work sick (and still get paid) has ramifications for us all. Lack of paid sick time for millions of American workers could increase the spread of this year’s flu pandemic and other infectious diseases. But the fact remains that many workers don’t even have the option of taking a paid flu vacation, as the Chamber advocates. They can’t risk losing their jobs, or their already too-small paychecks won’t allow a day (or more) of missed wages.

Paid sick leave not related to unemployment

When sick workers are on the job, it costs our national economy $180 billion annually in lost productivity.
When sick workers are on the job, it costs our national economy $180 billion annually in lost productivity.

Business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Small Business Association say the sick leave bills introduced in Congress come at a time when small businesses owners are struggling to keep afloat–and that covering the costs of mandated sick days could cause employers to have to lay off employees. Despite these frequent claims from some in the business community, a recent study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a nonpartisan think tank, found no correlation between paid sick days and unemployment.

Another major new study by researchers at Harvard and McGill Universities — the largest ever to look at working conditions worldwide — finds that a week of paid sick leave would cost a business just 2 percent more in wage costs. The study’s authors also say the documented increase in productivity due to better working conditions would easily earn back the investment.

Paid sick days are critical to the ability of working Americans when they or their children are sick and to prevent the spread of the swine flu pandemic. Think about it this way: wouldn’t you prefer food service workers and restaurant workers did not work sick? How about care providers that look after your child while you’re at work, or the home care workers that help your parent with daily tasks so they can continue to live at home?

Sane public health policies increase quality of life in a cornucopia of settings–and maybe if we remind the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about this enough times, they’ll realize how absurd lobbying against legislation that would help with these issues is.

Not likely…but still worth a try. Tell the Chamber to cease lobbying against an emergency bill to give workers seven days of paid sick time per year: http://action.seiu.org/chamber.

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on November 25, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

Big Business And Republicans Downplay Threat Of H1N1 Spreading Due To Lack Of Paid Sick Leave

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Image: Pat GarofaloYesterday, the House Education and Labor committee took a look at sick leave policies and their contribution to the spread of the H1N1 virus (swine flu). Public health experts have been voicing concerns that H1N1 is going to be transmitted by ill employees attending work, so Rep. George Miller (D-CA) has crafted a bill that would give employees five paid sick days if their employer sends them home due to H1N1.

Earlier this month, the Chamber of Commerce downplayed the extent to which lack of guaranteed paid sick leave could spread disease, saying that “the problem is not nearly as great as some people say.” And now the rest of the big business community is piling on:

Testifying on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers Tuesday, A. Bruce Clarke, who runs his own 1,000-member business lobby in North Carolina, told Miller’s committee that most businesses already have comparable or more generous paid leave programs, so why bother? “While some employers may not have taken specific action in response to the H1N1 outbreak, these employers are clearly the exception to the widespread practices taking place today,” Clarke said in his prepared testimony.

And its not only business downplaying the extent of the problem. Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the ranking member on the Ed. and Labor committee, also tried to claim that the “vast majority” of workers have paid sick leave:

“With so many workers already having access to a variety of sick leave options, we need to look very carefully at proposals to add a new layer of federal leave mandates,” the 2nd District Republican said in a prepared statement during a House Education and Labor Committee hearing…According to Kline, the vast majority of workers in the United States already have access to paid sick leave.

Actually, nearly half of private sector workers have no paid sick leave. This includes 78 percent of hotel workers and 85 percent of food service workers, even though they are among the most likely to come in contact with other individuals. 68 percent of workers not eligible for paid sick days say that they have gone to work with a contagious illness.

*This post originally appeared in The Wonk Room on November 18, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

**For more information on H1N1 and swine flu visit this Workplace Fairness resource page.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is the Economics Researcher/Blogger for WonkRoom.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. His writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and at New Deal 2.0.

The Chamber of Commerce's Jobs Deception Campaign

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Unions are popularly known as “the folks who brought you the weekend.” In contrast, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the distinction of trying to take away the weekend–along with overtime pay, the minimum wage, Buy America rules, workers’ freedom to form unions, child labor standards….The list is long and ugly.

So it’s farcical that today the Chamber launched a campaign estimated to run in the tens of millions of dollars to promote job creation.

The Chamber’s campaign originally started out as an attack against financial regulation–until the Chamber found out how strongly U.S. taxpayers support reining in Big Banks and the financial industry’s widespread shady practices. So the Chamber conveniently changed the packaging to purportedly focus on jobs, which in fact the American people desperately need.

Look at who accompanied the Chamber suits while they were announcing their Orweillian-named “free enterprise campaign.” As Sam Stein reported here:

Many of the individuals featured on Wednesday are long-standing donors to Republican candidates and groups that have fought efforts to enhance regulation. And, in one case, the business leader appearing alongside [Thomas] Donohue to decry the interference of government in the market place received business through the benefit of government contracts.

Yet, while millions of America’s workers struggle to find jobs in an economy where there are more than six workers searching for every one job, the Chamber repeatedly opposed extending unemployment insurance. Can’t have government interference in the marketplace, after all. Or aid to jobless workers. The same workers the Chamber’s smoke-and-mirrors campaign is supposed to be all about.

The Chamber also is joining with Big Banks and financial giants to try and kill a proposed agency that would protect U.S. consumers from being preyed upon by unscrupulous banks, mortgage lenders and many of the same financial institutions that helped create our nation’s economic disaster. The Obama administration’s proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which this week is being considered in the House Financial Services Committee, would regulate products such as credit cards and home loans, while ensuring the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission oversaw the $450 trillion “derivatives” market that sunk the world economy.

The Chamber is spending $2 million in attack ads, claiming that the new agency would hamstring even your local butcher from extending you credit for a week. It’s the same sorry effort at deception and outright lies that the health insurance industry now is trying to pull in the debate over health care reform. Tell enough lies and hope someone believes you.

As President Obama said in response to the Chamber’s distortion:

“We’ve made clear that only businesses that offer financial services would be affected by this agency. I don’t know how many of your butchers are offering financial services,” Obama said to laughter.

The Chamber is so twisted up in deception it seems unable to even provide accurate membership numbers. Writing in Mother Jones this week, David Corn points to a big discrepancy between the Chamber’s public membership numbers and reality.

In testimony before Congress, statements to the press, and on its website, the Chamber claims to represent “3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions.” In reality, the number is probably closer to 200,000.

Not sure if the 200,000 includes Apple Inc., Pacific Gas & Electric and the other giant corporations that recently have pulled their membership from the Chamber because of its draconian stand on climate change.

The Chamber’s so-called “free enterprise” campaign has been tried before. After World War II, the National Association of Manufacturers led a similar such effort. That campaign to sell capitalism to U.S. consumers incurred the derision of no less than the editors of Fortune magazine, who found similar sentiments among business executives represented on the boards of the business associations that supposedly represented them.

In dismissing the campaign as ludicrous, one such executive described it this way:

The best way we can demonstrate the importance of Free Enterprise is to make it work.

It’s clearly not working now. And although the Chamber may try to wrap itself in the shiny trappings of a feel-good campaign, its repeated attacks on consumers and workers demonstrate who the Chamber stands for: Wall Street not Main Street.

This post originally appeared in Campaign for America’s Future on October 15, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

About the Author: Richard L. Trumka was elected AFL-CIO president in September 2009. He served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 1995. Born in Nemacolin, Pa., on July 24, 1949, Trumka was elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council in 1989. At the time of his election to the secretary-treasurer post, he was serving his third term as president of the Mine Workers (UMWA). At the UMWA, Trumka led two major strikes against the Pittston Coal Co. and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association. The actions resulted in significant advances in employee-employer cooperation and the enhancement of mine workers’ job security, pensions and benefits.

Why Does Chamber of Commerce Favor Arbitration for Workplace Rape Victims, But Oppose It for Union Workers?

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Yesterday, the union movement ramped up its attacks on the Chamber of Commerce over its “two-faced” approach to the Employee Free Choice Act’s provision requiring arbitration if a business won’t bargain in good faith after a union’s been chosen by workers. As the AFL-CIO Now blog observed:

The latest Big Business tactic is to attack the provision of the Employee Free Choice Act that guarantees workers who form a union a fair first contract — a vital provision, because more than 50 percent of workers who form a union don’t have a contract after one year and more than a third still don’t have a contract after two years.

Corporations are crying about the possibility they might have to take part in arbitration with employees if they don’t reach a first contract after three months of talks — even though they’re enthusiastic about arbitration in a wide variety of circumstances where they have the advantage.

In a new ad running in key newspapers, American Rights at Work again challenges corporate hypocrisy on arbitration. When it’s a big corporate entity against an individual, as in credit card disputes or personal injury claims, corporate spokesgroups like the Chamber of Commerce say arbitration is a way to settle any sort of dispute “fairly, quickly and inexpensively.” But when it’s time to bargain over better wages and benefits for their workers, these same groups are viciously opposed to even the possibility of requesting arbitration.

To union activists, what’s especially galling is how fervently businesses embrace arbitration when it allows them to avoid being held accountable for negligence towards employees or the defrauding of consumers. As Stewart Acuff, the special assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO, observes, “It’s pretty simple: arbitration is fine for them when it keeps them out court and limits damages to business. They use it to settle credit card disputes, mortgage payment disputes, and whenever it limits businesses liability and negligence. But when they look at arbitration for workers, then all of it sudden they hate it when it’s simply used as an incentive to force good-faith bargaining, a last resort to allow workers to get a collective bargaining agreement.”

In contrast, business interests have so championed and abused little-known arbitration provisions to keep themselves from being sued that they’ve spurred new legislation pushed by the Fair Arbitration Now coalition designed to rein in their excesses. A few days ago, NPR featured the story of Jamie Lee Jones who was repeatedly raped by co-workers of Halliburton in Iraq but has been barred from suing the company because of an employer’s contract she signed preventing a lawsuit. As the NPR story noted:

Jones was escorted by security to the company clinic for a rape examination. When the rape kit examination was done, the evidence was turned over to Halliburton security. The young woman’s breasts were so badly mauled that she is permanently disfigured. It has been four years since the attack, and despite the physical and circumstantial evidence, the Department of Justice has declined to investigate.

Seeking Justice Through a Suit

Justice Department officials refused to explain or comment in any way to NPR about the case. Jones has decided that if she can’t have her day in criminal court, she’ll sue Halliburton and its former subsidiary, KBR, in civil court.

“I want corporate accountability,” she says. “I was so brutalized that I’m going to have to remember this the rest of my life. And Halliburton was so uncompassionate that they even let the men work there, still, after I went home.”

Heather Browne, director of communications at KBR, says that while the company can’t speak to the facts since the case is ongoing, it denies any liability in the attack. And she argues that any dispute with Jones, even one involving charges of rape, must go to arbitration.

So Jones is now going to court seeking the right to sue. She has become one of the nation’s leading arbitration reform advocates.

An Arbitration Culture

If Jones’ case is remarkable, the fact that arbitration is involved is not. In the past 20 years it has become a dominant feature in the legal relationship between American corporations, their employees and their customers.

If you use credit cards, have a cell phone contract, bought a house from a builder or put your mother or father in a nursing home, you have very likely signed away your right to be heard in court if there’s a problem. It’s called pre-dispute mandatory binding arbitration.

Public Citizen’s David Arkush, one of the country’s leading researchers on arbitration, says many consumers have no clue as to the rights they’re signing away.

“In the fine print of those contracts is a provision that says that they can never sue the company if they have a dispute,” Arkush says.” Instead they have to go a private, secret tribunal chosen by the company.”

To top it all off, businesses rig the arbitration process against consumers and employees by barring them from going to court if there’s any fraud or negligence before a dispute occurs, and only the company can choose the arbitrator.

The arbitration provision in the Employee Free Choice Act, on the other hand, only uses arbitration if negotiations between business and labor have broken down for 120 days after negotiations begin, and both businesses and the union must agree on their arbitrator from a vetted list of private arbitrators approved by a federal agency, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

All that makes the two different types of arbitration strikingly different: one is a business ruse used by businesses to deprive customers and workers of their rights, and the other is a bulwark designed to protect workers’ rights against bad-faith bargaining.

The new pro-labor ad attacking such hypocrisy, running in Capitol Hill political newspapers as negotiations in the Senate are heating up, puts the issue starkly:

Big Business is happy to support arbitration when it’s in their best interest. But when it comes to negotiating contracts with their workers, Big Business would rather use delay tactics to avoid paying better wages and benefits. It’s only fair that corporations agree to arbitration for workers who are trying to negotiate a first contract after forming a union. Arbitration is a key part of the Employee Free Choice Act that will let both sides reach a fair agreement.

One reason the Chamber and other Big Business interests are turning to attacking arbitration is that their previous bogus claims that the legislation takes away the right to a secret ballot have been exposed as a fraud on Capitol Hill. (The bill actually gives workers the choice — now determined by employers — of whether to form a union by majority sign-up or secret-ballot election.)

Of course, you don’t hear Newt Gingrich or the Chamber of Commerce championing the rights of on-the-job rape victims like Jamie Lee Jones to sue and avoid arbitration, indeed when it comes to abused employees or defrauded consumers they hail arbitration as the best way to handle any disputes. In fact, in May 2008, more than a dozen business trade groups wrote a letter to Congress stating, “Arbitration is an efficient, effective, and less expensive means of resolving disputes for consumers, employers, investors, employees and franchisees, in addition to the many businesses that use the same system to resolve business disputes.”

As the SEIU Blog sums up their attitude, “Corporate Lobbyists: We Were for Arbitration Before We Were Against It.” Among the paeans to the glories of arbitration offered by business leaders before they attacked its use in the Employee Free Choice Act:

“For more than 80 years, arbitration has helped Americans settle disputes fairly, quickly and inexpensively, without having to file a lawsuit or navigate the court system.” – Lisa Rickard, president of the US Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (4/2/08)
“Arbitration is mutually beneficial, which is what we have always thought.” – Arne Wagner, assistant general counsel for Bank of America [ABA Journal, December 1994]

“[F]ederal policy… favors the use of arbitration as an efficient, effective, and less expensive means of resolving disputes…Arbitration, has served as an essential valve for the nation’s overburdened civil justice system.” – Letter to Senate Judiciary Committee signed by US Chamber of Commerce, Retail Industry Leaders Association, National Retail Federation, National Association of Manufacturers, Jackson Lewis, et al (2/7/08)

Just a little bit of a double standard, no? Arbitration is the best thing ever when it comes to protecting their wallets, but when it comes to adding the safety net of first contract arbitration during collective bargaining, it’s the devil incarnate that must be stopped at all costs.

Despite such hosannas to arbitration, they’re not-so-surprisingly eager to denounce arbitration as a “mortal threat to American freedom” when workers want it after months of stalled labor negotiations.
And the research is now irrefutable that a majority of workers who select a union don’t get a contract in their first year as a result of business stalling tactics; if businesses can’t bust a union through illegal intimidation before an election, then they’ve got a second shot at union-busting by foot-dragging tactics and lowball proposals to slash wages and benefits by the company. As American Rights at Work reports:

One year after a successful union election, 52 percent of employers deny their workers a contract. According to Cornell University researcher Kate Bronfenbrenner, 52 percent of workplaces had no collective bargaining agreement one year after a successful union election. Two years after an election, 37 percent of workers’ unions still had no labor agreement.

It’s easy to determine when businesses will back or oppose arbitration: if it seems likely to screw workers and consumers out of their day in court, then they see it as good, and it if might possibly help workers achieve decent wages and benefits through labor negotiations, then it’s bad. As Paula Brantner, the attorney who heads the pro-worker Workplace Fairness advocacy organization, observed recently:

So if employers truly think that arbitration is a better system than resolving disputes in court, then why are they fighting the Employee Free Choice Act [EFCA] provision? You don’t have to be a cynic to realize that they’re inclined to fight any effort to level the playing field for workers, which the Employee Free Choice Act would do. Just as they’re spreading the myth that EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot, it just comes naturally for them to confuse the public about the other EFCA provisions that would empower workers.

But if corporate America doesn’t want “a bureaucrat from Washington” to tell people how to run their businesses, then we have to wonder why they want arbitrators who are not even required to know the law or follow it passing judgment on their employment practices. Essentially, companies are talking out of both sides of their mouth: they want to impose an unfair arbitration process on their employees, but cannot bear to have even a fair arbitration process applied to them.

But workers don’t have to accept this hypocrisy: we can work to support both the Arbitration Fairness Act and the Employee Free Choice Act. If both were to pass, workers would be able to go to court for their employment and civil rights claims (under the Arbitration Fairness Act), and leave arbitration to the unions and employers who know how to use it best (under EFCA). But that might simply be too much fairness for employers to handle.

And while the Chamber of Commerce and its GOP allies like Newt Gingrich have been painting a nightmarish scenario of jackbooted bureaucrats imposing job-killing arbitration concessions, the real truth of how arbitration works in labor negotiations has been ignored. As a new Roll Call column by two Harvard and MIT labor scholars, including Arnold Zack, the former past president of the National Academy of Arbitrators, points out:

Something is drastically wrong with a labor law when an employer can ignore and thwart the will of the majority of its employees.

The Employee Free Choice Act currently before Congress addresses this problem by assuring time for negotiations and mediation as the first step in the process and arbitration when agreement is blocked.

The bill has led to a misguided debate and mistaken information about the role played by arbitration in a well-designed and professionally administered dispute resolution system. This has made the current bill an easy target for opponents to argue that everyone will end up having a contract imposed by “government arbitrators” who know nothing about business or labor issues…

If passed, the Employee Free Choice Act would assign a mediator by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service as soon as a new unit is certified to support the negotiations by offering the full range of mediation, education, and facilitation services helping the parties reach a voluntary agreement. The vast majority of cases are likely to be resolved through negotiations and mediation.

In fact, settlements are reached more than 90 percent of the time in public sector jurisdictions that provide mediation prior to arbitration. So, contrary to those who argue every case will go to arbitration, the presence of arbitration encourages and enhances the ability of the parties to reach voluntary agreements in negotiation and mediation — and incidentally does so without imposing on employees or employers the risks and costs of a strike to get a contract.

After being smeared by hyperbolic distortions about the bill’s arbitration provision and research by the Chamber’s extremist libertarian scholar-for hire, Richard Epstein, the union movement is finally hitting back on this issue. The latest inside-the-Beltway barrage follows up on last week’s first round of attack ads against the Chamber’s “hypocrisy.” As a spokesman for American Rights at Work (ARAW) told The Hill newspaper this week:

“Labor law reform must ensure that workers who want to join a union are able to do so without facing endless delays from corporations seeking to deny them a voice in the workplace,” ARAW spokesman Josh Goldstein said. “Big Business’ position is hypocritical and motivated by their desire to maintain a status quo in which corporations make millions while middle class families struggle to get ahead.”

About the Author: Art Levine is a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly who has also written for The American Prospect, Alternet, In These Times, Salon, The New Republic, The Atlantic and numerous other publications. He’s written investigative articles on unionbusting and other corporate abuses, and recently completed Cornell University’s Strategic Corporate Research summer program. He blogs regularly for Huffington Post, and co-hosts a weekly Blog Talk Radio show, “The D’Antoni and Levine Show,” every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on June 17, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the Author.

As Chamber Lobbies, Its Paid Expert Says: No Unions, No Minimum Wage Law Needed

Friday, June 5th, 2009

This week, the Chamber of Commerce launches its most forceful lobbying effort yet to kill the Employee Free Choice Act and to end talk of compromise on Capitol Hill.

The Chamber is donning the masquerade of championing workers’ rights by railing over the myth that the bill would take away the secret ballot — it actually just gives workers the choice of whether to select a union through majority sign-up or “card check.” The business coalition, also working through such front groups as the Alliance to Save Main Street Jobs, promotes bogus claims that it would cost the economy jobs.

But now the real truth behind the hostility of the Chamber of Commerce and other major business groups to unions has been revealed by one its most admired experts, prolific University of Chicago libertarian law professor Richard Epstein, whose Big Business-funded research has been touted as the definitive critique of the Employee Free Choice Act.

His arguments against the arbitration provision of the legislation that aims to end employer stalling in bargaining has also persuaded such iconoclastic liberal bloggers as Slate’s Mickey Kaus ( full disclosure: he’s a former editor of mine whom I admire although I don’t always agree with him).

Yet in a new In These Times article, “Shilling on the Corporate Dollar,” Epstein confirmed to me his earlier writings that the country would be better off without labor unions, labor protection laws or the minimum wage law. “I’m unrepenant,” he says, while also conceding that his corporate funders asked him to omit some of his earlier arguments against labor laws as potentially political damaging.

They had good reason to be worried that his radical views could discredit their claims that these corporate leaders somehow care about protecting workers’ rights. One of his harshest critics, David Brody, a professor emeritus of labor history at Berkeley, observes, “I’m amazed the business side is using him. He thinks collective bargaining itself is a bad thing, while they claim to be defending the sanctity of the secret ballot.”

At the heart of much of Eptstein’s current theoretical attacks on the bill is his longstanding libertarian view of employer and employee relations as achieving a perfect balance because of market forces. That makes him the labor market equivalent of Candide’s Dr. Pangloss: if employers could just be left alone, all things work for the best in this best of all possible worlds. If there were no minimum wage laws, for instance, Epstein told me, “Wages would go up because productivity gains would offset any short-term losses [to workers].” And Epstein’s ivory-tower “at will” world view is still on display in his new Hoover Institution paper: “To be sure, some firms do not have enlightened managers. But in a competitive market, the firm that does not do right by its employees will not attract or retain the most productive workers.”

But while this and other anti-union assertions may sound reasonable to a tenured professor like Epstein, it simply doesn’t take into account the real world of employment — and the justifiable fear of being fired. For instance, David Madland, a labor expert at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, notes, “What really discredits his arguments is his claim that employer intimidation isn’t a significant cause of union decline.”

Most strikingly, he doesn’t even think there ought to be workforce regulations or minimum wage laws, even for sweatshops here or abroad. As my article points out:

In the past Epstein, an extreme libertarian, has attacked minimum wage and unemployment benefits, denouncing such New Deal legislation as unconstitutional “takings” that violate the Fifth Amendment. That is no surprise. Epstein has argued that, historically, sweatshop conditions can only be ameliorated by market forces, not by laws or unions. He told In These Times: “The level of wages will be determined by the intersection of supply and demand…the escape from that system is not driven by unions, which cannot increase productivity.”

The In These Times article further debunks the statistical sophistry of the business-funded economist Anne Layne-Farrar whose claim that the bill would cost at least 600,000 jobs in its first year has gained wide currency. No doubt Chamber of Commerce lobbyists and members are citing this week that statistic and her authoritative-seeming report. But by interviewing top economists, including John DiNardo of the University of Michigan, I was able to deconstructed her oft-touted use of “regression analysis” she uses to make the claim that rising unionization rates cause unemployment:

Layne-Farrar massages the data using a complex “regression analysis” to connect the dots between card check, higher unionization rates and more unemployment, putting the loss at between 600,000 and 2.6 million new American jobs in the first year.

“That’s bullshit,” says Canadian labor economist Charlotte Yates, now the Dean of Social Sciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “I don’t know of any credible economists who say [now] there is a direct correlation between unionization and the rise in unemployment.”

Even so, Layne-Farrar invokes her use of “regression analysis” as a sort of holy totem to ward off criticism of her work from other economists who cite what she says are “simplistic correlations.” These include studies showing that countries such as England, Denmark and Norway have higher unionization and lower unemployment rates than the United States. She says, “This is empirical analysis, not an opinion piece, with results based on publicly available data and using well-accepted econometric tools. You can’t rig these.”

John DiNardo, a labor economist at the University of Michigan and author of the textbook Econometrics retorts, “Just because she calls it ‘econometrics’ and ‘regression analysis’ doesn’t mean that it makes any sense.” While some earlier research had found a link between unionization and unemployment, more rigorous, recent research in Europe and the United States has found no connection between unionization and unemployment. In fact, Layne-Farrar’s study concocts a negative jobs impact from unionization that is 200 to 300 percent higher than even the most critical anti-union research.

No matter that her and Epstein’s findings are built on flimsy data and extremist views. This week, they’ll be no doubt marshalled to convince Senators to back away from the Employee Free Choice Act.

As The Hill reported:

According to a schedule obtained by The Hill, executives are visiting Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) [this] Wednesday as part of a lobbying push against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), legislation that would make union organizing much easier if passed. Business leaders from 12 different states, organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are flying into Washington next week to lobby against the bill.

Feinstein has emerged as a key voice on the legislation. At first, her support for EFCA wavered since she is not a co-sponsor of the bill this Congress, unlike two years ago when she also voted for cloture on the bill. But now, Feinstein has floated a compromise for one of the bill’s provisions to help garner support from Senate centrists who are worried about angering the business community by voting for the bill…

Along with Feinstein, business leaders are also scheduled to meet with Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) — centrists who could decide the fate of EFCA. They both co-sponsored the bill last Congress but Bayh is not doing so this year.

Union officials have been somewhat open to changes in the bill but business groups have lobbied against any compromise, saying the legislation would hurt industry revenue by leading to more strikes and work stoppages. They have hammered Feinstein’s proposal [to allow mail-in ballots instead of majority sign-up or “card check”] because they believe it would still lead to intimidation of workers by union organizers.

Of course, the intimidation canard has been challenged by the most rigorous research on the issue, including a new study that found not a single incident of union intimidation in public sector jobs where majority sign-up is permitted.

Yet despite what solid research says, it’s not at all clear that conservative opponents of the legislation will let facts stand in their way. As I concluded in my piece on the two top anti-union scholars:

While Epstein’s more radical views are left off the table, his intellectual firepower adds to the impact of his arguments against EFCA. Both Epstein and Layne-Farrar see an idealized world waiting to be born where unions don’t exist, and where workers and businesses thrive without them.

The question remains, will Washington politicians still listen to business interests that use these researchers’ dubious claims to argue, as Epstein does: “Unions are a bad deal for most workers.”

About the Author: Art Levine is a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly who has also written for The American Prospect, Alternet, In These Times, Salon, The New Republic, The Atlantic and numerous other publications. He’s written investigative articles on unionbusting and other corporate abuses, and recently completed Cornell University’s Strategic Corporate Research summer program. He blogs regularly for Huffington Post, and co-hosts a weekly Blog Talk Radio show, “The D’Antoni and Levine Show,” every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on June 2, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the Author.

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Women of the World Unite, All We Have to Win Is 22 cents

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Today is Pay Equity Day. The National Committee on Pay Equity came up with the idea in the mid-1990s to acknowledge a day in April to remind us that it takes women a full year PLUS an extra four months of earning a salary (or a total of 16 months) to equal the amount male colleagues net in just one calendar year (12 months). That is what it means when you hear the statistic that women who work full time earn about 78 cents for every dollar men earn (See U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Minority women are subject to a far greater wage gap.

Not mad yet? Those twenty-two cents add up. The Center for American Progress reports that women who work year-round earn less than men in comparable jobs and at all educational levels. The wage gap increases over a woman’s lifetime and adds up to $434,000 over a 40-year career for the typical woman. A woman with a bachelor’s degree or higher can lose more than $713,000 (See Center for American Progress, “Wage Gap by the Numbers“).

“Well,” you’re thinking, “that sounds pretty bad, but this is someone else’s problem; surely I am not being paid less than my male colleagues!” Think again. The statistics say otherwise. The gender wage gap is documented in all 50 states and is at a national average rate of 78 percent (Source: National Women’s Law Center‘s calculations from the U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Earnings and Poverty Data from the 2007 American Community Survey (August 2008). You do the math – chances are, if you are a woman in the workforce, it is highly likely that you are earning less than had you been a man.

If you are a man reading this, then it should trouble you that the gender wage gap is harming your wife, sister, mother, daughter, friends and colleagues. According to the AFL-CIO, working families lose $200 BILLION every year due to the wage gap! Your women are bringing home less bacon than they should be, and it is affecting everyone’s bottom line.

Or think of it another way: the current recession is especially hitting male-dominated industries, such as construction and manufacturing. Four out of every five jobs being lost in this recession affect men. Women are becoming the main breadwinner, but, on average, make up only one-third of a family’s income. Prolonged, systemic pay inequity will further hurt families who have lost the earnings of the male breadwinner and must solely depend on the woman’s wages, to say nothing of single mothers who struggle year in and year out independent of economic downturns.

In honor of Pay Equity Day, it is reasonable and even encouraged to express your well-earned outrage. There are a number of legislative efforts seeking to close the wage gaps between men and women, and minorities as well. A number of organizations’ web sites today will detail current and soon-to-be-introduced legislation to close loopholes, enhance provisions under the Equal Pay Act, and prohibit employer retaliation against workers who inquire about employers’ wage practices. I encourage you watch one of the more amusing Equal Pay legislation videos out from the Center for American Progress. Check out EQUAL PAY: Batgirl vs Chamber of Commerce.

Fixing this issue legislatively is one important approach, but cannot be achieved exclusively in this manner. If you have any doubts, consider that it was President Kennedy who signed the Equal Pay Act into law more than forty-five years ago. If Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon were as successful as the Equal Pay Act, Neil Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind’ would have been referring to a cool telescope.

The most direct, proven tool to combat pay inequity are unions. According to AFL-CIO compiled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2008, on average, unionization raised women’s wages by 32% compared to non-union women. A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that for the years 2004 – 2007, unionized women were much more likely to have health insurance (75.4%) and a pension (75.8%) than women workers who were not in unions (50.9% for health insurance, 43% for pensions.) In real dollar terms – the average unionized woman working full-time earns a weekly salary of $809 per week vs. the $615 a non-unionized woman will earn.

The same business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, who fought against the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restores the right of victims of pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability to challenge the discrimination in court, are the same groups waging war against the Employee Free Choice Act – the bill that will give workers the freedom to choose a union to represent them. The more women unionize, the more they rightfully earn and the narrower the wage gap becomes.

Help pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and soon we might be celebrating Pay Equity Day when it should be celebrated – in December.

About the Author: Eileen Toback is a political strategist and labor relations expert. To read more of Eileen’s commentary on labor issues, check out unionmaiden.wordpress.com. If you have a question for Eileen, contact her via [email protected]

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