Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Jobs’

Why Unions Are Essential to Tackling the Technology Challenge to Good Jobs

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Image: Richard KirschNew technology is keeping more and more workers stuck in low-wage jobs, and it’s society’s responsibility to make sure those jobs still have dignity and fair wages.

With robots taking over factories and warehouses, toll collectors and cashiers increasingly being replaced by automation and even legal researchers being replaced by computers, the age-old question of whether technology is a threat to jobs is back with us big time. Technological change has been seen as a threat to jobs for centuries, but the history tells that while technology has destroyed some jobs, the overall impact has been to create new jobs, often in new industries. Will that be true after the information revolution as it was in the industrial revolution?

In an article in The New York Times, David Autor and David Dorn, who have just published research on this question, argue that the basic history remains the same: while many jobs are being disrupted, new jobs are being created and many jobs will not be replaceable by computers. While there is good news in their analysis for some in the middle-class, their findings reinforce the need to organize workers in lower-skilled jobs to demand decent wages.

The authors’ research found that while routine jobs are being replaced by computers, the number of both “abstract” and “manually intensive” jobs increased. In their article in the Times, the authors describe the new jobs:

At one end are so-called abstract tasks that require problem-solving, intuition, persuasion and creativity. These tasks are characteristic of professional, managerial, technical and creative occupations, like law, medicine, science, engineering, advertising and design. People in these jobs typically have high levels of education and analytical capability, and they benefit from computers that facilitate the transmission, organization and processing of information.

On the other end are so-called manual tasks, which require situational adaptability, visual and language recognition and in-person interaction. Preparing a meal, driving a truck through city traffic or cleaning a hotel room present mind-bogglingly complex challenges for computers. But they are straightforward for humans, requiring primarily innate abilities like dexterity, sightedness and language recognition, as well as modest training. These workers can’t be replaced by robots, but their skills are not scarce, so they usually make low wages.

As the authors conclude, “This bifurcation of job opportunities has contributed to the historic rise in income inequality.”

When it comes to addressing this attack on the middle class, the authors offer some hope, but not for those low-wage workers. They argue that a large number of skilled jobs, requiring specialized training—although not necessarily a college education—will not be replaceable by computers. These include people who care for our health like medical paraprofessionals, people who care for our buildings like plumbers, people who help us use technology (I was chatting online just yesterday to get tech support) and many others. Because these jobs do require higher levels of skills, they should be able to demand middle-class wages.

But what about those housekeepers, delivery truck drivers and fast-food workers, like those who are taking actions around the country today against fast-food chains to demand better pay. The authors do not offer a path to the middle class for them.

If history is an example here as well, we should remember that lower-skilled work does not have to come with low pay. The workers who stood on assembly lines in the 1930s did not have a college education or years of specialized training; they fought for the right to organize unions and demanded high enough wages to support their families.

This Labor Day, as more and more workers are stuck in the growing number of low-wage jobs, causing enormous stress for their families while keeping the economy sluggish, we need to look to the examples of new ways of organizing workers who can not be replaced by technology. There’s the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, who organized drivers to successfully win living wages and a health and disability fund. Or the successful boycott of Hyatt Hotels, leading to an agreement with UNITE HERE to not fight organizing campaigns in their hotels.

We need to support organizing by modernizing our labor laws to account for the large number of workers not currently or adequately protected, the new ways that work is organized and the global economy.

The lesson from the Autor–Dorn research is that technology doesn’t have to destroy the middle class. What will destroy the middle class is our failure as a society to provide dignity to all workers. That’s what fast-food workers and their community-labor supporters are fighting for across the country.

This article originally appeared in The Next New Deal Blog on August 29, 2013, and was cross-posed on AFL-CIO Now on August 30, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Richard Kirsch is a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a senior adviser to USAction and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was national campaign manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

Walmart: Portrait of a Job Killer

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Image: Mike HallWhenever communities, lawmakers or activists question or criticize Walmart for the way it treats workers—the low-pay, the stores’ impact on the communities—the retail giant pulls out a well-worn script with a simple message, “Walmart creates jobs and if there’s one thing this economy needs, it’s more jobs.”

Setting aside the quality of the jobs for another day, is Walmart telling the truth? Sure doesn’t look like it, according to Salon’s Kathleen Geier, who matches Walmart’s claims against in-depth research from universities, economists, government studies and other sources. Here’s what she finds:

Contrary to Walmart’s self-glorifying mythology, the retailer is anything but a job creator—in fact, it is a huge job killer. Not only that, destroying jobs is an essential component of Walmart’s anti-worker business model.

She cites a study led by Economist David Neumark—who, by the way, has written against raising the minimum wage in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Using data from more than 3,000 counties, [the] results show that when a Walmart store opens, it kills an average 150 retail jobs at the county level, with each Walmart worker replacing about 1.4 retail workers. These results are robust under a variety of models and tests.

2009 study by Loyola University found that the opening of a Chicago Walmart store was “a wash,” destroying as many jobs as it created. According to the report, “There is no evidence that Wal-Mart sparked any significant net growth in economic activity or employment in the area.” Says Geier:

In short, when Walmart comes to town, it doesn’t “create” anything. All it does is put mom-and-pop stores out of business.

Walmart’s job-killing spree doesn’t stop at the city limits. The remains of once good jobs are scattered throughout Walmart’s entire supply chain. Its cut-throat drive for lower prices, writes Geier, squeezes suppliers to deliver goods at the lowest possible prices and that means cutting labor costs—aka jobs.

Read the full article.

Walmart’s using that specious jobs argument in its fight to block a living wage law in Washington,D.C. Find out more here.

Article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW  on August 6, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author:  Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety

You Load Sixteen Tons and What Do You Get?

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

I know what it’s like to depend upon coal to feed a family. Many years ago I worked at a steel mill in Ohio. My job was at the coke plant where West Virginia coal was turned into coking coal for the blast furnace. The top of the coke ovens was an area the size of a football field where monstrous machines funneled coal into the ovens. It was my job to put the heavy oven lids back on nice and tight.  It was literally as hot as hell up there. It felt like walking barefoot on hot coals. The air we breathed was truly foul but to us it was the sweet smell of something like success. We called it the smell of money because it paid the bills.

Yet as soon as I got a chance to escape the coke ovens, I took it. I got a job bid on a crew at the blast furnace. But I couldn’t escape the coal. Like the devil or a bad check, coal will find you. It followed me to the blast furnace.

Big railroad cars full of coking coal arrived at the blast furnace every two or three hours. In the winter it would get as cold as twenty below zero and the coal would freeze solid into one huge mass. The company said under no circumstances were we to climb into the open-top railroad cars to break up the coal. But the company also made it clear we better hurry up and get that coal offloaded. So in we went, carrying big torches to heat the coal and pry bars to break it up. We prayed that it wouldn’t loosen all at once with the possibility that we might go down the chute with it. Many times on a cold winter night I had to look in on my sleeping babies to motivate myself to leave for work on midnight shift.

There was a small group of environmentalists in town who kept raising hell about the pollution from the steel mills. I understood their point. After all, I was more directly affected by pollution than they were. But they didn’t even give lip service to our need to feed our families. So I dismissed them out of hand. In fact, I hated them and feared the changes they might be able to bring about. Jobs or the environment? An easy choice to make. Jobs are more important.

Eventually I was permanently downsized from the mill. The loss of my job caused severe dislocation for my family. It also caused dislocation in my mind, creating an opening, a new space. Facts and events that had once gone in one ear and out the other began to find a place in my thinking. Global warming. Poisoned rivers and oceans. Black lung disease. Hurricane Katrina. Oil spills. Coal-fired power plants spewing acid and deadly metals into our air.

Slowly and not always surely, I began to realize that the environmentalists I had once rejected as extremists were correct when they said that fossil fuels are destroying the earth. Coal and oil aren’t just causing some problems we can learn to live with in pursuit of economic survival. They are going to make it impossible for humans to live on this planet.

Jobs or the environment? Posing the question that way eliminates any chance of coming up with answers and it ignores the people who live at ground zero of the debate. I know first-hand what goes through the minds of coal miners as they sit at the kitchen table facing a pile of bills. “Yes, I know what some people say about what we do. They may even be right. But just give me one more month on this job so I can pay the rent and the electric and the credit card bill. Then maybe one more month after that and another after that until the youngest finishes school.”

Jobs or the environment? Soon it will be too late and we will have neither. Unless we come together under the banner of both.

 

This article was originally printed in Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing by Lee Ballinger.  If you would like to make a comment or to be notified when the book is published, please email [email protected] or go to http://www.facebook.com/leeballingerwrites.

Report: 73.4 Million Young Workers Jobless in 2013

Friday, May 10th, 2013

A stunning 73.4 million young workers are estimated to be jobless in 2013, an increase of 3.5 million between 2007 and 2013, according to an International Labor Organization (ILO) report released Wednesday. Even worse, the number of unemployed young workers is likely to increase through 2018, with the long-term impact felt for decades, the report forecasts.

According to “Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013: A Generation at Risk.”

The youth employment crisis will not be overcome without stronger employment growth. But job growth will not happen on its own. The report urges nations to adopt aggressive policies for improving job growth, including strategies targeting employment of disadvantaged youth. Further, nations must invest in education and training and ensure labor rights are based on international labor standards “to ensure that young people receive equal treatment and are afforded rights at work.

The report also finds:

Increasing the participation of young people in employers’ and workers’ organizations and in social dialogue and improving their awareness about young workers’ rights—including through modules in school curricula—are key instruments for enabling young people to voice their concerns and for improving the quality of jobs available to them.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Young workers are increasingly employed in non-standard jobs, including temporary employment and part-time work. Informal employment accounts for half of young workers in the Russian Federation.
  • In 2012, youth unemployment was highest in the Middle East (28.3%) and North Africa (23.7%) and lowest in East Asia (9.5%) and South Asia (9.3%).
  • Gender gaps in youth unemployment rates are exceptionally large in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • In all developing countries surveyed, more young people receive below-average wages than average or above-average wages. This trend is strongest in Cambodia, Liberia, Malawi and Peru, where two-thirds of working young are classified as poorly paid.
  • Young people continue to suffer disproportionately from decent work deficits and low-quality jobs, measured in terms of working poverty, low pay and/or employment status and exposure to occupational hazards and injury.

Underlying the inability of young workers to find jobs, the report finds, is the persistent unavailability of quality, full-time jobs; the proliferation of temporary jobs; a skills mismatch; and the growth of informal, subsistence jobs in developing countries.

Packed with charts and graphs, the 150-page report also includes case studies highlighting best practices for addressing youth unemployment, including Peru’s job action plan and the dual apprenticeship program offered in some European countries.

Report: 73.4 Million Young Workers Jobless in 2013 originally appeared on the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s website.

This article was posted on the AFL-CIO on May 9, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell has a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—She started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), She now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

CEPR Report: How to Create More 'Good' Jobs

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth Quinnell

new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows the country needs to increase union membership significantly, create universal health care, a universal retirement system (beyond Social Security), expand college attainment and achieve gender pay equity to create more “good” jobs in the United States.

CEPR defines a good job as one that pays at least $19 per hour, has employer-provided health insurance and has some kind of retirement plan. In previous reports, they showed there has been a significant decline in the past 30 years in the share of good jobs in the United States. The decline comes despite increases in productivity and educational attainment of the workforce.

The report notes that one of the key reasons for the decline in good jobs in recent decades is the decline in union participation. Increasing the percentage of the workforce that belongs to unions translates to an increase of good jobs of just less than 7%.

In the report, CEPR has five primary conclusions:

  1. It will take big steps to increase the number of good jobs in the economy, and none of the policies they propose would be sufficient alone.
  2. Eliminating bad jobs is easier than creating good jobs.
  3. Pursuing more than one of these policies would raise the number of good jobs more than the sum of the two policies individually.
  4. Increasing the membership of unions creates more good jobs than a comparable expansion of college attainment would, and it would do it more quickly than expanding college attainment.
  5. Gender pay equity would erase most of the good jobs gap between men and women.

Read the full report.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 29, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

 

Opposition to paid sick leave costs Christine Quinn some high-profile support

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Laura ClawsonNew York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s refusal to allow a paid sick leave bill to come to a vote—though it has the support of a strong majority of the city council—resurfaced in the news this week when feminist icon Gloria Steinem said she would withdraw her support from Quinn if Quinn continues to block the bill.

“Making life fairer for all women seems more important than breaking a barrier for one woman,” Ms. Steinem said, adding that the bill would ensure that working mothers could better take care of sick children without fear of losing their jobs.

While it’s unlikely that Gloria Steinem’s endorsement or lack thereof is going to move many votes, it underscores a potential weakness for Quinn: She’s getting more credit as a progressive candidate than her positions would merit, in part because, as Steinem points out, she would be the first woman elected mayor of New York City. And she’s a married lesbian to boot. Drawing attention to the disconnect between how her individual role is perceived and the policies she embraces may not be super helpful among voters, though since the policies are geared to get her business support, it may be a worthwhile tradeoff as far as she’s concerned.

Quinn continues to block the vote while claiming that paid sick leave is “a worthy and admirable goal, one I would like to make available for all.” Her reasoning, of course, is the standard line pushed by crappy employers that it would cost jobs. However, job creation did not suffer in San Francisco following the implementation of that city’s paid sick leave law in 2007. And paid sick leave continues to be a public health issue; as Katie J.M. Baker points out, “a recent CDC study identified infected food workers as a source of between 53 and 82% of norovirus outbreaks.”

The arguments against paid sick leave just don’t hold up. Quinn is blocking a bill that would benefit not just the more than 1.5 million New Yorkers who currently lack paid sick leave, but has widespread public support and would save tens of millions of dollars in health care costs each year, resulting from fewer emergency room visits. It’s costing her high-profile support in her mayoral run, and it should cost her more.

This post was originally posted on the Daily Kos on February 22, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

New Report: End China Currency Manipulation, Create Jobs

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Image: Mike HallIf the United States implemented trade policies to end currency manipulation—especially by China—not only would that reduce the U.S. trade deficit by $190 billion to $400 billion over three years, it would be a major first step in reviving the nation’s manufacturing sector and creating up to 4.7 million jobs, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The report, Reducing U.S. Trade Deficits Will Generate a Manufacturing-Based Recovery for the United States and Ohio: Ending Currency Manipulation by China and Others Is the Place to Start, finds that:

Reviving U.S. manufacturing requires eliminating a jobs-destroying U.S. trade deficit in goods by ending currency manipulation and investing in a series of coordinated manufacturing policies.

Currency manipulation is the largest single cause of the U.S. trade deficit and the Chinese government is the world’s biggest currency manipulator. It deliberately keeps the value of its currency artificially low and that artificially raises the price of U.S. exports to China and suppresses the price of Chinese imports into the United States. This artificial price advantage is one of many pull factors that encourages U.S. businesses to shut down operations here and manufacture in China instead.

Manufacturing jobs have been the hardest hit as a result of the nation’s trade deficit, and the EPI report says that the reduction in the trade deficit engineered through new trade policies would over three years:

  • Create between 2.2 million and 4.7 million U.S. jobs (equal to between 1.4% and 3% of total nonfarm employment).
  • Reduce the national unemployment rate by between 1.0 and 2.1 percentage points.
  • Create some 620,000 to 1.3 million manufacturing jobs (27.5% of all jobs created by eliminating currency manipulation).
  • Increase U.S. GDP by between $225.0 billion and $473.7 billion (an increase of between 1.4% and 3.1%).3
  • Shrink the federal budget deficit by between $78.8 billion and $165.8 billion (reductions that would continue as long as the trade balance remained stable), as growth in output expands tax receipts and reduces safety net payments.

But even then the United States would still face a sizeable trade deficit and that’s why, according to the report, “Fully eliminating the goods trade deficit requires implementing policies that will help restore demand for U.S. goods.” The report’s co-author Robert Scott says:

These reforms, coupled with massive investments in infrastructure, clean technologies and renewable energy, would reduce or eliminate the U.S. trade deficit, while supporting millions of additional good jobs, adding hundreds of billions of dollars to U.S. GDP, and reducing unemployment and federal budget deficits.

In 2011, the Senate passed legislation giving the U.S. Treasury Department more tools to enforce rules against currency manipulation, but House Republicans blocked a vote on the bill. According to the EPI report:

Although many legal and regulatory tools are available or have been proposed to reduce or eliminate currency manipulation, currency manipulation could be ended by the U.S. president with a mere stroke of a pen. The president could simply declare that the United States will no longer sell Treasury bills and other government assets to China and other countries that refuse to allow the United States to purchase their government assets (currency manipulators generally refuse to sell their government assets to the United States, effectively closing their capital markets)….Refusing to sell assets to currency manipulators would eliminate the principal tool used by foreign central banks to manipulate their currencies: purchases of Treasury bills and other government securities (U.S. government securities constitute approximately 70% of all such foreign exchange reserves).

Read the full report.

This article was originally posted by AFL-CIO on February 8, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Unemployment: Why Won’t Congress Talk About It!?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Change to WinAn interesting look at the unemployment rate. “What is currently a temporary long-term unemployment problem runs the risk of morphing into a permanent and costly increase in the unemployment rate” unless Congress takes action to create jobs. 

Why the Unemployment Rate Is So High – New York Times

Unemployment claims have increased slightly. “The Labor Department says applications rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000, the most in five weeks.”

Unemployment claims rise slightly in latest week – USA Today

“We need to avoid a lost generation of young people who will be playing economic catch-up their whole lives. We cannot stop pressing our leaders to help struggling poor and middle-class Americans.”

Crowdsourcing our economic recovery – CNN 

Even though the economy is improving, we need to do more to ensure the long term unemployed get back on their feet. Long term unemployment makes it harder and harder to provide for one’s family, and causes dramatic increases in mental illness. It’s time Washington gets busy putting people back to work. 

Long-Term Unemployed Winning Jobs Or Giving Up? – Huffington Post

This article was originally posted by ChangeToWin on January 11, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Change to Win is an organization created by over 5.5 million workers – if corporations can join together to hire an army of lobbyists, working and middle class Americans must also band together and restore balance by making sure we have a strong voice and a seat at the table again.

(Colleen Gartner is an intern at Workplace Fairness.)

As New Jobs Return, Employers Slash Wages

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012
New data has shown that while a majority of jobs eliminated during the downturn were in what we describe as the middle range of wages, the great majority of jobs added as the economy improves were low paying jobs, reported Katherine Rampell in the business section of the New York Times on Friday, August 31, 2012. This was documented in a study done by the National Employment Law Project.
 The study by Annette Bernhardt examined 366 occupations followed by the Labor Department. Bernhardt separated them into three equal groups by wages, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008.
     The middle third consisted of jobs like construction, manufacturing, and information. These jobs paid median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13. Over 60% of these jobs were lost during the recession. When the middle third jobs returned, they represented only 22% of total employment growth.
      In the category of higher wage occupations, those that had a median wage of $21.14 to $54.55 reflected only 19% of job losses. However, when growth in the economy began, only 20% of new jobs were the result of the upturn. This was only a 1% increase which doesn’t even cover new entrants into the labor force.
     Low wage jobs with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83 accounted for 21% of job losses during the downturn. The startling fact is that low wage jobs now constitute 58% of all job growth. The jobs with the fastest growth were retail sales at a median wage of $10.97 per hour. At this salary, workers would be eligible for food stamps.
      Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009. Many of these new paying jobs were taken by recent high school and college graduates who were previously unemployed. Others were taken by older workers who formerly had jobs that paid much more, who were desperate.
     Mid-wage and middle class jobs have been disappearing at a rapid rate. Some of this is due to automation, but the bulk of the job loss is the result of employers taking millions of jobs overseas to low wage paying countries.
     At the same time, corporations and their Republican robots are passing so called “Right to Work” legislation which further erodes the wage structure. The labor movement, the trade unions, and their progressive allies are the only institutions that can bring back middle class livable wages.
This post was originally posted on Union Review on December 19, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
 
About the Author: Seymour Slavin is an Independent Nonprofit Organization Management Professional at Union Review.

How A Proposed Pennsylvania Law Would Make Workers Pay Taxes To Their Boss

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

According to Good Jobs First, an organization that promotes accountability in economic development, several states allow corporations to literally pocket their employees’ tax payments. Rather than having those taxes go towards public services, the companies withhold money from their workers’ paychecks and just keep it, never remitting it to the state, under the guise of a job creation program.

Good Jobs First found that “nearly $700 million is getting diverted each year. And it is very unlikely that the affected workers are aware, given that no state requires that the diversion be disclosed on pay stubs.” Now, Pennsylvania is considering becoming the latest state to participate, as the Philadelphia City Paper reported:

Republican Governor Tom Corbett is deciding whether or not to sign legislation that would require some workers to pay taxes to their bosses. Yes, you read that right. The bill, which would allow companies that hire at least 250 new workers in the state to keep 95-percent of the workers’ withheld income tax, is an effort to to recruit Oracle to the state.

Your taxes would get withheld by your boss like normal, but they would then keep them and spend it on private jets or monogrammed bathroom fixtures or whatever instead of turning them over to the state–turning your tax dollars over to the state being the whole reason they were ostensibly “withheld” in the first place.

“These deals typify corporate socialism, in which business gains are privatized and costs socialized,” wrote Reuters David Cay Johnson. “Leaders in both parties embrace these giveaways because they draw campaign donations from corporate interests and votes from people who do not understand that they are subsidizing huge companies.” The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center listed a host of reasons that Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA) should reject the law, including its effect on state revenue and its loopholes that will allow companies to collect their workers’ tax payments even if they create no new jobs.

This post originally appeared in ThinkProgress’s Wonk Room on October 24, 2012.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is an Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

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