Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘wages’

This week in the war on workers: Chicago teachers protest planned cuts and layoffs

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Chicago schools and teachers are once again under serious attack from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, and once again, the Chicago Teachers Union is showing that it is a powerful force. Thousands of teachers and supporters rallied Thursday, with 16 people arrested, protesting massive proposed cuts and layoffs:

Officials with Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday they’re ready to cut $100 million from school budgets and force teachers to pay more pension costs after their union rejected the latest contract offer, ratcheting up the tone of contentious negotiations that have lasted over a year. […]

The latest flare-up followed an offer a CTU bargaining team rejected Monday, after both sides had deemed it “serious.” The proposal included pay raises and job security, but union officials said it didn’t address school conditions or a lack of services.

The teachers have authorized a strike, though that wouldn’t happen until spring if it happens at all.

? Weeks after the West Virginia Senate passed an anti-union bill, the state House followed suit. A PPP poll conducted for the state AFL-CIO found high support for unions and opposition to laws weakening them.

? A union has filed a National Labor Relations Board petition to represent New York Uber drivers.

? Speaking of which, New York Uber drivers are pissed, with good reason.

A crowd of 600 drivers gathered outside the Uber office in Long Island City, Queens, to protest a 15 percent reduction in fares last month, which also means 15 percent lower wages. That pay cut is on top of Uber’s 20 percent slashing of fares in 2014. All things being equal, drivers who began less than two years ago have seen their pay tumble a whopping 35 percent.

Actually, it’s not just New York.

Last September, Dallas-area drivers for UberBlack, the company’s high-end car service, received an email informing them that they would be expected to start picking up passengers on UberX, its low-cost option.

The next day, when the policy was scheduled to go into effect, dozens of drivers caravaned to Uber’s office in downtown Dallas and planted themselves outside until company officials met with them.

? Indiana repealed prevailing wage protections to let them lower wages on public construction projects … and costs have gone up since then.

Not your typical Alabama labor story:

The state’s largest employer – the University of Alabama at Birmingham and UAB Medicine – plans to raise employees’ minimum wage to $11 an hour beginning in March.

UAB employs more than 23,000 faculty and staff. The institution currently pays $8.24 an hour, about a dollar higher than the federally mandated minimum wage.

? For union members: seven steps to opening up bargaining.

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This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 6, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

Trumka: TPP Is a New Low

Thursday, February 4th, 2016
Kenneth Quinnell

In a new op-ed for the Hill, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explains the key reasons why the Trans-Pacific Partnership is bad for working people, both in the United States and overseas. Trumka describes the deal by saying that “the TPP is a giveaway to big corporations, special interests and all those who want economic rules that benefit the wealthy few.”

An excerpt:

We’ve been down this road before. The Wall Street and Washington elite always tell us that this time will be different. The truth is these trade deals have ripped apart the fabric of our nation. We see the shuttered factories. We visit towns that look like they are stuck in the past. We talk to the workers who lost everything, only to be told they should retrain in another field—but Congress has been slow to fund and authorize those programs. From NAFTA to CAFTA to Korea and now the TPP, these agreements have continually put profits over people. By driving down our wages, they make our economy weaker, not stronger.

In many ways, the TPP is a new low. A quick search of the agreement shows no mention of the terms “raising wages” or “climate change.” And by ramming through fast track legislation earlier this year, Congress effectively barred itself from making a single improvement to the TPP.

Working people deserve a better process and a better product. We understand better than anyone that the TPP is just another tool to enrich corporations at the expense of everyday families. We cannot and should not accept it.

Because it can’t fix the TPP, Congress has to take the step of saying to 11 other countries, “No, not this TPP.” Taking that brave step is necessary to create trade rules that lift people up, not crush them under crony capitalism.

Read the full op-ed.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 3, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

What Is “Economic Freedom,” And Who Is It For?

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Terrance Heath

The Heritage Foundation has released its annual “Index of Economic Freedom.” As America enters an election season increasingly influenced by anger at an economy rigged in favor of the wealthy, maybe it’s time to ask: What is “economic freedom,” and who is it for?

What does economic freedom mean to you, personally? Given that we only recently recovered from a serious national bout of “Powerball Fever,” it’s a safe bet that for most people it means not having to worry about having enough money. It means earning a livable wage; enough to meet basic needs, like food, shelter, transportation, and medical care. It means earning enough to support your family, and having leisure time to enjoy your family. It means being able to educate your children — or yourself — without putting yourself in hock with debt. It means having a fair shot at reaching the next rung on the economic ladder, and securing a better future for your children. It means being able to retire with a decent standard of living.

For the Heritage Foundation, “economic freedom” is “the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property.” Who’d disagree with that? However, the Heritage definition quickly moves from a focus on the individual to a society in which “governments allow labor, capital, and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.”

It sounds good, until you realize we’re not talking about the rights or freedoms of persons like you and me, but wealthy people and “corporate persons.” Heritage breaks “economic freedom” down into four pillars: “Rule of Law,” concerning property rights and “freedom from corruption”; “Limited Government,” concerning “fiscal freedom” and government spending; “Regulatory Efficiency,” concerning “business freedom”, “labor freedom”, and “monetary freedom”; and “Open Markets,” concerning “trade freedom”, “investment freedom,” and “financial freedom.” They repeat the word “freedom” as often as possible, but what do all of those things mean in reality?

If you’re an average worker, it means little to no “regulations concerning minimum wages.” So employers can pay you as little as they like. If you can’t live on what they pay, you’re free to try to earn more elsewhere. Good luck with that, because who gets rich paying higher wages than their competitors? Several of the countries in the Heritage’s “economic freedom” top 10 had the lowest hourly minimum wages, including Chile ($2.20) and Estonia ($2.70). Others have no minimum wage.

There are some developed countries with no minimum wage on Heritage’s index, like Switzerland (number 4) and Denmark (number 12, just behind the U.S.), but they tend to rely on strong trade unions to negotiate fair wages for workers.

If you’re an American worker, it means driving down wages with trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), that institute what Heritage calls “trade freedom,” defined as “the absence of tariff and non-tariff barriers” on imports and exports of goods and services. The top 10 on Heritage’s index is almost a membership list of TPP countries, including Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, Australia and Canada.

It means there are few, if any, labor laws prescribing maximum working hours. There’s no limit on how many hours your employer can require you to work. It means you don’t even have a right to a two-day weekend.

It means there are few, if any, “laws inhibiting layoffs,” “severance requirements,” or “measurable regulatory restraints on hiring and hours worked.” In other words, forget about “right to work” states. It’s a “right to work” world, in which you have the right to work harder and longer for less.

It means no Social Security as we know it. In fact, it means no government programs, as Heritage’s index uses zero government spending as a benchmark. (So underdeveloped countries with little governmental capacity may receive “artificially high scores” for government spending.) The government won’t have anything to spend anyway, because “fiscal freedom” means a low top marginal income tax rate, and a low top marginal corporate tax rate. The lower the rates, the higher the “fiscal freedom” score. Serving as a tax haven for corporations and wealthy individuals seeking to avoid taxes back home, under the banner of “investment freedom,” can earn countries like Ireland (number eight on Heritage’s index) high “economic freedom” scores.

How does all this “economic freedom,” mostly for the wealthy and “corporate persons,” work out for the rest of society? According to Heritage, more “economic freedom” is supposed to mean less inequality. Yet, some of the highest ranking countries on Heritage’s index have the highest rates of inequality.

? Despite being number one on Heritage’s index, Hong Kong’s yawning gap between rich and poor has fueled protests, despite increasing minimum wages.
? Number two on Heritage’s index, Singapore has one of the highest rates of inequality, leading to calls for the government to take action.
? The “miracle of Chile” (number seven on Heritage’s index), so christened by conservative economist Milton Friedman, has lost its shine as Chile’s plantation economy has made it one of the countries with the most serious inequality problems.

Every year Heritage comes out with a new “economic freedom” index, and every year the questions behind the numbers is the same: What is economic freedom, and who is it for? The answer remains the same, too. Heritage’s “economic freedom” is freedom for the wealthy and giant corporations to further consolidate their wealth and power, and not much else.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on February 2, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

Here’s Some History to Help Understand the Racial Wealth Gap

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
A company of 4th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, (USCT) Infantry/Wikimedia

William Spriggs Next month is Black History Month. We will hear stories about black Americans and their successes in this country against the barriers (slavery, Jim Crow, poll tax just to name a few) thrown in their paths. Yet for every success story, there is still the nagging fact that the median net wealth of white households is 12.2 times greater than that of black households.

Because of well-documented gaps in unemployment rates, earnings, poverty and wealth, black working people are sometimes falsely seen as “bystanders” to America’s economy.  Unbelievably, there is a tendency to observe the gaps in economic success and blame African Americans for being disengaged and not trying to respond to clear economic realities; a lack of investment in education, skills, training and personal saving. This is patently absurd.

African Americans are fully aware of the barriers they face to success, and have been steadfast to struggle to remove them.  Indeed, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated during a campaign by black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., to exercise their right to organize, strike and demand fair wages; a key theme of American worker advancement during the first 80 years of the last century and one repeated this past Dr. King Holiday by airport workers demanding a living wage.

The difference in wealth does not grow smaller when comparing white and black households headed by college graduates, or when controlling for differences in income.  Because the easy answers like education and income differences don’t explain the wealth gap—which measures accumulated savings over multiple generations—the fall back is often to blame the savings’ behavior of blacks.  And, here, old stereotypes of African Americans being profligate can easily substitute for documentation. But taking a closer look at history tells us the real story.

Those early years after emancipation are key in addressing the deep history of African Americans as their own agents.  During the Civil War, African American leaders, most famously, Frederick Douglass, campaigned hard to have black soldiers officially sworn into the fight to end slavery.  With issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln also finally signed on that in 1863 not only would slaves in the rebellious states be free, but African American men would join the United States Army and Navy in quelling the Southern revolt.  Close to 180,000 black men signed-up as official members of America’s Armed Forces to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.  They became the largest paid workforce of African American men to that point in America’s history.

The issue quickly arose as to where could they deposit their paychecks?  A few fledgling efforts were made to start banks.  And, that effort culminated with the establishment of the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust by Congressional act in March 1865; the Freedmen’s Bureau bank.  Recently the U.S. Department of Treasury and Secretary Jack Lew dedicated an annex to honor the Freedmen’s Bureau Bank.

By 1870, the bank operated 37 branches throughout the South, with African Americans trained as branch managers.  In all, almost 70,000 African Americans made deposits in the bank, reaching savings of about $57 million.  Those facts stand to clearly demonstrate the efforts of a people, subject to slavery, freed with nothing from their previous labors to start anew having built wealth for others for free.

But, fate would intervene.  The accumulation of those savings came during a period when the federal government still stood in the way of restoring the South’s old hegemony of white southern planters.  And, it came when the nation’s banks were still conservative following the uncertainties of the Civil War.  Southern banking laid prostrate, devastated by the collapse of the Confederacy and the meaningless holdings of Confederate dollars, and the long mystery of the disappearance of the gold reserves that backed that currency on its desperate journey south from Richmond, Virginia in April 1865 as Robert E. Lee surrendered the fighting cause at Appomattox Court House under the vigilant eyes of 2,000 black men in seven units of the United States Colored Troops.

By the start of the 1870’s, the expansion west made possible by the Homestead Act and transcontinental railroad—both enacted during the Civil War—restored the nation’s prosperity and financial zeal.  The result was over speculation in railroading.  In Europe, financial pressures mounted from the Franco-Prussian War.  Germany refused to continue issuing silver coins.  This resulted in plummeting silver prices, and the eventual move by the United States to go from backing its currency in silver and gold, to use only the gold standard.  This led to the collapse of investments in silver mines in the western United States.  The result was a global financial collapse that swept Europe and the United States in 1873.  With it came the collapse of the U.S. banking system.

Sound familiar?  And, that collapse decimated the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust as well.  At a time of general financial collapse and no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—a creation learned from the Great Depression—many depositors lost their savings.  The millions in savings of the newly free went away, too.  Not too different than the 240,000 homes that disappeared from the African American community after the financial collapse of 2007.

In 1876, a compromise to resolve the Presidential election resulted in the removal of federal protection of African Americans in the South.  The end of reconstruction meant the restoration of southern white hegemony and the evisceration of voting rights for African Americans, the protection of the access to many occupations and the limiting of their equal access to education.  This too sounds familiar.

To accurately measure history, it takes measuring all the hills and valleys right.  Dedicating a building to the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust allows us to properly assess the toil and efforts of African Americans.  It shows the hard work and industrious nature of a determined people.  It reminds us of the mountains of betrayal as well.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 22, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

An Economy That Works For Everyone Starts With Women

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Terrance HeathAccording to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, creating an economy that works for everyone starts with creating an economy that works for women.

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the gap between women’s earnings and men’s earnings has closed a little. The bad news is the narrowing of the gender wage gap is not due to women’s gains in the workplace, but to declining wages for men and growing inequality overall.

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According to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), eliminating the gap between men’s and women’s wages would amount to a 70% raise for women.

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Consider economic impact of eliminating the gender pay gap. Women are the primary breadwinners in at least 40 percent of American households. Consider what eliminating the gender pay gap would mean for these women.

  • Nearly 60 percent of women would earn more if working women were paid the same as men the same age doing similar work.
  • The poverty rate for working women would be cut in half; the poverty rate for working single mothers would fall by nearly half.
  • The US Economy would produce an extra $447.6 billion, if women received equal pay.

Like a “rising tide,” lifting these women lifts the households that depend upon their earnings, and boosts the economy. An economy that works for women, then, works for American families, too, bringing us closer to an economy that works for all. To that end EPI has introduced the “Women’s Economic Agenda,” a 12-point policy agenda that will “give low- and moderate-wage workers more economic leverage, change the rules so that a growing economy benefits hardworking Americans, and maximize women’s economic security.”


The benefits for women are clear. As I wrote in, “We Must Fight Poverty With Justice,” it’s no coincidence that women’s risk of poverty jumps drastically between the ages of  25 and 34, when their poverty rate is 6.9 times higher than men’s, or that their poverty risk doesn’t begin to come down until age 40. Women are at a higher risk of poverty during their peak reproductive years, when they begin juggling the responsibilities of work and family, and lose out on pay that’s already less than what men earn.

However, the benefits of the agenda aren’t exclusive to women. In fact, none of its 12 points are applied exclusively to women. Men, women, and children would benefit from increased wages, guaranteed family leave and paid sick leave, accessible child care, and all of the other agenda items. When the economy works for women on these 12 issues, it’s more likely to work for us all.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on November 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

Economists React to October Jobs Report

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Jackie TortoraOctober provided good news for the economy. The economy added 271,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a big increase over September’s number of 137,000 jobs. The unemployment rate also fell fractionally from 5% to 5.1%.

Average hourly private-sector earnings were up 9 cents, which, if sustained, will finally start producing real wage gains for ordinary working Americans.

In response to the October jobs report, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William E. Spriggs said:

While this month’s numbers are good, job growth has yet to deliver sustained wage gains that working people need to lead better lives. This means we face the deeper challenge of fashioning policy changes to create the institutional structure for shared prosperity; aggressive, progressive solutions, not corporate driven trade deals. Unfortunately, while our economy remains fragile, the now public TPP text proves our fears of just how damaging it could be to our economy. The fight for full employment and rising wages starts with rejecting this bad deal and embracing economic policies that put people and families first.

 AFL-CIO Senior Economic Policy Adviser Thomas Palley added:

This report is strong, which is good news. But the report also reveals the contradictions in our economy. Good news for Main Street is interpreted as bad news by Wall Street. The challenge for the Federal Reserve, and the standard by which it will be judged, is to ensure this type of news becomes ‘normal’ and not a one month exception that is used to justify hitting the brakes.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on November 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Pass the Wage Act Now

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Shauna BarnaskasFor many American workers, union and non-union alike, work ethic and attendance will only get them so far in the workplace. They may still face many adverse working conditions including but not limited to lack of safety, pay, and benefits. Furthermore, bargaining power of America’s workers is far weaker than it used to be. Most employees lack the chance to have a real voice in the workplace and negotiate with their employer over issues that drive workplace morale. In fact, collective bargaining is at a critically low and is currently lower in the United States than every other industrialized nation.

In effect of decline in collective bargaining and unionization, income inequality is on the rise. Rebuilding our collective bargaining system and putting power back into the hands of the workers and not just the companies and managers is significant, and necessary, for reestablishing wage growth and bringing positive changes to the workplace.

Having no recourse at work, workers depend on current labor laws to protect their workplace rights. Although the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is in place to protect the right of private sector workers, union and non-union, to engage in collective bargaining to improve workplace conditions, the reality of the NLRA is that it was enacted 80 years ago in the midst of the Great Depression, and has failed to update to account for current workplace trends. Unlike other labor and employment laws, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the entity charged with enforcing the NLRA, has a toothless enforcement mechanism that does not adequately protect workers rights, or deter employers from breaking the laws; it does not impose any real penalties financial or otherwise. In result, employers view breaking the law as nothing less than a smart business decision where they may receive a small slap on the wrist, or they may even receive no punishment at all.

In line with the current trend towards collective action from fast-food workers to Wal-Mart employees, Congress has introduced legislation to properly aid and protect workers in collective bargaining. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act, an act designed to strengthen protections for workers who collectively organize, and ensure that employers violating workers’ rights face actual consequences. The WAGE Act would amend the NLRA to provide it with a backbone for enforcement, and would essentially give a voice to union and non-union workers alike to provide them a path to action against those who illegally retaliate against the employees who are taking collective action.

The WAGE Act has many features, but its biggest aspects that will protect workers include adding a meaningful back pay remedy for workers illegally fired, including penalties for employers and a preliminary reinstatement; it implements triple back pay awards for workers who were illegally retaliated against regardless of that workers’ immigration status; and finally it would provide workers with a private right of action to bring suit to recover monetary damages and attorneys fees. Now, when employees complain about workplace conditions or benefits, its employer will think twice about the potential costs of illegally firing that employee under the WAGE Act penalties.

The WAGE Act would discourage employer retaliation through and promote prompt remedies through:

  • Providing a temporary reinstatement for workers who are fired or retaliated against when exercising rights to join together and seek workplace improvements. This would direct the NLRB to go to court to seek a preliminary injunction that would immediately return fired workers to their jobs so long as there is no reasonable cause to believe the worker was wrongly fired.
  • Strengthening the remedies for workers who are fired or retaliated against, providing the workers with the ability to bring cases directly to court for monetary damages and attorneys fees. In addition, the WAGE Act would triple the back pay that employers must pay to workers who are fired or retaliated against by employers regardless of immigration status.
  • Establishing robust penalties against employers who violate workers’ rights and commit unfair labor practices by implementing a $50,000 fine for illegal retaliation and doubling that amount for repeat violations.
  • Streamlining the NLRB process and implementing a 30 day maximum time limit for employers wishing to challenge an NLRB decision. After that time is expired, the NLRB decision is final and binding.
  • Improving workers knowledge of their rights through requiring employers to inform workers of their rights by posting notice and informing employees at time of hire.

This legislation is designed to help all workers, but it will necessarily give power back to low-wage workers trying to make a good living, immigrants afraid of complaining due to lack of rights, and all workers trying to collectively engage. For years, employers have taken advantage of the weak workplace protection laws, and the WAGE Act seeks to put the power back in the hands of the employee, allowing them to seek remedies for unfair labor practices without making them jumping through so many hoops.

The purpose of the WAGE Act is to help employees through protections against employers. “Too often as workers are underpaid, overworked, and treated unfairly on the job, some companies are doing everything they can to prevent them from having a voice in the workplace. The WAGE Act would strengthen protections for all workers and it would finally crack down on employers who break the law when workers exercise their basic right to collective action,” said Senator Patty Murray. Currently, the WAGE Act has gained momentum and support from presidential-hopeful, Secretary Hillary Clinton, the AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (Teamsters) Union, and many other organizations and unions. With more organizations supporting this bill, and more attention to inform individuals about this legislation, the WAGE Act could potentially pass to get workers what they not just deserve, but need.

While some may argue this bill is just more pro-union propaganda, the simple fact driving this bill is that it is pro-worker. It helps all workers regardless of union affiliation and allows the employees to more easily get back-pay and reinstatement. Without workers, essential functions in society cannot happen; this bill is necessary to providing workers with the power they need to protect their own rights. Employers have notoriously taken advantage of weak worker protection laws to slow down or stop working people from joining together to improve their lives. The WAGE Act is a necessary first step toward overdue labor law reform to promote collective action and put power back in the hands of the employees. Pass the WAGE Act now.

To learn about unions, the WAGE Act, or your workplace rights generally, please visit Workplace Fairness today.

About the Author: Shauna Barnaskas is an associate with Abato, Rubenstein and Abato, P.A., located in Baltimore, Maryland, where she concentrates her practice in the representation of ERISA plans. Shauna was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa to a union family, and has been actively involved in the labor movement her whole life. Mrs. Barnaskas earned her Juris Doctor degree from American University Washington College of Law in 2014, where she served as the Articles Editor for the Labor and Employment Law Forum. Prior to joining Abato, Rubenstein and Abato, P.A. Shauna served as a law clerk for the United States Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee where she was a contributing author of the committee staff report, “For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success.”  Additionally, Mrs. Barnaskas was selected for the Peggy Browning Fellowship program where she worked for the American Federation of Teachers.

The Complicated Story Behind Those Images of Terrified Air France Executives Fleeing Workers

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

in these times“A picture has held us captive. And we cannot get outside it, for it lay in our language about France and it has been repeated inexorably.”

Well, this is not what Ludwig Wittgenstein precisely said. Nor did the 20th century’s most enigmatic philosopher have in mind the photos of shirtless Air France executives scrambling up a fence to escape an irate crowd of employees earlier this month. Nevertheless, his observation about the power of images is du jour. While they will not be turned into key chains or postcards, these images have become emblematic of a certain idea of France and French working class militancy in the minds of many around the world.

And yet, the undeniable violence of this event obscures a different form of violence. It is a kind of violence less striking and more resistant to being struck as an image, but equally grim and despairing: the slow, incremental, and deadening violence done to workers whose livelihoods are under constant threat, whose options are increasingly limited and whose traditional parties seem either incapable or unable to help.

One could foresee the collision between Air France management and workers on October 5. First, there were the recent strategic errors made by Air France, failing to foresee the challenge posed by low-price carriers like Ryan Air for short-haul runs across Europe and rise of money-rich Gulf airlines over the growing and profitable longer routes. While Air France showed something of a rebound by 2013, a prolonged strike by the pilots union in 2014 sent its finances into yet another nosedive. The company hemorrhaged more than 600 million euros in the first half of 2015, with little prospect of lessening the hemorrhage in the second half.

A second cause was the intransigence of the Air France pilots. In the negotiations that flamed out in early October, the pilots’ union refused to compromise on a series of labor practices that would align them, both in terms of hours flown and the length of layovers, with other European carriers. Though pilots constitute 8% of Air France’s workforce, their pay makes up more than 25% of the company’s salary costs. On average, Air France pilots fly 630 hours, while Lufthansa and British Airway pilots average 750 hours, and Ryan Air upwards of 850, while their salaries are roughly equivalent.

In effect, the pilots were asked to increase their cockpit time by 10% without an equivalent wage increase. The KLM pilots union—the more profitable Dutch carrier merged ten years ago with Air France—urged their French colleagues to “take this step so that we can all move forward.”

The Dutch appeal for moderation went unheeded. When talks with the pilots union stalled, management abruptly ended the negotiations and unveiled its “Plan B.” The company would drastically reduce its freight business—retiring fourteen of its cargo planes—and eliminating five of its routes. No less drastic are the human consequences. To carry out the necessary restructuration, nearly 3,000 jobs would be slashed by 2017, the sickle slicing almost entirely through the ranks of the support and ground crews.

When the negotiations between the pilots and management broke off, the ground-workers unions were as furious at the one as the other. The union’s claim that this provides a higher guarantee of safety struck them as both false and self-serving. Laurent Berger, the leader of France’s largest trade union, the Confedération française démocratique du travail, denounced the pilots’ refusal to compromise. By refusing “to consider the predicament of their fellow Air France workers,” he exclaimed, the pilots had “torpedoed the trade unions.”

Torn between bewilderment and bitterness, he declared that the pilots could have avoided this showdown, but instead decided to leave the ground-workers holding the bag: “It’s detestable!” Jean-Claude Mailly, the leader of a second union, Force Ouvrière, echoed Berger’s frustration. Urging the pilots to maintain labor solidarity, Mailly pleaded with them “to communicate with the other unions.”

On October 5, Air France’s division of human resources convened a meeting at its corporate headquarters to discuss the implementation of Plan B. Already battered by earlier restructuring efforts, hundreds of Air France ground-workers gathered outside the building to protest the purpose of the meeting. Unnoticed by security personnel, a few dozen workers made their way into the building by a side entrance and burst into the meeting room.

The confrontation turned into a scrum, during which workers tore off the jackets and shirts of two executives, Xavier Broseta and Pierre Plissonier. With the help of security personnel, as well as other workers, the two frightened men managed to leave the building and scale the parking lot fence to safety.

While the international media feasted on images of this event, the French government reacted immediately. On an official visit in Japan, Prime Minister Manuel Valls assured France—not to mention Air France, nearly one fifth of which is owned by the French state—that the voyous, or thugs, responsible for the scuffle would be “harshly punished.” In a tweet, the economy minister Emmanuel Macron, also in Japan, relayed his shock over the event, denouncing the “unacceptable violence” shown by the Air France workers. The government made good on its vow of swift justice: at dawn on October 12, five workers suspected of leading the scuffle were arrested at their homes and charged with assault and battery.

While most of the political class applauded the arrests, there were also discordant voices. In a televised interview, Jean-Luc Mélechon, the fiery former Socialist who now leads the Parti de gauche, urged Air France workers not to be intimidated by the arrests.

“Start again,” he encouraged them: “Don’t surrender, and don’t be afraid.” As for the arrested workers, Mélenchon grandly declared: “I’d be glad to take their place in prison.” Even Mélenchon’s allies rolled their eyes over their colleague’s offer. As Julien Dray, a leader of the leftwing dissidents within the Socialist Party, drily noted: “It’s easy to say that you would willingly go to prison, all the while sitting in a television studio and knowing full well you will not go there.”

But Dray, along with several other leftwing politicians and observers, has also underscored the odd and discomfiting sight of a Socialist government mobilizing its rhetoric and resources to support Air France’s executive board and slam its employees. Laurent Bouvier, a columnist with Slate France, remarked that the violence of political reactions to the events at Air France was equally shocking.

“To side entirely with Air France executives without a word for the workers whose jobs are now threatened by the company’s flawed decision-making reflects a tragic divorce from social realities.” More laconically, a columnist with Le Parisien, Jean-Marie Montali, noted that the scuffle “makes us lose sight of another act of violence: the loss of 2,900 jobs.”

Tellingly, in a survey published last week by the French polling institute IFOP, while 38% of the respondents condemned the workers’ violence out of hand, 54% replied that though they did not approve of the violence, they nevertheless “understood” why it happened. How could it be otherwise, given the seemingly irresistible rise of unemployment in France—the toll of those who cannot find jobs now hovers at 10.3 percent—and the impotence of the Socialist government to reverse the trend?

A video revealing this tragic side to the events of October 5 has since gone viral in France. It depicts a young Air France employee, Erika Nguyen Van Vai, who had wandered into another meeting room at corporate headquarters during the confusion of that day. Finding herself face to face with several Air France executives, Van Vai, a single mother, tries to engage them in a dialogue. Repeatedly asking them for the criteria they were using for Plan B, repeatedly emphasizing the sacrifices she and her fellow workers had already made, and repeatedly stating her pride to wear an Air France uniform, she is met with silence and frequent sardonic smiles. As Van Vai later observed, “I felt humiliated by their response.”

It may well the image of this worker’s tears as she failed to elicit a response from Air France executives, which elicited a new response from the president of Air France, Alexandre de Juniac. On Sunday, he announced that just 1,000 positions would now be cut through voluntary retirements in 2016. Whether this reflects a change in the adversarial relations between management and workers at Air France, or simply a tactical retreat, remains to be seen.

This blog was originally posted on InTheseTimes.org on October 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robert Zaretsky is a Professor of History at the University of Houston in the field of modern European intellectual and cultural history. He is the author of A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning and Boswell’s Enlightenment, and is at work on a book on the friendship between Catherine the Great and Denis Diderot. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, Le Monde Diplomatique, Chronicle of Higher Education, and the London Times Higher Education Magazine. He is the history editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books and a monthly columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward.

Illegally fired for exercising your rights at work? You should be able to sue

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

Laura ClawsonThe new bill to strengthen penalties against employers who illegally fire workers for collective action that Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott introduced in Congress on Wednesday would do more than just deter those illegal firings, argue the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit: it would reframe union rights as civil rights.

The WAGE Act would give workers the same remedies as employees whose civil rights are violated:  the ability not just to get their jobs and back pay, which is the rule now, but to win punitive damages, to engage in legal discovery that gives lawyers access to an employer’s internal files, and win attorneys’ fees when workers prevail. Employees also can get a preliminary injunction to get their jobs back right away.

By giving workers a fresh way to think about becoming part of a union – as a civil right, rather than just joining a special interest – the idea has a chance to re-awaken a conversation that has languished in American politics. The decimation of the American labor movement has been catastrophic for the middle class, keeping wages down and weakening the voice of middle-class citizens in the political process.

As Kahlenberg and Marvit suggest, “the time may be right” for this idea to come up in the presidential campaign:

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have attacked inequality and offered good proposals, such as increasing the minimum wage, which will help move the poor into the working class. But only a strong organized labor movement – and new, alternative forms of worker representation — can help move large numbers of people from the working class to the middle class.  The WAGE Act is a simple, concrete proposal for change that would help both traditional unions and new, emerging organizations that represent workers. The presidential candidates should make it a central plank in their campaigns.

What a good idea. Ball’s in your court, Secretary Clinton, Sen. Sanders …

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.

Female Executives Aren’t Just Paid Less, They Also Suffer More For Bad Performance

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Bryce CovertThere isn’t just a gender wage gap among the highest-paid employees in the country. Pay for female executives also drops further when companies perform poorly compared to men but rises less during good times.

In a new note about their research, Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists Stefania Albanesi, Claudia Olivetti, and Maria Prados find that if a company’s value drops by 1 percent, female executives’ pay will drop by 63 percent, while male executives only see a 33 percent decline. On the other hand, if value goes up by 1 percent men will get a 44 percent boost but women will only get a 13 percent increase.

This leads to cumulative losses for women but gains for men. The economists looked at pay for the top five executives in public companies — CEO, vice chair, president, CFO, and chief operating officer — in the Standard and Poor’s ExecutComp database between 1992 and 2005. Over that time, women’s pay dropped 16 percent while men’s rose 15 percent. If a company’s value increases by $1 million, male executives will net $17,150 more in compensation but women will only get $1,670. “So, overall,” they write, “changes in firm performance penalize female executives while they favor male executives.”

There is still a tiny number of female executives to begin with. They made up just 3.2 percent of the people in the roles examined by the New York Fed economists, while they account for 4.6 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies and a quarter of executive and senior officers. But even so, they are still paid less than their male peers. The New York Fed research found that female executives’ total compensation was just 82 percent of men’s. The highest-paid female executives at S&P 500 companies made 18 percent less than male ones in 2013, and female CEOs made less than 80 percent of what male ones made.

Several prominent female executives have recently demonstrated the severity of the pay gap at the top. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was paid less in her few years than the man who had the job before her and ended up fired. Mary Barra, the first female CEO of General Motors, got a pay package for her first year that was less than half of what the man who had the job before her made, although her long-term compensation package will be higher. The value of that package, of course, will depend on the company’s value over time.

But part of the disparity is the way that female executives get paid in the first place. In their research, the New York Fed economists found that women’s compensation is made up of less incentive pay than men’s, which accounts for 93 percent of the overall gender pay gap among them. The biggest gap is in bonuses: female executives get bonuses that amount to just 71 percent of male executives’. But they also get less in stock options and grants, getting just 84 percent and 87 percent, respectively, of what men get. The gap in stock options alone explains 41 percent in the overall gender gap.

While there’s a gender wage gap at the very top of the economy, it’s part of a problem that follows women in virtually every job. They get lower salaries right out of college and will make less than men at every education level. While many factors go into the gender wage gap, women’s career interruptions to care for children can only explain about 10 percent of it and the most ambitious women will still make less.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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