Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Recession’

I Couldn't Afford to Go to Work Today

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

It’s crazy, but it’s true: I could not afford to go to work today.

I have a 45-minute commute to and from work, which costs me about ten dollars in gas each day. I’m down to six whole dollars, after paying what bills I could with my last paycheck. There are still unpaid bills, but there’s nothing I can do about them right now. I’m mostly worried about how the hell I’m going to feed my daughter until my next check on Friday.

This is not a position I ever expected to find myself in. I have a full-time job at a distribution center for a well-known retailer. The company has weathered the Great Recession pretty well, all things considered: overall sales are off by only 1%, a variance which until recently would have been seen as a business hiccup. But I find that the recession itself has given the Powers That Be at my job an excuse to do whatever they damn well please to their full-time employees.

The infuriating details are below the squiggle.

What frustrates me the most is that I shouldn’t even be in this position. I’m employed full-time, and I’ve been with this company for over five years–yet I cannot get ahead, no matter what I do. The reason why has much to do with the company’s recently-adopted position that full-time employees aren’t really an essential part; that is, they’ve come to believe that only salaried employees really matter. They don’t even call us non-salaried workers “associates” any more. Now they refer to us as “unskilled labor.”

About a year ago, my company announced a pay freeze for all full-time employees. This was done, we were told, in response to the economic dowturn. The reasons made sense at the time, and we took the news in stride. But lately, it’s starting to seem like something else. It seems there is money to be had…but not by most of us.

The pay freeze occurred at about the same time that the outgoing CEO was receiving a million-dollar severance package. Salaried employees–supervisors, managers, and such–were ostensibly included in the pay freeze, although they would continue receiving their monthly bonuses, typically three to five hundred extra dollars per paycheck. The Director of Operations (enjoying a salaried position, of course) actually joked out loud, “Whew! I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to buy that new car!” Ha-fuckin’-ha, asshole. Turned out, it wasn’t just a joke: two months later, he was coming to work in a shiny new Lexus convertible.

The average worker on the floor makes $8 or $9 an hour, which is barely enough to support any size family. Supervisors, meanwhile, start out at the equivalent of $25 an hour (with bonuses and other perks on top of that); managers and up are pulling six-figure salaries, at least. Now, on the face of it, I don’t mind that they make more. It’s how they go out of their way to make sure they get most of what’s left as well, to hell with everybody else, that has me and my co-workers silently enraged and visibly demoralized.

Following the pay freeze, management has raised the productivity bar on us twice: that is, we must do more work in less time to avoid getting disciplined or fired. How much we produce beyond the 100% “standard” determines our “incentive” pay. Whenever they raise the productivity bar, our incentive payouts go down. Those who can’t keep up are let go; those who do keep up are bringing home chump change. And few of us want to work very much harder than necessary to keep our jobs, since working at 200% production yields a paltry $45 (not much of an “incentive” there). So they’ve fired several people and not hired replacements, leaving the rest of us to double-up–and in some cases, triple-up–on the workload and attendant responsibilities. From 150 people a year and a half ago, we’re now down to fifty; those of us left are still doing the work of 150. In the end, the reduced staff just further fills their pockets.

After that, they eliminated sick time for all non-salaried employees, telling us it was because the old sick-time policy was being “abused” (abused how–by people getting sick?!) It’s all to “save some money,” we’re told…even though the company, as I said, isn’t doing much worse than years past. And over the last couple of months, it’s become clear where all that “saved” money is going: directly into the pockets of the supervisors and managers.

We’re no strangers to this company’s cold calculations, and how little they care for anyone but the precious few who belong to the Salaried Class. They use this state’s “right to work” status to do whatever the hell they want and get away with it. For example: they fired an epileptic for being “unreliable.” They fired another woman for trying to get our insurance to cover infertility treatments. The company has been sued many times, but, unbelievably, has yet to lose a case.

And that’s not the half of it. But for now, let’s just say that management and HR routinely cover each others’ asses, so they can do whatever they want and get away with it. It’s a comfy little clique they’ve made for themselves, and apparently all that matters is their special little group.

So while most of us have spent the last year trying to keep up with inflation, our bills and the crazy cost of gasoline, supervisors and managers have continued receiving hefty monthly bonuses. The rest of us get to enter a raffle for a chance to win a $25 “in-house” gift card for all our hard work–just enough to get one piece of merchandise. Gee, thanks. Some of my coworkers could barely cover monthly expenses in December, much less afford Christmas gifts. At least a lucky few of us had gift cards, though. Now we can take home the same crap we push out the door all day. It’s nice to know they care.

But here comes the real smack in the face: just before the holidays, the supervisors and managers had themselves a big party at work. They tried to keep it secret by calling it a “closed-door, high-level meeting,” but we “nobodys” have eyes and ears everywhere and it wasn’t long before we learned the truth. It was a catered lunch, at which the holiday bonuses were handed out. These were thousand-dollar checks, mind you, and separate from their usual monthly bonuses. On top of that, they were given not-inexpensive gifts like fancy heated car-seat covers and custom-embroidered coats (which they now wear around like status symbols). And after that, they had an “everybody wins” raffle in which MORE monetary prizes were handed out, ranging from $500 to $2000.

Must be nice. Tell us again…why can’t we have annual cost-of-living raises? Oh, right: because the company’s strapped for cash, and reinstating our raises might drive down the stock value. Can’t have that, now, can we?

A week after the higher-ups had their big shindig, management announced that this year’s annual holiday party was cancelled…”Because the company can’t afford it.” Gee, I wonder where all that money went?

So here I sit, at home, with six bucks to my name and no way to afford both a Chef Boyardee dinner for my daughter and the commute to the job that used to support me. I’m left to wonder how I’m going to afford gasoline, power, the car payment and and the house payment while they can somehow afford new motorcycles and sportscars.

It’s the same old “Austerity for thee, but not for me” mentality. It’s twisted, and it’s wrong.

I see in this the 99% vs the 1% in microcosm: those who labor the least literally get almost everything there is to be had, while those who actually DO THE WORK get exactly jack-shit. Management can operate with complete impunity, doing whatever the hell they want with no consequences, while the rest of us work in fear that the next cut might include our jobs. There are two sets of rules: one for them, and another for the rest of us (salaried people, for example, can show up late and leave early without penalty). There is no place for those who get ill, because they simply “cost too much.” The working class is worthy only of mockery, because if they were “somebody,” they’d already be part of the Salaried Class. In this environment, $25 gift cards are metaphorical slaps in the face.

We need something we can LIVE ON. I need a wage that allows me, at the very least, to afford to go to work! Many of us, myself included, are looking for another job; some fortunate ones have left already, but I don’t need to describe how tough it is to find something else. And there’s no guarantee that we won’t find the same kind of bullshit still going on, wherever we might end up.

No…it seems that we blue-collar Joes and Jills won’t ever get what we need–what’s FAIR–until those who mind the coffers–in both business and government–stop enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on February 7, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

Only Up From Here, Right?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

n6234374_38932211_9560_reasonably_smallLast week, I had the pleasure of attending via conference call (thank you, Google Phone), the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) Roundtable on Women & the Economy. The purpose of the Roundtable was to formally present two very significant research studies put together by the IWPR and the Rockefeller Foundation, Women and Men Living on the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession and Retirement on the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession. The two studies provide a number of qualified statistics about Americans’ perceptions about their economic security following what is dubbed the “Great Recession,” that occurred in the United States during 2007 and 2009. 2,746 adults among the ages of eighteen and older participated in the survey, which was administered between September and November of 2010.

The findings of the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security are quite astounding, but mostly in the sense that I am astounded by how negatively the Recession is impacting the lives of many Americans.  Generally, most Americans feel less confident about their economic security today than they did three years ago. In 2007, 38% of women and 33% of men felt they had little economic security and when asked again in 2010, the numbers skyrocketed to 77% of women and 71% of men.

Considering the news headlines of the past year, I am sure you can assume why most Americans are disheartened. Health care is in shambles, Social Security is a nightmare, the housing market is a mess, and the job market- well, we might just call that a catastrophe. The study is very comprehensive in confronting all of these issues and the responses show that many Americans are making big sacrifices in their quality of life. Americans are having difficulty paying for food (26 million women, 15 million men), health care (46 million women, and 34 million men), rent or mortgage (32 million women, 25 million men) and are not saving or saving much less for retirement (65 million women, 53 million men).

What these numbers also show is that women are having a much harder time than men recovering from the adverse effects of the ’07-’09 recession. It is no wonder that the IWPR/Rockefeller report calls this phase of economic recovery the “Mencession.” The studies tell that while men’s job losses were more than twice as large as women’s, women’s economic vulnerability has increased much more than the men. 61% of male participants indicated that they have enough savings to support themselves for two months, while only 43% of women could say the same. Although most people in our country are suffering, women have the short stick on this one simply because they, generally, make lower earnings and have a greater likelihood of raising children on their own. As a result, the study observes that more women are going hungry (16% of single mothers and 9% of married mothers) and are unable to provide for their children (43% of single moms and 42 % of married moms have not bought something their child has needed). The statistics increase among women in minority groups as well.

The Roundtable did a great job of not only highlighting the research findings of the effects of the Recession, but also shining a light on how many Americans hope to proceed in the future considering these tough times. Many Americans are ill-prepared for retirement, whether they have not saved, stopped saving or are saving very little. Also, many people expect that they will retire by the age of 70 or perhaps never at all. Because “recovery” has yet to reach many Americans, they are relying on government programs such as Social Security and Medicare for the future. With that said, the Roundtable turned to a discussion of what government and our politicians could do (or should do) based on these findings. Pretty obviously, Americans are expecting that our government will handle the economic situation and improve conditions for Americans sooner than later.

After I ended my Google Phone session with the IWPR Roundtable on Women & the Economy, I felt a little disheartened. Actually, very disheartened. I’m a law student racking up some serious debt; I am searching for jobs in a dismal job market; and while I thought the 1960s and Civil Rights helped get females to equal status as their male counterparts, being a young lady in a “mancession,” is not looking too good either. However, what I did take out of the event was that I am not alone. All Americans are suffering in one way or another and we can really benefit from this understanding. Together, we can hope that it’s only up from here.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

Employment Costs are Higher Than They Appear

Friday, September 16th, 2011

yglesias_matthew_bioTo wax a bit conservative for a moment, while this Felix Salmon / Pedro da Costa thought experiment is fun, it’s simply not the case that “With $2 billion, you could employ 40,000 people for a full year at $50,000 each.” You’d have to pay Social Security tax, Unemployment Insurance, etc. Plus you’d probably have to carry all kinds of liability coverage. Depending on where you’re located there’s be other state/local stuff to deal with.

Then to wax back progressive again comes the big whopper: Health care. There’s a huge health insurance shaped wedge between what you think you make and what your employer thinks he’s paying you. To provide health insurance coverage to 40,000 people costs a lot more than $0. Ironically, if you were talking about paying your employees, less this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem as they’d be eligible for Medicaid. You’d be creating quintessential low-wage “bad jobs,” but you’d at least be creating a lot of them. But once you have the kind of workforce needs where you want to offer a decent wage, you’re either going to be restricting your pool to people who can get insurance through their spouse or else you have to tack a large extra employment cost onto the bill. What’s more, you’re bearing a weird kind of risk since if over time the cost of the insurance plan increases faster than your firm’s revenue and that causes you to make the plan less generous to your employees they’re going to view that as a mean cut in benefits that you initiated.

America got derailed from a long-term growth conversation by a financial crisis and a recession. Then we got derailed from a short-term jobs conversation by a ginned-up budget crisis. People in the know recognize that the health costs piece is critical to the budget issue, but the reality is that health care is critical to the long-term fate of the federal budget primarily because it’s critical to the long-term fate of the economy as a whole.

This post originally appeared on Think Progress on September 15, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Matthew Yglesias is a Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Harvard University. His first book, Heads in the Sand, was published in May 2008 by Wiley. Matt has previously worked as an Associate Editor at The Atlantic, a Staff Writer at The American Prospect, and an Associate Editor at Talking Points Memo. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Guardian, Slate, The Washington Monthly, and other publications. Matthew has appeared on Fox News and MSNBC, and been a guest on many radio shows.

Jobless Recovery? Yes. Profitless Recovery? Hell No.

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerIf you feel like the recent recession screwed most of us over and left the fat cats even fatter, the next bit of information is going to really set you off. So I’d suggest that you go into the room with the most padding, remove all sharp objects and concentrate to keep your last meal down. Really, concentrate.

Last week American corporations announced their best quarter ever. $1.659 trillion in profits during the third quarter of 2010. Trillion, with a “T”.

For the last 60 years, since such things were tracked, that’s the biggest profit ever. Even bigger than 2006 when it was a paltry $1.655 trillion.

2006, when the unemployment rate was 4.6%.

Do you see a problem here?

Okay, I understand that today’s economy is full of uncertainty. And that it’s important for corporations to stash away some cash for a rainy day. But with $1.659 trillion in profits in just three months, isn’t it a good time to start hiring again to take the unemployment rate down from it’s current 9.6%?

I had feared that corporations would take advantage of the recession to drive down salaries and hiring. And that appears to be happening, although the business press tends to lump those two phenomenon into the phrase “increasing productivity.”

There is one major problem here, corporations need people with money to keep the 70% of the economy that is based on consumer spending running. The more corporations only see their profits, at the expense of actual markets where people can buy their products, well that’s the rub.

Employment and markets matter. I just fear that a trillion and a half in profits with an unemployment rate of 9.6% or 4.6% might not matter that much to the corporate corner-office crowd. But it makes a huge impact on society as a whole.

I know what you’re thinking. That I’m some kind of socialist. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve got an MBA, I’ve taught at the MBA level and I’m current an executive for a company. It’s just that I take a longer view and think about who is really the foundation for our economy, the people with the paychecks that buy stuff. Whereas many corporate executives that I’ve talked to practice magical thinking where the people who buy stuff are separated from how the economy really functions.

It could be argued that the corporate sphincter muscle needed to be tight. But I can give you 1.659 trillion reasons why the time has come to relax it a bit and start spending some of the cash.

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

I Get America, It’s Americans That Confuse Me

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerI understand the home-of-the-free-and-land-of-the-brave. I get bring-me-your-tired-huddled-masses-yearning-to-breathe-free. I can even relate to hot dogs-apple pie-and-baseball.

What I don’t understand is how passive Americans have been in the face of the economic challenges brought on by the recession. I thought we were a feisty country, tough and ready to stand up for what’s right.

Case in point this week. Three banks, Bank of America, JP Morgan and GMAC announced that they’ve frozen foreclosure cases in 23 states because of sloppy practices, officials who signed documents without reviewing them or having a notary present. Am I the only person who finds it ironic that the very banks that we loaned money to keep afloat are now screwing over homeowners with flawed, and illegal, foreclosure policies?

We also had Senators decrying continuing unemployment benefits for people unable to find work because of budgetary concerns. But these same legislators have no difficulty in pushing for more tax breaks for the people who have made out like bandits for the past decade. The rich will continue to get richer because of their investments. Isn’t that good enough, why do they have to continue to pile on the profits at our expense?

People are losing jobs, losing houses and losing hope. Yet we haven’t demanded changes to our current system of capitalism for poor people and socialism for the rich.

In Europe there are protests in the streets in many countries at efforts to cut the budget, but not here. Not even close.

Domestic Goddess Roseanne Barr once said that she knew when her husband was home because the “couch was snoring.” Sound familiar?

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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.

Putting People Back to Work and Obama's Jobs Summit

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

The U.S. is now 24 months into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Over the course of those two years, we have lost 8.1 million jobs and 17.5 percent of the workforce–27.4 million workers–are unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg forsee the unemployment rate remaining at above 10 percent well into the first half of 2010.

On the eve of President Obama’s Jobs Summit at the White House, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer and Change to Win Chair Anna Burger has a piece on the Huffington Post outlining a bold jobs plan to meet the demands of a 21st century economy:

“If we are going to come out of our current crisis stronger and better prepared for the challenges of a 21st century economy, we need someone to take charge, to focus–24/7–on job creation until we see results.

“It’s time for President Obama to empower the 21st century Francis Perkins, someone to speak for him and someone who has the authority across government to shake things up. It’s time to create a country that works for all of us. And that starts with jobs.

“Creating jobs isn’t rocket science. We just need the political will, courage and determination to make it happen.”

The jobs plan Burger laid out focuses on investments in public services and the private sector, a national job training program, and the need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Her plan also advocates for a “green bank” to fund energy-efficiency and renewables projects, as well as funding for infrastructure to help rebuild schools and roads. Read the entire plan here.

Burger will join 129 business, academic and government leaders at tomorrow’s Jobs Summit. Other labor labors in attendee will be Leo Gerard from the United Steelworkers, Joe Hansen from UFCW, the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka and AFT president Randi Weingarten.

Economist Paul Krugman, who will be at the White House jobs forum as well, shares his thoughts on how we can begin to right the wrongs of our economy in the NY Times this week. A large part the solution, according to Krugman? Not leaving workers out of the economic recovery–and the federal government actually creating jobs. “There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers,” notes Krugman. “This is wrong and unacceptable.”

Krugman proposes direct public employment and employee incentives–such as a tax credit–to swell job creation.”All of this would cost money, probably several hundred billion dollars, and raise the budget deficit in the short run,” he writes . “But this has to be weighed against the high cost of inaction in the face of a social and economic emergency.”

More confirmed attendees of tomorrow’s jobs forum at TPM here.

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

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

Today Is World Day for Decent Work

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Today is World Day for Decent Work, and union members in more than 100 countries are mobilizing to address the global economic and employment crisis and demand fundamental reform of the world economy.

The deepest global recession since the 1930s has led to a jobs crisis with millions of people out of work. The International Labor Organization (ILO) predicts that as many as 50 million more workers could be kicked out of jobs worldwide in the next year and could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of working poor.

Live online coverage of the activities around the world, including videos, photographs and messages from events in every continent, will be broadcast on a special website, www.wddw.org, which will be updated via a 24-hour live feed.

At its recent convention, the AFL-CIO strongly underscored its support for decent work for workers in the United States and around the world by unanimously passing a major resolution, “A Labor Movement Agenda for a Stronger, Cleaner and More Just Global Economy.” The resolution stressed the need for the global labor movement to promote the ILO’s Global Jobs Pact to help coordinate government efforts to respond to the employment crisis.

Following the convention, the newly elected AFL-CIO leadership traveled to meet with working families around the country, leading up to the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh. At the G-20, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Guy Ryder, along with other international trade union leaders, met with President Obama. They stressed the elements of the June 2009 ILO “Jobs Pact” and the importance of enacting coordinated policies to create decent and environmentally sustainable work to combat growing unemployment, enact comprehensive and effective regulation of financial markets and promote the inclusion of key international labor standards in all assistance programs of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

The economic crisis is far from over and the global stimulus packages will not be enough to keep joblessness from growing at a steady pace, according to a new report by the ITUC. The report, “Jobs—The Path to Recovery,” was released to mark World Day for Decent Work. It shows that only 1.8 percent of financial rescue efforts have been dedicated directly to employment.

The report highlights trade union actions to fight the crisis around the world and explains the steps needed to achieve a decent work-led recovery and build a fairer and more sustainable world economy for future generations.

The G-20 summit, which ended recently in Pittsburgh, made progress in some areas but failed to completely address the overwhelming need to create new jobs now. “The current situation needs mending,” says Ryder:

Trade unions are raising their voices across the continents, to keep up the pressure for fundamental change, for justice and equity.

They face tremendous resistance from those who have profited from the exploitation of others in the past. Trade unions are determined to confront and defeat that resistance, and to ensure that governments everywhere get the message that they must deliver the results that working people demand.

Click here to read the full report, “The Path to Recovery: How Employment is Central to Ending the Global Crisis.”

Nowhere is the need for decent work more obvious than in the sweatshops of Asia, where workers toil long hours for little pay and few, if any, benefits to make apparel and other items for export that they could never afford to buy themselves.

Today, in New Delhi, India, and in cities in the United States, United Kingdom and throughout Europe, workers will launch a campaign for a living wage called the Asia Floor Wage.

In rallies, workshops, meetings with government and business leaders, public lectures by prominent human rights supporters and press conferences, they will promote a new strategy for global economic growth based on protecting workers’ rights and guaranteeing a living wage.

With so many of the world’s garments and other products being manufactured in Asia, corporations have exploited the workers there, forcing them to work long hours with little pay and few benefits. The campaign challenges this race-to-the-bottom by calling for raising the minimum wage in all major garment producing countries.

In the United States, Jobs with Justice is teaming up with the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the Asia Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and the AFL-CIO for an educational campaign with our members and allies.

To learn more about the Asia Floor Wage campaign, click here.

About the Author James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on October 7, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

Michael Steele and the Demise of Working America

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Back in April 2009, GOP chairman Michael Steele appeared as a guest on a republican-oriented talk radio show. A caller to the program voiced his opinion and stated he did not believe the U.S. is in a state of economic crisis. Steele laughed in agreement and claimed that “[t]he malls are just as packed on Saturday.”

San Rafael, California is located 20 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge along U.S. Highway 101. With a population of approximately 50,000, it retains the flavor of a small town without sacrificing any of the amenities you’ll find in the most sophisticated of communities.

Nearly every week for the last six months, as I drive along “Mainstreet” on my way to work, I’ve noticed a new storefront that has gone vacant. These are not the vacant addresses that once housed “Old Navy” or “The House of Knives;” and 4th Avenue is not a strip mall. These were shops and boutiques that operated and prospered for the last 20 or more years by catering to the desires and whims of what had been one of the most prosperous communities in the nation. But ever since the mask was removed from Bush’s depression last summer, many of these privileged professionals are finding themselves squeezed financially in the same wringer as the rest of America’s middle class has been for quite some time. As a result, one by one, these shops are falling by the wayside.

The American economy we see today is the end-result of political policies that have been transforming American society for the past 30 years. Based on slogans such as privatization, de-regulation, free trade, out-sourcing, “conservatism,” tax reform, and right to work, legislators have been giving American business what it wants since the days of President Regan. They have turned this country into a place that no longer resembles the country it was when I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

San Rafael, CA is a long way from Flint, Michigan, the town where I grew up.

Flint was never a place that you would mistake as being a center of sophisticated culture. It had always been a blue-collar town. But in its own way, it had once been a pretty prosperous place. Flint was probably the first urban center in America to feel the crunch created by those economic and business policies that destroyed industrial America. You could say that Flint had been America’s canary in a cage, because that town began dying in the 1970’s.

Type the words “Flint Michigan” into your browser or into the search bar over at You Tube. Take a look at what conservatism has done to America. Flint residents living next door to an abandoned property are now able to purchase that property for $1.00. The city will come in, demolish and remove any existing building on that property and fill in the holes. Thereafter, the new owner only needs to keep the property looking presentable. Another strategy being used is to provide incentives for residents in out-lying areas of the city to move in closer to the city center, so that city services can be discontinued to the abandoned areas.

In the wake of the policies listed above, community after community across America have been pushed over the brink of the same slippery slope as Flint, Michigan was abandoned to years ago when business (General Motors) moved out. Michael Steele’s words prove he remains as ignorant of where America stands today as John McCain was during his failed presidential bid, and Steele’s words are just as irrelevant as is the Republican party. The trouble is, that leaves America with only one other political party. From the looks of it, the Democrats have been cowed for so long by their minority status that following their return to a leadership position, they immediately bowed the knee to the masters of corporate Amerika. That being the case, I can’t see how we’ll ever emerge from the wreckage that’s been left behind.

Happy "Recessionary" Mother's Day

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Adecco Group North America’s latest American Workplace Insights Survey indicates the economy is changing life at home and work, leaving moms feeling the most stress.  Surprisingly, more than three quarters (80%) of working moms are working because they have to, showing there is likely an increased strain on family budgets due to the economic crisis.  Additionally, almost half (48%) of working moms are more stressed due to the current economic volatility.

While the majority of moms work because they have to, there are distinct advantages to being a working mother. According to Adecco’s survey, children of mothers who work are more likely to be better behaved and do better in school.  74% of working moms think their children do well in school compared to 60% of non-working moms.  72% of working moms think their children are well behaved while 65% of non-working moms feel this way.  Additionally, working mothers are 10% more likely to think their kids find them to be a role model than non-working moms (67% vs. 57% respectively).
Adecco’s survey also finds:

  • Working more: Nearly one in five (16%) working moms report that their work hours have increased in this economy.  Almost half (48%) wish they could spend more time with their kids.
  • Re-entering the work force: 13% of working moms went back to working recently due to the economy.
  • Michelle Obama most admired: Michelle Obama took the top spot as the most admired famous mom over Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Reese Witherspoon, Kelly Ripa, Jenny McCarthy, Angelina Jolie, Elisabeth Hasselback and others.

Adecco also offers the following tips for ways mothers can reduce workplace stress and work more effectively:

  • Focus on how parenting makes you a better professional:  Being a parent sharpens a wide range of soft skills including effective interpersonal communication, the ability to negotiate, and compassion.  These same skills are crucially important to being both a successful leader and team player in the office, better enabling parents to navigate both domains.
  • Focus on productivity over face time:  It’s more important that workers properly prioritize, manage their time and deliver other than simply putting in “face-time” until all hours at the office.     Workers do not need to be in the office all the time to make a powerful contribution.   Be sure to set defined works goals and results beforehand with your supervisors.
  • Be realistic about your goals. Do not expect to be able to spend the same amount of time with your child as someone who is a stay-at-home parent. Instead, concentrate on making the most out of the time you have. And let your children know too. Children, regardless of their age, need to know what to expect each day and they look forward to when you will be home.
About the Author: Bernadette Kenney is a working mother and chief career officer of Adecco Group North America.
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