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What You Need To Know About The Michigan GOP’s ‘Right-To-Work’ Assault On Workers

Monday, December 10th, 2012

On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) backtrackedon his commitment to avoid so-called “right-to-work” legislation and by the end of the day, both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan state Senate had introduced and passed separate bills aimed at the state’s union workforce.

Michigan Republicans claim the state needs the measure to stay competitive with Indiana, where lawmakers passed “right-to-work” last year. In reality, though, such laws have negative effects on workers and little effect on economic growth. Here is what you need to know about the state GOP’s campaign:

THE LEGISLATION: Both the state House and state Senate passed legislation on Thursday that prohibits private sector unions from requiring members to pay dues. The Senate followed suit and passed a different but similar measure that extends the same prohibition for public sector unions, though firefighters and police officers are exempt. The state House included a budget appropriations provision that is intended to prevent the state’s voters from being able to legally challenge the law through a ballot referendum. Due to state law, both houses are prevented from voting on legislation passed by the other for five days, so neither will be able to fully pass the legislation until Tuesday at the earliest.

THE PROCESS: Union leaders and Democrats claim that Republicans are pushing the legislation through in the lame-duck session to hide the intent of the measures from citizens, and because the legislation would face more trouble after the new House convenes in January. Michigan Republicans hold a 63-47 advantage in the state House, but Democrats narrowed the GOP majority to just eight seats in November. Six Republicans opposed the House measure; five of them won re-election in 2012 (the sixth retired). And Michigan Republicans have good reason to pursue the laws without public debate. Though the state’s voters are evenly split on whether it should become a right-to-work state, 78 percent of voters said the legislature “should focus on issues like creating jobs and improving education, and not changing state laws or rules that would impact unions or make further changes in collective bargaining.”

THE CONSEQUENCES: While Snyder and Republicans pitched “right-to-work” as a pro-worker move aimed at improving the economy, studies show such legislation can cost workers money. The Economic Policy Institute found that right-to-work laws cost all workers, union and otherwise, $1,500 a year in wages and that they make it harder for workers to obtain pensions and health coverage. “If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide,” David Madland and Karla Walter from the Center for American Progress wrote earlier this year. The decreases in union membership that result from right-to-work laws have a significant impact on the middle class and research “shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth,” EPI wrote in a recent report about Michigan. “Right-to-work” laws also decrease worker safety and can hurt small businesses.

Union leaders are, of course, aghast at Snyder and the GOP’s right-to-work push. “In a state that gave birth to the modern U.S. labor movement, it is unconscionable that Michigan legislators would seek to drive down living standards for Michigan workers and families with a law that will do nothing to improve either the state’s economic climate or the quality of life for Michigan residents,” RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United, said in a statement.

This post was originally posted on December 7, 2012 on Think Progress. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Travis Waldron is is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.

Corporate Profits Hit Record High While Worker Wages Hit Record Low

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

A constant conservative charge against President Obama is that he is inherently anti-business. However, businesses keep defying the storyline by making larger and larger profits, rebounding nicely out of the Great Recession.

In the third quarter of this year, “corporate earnings were $1.75 trillion, up 18.6% from a year ago.” Corporations are currently making more as a percentage of the economy than they ever have since such records were kept. But at the same time, wages as a percentage of the economy are at an all-time low, as this chart shows. (The red line is corporate profits; the blue line is private sector wages.):

 

Corporations made a record $824 billion in profits last year as well, while the stock market has had one of its best performances since 1900 while Obama has been in office.

Meanwhile, workers are getting the short end of the stick. As CNN Money explained, “a separate government reading shows that total wages have now fallen to a record low of 43.5% of GDP. Until 1975, wages almost always accounted for at least half of GDP, and had been as high as 49% as recently as early 2001.”

This post was originally posted on Think Progress on December 3, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

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

One In Four American Workers Will Be In Low-Wage Jobs For The Next Decade

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

waldron_travis_bioThe share of the economy made up by low-wage jobs has grown since the Great Recession, and according to one new study, it won’t shrink in the future even as the economy continues to recover. The number of Americans working in low-wage jobs — those that pay wages equal to or below the poverty line — will remain steady over the next decade, according to the Economic Policy Institute, as CNNMoney reports:

Some 28% of workers are expected to hold low-wage jobs in 2020, roughly the same percentage as in 2010, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.

The study defines low-paying jobs as those with wages at or below what full-time workers must earn to live above the poverty level for a family of four. In 2011, this was $23,005, or $11.06 an hour.

The study is the latest to detail the growth of low-wage occupations in the United States. A recent report from the National Employment Law Project found that more than one in four private sector workers now make less than $10 an hour, an even lower threshold than was used in the EPI study. The five industries that are comprised mostly of low-wage workers, meanwhile, are growing faster than the overall American economy.

While the number of low-wage jobs has increased, so has the gap between low-wage workers and the executives who employ them. The federal minimum wage would need to be raised by more than $3 an hour to match the buying power it had in 1968, and overall wages in the U.S. have been virtually stagnant for decades, even as pay for chief executives has risen exponentially. At the 50 companies that employ the largest number of low-wage workers, chief executives made an average of $9.4 million last year.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on August 2, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.

Corporation Pushes Six-Year Pay Freeze On Workers While Making Record Profits, Paying CEO $17 Million

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Image: Pat GarofaloBack in June, ThinkProgress noted that the manufacturing giant Caterpillar was seeking major concessions during contract negotiations with striking workers, even as it was making billions in profits and giving its CEO a 60 percent pay boost. The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse added more details today, noting that the company wants to implement a six-year pay freeze and a pension freeze, at a time when it is making record profits:

Despite earning a record $4.9 billion profit last year and projecting even better results for 2012, the company is insisting on a six-year wage freeze and a pension freeze for most of the 780 production workers at its factory here. Caterpillar says it needs to keep its labor costs down to ensure its future competitiveness. […]

Caterpillar, which has significantly raised its executives’ compensation because of its strong profits, defended its demands, saying many unionized workers were paid well above market rates.

“A company that earned a record $4.9 billion in 2011 and $1.586 billion in the first quarter of this year should be willing to help the workers who made those profits for them,” said Timothy O’Brien, president of Machinists Local Lodge 851. “Caterpillar believes in helping the very rich, but what they’re doing would help eliminate the middle class.” Several labor experts told the Times that Caterpillar is a pioneer in tough labor negotiations meant to drive down workers’ wages.

Last year, Caterpillar’s CEO made nearly $17 million in total compensation. At the moment in the U.S., the typical worker would have to work 244 years in order to earn what the average CEO makes in one year.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on July 23, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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

CHART: The Federal Reserve Is Failing Its Obligation To Fight Unemployment

Monday, July 16th, 2012

spross_jeffThe Federal Reserve has a dual mandate to maintain low inflation and high employment — a job description that requires a balancing act, as these two goals can be in tension. The Fed has put its inflation target at 2 percent, while 5 percent is generally viewed as the normal unemployment rate when the economy is operating at full strength.

But as economist Chad Stone shows in U.S. News & World Report this morning, the Fed has usually hit its inflation target ever since the Great Recession while utterly failing to meet its obligation to bring down unemployment:

So the Fed has spent the last three years treating 2 percent inflation as a ceiling rather than a happy median, refusing to allow it higher even to bring down America’s sky-high unemployment rate of 8 percent. But the good news is that in late June, the Federal Reserve finally decided to extend what monetary easing it has engaged in by another $267 billion, and the institution’s hesitation to do more to help the economy could be dissapating. Whether it will be sufficient to help the economy at this point remains to be seen.

This post originally appeared in Think Progress on July 13, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Spross is video editor and blogger for ThinkProgress.org. Jeff was raised in Texas and received his B.S. in film from the University of Texas, after which he worked for several years as an assistant editor in Austin and Los Angeles. During that time Jeff co-founded, wrote and produced The Regimen, a blog and podcast dealing with politics and culture. More recently, he has interned at The American Prospect and worked as a video producer for The Guardian.

Employment Commission Ruling Protects Transgender Individuals from Workplace Discrimination

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Our guest bloggers are Jeff Krehely and Crosby Burns, who work on the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress.

Late yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a comprehensive ruling giving transgender individuals sorely-needed federal protections against discrimination in the workplace. According to the ruling, employers who discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of gender identity can now be found in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, specifically its prohibition of sex discrimination in employment.

This ruling marks the first time that the EEOC has held that transgender people are protected from discrimination by federal law. Chris Geidner broke the story late last night in Metro Weekly:

“The opinion came in a decision delivered on Monday, April 23, to lawyers for Mia Macy, a transgender woman who claims she was denied employment with the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) after the agency learned of her transition. It also comes on the heels of a growing number of federal appellate and trial courts deciding that gender-identity discrimination constitutes sex discrimination, whether based on Title VII or the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

The EEOC decision, issued without objection by the five-member, bipartisan commission, will apply to all EEOC enforcement and litigation activities at the commission and in its 53 field offices throughout the country. It also will be binding on all federal agencies and departments.

The implications of this ruling are far-reaching. Prior to yesterday’s ruling, only 16 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity. Going forth, this precedent-setting decision puts in place comprehensive protections for transgender workers that apply to both private and public employees across the entire United States.

Specifically, thanks to the ruling in this case (brought forward by the Transgender Law Center) transgender people are now protected by federal law and have legal recourse if they are denied a job or fired because they are transgender. Should a transgender person file a complaint with the EEOC and should the EEOC determine that case has merit, the EEOC now has the legal standing to sue the employer for discrimination under Title VII.

This ruling comes at a time when transgender Americans face near-universal discrimination and harassment in the workplace. According to the most comprehensive study on transgender discrimination to-date, 90 percent of transgender individuals have experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, or took actions to avoid it. This includes 47 percent of transgender individuals who have experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired, or denied an otherwise deserved promotion based solely on their gender identity. What’s more, race multiplies the effect of discrimination, with transgender people of color reporting especially high rates of discrimination on the job.

Unfortunately, workplace discrimination poses a significant threat to the economic livelihood of transgender individuals and their families, who report higher rates of unemployment, underemployment, and poverty than their non-transgender counterparts. Workplace discrimination leaves far too many transgender individuals without a steady income to buy groceries, pay the utility bills, and make ends meet in an already struggling economy. That’s why yesterday’s ruling from the EEOC is so important for transgender workers and their families.

EEOC’s ruling has the potential to substantially impact the legal landscape for transgender workers—not to mention their employers. Companies in jurisdictions where gender identity-discrimination was already illegal prior to this ruling have wisely taken steps to avoid financially painful lawsuits by ensuring discrimination does not go unchecked against their workers, including those who are transgender.

Given yesterday’s decision, companies in all 50 states would also be wise to take similar steps. These steps include adding “gender identity” to existing company nondiscrimination and anti-harassment workplace policies as well as updating any staff diversity training programs. It is worth mentioning, however, that many companies both big and small already have these policies in place. As detailed in this report from the Center for American Progress, companies adopt these policies in large part because they actually help improve the bottom line (in addition to just being the right thing to do).

Employment is fundamental for people to support themselves and their families. Yesterday’s ruling by the EEOC helps ensure workers are not forced out of a job and into the ranks of the unemployed based solely on their gender identity. To that end, we urge Congress to pass theEmployment Non-Discrimination Act and the president to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to have corporate policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Federal policymakers should take advantage of all tools at their disposal to put LGBT people on a level playing field in the workplace. It’s the right thing to do – both for people and for business.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on April 24, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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