Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Diane Stafford’

Voters rebel at 'fat cat' bailouts

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Do not bail out the fat cats.

Voters made that perfectly clear, and their re-election-obsessed congressional representatives took heed.

Delaying a Wall Street bailout wasn’t wise for the international economy, but chalk up points for the worker bees.

They finally got someone’s attention in Washington!

Nobody bails me out if I make bad financial decisions.

And, while we’re at it: No more multi-million-dollar parachutes for executives who mismanage other people’s money.

How quickly the “bailout” became a slightly more politically palatable “rescue.”

Note to Congress:

You’ve noticed that “trickle down” hasn’t worked very well lately, haven’t you?

Average CEO compensation last year was 275 times that of average U.S. worker pay, based on average hourly pay for about 80 percent of the U.S. workforce (the folks who actually produce the products and services that make companies work).

In a single work day last year, a typical big-company CEO earned as much as one of those workers did in their entire 260-day work year.

The well-paid corporate compensation consultants counterpunched, of course, telling Congress not to “handcuff” companies by putting limits on executive pay. They said pay ceilings will hurt companies’ ability to attract top talent.

Yeah. It’s been working so well.

It’s over-reaching the cure to demand a shareholder vote on top-exec compensation. But as the nation works through this financial crisis, the folks in the trenches must be heard.

Enough is enough.

Executives who earned more than they were worth to start with should not, by all that is right and just, be rewarded when they leave behind organizations littered with pink slips.

And have you looked at the value of your 401(k) this week?

Ouch. The only trickle-down there is the sound of assets swirling down the drain.

And where is the call for privatizing Social Security now?

Not exactly an election-time winner this go-around, huh?

Yes, the economy is cyclical. Has been. Will be. But the hurt on the downsides must be shared.

Unless legislators do what corporate compensation committees haven’t had the backbone to do, most of working America will continue to suffer from the greedy mistakes of a few.

Regulation? In this case, bring it on.

Unlimited executive greed has severed people from jobs and jobs from the economy. It’s gnawed away retirement security and college education funds in hard-working families.

And the architects of this economic collapse?

Greet them if you’re ever in Sun Valley…or Aspen…or Tuscany…or…

About the Author: Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star. A veteran journalist, she has held several reporting and editing positions at The Star on both the business and metropolitan desks. Currently, she writes columns that appear in The Star on Thursdays and Sundays as well as other business and economic news articles throughout the week, accessible at www.kansascity.com. Her daily “Workspace” blog also is available at www.workspacekc.typepad.com. She is the author of “Your Job: Getting It, Keeping It, Improving It, Changing It,” a career advice book. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications from Stanford University.

Cross-posted at Workspace.

Anxiety Reigns for Workers This Labor Day

Monday, September 1st, 2008

The mood of the American worker in a word: jittery.

This Labor Day, organized labor celebrates (if you can call it that) its 12 percent-of-the-workforce clout – 7 percent if you count only the private sector.

Gone are the days when the unionized workforce was an effective checks-and-balance agent for stratospheric executive pay. Thirty years ago, when unions were stronger, the ratio of top executives’ pay to average worker pay was about 35 to 1; today, the ratio of S&P 500 CEO compensation to average worker pay is 344 to 1.

Slipping away is the ability of unions to help define a viable middle class.

Union members, like most of the rest of the workforce – except for the top 5 or so of earners – are observing Labor Day 2008 anxiously.

Job eliminations, raise pools that lag this year’s inflation pace, and wage freezes are common.

According to a survey taken in May by the John Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, more than 8 in 10 workers are worried about the state of the job market. (See Heldrich Center study.)

Although a majority of workers in many surveys have said they’re at least passively looking for a better job, the Heldrich report found that two-thirds think it’s a bad time to be looking.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reinforced that concern in a report published in August. About 8.3 million U.S. workers lost their jobs from January 2005 through December 2007 because of business closures or moves, insufficient work, or elimination of their shifts or jobs.

The Heldrich study produced a further sobering note: Slightly more than half of the workers it surveyed are working fewer hours than they’d like. For hourly wage earners, that translates into an income cut.

Various reports peg the share of workers who say they’re living paycheck-to-paycheck at one-third to two-thirds of the workforce. And, as a whole, the national personal savings rate has fallen below zero; we are going into debt and spending more than we earn.

Then, because our national health care insurance system ties subsidized coverage to employment (or poverty), the prospect of losing an employer-based plan is terrifying. Correctly so.  A leading cause of personal bankruptcy is inability to pay medical bills.

Small wonder that The Conference Board finds consumer confidence tumbling. Why would it not in the face of slipping home values in many markets and higher prices for such consumer-prominent products as gasoline and food?

Yet few of these opinions are mirrored at the top of the income scale. Top executives and political policymakers continue to build vacation homes and hop on airplanes, commercial and private. They continue to have tax dodges that lesser earners don’t. A $4-a-gallon fill-up doesn’t dent their budgets or force them to make spending choices.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that top 1 percent of earners enjoyed income growth of 204 percent from 1979 to 2006, while the lower 90 percent of earners gained 15 percent.

Meanwhile, business owners rail against any increase in the minimum wage, blaming inflation on those modest raises for a relative handful of the nation’s least-paid workers (which don’t come close to keeping up with cost of living).

In short, more productivity is being squeezed out of the workforce in return for a smaller share of the rewards. The need for systemic change is paramount.

Can we place hope in an election year?

About the Author: Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star.

A veteran journalist, she has held several reporting and editing positions at The Star on both the business and metropolitan desks. Currently, she writes columns that appear in The Star on Thursdays and Sundays as well as other business and economic news articles throughout the week.  Her daily “Workspace” blog also is available at www.workspacekc.typepad.com. She is the author of “Your Job: Getting It, Keeping It, Improving It, Changing It,” a career advice book.

She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication from Stanford University.

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