Posts Tagged ‘wages’
Saturday, November 21st, 2015
According 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.
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.
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.
Monday, November 16th, 2015
October 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.
Thursday, November 12th, 2015
For 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.
Saturday, October 24th, 2015
“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.
Saturday, September 19th, 2015
The 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.
Wednesday, August 26th, 2015
There 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.
Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
Portland, Oregon’s new bar Loyal Legion doesn’t just offer customers 99 different beer choices. It also requires them to pay zero in tips.
When owner Kurt Huffman opened the bar, he wanted to figure out to deal with a problem plaguing all of his establishments: the nearly impossible search to hire talented staff in the back of the house cooking and prepping food and washing dishes. “I can’t find line cooks anymore,” he said. The search for a single cook takes his team three or four weeks, an eternity in the business. “I’ve got to figure out how to get the kitchen more money so we can keep talent.”
He noted that the cost of living in the city is so high that almost all of his dishwashers and line cooks have to work two jobs to get by. “The system is broken in terms of how people are paid,” he said.
So to create a new pool of money to be able to increase the wages in the back to be comparable with what the people serving customers in the front are making, he eliminated tipping and instead has raised prices by 20 percent — so a beer has gone from $5 to $6. That’s allowed him to increase the minimum pay for the back of the house to $15 an hour, which increases to $18 after three months. The front of the house will also get an $18 minimum wage.
Huffman himself used to work in the back of restaurants, and he noted that the new system allows him to address an “ethical dilemma” he faced when paying those positions less than servers and bartenders who also rake in tips. “I used to work with dishwashers and cooks, and everybody is busting our ass,” he explained.
A growing wave of American restaurants has been getting rid of tipping in favor of a variety of other models. While it started with high-end places on the coasts, it’s now extended to bars like Huffman’s, diners, coffee shops, and barbecue joints. One piece of the reasoning, which Huffman also noted, is that tipping is no longer an expression of gratitude for service but simply a given. “In the olden days, tips were actually an index of quality of service,” he said. “They aren’t anymore. People tip always the same.” In fact, the quality of service only accounts for a percentage point or so change in the size of tips; instead, they tend to fluctuate more on gender, race, and looks.
The no-tip model could also serve as an experiment for how his sit-down restaurants might address a higher minimum wage. Huffman expects a $15 minimum wage requirement will soon be enacted in Portland given that it’s already been passed in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the cityraised the wage for its own workforce to that level earlier this year, and voters will weigh in on an overall hike to that level come November. “I think everybody in the restaurant industry, everybody who’s paying attention, is thoughtful and mindful of how we’re going to address that change,” he said.
His company ChefsTable Group has 16 restaurants, and he estimated that for six of them, that sort of cost increase will be nearly impossible to contend with without other changes. One change he’s considering is adding an automatic gratuity to the bill — perhaps 5 percent — that would go to helping cover that cost, and customers would be able to add what they wanted on top of that.Some restaurants in other cities are instituting higher wages before they even go into effect by eliminating tips and raising prices.
This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on August 5, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
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.
Monday, July 6th, 2015
The June Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report shows continued growth — 223,000 new jobs added with the official unemployment rate declining to 5.3%. Jobs growth remains steady — rising for 57 straight months, now setting a new record each month – but slow, lagging previous recoveries. The decline in the unemployment rate was largely due to 432,000 people leaving the labor force, reversing the increase that took place in May.
The headline unemployment figure is always misleading. Nearly 17 million people are still in need of full-time work. Long-term unemployment has declined, but remains higher than before the great recession. The employment-population ratio has also not recovered, remaining at 59.3%, marginally lower than a year ago. The portion of the working age population that is employed or wants a job, the labor force participation rate, declined last month and is lower than a year ago. This is not a picture of robust growth.
The BLS reports are important largely as signposts for the Federal Reserve and its pending decision on when to raise interest rates. Fed Chair Janet Yellen sensibly has been focused on disappointing wage growth and looking for “additional strength in the labor market.” She won’t find much that is encouraging in this report. In this month’s report, hourly wages showed no growth, with the yearly average up barely 2%, despite hikes in the minimum wage by more and more cities and states and more and more companies. Average hours worked remained steady.
Speculation is that the Federal Reserve is headed towards beginning to wage interest rates in September. Higher interest rates will be a drag on growth, jobs and thus wages. The Fed would be well advised to wait until more workers find jobs, and the greater demand for workers is reflected in continuing rising wages.
Government employment showed no increase. The US Congress continues to block any investment to rebuild our decrepit infrastructure at a time of record low interest rates. With the US able to borrow for virtually nothing, an investment in infrastructure, as Larry Summers argues, would pay for itself, with even a minimum return in efficiency. No business leader with a whit of sense would refuse to grasp this opportunity. Perhaps Donald Trump who has built his fortune by making far riskier bets with borrowed money could explain this to his colleagues.
Manufacturing employment showed little change, adding 4,000 jobs. For the president to meet his pledge of adding 1 million manufacturing jobs in his second term, he would have to average over 32,000 a month. This seems less and less likely, as manufacturing is weakened by our rising trade deficits, resulting from the strong dollar and our perverse trade policies that the president is intent on extending. The economy has gained only 38,000 manufacturing jobs in the first six months of this year.
The economy continues to add jobs, which is an indisputably good thing. But the pace is slow, and little of the recovery is reaching most Americans. Surveys show that Americans are growing more optimistic about the economy. This is reflected in rising non-revolving consumer credit – significantly student and car loans – which is outpacing after-tax income growth. If the Fed raises interest rates, these debts will grow more costly, putting a crimp on consumer demand. Again, with the Congress refusing to act sensibly, the Fed has every reason to wait until wages are rising and more Americans are working before starting to put on the brakes.
This blog was originally posted on Our Future on July 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Robert Borosage. Robert L. Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. The organizations were launched by 100 prominent Americans to develop the policies, message and issue campaigns to help forge an enduring majority for progressive change in America. Mr. Borosage writes widely on political, economic and national security issues. He is a Contributing Editor at The Nation magazine, and a regular blogger at The Huffington Post. His articles have appeared in The American Prospect, The Washington Post,Tthe New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He edits the Campaign’s Making Sense issues guides, and is co-editor of Taking Back America (with Katrina Vanden Heuvel) and The Next Agenda (with Roger Hickey).
Wednesday, May 13th, 2015
Talk about journalism with an immediate impact. Last week’s New York Times investigation of labor law violations and unhealthy working conditions for manicurists in the city’s nail salons has spurred Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take sweeping emergency action:
Nail salons that do not comply with orders to pay workers back wages, or are unlicensed, will be shut down. […]Salons will be required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights, including the fact that it is illegal to work without wages or to pay money for a job — a common practice in the nail salon industry, according to workers and owners. The signs will be in half a dozen languages, including those most spoken in the industry — Korean, Chinese and Spanish. […]
Salons will now be required to be bonded — which is intended to ensure, through a contract with a bonding agency, that workers can eventually be paid if salon owners are found to have underpaid the workers. The move is an attempt to counteract the phenomenon of salon owners’ hiding assets when they are found guilty of wage theft.
Additionally, health and safety measures will be put in place, like requiring manicurists to wear gloves and masks and salons to be ventilated, while the Health Department will investigate the most effective health protections to incorporate into what will eventually be permanent policies replacing the short-term emergency measures.
Some of the abuses Sarah Maslin Nir’s investigation into New York City nail salons exposed may be especially prevalent in New York, where there are more nail salons per capita than in any other American city and where manicures cost below the national average. That might, for instance, make wage theft more common and more aggressive than in other locations—but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening in California and Illinois and Massachusetts, too, and states should take this as a spur to inspect their own nail salons. And the health hazards manicurists face similarly deserve a good hard look by state regulators. Customers might end up paying a couple dollars more for a mani-pedi, but we’re talking about workers’ lives here, and their ability to collect the pay they’ve legally earned.
This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on May 9, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.
Tuesday, January 13th, 2015
The jobs report Friday set off cheering: a quarter million positions added in December; unemployment declining to 5.6 percent. This good news arrived amid a booming stock market and a third-quarter GDP report showing the strongest growth in 11 years.
It’s all so very jolly, except for one looming factor: wages. They’re not rising. In fact, they fell in December by 5 cents an hour, nearly erasing the 6-cent increase in November.
Hard-working Americans need a raise. Their wages are stuck, rising only 10.2 percent over the past 35 years. Workers are producing more. Corporations are highly profitable. CEOs, claiming all the credit for that as if they did all of the work themselves, made sure their pay rose 937 percent over those 35 years. That’s right: 937 percent!
It doesn’t add up for workers who struggle more every year. Something’s gotta change. The AFL-CIO is working on that. It launched a campaign last week to wrench worker wages out of the muck and push them up.
At a summit called Raising Wages held in Washington, D.C., last week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “We are tired of people talking about inequality as if nothing can be done. The answer is simple: raise the wages of the 90 percent of Americans whose wages are lower today than they were in 1997.”
“Families don’t need to hear more about income inequality,” he said; “They need more income.”
The meeting attended by 350 union representatives, community group officials, economic experts and religious leaders was the first of many that will be conducted across the country by the AFL-CIO to spotlight the pain and problems that wage stagnation causes. The AFL-CIO will begin these meetings in the first four presidential primary states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and North Carolina.
The idea is to ensure that candidates, Republican and Democrat, can’t squirm out of dealing with the issue. And Trumka said labor won’t tolerate sappy expressions of sympathy. The federation will demand concrete plans for resolution.
Also last week, the AFL-CIO launched Raising Wages campaigns with community partners in seven cities – Atlanta, Columbus, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Diego, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. In addition to seeking wage increases for all who labor, these coalitions will pursue associated issues such as fighting for paid sick leave and equal pay for equal work.
At the same time, the AFL-CIO and allies will push for federal legislation to seriously punish employers who illegally retaliate against workers and to provide real remedies for workers unjustly treated.
At the summit, workers told their stories alongside experts. Among them was Colby Harris, who suffered illegal retaliation. A member of OUR Walmart, he was fired last year after participating in strikes for better conditions.
“They are trying to silence people for saying we need better wages and benefits. The average Walmart worker makes less than $23,000 a year. These companies have no respect for their workers,” Harris told the group.
Another speaker, Lakia Wilson, said that workers can do everything right, work hard, follow all the rules and still lose out in this economy. The Detroit native earned a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in counseling. While serving as a school counselor, she took a second job as an adjunct professor at a community college to make enough money to qualify for a home mortgage.
But then, in a cutback at the college, she was laid off. She lost the extra income, and the bank began foreclosure. It was, she said, a horrible, humiliating experience. She cashed out her retirement to save her home. Now her credit and retirement are shot. This happened to her, and to so many others, she said, even though they “did everything necessary to get a good job and get the American dream.”
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren talked to summit attendees about why the economy does not work for people like Wilson and Harris. Though this economy is splendid for those who own lots of stock, it’s not for the vast majority of workers who get their income from wages.
Sen. Warren pointed out that the economy didn’t always work this way. From the 1930s to the 1970s, she said, workers got raises. Ninety percent of workers received 70 percent of the income growth resulting from rising productivity. The 10 percent at the top took 30 percent.
Since 1980, however, that stopped. Ninety percent of workers got none of the gains from income growth. The top 10 percent took 100 percent. The average family is working harder but still struggling to survive with stagnant wages and growing costs.
“Many feel the game is rigged against them, and they are right. The game is rigged against them,” Sen. Warren said.
The rigging was adoption of Ronald Reagan’s voodoo trickle-down strategy. That economic plot puts massive corporations, Wall Street and the 1 percent first. Politicians bowed down to them, legislated for them, deregulated for them. In return, the wealthy were supposed to chuck a few measly crumbs down to workers.
They did not. Workers got nothing.
Despite that, workers still get last consideration. That, Sen. Warren said, must be reversed.
Accomplishing that, clearly, is a David vs. Goliath challenge. David won that contest, and workers can as well – with concerted action. Papa John’s worker Shantel Walker told the summit such a story – one of victory against a giant with collective action.
She discovered that a teenager at the New York franchise where she worked was putting in time that was not clocked. The restaurant was stealing wages.
Walker helped organize a protest at the restaurant. Between 80 and 100 people rallied for justice for the young worker. And they won. The restaurant paid the teen. “Now is the time to stop the poverty wages in America,” Walker said; “Raise the wage!”
Trumka said the AFL-CIO and its allies will demand that of lawmakers. He said they would insist that legislators “build an America where we, the people, share in the wealth we create.”
For that to occur, lawmakers must serve the vast majority first. They must stop functioning as handmaidens to the rich in an economic scheme that has failed the 99 percent from the very day the 1 percent got Ronald Reagan to buy it.
The AFL-CIO and its allies intend to help lawmakers see that they must prioritize the needs of America’s workers.
This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on January 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), took office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker.