Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Labor Day’

When the Parades Are Over, Who Stands With Unions?

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

The Labor Day parades are over. The bands have packed up. The muscular speeches celebrating workers are finished. The trash is getting collected from parks across the country.  And now conservative politicians from Trump on down will revive their systematic efforts to weaken unions and undermine workers.

Trump – despite all the populist bunting that decorates his speeches – sustains the deeply entrenched Republican antipathy to organized workers. Their attack is relentless.

Trump’s budget calls for deep cuts in the Labor Department, eviscerating job training programs and cutting – by 40 percent – the agency that does research on workplace safety. It would eliminate the program that funds education of workers on how to avoid workplace hazards. It even savages money for mine safety enforcement for the miners Trump claims to love.

Trump is systematically reversing any Obama rule that aided workers. He signed legislation scrapping the rule that required federal contractors to disclose violations of workplace safety and employment and anti-discrimination laws. His Labor Secretary has announced his intention to strip millions of workers of the overtime pay they would have received under Obama DOL regulations.

Trump is creating a pro-business majority at the National Labor Relations Board, which will roll back Obama’s efforts to make it easier for workers to organize, and make it possible to hold home companies responsible for the employment practices of their franchisees.

The GOP’s Anti-Union Strategy

This is simply standard operating procedure for today’s Republican party. Long ago, Republicans realized that organized labor was a central “pillar,” as Grover Norquist described it, of Democratic Party strength. Now Republican office holders at every level – from county officials to statehouses to judges – know that their job is to weaken labor unions. From right to work laws to administrative regulations to court challenges, Republicans sustain an unrelenting attack.

And aided by our perverse globalization strategies, they’ve been remarkably successful. Unions are down to about 7 percent of the private workforce. Public employee unions, a relative stronghold, are facing court challenges – essentially allowing workers to enjoy the benefits of union negotiations without paying dues — that will decimate their membership.

True conservatives would embrace unions. They are a classic “mediating institution,” a voluntary civic organization between government and the individual. Unions increase the voice and power of workers in the workplace, helping to keep executive accountable, and to protect workers from abuse. They also educate their members, teach democracy, and are central to community volunteer and service efforts. They teach and practice democratic citizenship.

The modern Republican Party, of course, is the party of big business and big money. It isn’t conservative; it is partisan. And weakening unions is a constant target.

While Republicans understand how important unions are to Democrats and to workers, Democrats don’t seem to get it. Sure, they line up to get union donations; most will vote to defend unions and worker programs. But as the money in politics has gotten bigger and the unions have gotten weaker, the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party has become more powerful.

The result is clear. When Republicans get control, they attack unions relentlessly. When Democrats gain control, as they did in 2012 with the election of Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in both houses, labor law reform, empowering workers to organize is not a priority. Obama essentially told unions that if they could get the votes, he’d sign the law, but he wasn’t leading the charge. And so as under Carter and Clinton, changing the law to make it easier for workers to organize and bargain collectively didn’t happen.

Unions Under Siege

Now unions are under siege. Yet it is hard to imagine how a small “d” democracy can be robust, or a large D Democratic Party can regain its mojo without a revived movement of workers. It’s time for Democrats at every level to realize: strengthening workers and their unions isn’t an elective; it’s a requirement and a first priority.

The loop works like this: Unions are in decline. As a result, unions lose influence inside the Democratic Party. The Democrats then feel no pressure to stem unions’ decline, and the economically disadvantaged lose what was once their most powerful advocate. Then the cycle continues. We cannot revive unions, and we have no template for egalitarian politics without them.

Unions aren’t simply economic actors. They’re political actors. Labor still needs the Democrats. The Democrats, more than they realize, still need labor. But most of all, all those who want to build a fairer society need their partnership.

Republican elites understand the doom loop. Big business, small business, and Tea Party alike have pushed hard against unions. As the parties have polarized, Republicans have taken the gloves off, risking the votes of the 40 percent of union members who back Republicans in order to crush a pillar of the Democratic coalition. Even President Bernie Sanders would have real trouble rebuilding unions in the face of a Republican Congress and a federal judiciary eager to swat down pro-labor executive action.

Even without Republican politicians digging their graves, labor unions face deep challenges. In the private sector, unions must sign contracts workplace by workplace. Gawker writers here and home-care workers there will continue to organize their workplaces, but the barriers remain dauntingly high. In the public sector, unions have stood steady. But cops and teachers alike face blowback for putting their own prerogatives above the public interest. And if the Supreme Court bans the collection of agency fees in the public sector (thus imposing “right to work”), public-sector union membership could halve in a decade.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on September 5, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Robert Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. The organizations were launched by 100 prominent Americans to develop the policies, message and issue campaigns to help forge an enduring majority for progressive change in America. Mr. Borosage writes widely on political, economic and national security issues. He is a Contributing Editor at The Nation magazine, and a regular blogger at The Huffington Post. His articles have appeared in The American Prospect, The Washington Post,Tthe New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He edits the Campaign’s Making Sense issues guides, and is co-editor of Taking Back America (with Katrina Vanden Heuvel) and The Next Agenda (with Roger Hickey).

Labor unions are trying to take back politics in the Midwest

Monday, September 4th, 2017

On Labor Day — designated a federal holiday in 1894 to honor America’s labor movement — at least eight Democratic candidates will hold rallies in five Midwest cities to tell workers just how far the country has veered from its pro-labor roots.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) has helped turn the state red by decimating public-sector unions. In Iowa, Republicans rolled back an increase in the minimum wage in March. Just last week, Illinois’ Republican governor vetoed a billthat would have raised the minimum wage. And Republican governors in Michigan and Ohio have also pushed for regulations that would cripple workers.

In 2018, each will face challenges from unconventional, labor-aligned candidates inspired to run by President Trump’s election and the decline of pro-worker lawmakers, which has resulted in a political system in the Rust Belt that favors the wealthy over the working class. Each candidate will center their campaigns on their support for a $15 minimum wage, progressive health care, and pro-union policies.

Cathy Glasson, a registered nurse and union leader in Iowa who will officially announce after Labor Day her campaign for governor in 2018, said that before this year, she had never considered running for elected office.

“This wasn’t in my plan, but as a union leader, you take action when you see the problems ahead and you don’t sit back and wait for things to change,” she told ThinkProgress. “That’s why I decided when I saw what happened with the legislature and the rollback of the minimum wage. We had raised the minimum wage in five counties in Iowa and this administration literally took money out of the pockets of Iowans — 85,000 Iowans were affected by the rollback here.”

Like other first-time politicians throwing themselves into 2018, Glasson has been a union member for decades and will prioritize the need for more American workers to join unions and employee associations.

“The number one job of any elected official, particularly the governor, should be to raise wages and improve the standard living for all Iowans,” she said. “The union movement and the Fight for $15 and its allies realize that low pay is not okay.”

Glasson’s campaign will have the backing of her union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). One of the country’s largest labor unions, SEIU and its Fight for $15 arm — a national campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 — will announce Monday a push to elect labor-friendly candidates in 2018 in the Midwest states where unions once held tremendous power. The union will budget roughly $100 million for the 2018 midterm elections — around $30 million more than it spent in 2016 — to flip the once-Democratic states back to blue.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of Wisconsin who announced he’s considering a run for governor in July, will rally with workers at a hospital. In Cleveland, Ohio, talk show host and former Cincinnati Mayor Jerry Springer, who is considering a run for governor next year, will join workers at a march. In Des Moines, Iowa, Glasson will also rally at a medical center. In Chicago, Daniel Biss, Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker, three leading 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidates, will rally with SEIU’s president. And in Detroit, Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, another gubernatorial candidate, will also rally at a hospital.

“With the election of Donald Trump, we’re seeing a wave of first-time candidates excited about creating change in each of our states,” Glasson said. “We need to give people something to go to the polls and stand in line and vote for.”

Randy Bryce, a Wisconsin ironworker known as “Iron Stache” who launched a challenge to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in June and saw his campaign video go viral, will also be participating in Labor Day events across Wisconsin. He told ThinkProgress that, other than his son’s birthday, Labor Day is his favorite holiday.

“Especially in Wisconsin, with all the blatant political attacks, it’s great to see people still getting together and the numbers seem to increase every year, instead of what they’re trying to do, which is decrease our membership,” he said. “It’s great seeing more people get angry, frustrated, and want to fight back at the attacks because the government isn’t doing anything to stand up for workers’ rights.”

In Wisconsin in particular, the labor movement has struggled to fight back against the “banana republicans” in office, as Bryce calls them. “The labor movement took everything that we had for granted up until Scott Walker got elected,” he said.

Republicans in Wisconsin have gerrymandered the state so they do not fear losing their seats, Bryce noted, but the union movement is going to latch onto policies that he believes will resonate with voters across party lines, like wages and health care.

“Iowans and Americans in general are just tired of not fixing the problem, and states like Iowa should lead on this,” she said. “We can do that because it’s a reasonable size states, we can figure out how to pay for it, we can put policies in place that can move that agenda.”

Bryce agreed. “It’s the right thing to do but it’s also going to help create jobs,” he said.

SEUI’s campaign will include a voter engagement drive aimed at expanding the turnout on Election Day in 2018. According to the New York Times, the union conducted a pilot project during the 2016 campaign in which it canvassed voters in two largely African-American neighborhoods of Detroit to spread information about which candidates support workers and higher wages.

“Over all, about 62 percent of voters the union talked to during the pilot project cast ballots in the presidential election, versus turnout of about 38 percent of voters who it did not talk to, according to data provided by the union,” the report noted. “Applying the same percentage to all of Detroit’s voters would have produced about 40,000 more total votes in 2016, an amount that would have almost certainly secured the state for [Hillary] Clinton.”

While the need to push out anti-worker Republicans in the Midwest is paramount, many of the labor-aligned Democrats are also running to provide a counter to the Trump administration. As Glasson noted, the administration has been a disaster for working families and has alienated labor more and more as the year progresses. In August, in the wake of the president’s comments about Charlottesville, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka left the president’s manufacturing councilsaying that some White House aides “turned out to be racist.”

Glasson said that because of the administration’s hostility toward labor, its critical to have pro-union individuals get involved in politics.

“Unions have been the only way that workers who drive our economy have a voice in politics,” Glasson said. “By collecting and pooling union members’ money, we are a force to be reckoned with in politics, and so the intentional attack on unions in the state of Iowa and the Midwest and beyond is intentional to silent the voice of everyday workers that need to have a voice in politics.”

Bryce agreed that if unions do not get involved now, the Trump administration could decimate the labor movement to a point of no return.

“You’re seeing a lot of people step up since this past election and see that if we don’t get our stuff together, what little we have left, it’s going to be totally gone.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 3, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kira Lerner is a political reporter at ThinkProgress, where she covers a wide range of policy issues with a focus on voting rights and criminal justice reform. Her reporting on campaigns, elections, town halls, and the resistance movement has taken her to a long list of states across the country (but she’s still working on hitting 50). A native of the Washington, D.C. area, she holds a degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Raising America This Labor Day

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

seiuThe weekend and Labor Day are important times to reflect on and honor the courage of generations of working men and women–the people who brought us Labor Day and countless other benefits won by the labor movement, from better wages to improved working conditions.

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry adds that it is also a “pivotal time to take stock of where our families, our economy and our democracy are heading.”

In an op-ed for The Nation, Henry writes that we face an “incredible challenge”:

Half of all Americans now make less than $15 an hour. Of the 10 fastest-growing jobs in America, eight are service sector jobs. Service sector jobs are the heartbeat of our economy and our communities, from the folks who care for the elderly and our children, to those who cook and serve our food to those who clean and secure our offices. Moving our economy forward must include making service jobs into good jobs with wages that you can raise a family on.

From home care workers to adjunct professors and security officers to fast food workers, people are uniting in the largest, most determined movement for working families that modern America has ever seen. And we’re winning:

All told, 6.7 million workers have achieved better pay since fast food workers began striking less than two years ago, either through states or cities moving to raise minimum wages or through collective bargaining. These brave workers are building the momentum to raise wages and get our economy roaring again.

Yet, Henry notes, our prosperity depends not just on economic justice, but the fundamental American principles of liberty and justice for all.

The taking of Mike Brown’s life in Ferguson, Missouri only weeks ago reminds us that social and economic justice must go hand in hand for America to thrive. To solve these issues, we need opportunities for all Americans to fully participate in our economy and improve the quality of life for their families. That’s why we must also fix our broken immigration system and uphold and protect civil rights and democratic participation for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.

Enjoy a happy and safe Labor Day. For those who have the day off, best wishes for enjoyable celebrations with families and friends–and for those who are on the clock, thank you for the hard work that keeps America moving.

Originally appeared in SEIU Blog on August 31, 2014. Reprinted with Permission. http://www.seiu.org/blog/

Labor Day 2013: Things Have Never Looked Worse for Workers—Or Brighter

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

 

David MobergFour young men breakdancing on the Federal Plaza last week in downtown Chicago say a lot about why this Labor Day provides occasion for both celebration and protest.

 

The dancers—black, white, Latino, all of them putting on a spectacular show—were fast food and retail workers on strike for the day for $15 an hour pay and the right to form a union without retaliation. They were among about 400 low-wage workers from more than 60 stores convening for a celebration after a day of delivering their key demands—with specific additional grievances tailored to each workplace—to their employers, who, from McDonald’s to Sears, make up a  Who’s Who of brand-name fast-food and retail companies.

 

It was the third strike for many of the workers. The strike wave began last November in in New York, with Chicago holding protest marches late last year as well, and it spread in July to five other traditional union strongholds. On Thursday—just after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—thousands of workers from a total of approximately 60 cities joined a national day of action, the largest yet. Strikes cropped up in the South, in cities such as Raleigh, N.C. and Memphis, Tenn., and in smaller Northern cities, such as Bloomington and Peoria, Ill. In tiny Ellsworth, Maine, a community-labor group demonstrated support for higher pay fast food workers even though none went on strike. In some cases, workers appear to have organized themselves after hearing about the earlier actions, calling whomever they could contact and asking how they could take part in the next strike.

 

The dark side of this jubilant surge of activity is the many reasons why it is needed—weak job growth, underemployment, flat or declining wages, feeble labor standards, a stalled union movement, an occupational structure shifting toward more low-wage service jobs, growing inequality, and widespread abuse of power by the very rich.

 

The decline in the official unemployment rate masks the degree to which American workers face a very grim world of work. Much of the improvement in the unemployment rate simply reflects a growth in the number of discouraged or “marginally attached” workers (people who want a job but have given up looking). The share of the workforce working part-time involuntarily has risen as well.

 

Such slack in the demand for labor, along with the declining power of unions and the cuts in pay demanded by both private and public employers (often accompanied by outsourcing or, at public employers, privatizing), holds down—or pushes further down—wages that had improved little even from 2000 to 2007, when the recession began. Between 2007 and 2012, even as productivity grew by 7.7 percent, wages declined for the bottom 70 percent of the workforce, according to a recent Economic Policy Institute report by Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz.

 

The weakness of the labor movement, especially in growing, low-wage sectors like retail and fast food, accounts for much of the decline, but the diminishing value of the minimum wage plays a big role. According to another recent EPI study, by Sylvia Allegretto and Steven C. Pitts, if the federal government restored the minimum to its peak value in 1968, the minimum wage would be $9.44 today in inflation-adjusted dollars, not $7.25. And if it matched in real terms the $2.00 minimum wage demanded 50 years ago by the March on Washington, the minimum wage would be $13.39—not far from the striking fast food workers’ demand and not far from the minimum in many advanced countries (approximately $12 an hour in France and $15 an hour in Australia, for example). If the minimum wage had risen as much as worker productivity since 1968, it would be $22 an hour.

 

Any rise in the federal minimum would especially help people of color and women, Allegretto and Pitts report. Contrary to stereotypes of low-wage workers as teenages, a raise would help many adult, family-supporting workers. In a report for EPI published in March, David Cooper and Dan Essrow calculated that with even the modest $10.10 minimum proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the average age of low-wage workers whose pay would likely increase is 35. Eighty-eight percent are over 20 years old, and 35.5 percent are 40 or older. In addition, 44 percent of the beneficiaries would be workers with some college education, and 28 percent with children.

 

The plight of low-wage workers is becoming a much more acute problem as the nation’s occupational structure, that is, the kinds of jobs being created or retained, has changed. According to Daniel Alpert of the Century Foundation, 70 percent of the jobs created in the second quarter of this year were low-wage, like retail and hospitality work, about twice the percentage of such jobs in the overall workforce. And about 50 percent of all new jobs in the first half of 2013 were part-time.

 

Wages have risen for the top 5 percent, however, especially for the very richest. The top 1 percent—mainly executives and financial managers—captured 121 percent of the nation’s new income during the first two years of the recovery, according to University of California, Berkeley economist Emanuel Saez. How do they do that? Essentially, they direct all national income gains to themselves while simultaneously taking more away from the 99 percent.

 

Looking more closely makes the picture even uglier. The success of the very rich often involves large elements of chicanery, fraud and exploitation of public resources, according to a new study, “Bailed Out, Booted, Busted,” the 20th annual Labor Day edition of the Executive Excess reports from the Institute for Policy Studies. The researchers compiled data from 20 years of their studies, which relied on annual Wall Street Journal surveys of CEO pay.

 

Their final survey covered 500 CEOS—the 25 highest-paid CEOs each year for the two decades. IPS reports that 38 percent of these CEOs had performed extremely poorly as executives of their firms. Of those poor performers, 22 percent of the top pay winners led their firms into bankruptcy or bailout; 8 percent were fired (but got golden parachutes worth $38 million on average); and 8 percent were found guilty of fraud.

 

Then there are simply the super-excessively paid, making over $1 billion during their tenure, and other executives who fed at the “taxpayer trough,” collecting top pay while their companies profited as major government contractors.

 

Any move towards equality will have to hold down the excess at the top as well as raise the bottom. But beyond basic fairness, society would reap additional benefits—faster and more stable growth (and therefore a speedier, more robust recovery); less crime and social tension; a stronger democracy; and better health, longer life and lower medical expenses, to mention a just few. (See Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level.)

 

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus was not speaking rhetorically, but quite practically, when she told strikers in Chicago, “These workers are among thousands and thousands of low-wage workers around the country, who have a really reasonable and simple request, and that is that they be paid a living wage. …These are the makers; they are the takers. I want to thank these brave workers who walked out. They are doing it for themselves and they are doing it for America.”

 

And it seems the strikers are doing it their way, with people volunteering and reaching out to other workers to spread the word. Most events include raps composed by strikers about their work, and protest strategies reflect their decisions. For example, in Chicago, the strikers this time wanted actions at every store where someone walked out, not just a couple of highlighted targets, as in the July strike. And they wanted a celebration at the end. If the fast food fight succeeds, it will be a result of that insurgent sentiment.

 

The spirit was there in the breakdance—introduced in Spanish and English, as all the program was before the crowd of comfortably mixed ethnicities, performed under a banner reading, “Fight for 15, Valemos Mas.” Dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” two stands-in for CEOs in mock-suits faced off against two workers from Potbelly’s.

 

The workers won. It wasn’t Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers singing “Roll the Union On.” But I’m sure Pete would have approved

This article was originally published on Working In These Times on September 2, 2013.  Republished with permission. 

About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. .

On Labor Day, Work to Save the Middle Class

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Leo GerardThis Labor Day feels gloomy. It’s a celebration of work when there is not enough of it, a day off when too many desperately seek a day on.

America has commemorated two Labor Days since this brutal recession began near the end of George Bush’s presidency in December of 2007. Now the relentless high unemployment, the ever-rising foreclosures, the unremitting wage and benefit take-backs have replaced American optimism and enthusiasm with fear and anger.

Happy Labor Day.

On this holiday, we can rant with Glenn Beck, kick the dog and hate the neighbor lucky enough to retain his job. Or we can do something different. We can join with our neighbors, employed and unemployed, our foreclosed-on children, our elderly parents fearing cuts in their Social Security lifeline and our fellow workers worrying that the furlough ax will strike them next. Together we can organize and mobilize and create a grassroots groundswell that gives government no choice but to respond to our needs, the needs of working people.

We can do what workers did during the Great Depression to provoke change, to create programs like Social Security and achieve recognition of rights like collective bargaining. These changes were sought by groups to benefit groups. In a civil society, people care for one another. And America is such a society – one where people routinely donate blood to aid anonymous strangers, children set up lemonade stands to contribute to Katrina victims and working families find a few bucks for United Way.

The self-righteous Right is all about individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. That proposition – the do-it-all- by-yourself-winner-takes-all philosophy – clearly failed because so many Americans are jobless, homeless and too penniless to afford boots.

Over the past decade, the winner who took all was Wall Street. The banksters gambled on derivatives and other risky financial tomfoolery and won big time. Until they lost. And crashed the economy. After the American taxpayer bailed them out, those wealthy traders returned to making huge profits and bonuses based on perilous schemes.

Still, they believe they haven’t taken enough from working Americans. They’re lobbying to end aid for those who remain unemployed in a recession caused by Wall Street recklessness. And they’re demanding extension of their Bush-given tax breaks. This is the nation’s upper 1 percent, people who earn a million or more each year, the 1 percent that took home 56 percent of all income growth between 1989 and 2007, the year the recession began.

Since 2007, 8.2 million workers have lost jobs. Millions more are underemployed, laboring part-time when they need full-time jobs, or barely squeaking by on slashed wages and benefits. Since the recession began, the unemployment rate nearly doubled, from 5 percent to 9.6 percent, and that does not include those so discouraged that they’ve given up the search for jobs, a decision that is, frankly, understandable when there are only enough openings to re-employ 20 percent of the jobless. Five unemployed workers compete for each job created in this sluggish economy.

And American workers weren’t prepared for this downturn, having already suffered losses in the years before it began. The median income, adjusted for inflation, of working-age households declined by more than $2,000 in the seven years before the recession started.

At the same time, practices like off-shoring jobs and signing regressive international trade deals contributed to the loss of middle class, blue collar jobs. A new report, “The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market,” by the Center for American Progress and The Hamilton Project, says:

“The decline in middle-skill jobs has been detrimental to the earnings and labor force participation rates of workers without a four-year college education, and differentially so for males, who are increasingly concentrated in low-paying service occupations.”

The recession compounded that, the report says:

“Employment losses during the recession have been far more severe in middle-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs than in either high-skill, white-collar jobs or low-skill service occupations.”

What that means is high roller banksters are living large; lawn care workers and waitresses subsist on minimum wage, and working class machinists and steelworkers are disappearing altogether.

The researchers found the U.S. economy is increasingly polarized into high-skill, high-wage jobs and low-skill, low wage jobs. America is losing the middle jobs and with them its great middle class.

No wonder the rising anger in middle America.

But fury doesn’t solve the problem. This Labor Day, we must organize to save ourselves and our neighbors. We must stop America from descending into plutocracy. We must demand support for American manufacturing and middle class jobs. That means terminating tax breaks for corporate outsourcers, ending trade practices that violate agreements and international law and punishing predator countries for currency manipulation that subverts fair trade by artificially lowering the price of products shipped into the U.S. while artificially raising the price of American exports.

We must demand support for American industry, particularly manufacturers of renewable energy sources like solar cells and wind turbines that create good working class jobs, increase America’s energy independence and reduce climate change.

We must insist on policies that support the middle class, including preserving Social Security and Medicare, extending unemployment insurance while joblessness remains high, and enforcing the health care reform law so that every American worker and family can afford and is covered by insurance.

On this Labor Day, we should all have a picnic, invite neighbors, friends and family, and over hot dogs and potato salad, organize to save the American middle class.

Mobilize to end the gloom and restore American optimism.

***

For help: the Union of the Unemployed, the AFL-CIO, USW, Working America. Join the One Nation March for jobs Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.

Labor Day's Legacy: A More Inclusive America

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Amy DeanAt some point in their lives, almost all parents think about making a will to ensure that their assets are passed on to the next generation. But material gains, of course, are the least of what we give our children. Far more important are the values we teach them.

This Labor Day, I propose we think less about the material gains that working Americans have secured for their families over the past century. Instead, we should consider the values that organized labor embodies that we might hope to pass along to our children.

What I inherited from my grandparents — and what I want to see the labor movement impart to the next generation — is a legacy of inclusion.

In the early 1900s, my grandparents came to this country as Jewish immigrants fleeing pogroms and oppression in Eastern Europe. Although they worked low-paying jobs in the textile and apparel sectors, they were deeply motivated by a vision of building a better society.

Part of their motivation was secular, and part came out of their faith. Their vision of creating a better America involved a politics of mutual aid and mutual support. Working with this in mind, they helped to establish some of the foundational institutions of our democracy. Their generation built hospitals and synagogues. They built public schools. And they built trade unions.

When I was a child, my grandfather brought me from meeting to meeting, where we would hear people talk and argue. They would discuss pooling their resources to take care of someone who was sick, or to bury the dead, or to help a family whose breadwinner had been suddenly thrown out of work. Those informal networks of support, which existed for generations, were the precursors to modern trade unions. In more recent decades, unions have been the means for employees to come together, work in their collective interest, and help provide one another with a measure of economic security.

The result has been profound. Because my grandparents’ generation built unions of textile and apparel workers — as well as unions in other industrial sectors of the economy — their children were able to go to college. Many in the next generation became educators and public servants, and they built organizations of their own. Today’s teachers unions and public sector unions stand in this same tradition of being a bulwark of middle class life in America.

On this Labor Day, we can witness a new wave of immigrants coming to this country with a vision of building a better life. They may come from different countries, their complexions may be different, and they may be more likely to work as janitors or housekeepers than as factory workers. But their hopes and aspirations are the same.

The question for us as a society is: Will we leave a legacy behind of inclusion and preserve our country as the place that the world looks to as a haven of opportunity? Or will we take America down a very alien path, close our doors, and become a nation laden with fear-mongering, scapegoating, and exclusion?

This is an especially important question for Labor Day, because organized labor has been the central institution in our country that has allowed previous generations of immigrants — people like my grandparents — to enter into the economic mainstream of their communities. Today, as we work to create pathways that will allow newly arrived immigrants to weave themselves into the civic fabric of American society, a large part of our efforts must be to create a revitalized labor movement, one eager to welcome them into its ranks.

We need look no further than labor’s past to give us direction toward a more inclusive future.

About This Author: Amy B. Dean served as President of the South Bay AFL-CIO in Silicon Valley from 1992-2003 and chaired AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s committee on the future direction of labor strategy at the regional level. She is co-author, with David B. Reynolds, of A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.

HAPPY LABOR DAY

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Will DurstPoor Labor Day. Gets no respect. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of celebrations. The runt of the holiday litter. Just hearing the name conjures up depressing images of a last plastic souvenir sports bottle of lemonade poured on the dying charcoal briquettes of summer. It’s the end of the bright light and the beginning of the darkness. Vacation is over and the fun has expired.

White shoes are put back in the closet and storm windows taken out. Watermelons are replaced on the floor next to produce bins by pumpkins. Swimming pools get drained and ice cream trucks convoy back into their hibernatory garages. All the red, white and blue motifs give way to orange and black. The solstice is dead. Long live the autumnal equinox.

As a kid, I was too busy running from the shadow of school’s return and the end of my freedom to pay much attention to the meaning of the holiday. And when I did, it made no sense. Honor work? Who would do that? Might as well set aside a day to venerate broccoli. I thought of work as a thing to be avoided not celebrated. Chores squared.

But then I entered the real world and desired things, like food and shelter and clothing and gasoline, which forced me into gainful employment. And it was surprisingly enjoyable. Not the getting up at 4 am part, but the fruit of accomplishment deal- yeah. Got my social security number at the age of 12. Held over 100 different jobs. Then in 1981, I was able to earn a living at my chosen craft. Making me an extremely lucky man.

Without labor, we would still be nomads, boiling river water to wash down our nightly meal of beans and mush and roots and moss. Getting way too friendly with the livestock. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. From the people who brought you the weekend, not to mention the 40 hour work week and the lunch hour and the smoke break and the potty run and the punch clock dash.

Our society’s love affair with the genetically blessed can get tiresome. The rich and the beautiful and the fast and the strong. The lucky sperm club. People who were in the right place at the right time, and most of those places were wombal. That’s why it’s important to have this one 24- hour period to honor ordinary Americans. Real folks who don’t think “work ethic” is a dirty word. Or a dirty two words. Or whatever.

No, there’s no fireworks to watch or ugly birds to cook or chocolate covered bunnies to steal marshmallows from. Just one Monday off for all those regular guys and gals trying to make ends meet; raising 2.3 kids while juggling a mortgage and trying to cover the monthly cable bill with at least one premium channel thrown in.

One day to celebrate what it is that we do for a living by taking the day off from work. Paying tribute not to some dead presidents or a religious fertility ritual or the valiant who have fallen defending democracy, but to the living. To us. The true American heroes. The ones who keep democracy alive and shaking and moving and growing. You and me. All right. All right. Fine. Mostly you. Happy Labor Day everybody.

About The Author: Will Durst is a San Francisco based political comedian who writes sometimes. This being an example. Catch Durst with Johnny Steele and Deb & Mike, Friday and Saturday, the 10th & 11th at the Town Hall in Lafayette. His new CD, “Raging Moderate,” now available from Stand Up! Records on iTunes and Amazon. Coming early next year: “Where the Rogue Things Go.”


‘Young Workers: A Lost Decade’

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

Take a look around this Labor Day. Chances are, you’ll see a lot of young workers on the job, because something bad happened in the past 10 years to young workers in this country: Since 1999, more of them now have lower-paying jobs, if they can get a job at all; health care is a rare luxury and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. In fact, many—younger than 35—still live at home with their parents because they can’t afford to be on their own.

These are the findings of a new report, “Young Workers: A Lost Decade.” Conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and our community affiliate Working America, the nationwide survey of 1,156 people follows up on a similar survey the AFL-CIO conducted in 1999. The deterioration of young workers’ economic situation in those 10 years is alarming.

Nate Scherer, 31, is among today’s young workers. Scherer lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he shares a home with his wife, his parents, brother and his partner.  He spoke at a media conference at the AFL-CIO today to discuss the report.

After getting married, my wife and I decided to move in with my parents to pay off our bills. We could afford to live on our own but we’d never be able to get out of debt. We have school loans to pay off, too. We’d like to have children, but we just can’t manage the expense of it right now…so we’re putting it off till we’re in a better place. My [work] position is on the edge, and I feel like if my company were to cut back, my position would be one of the first to go.

During today’s press briefing, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka summed up the report’s findings this way:

We’re calling the report “A Lost Decade” because we’re seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They’ve put off adulthood—put off having kids, put off education—and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.

Just last week we learned that about 1.7 million fewer teenagers and young adults were employed in July than a year before, hitting a record low of 51.4 percent.

As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said:  

Young workers in particular must be given the tools to lead the next generation to prosperity. The national survey we’re releasing today shows just how broken our economy is for our young people…and what’s at stake if we don’t fix it.

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • 31 percent of young workers report being uninsured, up from 24 percent 10 years ago, and 79 percent of the uninsured say they don’t have coverage because they can’t afford it or their employer does not offer it.
  • Strikingly, one in three young workers are currently living at home with their parents.
  • Only 31 percent say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside—22 percentage points fewer than in 1999—while 24 percent cannot even pay their monthly bills. 
  • A third cannot pay their bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.
  • 37 percent have put off education or professional development because they can’t afford it.
  • When asked who is most responsible for the country’s economic woes, close to 50 percent of young workers place the blame on Wall Street and banks or corporate CEOs. And young workers say greed by corporations and CEOs is the factor most to blame for in the current financial downturn.
  • By a 22-point margin, young workers favor expanding public investment over reducing the budget deficit. Young workers rank conservative economic approaches such as reducing taxes, government spending and regulation on business among the five lowest of 16 long-term priorities for Congress and the president.
  • Thirty-five percent say they voted for the first time in 2008, and nearly three-quarters now keep tabs on government and public affairs, even when there’s not an election going on.
  • The majority of young workers and nearly 70 percent of first-time voters are confident that Obama will take the country in the right direction.

Trumka, who is running for AFL-CIO president without announced opposition at our convention later this month, is making union outreach to young people a top priority. He said one of the report’s conclusions is especially striking:

Young people want to be involved but they’re rarely asked. Their priorities are even more progressive than the priorities of the older generation of working people, yet they aren’t engaged by co-workers or friends to get involved in the economic debate.

Currently, 18-to-35-year-olds make up a quarter of union membership. And at the AFL-CIO Convention, we will ask Convention delegates to approve plans for broad recruitment of young workers, as well as plans for training and leadership of young workers who are currently union members. And that’s just the beginning of a broad push towards talking and mobilizing young workers in the coming months and years.

According to the report, more than half of young workers say employees are more successful getting problems resolved as a group rather than as individuals, and employees who have a union are better off than employees in similar jobs who do not.

Read the full report here.

About the Author: Seth D. Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.

This article originally appeared in employeefreechoice.org. Re-printed with permission from the author.

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Big Pharma Whistleblower Gets $51 Million

Monday, September 14th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

It’s an amazing story and one worth talking about.  Gulf War veteran and former Pfizer sales representative John Kopchinski is getting $51 million dollars as a result of his whistleblowing lawsuit against Pfizer – the world’s biggest drug maker — and that’s big news.

Pfizer to Pay $2.3 Billion for Fraudulent Marketing 

According to a statement from the Justice Department,   Pfizer’s illegal practices in connection with its promotion of an anti-inflammatory drug called  Bextra is what got it into big trouble.

Under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, a company must specify the intended uses of a product in its new drug application to FDA. Once approved, the drug may not be marketed or promoted for so-called “off-label” uses.

It turns out that Pfizer promoted the sale of Bextra for several uses and dosages that the FDA specifically declined to approve because of its safety concerns.

As a result of that conduct, (as well as violations involving other drugs) the company will pay a criminal fine of $1.195 billion, the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States for any matter.

Pharmacia & Upjohn (Pfizer subsidiaries) will also forfeit $105 million, for a total criminal resolution of $1.3 billion.

All in all, Pfizer settled the case( which included civil and criminal penalties) for a whopping $2.3 billion dollars.

False Claims Act Liability

Pfizer also agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve allegations under the civil False Claims Act (also know as Qui Tam).

Under the Act, it is illegal to knowingly present a false or fraudulent claim for payment to the federal government or use a false or fraudulent record to get paid. The way it works is:

  • individuals and entities with evidence of fraud involving the United States or its programs or contracts can sue the wrongdoer on behalf of the government
  • the government has the right to intervene and join the action
  • if the government declines, the private plaintiff may proceed on his or her own behalf

Those who violate the Act are liable for three times the dollar amount of the fraud and additional civil penalties. As far as the whistleblower goes, the Whistelblowers Protection Blog explains it this way:

A qui tam plaintiff can receive between 15 and 30 percent of the total recovery from the defendant, whether through a favorable judgment or settlement. To be eligible to recover money under the Act, you must file a qui tam lawsuit. Merely informing the government about the violation is not enough. You only receive an award if, and after, the government recovers money from the defendant as a result of your suit.

 In this case, Kopchinski (and others) claimed that Pfizer:

  • illegally promoted four drugs  (Bextra an anti-inflammatory; Geodon, an anti-psychotic drug; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug),
  • for uses that were not medically accepted, and
  • caused false claims to be submitted to government health care programs.

As a part of the resolution of the case,  six whistleblowers will receive payments totaling more than $102 million from the federal share of the civil recovery.

Kopchinski, whose reporting instigated the government investigation, will get $51.5 million.

Great Result For This Whistleblower

It’s a fantastic result for Kopchinski and the end of a long road. Most whistleblowers go through an enormous ordeal and so did Kopchinski,

First they struggle with the difficulty of reporting the illegal and/or dangerous practices to the corporate hierarchy and the pressure that goes with it.

What happens next —  when they are ignored as they often are — is that they are labeled as troublemakers and then fired because of trumped up charges of misconduct.

Once they report the wrongdoing to a government agency, they are blackballed in their industry and can’t get work. The stress, anxiety, guilt, and financial distress is overwhelming for most.

Kopchinski had this to say in a statement he released:

In the Army I was expected to protect people at all costs, 

At Pfizer I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives. 

I couldn’t do that.

That’s why Kopchinski got fired. At the time (2003) he had a baby and his wife was pregnant with twins. He went from earning $125,000 a year, to depleting his 401(k), to finally getting a $40,000 a year insurance job.

We appreciate Mr. Kopchinski’s courage and conviction and congratulate him (as well as his legal team and the Justice Department ) for a superb result.

It doesn’t often turn out this way — and it’s sure great to see it when it does. It’s a wonderful Labor Day story.

Image: images.huffingtonpost.com

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. She has been listed in the National Law Journal as one of the nation’s leading litigators. Ms. Simon has been quoted often in local and national news media and is a regular guest on television and radio, including appearances on Court TV. Ellen has been listed as one of The Best Lawyers in America for her landmark work representing individuals in precedent-setting cases. She also received regional and national attention for winning a record $30.7 million verdict in an age-discrimination case; the largest of its kind in U.S. history. Ellen has served as an adjunct professor of employment law and is an experienced and popular orator. Ellen is Past-Chair of the Employment Rights Section of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and is honored to be a fellow of the International Society of Barristers and American Board of Trial Advocates. In additional to work as a legal analyst, she currently acts as co-counsel on individual employment cases, is available as an expert witness on employment matters and offers consulting services on sound employment practices, discrimination awareness and prevention, complaint investigation and resolution, and litigation management. Ms. Simon is the owner of the Simon Law Firm, L.P.A., and Of Counsel to McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman, a Cleveland, Ohio based law firm. She is also the author of the legal blog, the Employee Rights Post, and her website is www.ellensimon.net. Ellen has two children and lives with her husband in Sedona, Arizona.

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A Tribute on Laborless Day

Friday, September 11th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

This time, grill some burgers, raise a glass of beer and drink a toast to Laborless Day, in honor of the 10% to 20% of the American workforce who cannot find work, or anything meaningful that pays a living wage.

The current state of labor affairs in the United States is this: We’ve just barely survived eight years in which corporations amassed even more political power and societal control than they had before.

The military-industrial complex has continued to provide us with war, the banking industry gave us substandard mortgage derivatives but won’t loan money to people with good credit, and the insurance industry forced us to buy home insurance, car insurance, flood insurance and life insurance, but refused to sell us health insurance. Labor unions are on the run in many states, and the minimum wage will buy you a dry spot under the U.S. 90A bridge.

The Captains of Industry have had their way, more or less, for decades, and never more than now. You’d think they’d be flying high, but instead, on the eve of this Laborless Day, they find themselves in a quandry.

They’ve re-learned the hard way that their stock appreciation, bonuses, vacation mansions and hot cars accrue in proportion to American consumer spending.

Economists such as Michael Mandel may argue otherwise, but American consumer spending accounts for in the neighborhood of 70% of the Gross Domestic Product, which is roughly to say, our economy. (Mandel makes a good argument that the consumer impact is less than that, but doesn’t count consumer wages confiscated as taxes, which are then spent on government programs and, yes, do have an economic impact.)

After taking a financial beating in a variety of ways, directly or indirectly from numerous corporate captains, the American consumer has lost the ability to spend. The big shots still are living high on the fuel that was stuffed into the pipeline before the Last Straw, but soon nothing will be left but fumes.

Thus we find the Captains of Industry, through major voiceboxes such as the Wall Street Journal, playing a dual role. Yes, as Republicans they still have to diss the Democrats’ stimulus spending (while forgetting Bush Jr.’s). But at the same time, because consumer spending is predicated on consumer confidence, they must declare that the glass is half full and in fact the recession, which was never all that bad to begin with, is really pretty much over and we’re all in recovery now.

Sure, guys. Paper me over with charts explaining how, technically, the bell curve has rung while Southeast Asian production rates clearly are leveling off and job losses truly are not gushing out on the ground as fast as they were just a month ago.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, almost every middle-class American who still has a job and is not employed in the medical industry faces the very real prospect of sudden job loss. In Detroit, by one measure, 17.7% of the workforce was out of work by the end of July. In the El Centro, Calif., market, for some reason, the unemployment total hit 30.2%.

Some, especially over at the Journal, will say these figures are overstated, that the Labor Department figures show the average U.S. unemployment rate at the end of August was “only” 9.7%.

I say that’s more than bad enough. But it’s also an example of how figures lie.

The Labor Department also tracks more meaningful numbers, which I believe the media should use to provide a more accurate picture of U.S. employment.

Like this one: “Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force.”

“Marginally attached” workers are those who have run out of benefits, been unemployed for a year or more but are available for a job and want one. The part-time workers referred to really want full-time jobs but can’t find any.

In August of 2008, as the current collapse began, this more accurate average U.S. unemployment rate stood at 10.7%. One year later, it stands at 16.8%. I shudder to think what this rate is in Detroit.

This holiday weekend, be as patriotic as you are on holidays honoring our brave military members who died serving their country. Honor the American working man and woman, salt of the Earth and the blood that keeps our country’s heart beating.

But also honor your fellow Americans, almost one in five now, who want to do their part, secure their families and help spend the country back into recovery with honest work, only there isn’t enough to go around.

About the Author: Bob Dunn is a writer, consultant and web developer based in Richmond, Texas. He can be reached via Bob Dunn’s Brazos RiverBlog.

This article originally appeared in Bob Dunn’s Brazos River Blog on September 5, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

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