Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘wages and benefits’

Decline of Good Jobs Tied to Workers’ Decreased Bargaining Power

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Many U.S. workers don’t have jobs—nearly 13 million. Less known, however, is that many more don’t have good jobs—fewer than one-quarter of America’s workforce, according to a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). The center defines a good job as one that pays at least $18.50 an hour, or $37,000 per year, equal to the inflation-adjusted earnings of the typical male worker in 1979. A good job also includes employer-provided health insurance and a retirement plan (click on chart at left to expand).

The lack of available good jobs is not new. As CEPR finds, compared with 1979, the U.S. economy has lost about one-third (28 percent to 38 percent) of its capacity to generate good jobs.

But why?

The report, “Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?” outlines how the decline in the economy’s ability to produce good jobs is directly related workers’ declining bargaining power. The study points to the fall in the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage, the decline in union representation, trade deals, high unemployment and other factors that reduce the bargaining power of workers relative to their employers.

“The standard explanation for this loss of the economy’s ability to create good jobs is that most workers skills have not kept up with the pace of technological change,” says John Schmitt, senior economist at CEPR and one of the report’s co-authors.

But it is hard to reconcile that view with the fact that even workers with a college degree are less likely to have a good job now than at the end of the 1970s.

Further, according to the report, more than one-third of U.S. workers had a four-year college degree or more, up from just one-fifth in 1979.

Given that older and better-educated workers generally receive higher pay and better benefits, we would have expected the share of “good jobs” in the economy to have increased in line with improvements in the quality of workforce. Instead, the share of “good jobs” in the U.S. economy has actually fallen.

Get the full report here.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 1, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

Want healthy workers who don't steal? Give them paid sick leave and pay them well.

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Laura ClawsonIf you needed evidence that it’s better when businesses treat their employees better, here are two pieces: One new study finds that people who have paid sick leave are less likely to be injured on the job and another study finds that convenience store workers steal less when they’re paid better.

In the first study, Center for Disease Control researchers found that workers with paid sick leave were 28 percent less likely to report workplace injuries requiring medical attention, and “Workers in jobs with a high baseline risk for injury—such as construction or manufacturing—appeared to benefit more from having access to paid sick leave.”

The study doesn’t delve into the several ways this could work. Maybe people who have paid sick days are less likely to go to work when illness makes them more likely to fall or be careless. Or maybe there are other factors that come into play, like union membership or occupational safety programs. But that hardly weakens the take-away of the study. If unions bargain for paid sick leave and improved safety standards, making their members both more likely to have paid sick leave and less likely to be injured on the job, then we may better understand the association between sick leave and occupational injuries, but it doesn’t weaken that association. It’s the same if non-union workplaces that have paid sick leave also tend to have solid safety procedures in place, leading to fewer injuries. Whether one is the cause of the other or whether they both are likely to come as a result of responsible employment practices, a concrete benefit for workers—paid sick leave—is associated with another benefit—fewer injuries.

The second study found that convenience stores that pay workers well relative to workers in similar jobs in their region experienced less cash shortage and inventory shrinkage, and that, according to study coauthor Clara Xiaoling Chen, “the effect of relative wages on employee theft is more pronounced when there are multiple workers. Relative wages influence the type of norms that develop among the co-workers.”

Low-paid workers only steal about 39 percent of what paying them more would cost, so many convenience store owners probably think it’s a fair trade. For responsible owners and managers, though, the lower turnover and training costs, as well as the general plus of not having employees who steal, strengthen the financial argument for decent pay. The moral argument for decent pay is always there, of course; it’s just that so many bosses ignore it.

These studies have in common that they both find that better treatment for workers has benefits for the employer and, if we believe that lower rates of injury and theft are good for society, benefits for society as well. It’s unfortunate that the notion that people should be paid enough to live on and be able to stay home when they’re sick needs further validation, but 35 years into the great American race to the bottom, that’s where we are.

(Via Blogwood)

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on August 1, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Mexican Grocery Chain Workers Sue for Unpaid Wages in Silicon Valley

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaSAN FRANCISCO—More than 50 former workers at a now-defunct supermarket chain in Santa Clara County (aka Silicon Valley and San Jose) are suing their former employer for unpaid wages.

The two-store chain went bankrupt after being open less than three years and  receiving half a million dollars in assistance from the city’s economic development department. The announcement came from the Bay Area Justice for Mercado Workers Coalition and San Francisco-based Instituto Laboral de la Raza (ILR). (Mexican grocery stores are known as “mercados.”)

The workers are seeking more than $200,000 in unpaid wages and penalties. The former Su Vianda workers were fired last June. Marc L. TerBeek, general counsel for ILR, is representing the group.

TerBeek said in a prepared statement that they are suing the listed owner of the chain, Kimomex; the president, Al Lujan; the board of directors; the parent company, Pacific Community Ventures, along with its board of directors, because

…Kimomex’s efforts to evade responsibility for their claims by filing bankruptcy revealed that it was a shell organization that did not maintain any books or records, and which could not account for any revenues it had generated, including a $500,000 investment the City of San Jose made in 2008 with taxpayer funds.

mercado-250x188

The Justice for Mercado Workers Campaign holds a press conference in San Jose, Calif., in December 2009. (Photo via People's World)

According to the complaint, Kimomex, doing business as Su Vianda, owned and operated a chain of ethnic-oriented supermarkets that catered to predominantly Latino customers.

The suit says the workers were denied rest periods, meal breaks and overtime pay, while Su Vianda/Kimomex deducted earnings for medical insurance that was never purchased and engaged in “the unlawful business practice of failing to pay final earned wages to employees it terminated.”

When the workers were fired in June 2010, Kimomex sought bankruptcy protection but then could not account for its liabilities or assets, nor were there corporate books or records.

The supermarket chain did not pay final earned wages to workers it terminated and deducted wages for medical insurance that was never obtained. The workers were told they were not entitled to rest period and meal breaks.

The workers are calling for a jury trial.

Calls to Kiromex’s San Jose headquarters were unanswered. TerBeek says the workes are owned at least $75,000 in unpaid wages and $150,000 in penalties for failure to pay them as promised.

The Coalition of Bay Area Mercado workers includes community, labor and faith-based groups who are looking at ethnic grocery stores, commonly called “mercados” to comply with state and federal laws for workers as well as to help them fight for their right to form a union.

Local 5 President Ron Lind remarked during a press conference in December,  “We have a broader mission in the labor movement and as a union. That is to advocate on behalf of all the workers in the industries we represent, including those in the mercados [Mexican markets]…”

About 30,000 Californians work in mercados throughout the state, many of them recent immigrants from Latin America and Asia.

The Justice for Mercado Workers Campaign, which consists of several community organizations and USCW Local 5, has developed a Code of Conduct to empower Latino and Asian mercado workers through labor organizing activities.

In the Bay Area, it is estimated there are some 12,000 mercados workers. Many are paid poverty wages, and their employers don’t observe labor law, which means they don’t get meals and rest breaks, and endure verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse.

This blog originally appeared on http://www.inthesetimes.com on March 3, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

Outsourced: No Laughing Matter

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Sarita GuptaLast week, NBC launched a new show that tries to find comedy in the all-too-real conditions of outsourcing. While the first episode was witty—making light of age-old cultural clashes and stereotypes, there is nothing funny about the reality of outsourcing and the impact it has both on the American worker and their counterparts around the world.

For decades, big companies like the one portrayed in “Outsourced” have been engaged in a global race to the bottom, constantly seeking to maximize their profits by cutting wages, benefits and working conditions.  Corporations have learned to avoid local worker bargaining power by organizing themselves globally and exerting a downward pressure on wages along the supply chain that brings goods from manufacturing to consumers.

Meanwhile, there are currently 15 million unemployed workers in the United States. And the situation is not much better overseas, where many scrape by on substandard conditions and wages that have been outlawed for centuries in the United States.

Going back to the first episode, the angry, American workers who have just been laid off are portrayed only by a stack of bricks thrown through the boss’s window. This is then juxtaposed against the hapless, comedic and cheaper Indian workers who have taken over the call center.

But the bosses are all smiles because by pitting laid-off U.S. workers against workers overseas (and immigrant workers forced to look for work in the United States), companies like the novelty business portrayed in the show get rich while workers around the world, our nation included, struggle to feed their families, access health care and stay in their homes.

Still laughing?

It is hard to find humor in the need for good jobs, fair wages and humane living and working conditions.

So, as not to leave NBC hanging (we at Jobs with Justice are solution oriented, after all), how about another idea for a new NBC sitcom called “Good Jobs, Fair Pay.”  In this innovative new show, U.S. workers would have full and fair employment—all paid for courtesy of a small sales tax on Wall Street, otherwise known as a financial speculation tax.

Workers in other parts of the globe would join U.S. workers in having a standard minimum wage with equal purchasing power.  Multinational corporations would have no incentive of moving from country to country, forcing workers into increasingly lower wages and conditions. And for comedic relief, CEOs would actually pay taxes like the rest of us and share their annual bonus with the workers in the plant.

And the Emmy goes to?

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About The Author: Sarita Gupta is executive director of Jobs With Justice, a national network of more than 40 local coalitions of labor, community, student, and faith organizations, working together to built a broader global movement for economic and social justice.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog