Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘american workers’

American Workers Are Not Happy

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Americans are not happy. And for good reason. They continue to suffer financial stress caused by decades of flat income. And every time they make the slightest peep of complaint about a system rigged against them, the rich and powerful tell them to shut up because it is all their fault.

One percenters instruct them to work harder, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop bellyaching. Just get a second college degree, a second skill, a second job. Just send the spouse to work, downsize, take a staycation instead of a real vacation. Or don’t take one at all, just work harder and longer and better.

The barrage of blaming has persuaded; workers believe they deserve censure. And that’s a big part of the reason they’re unhappy. If only, they think, they could work harder and longer and better, they would get ahead. They bear the shame. They don’t blame the system: the Supreme Court, the Congress, the President. And yet, it is the system, the American system, that has conspired to crush them.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, unemployment is low and the stock market is high. But skyrocketing stocks benefit only the top 10 percent of wealthy Americans who own 84 percent of stocks. And while more people are employed than during the Great Recession, the vast majority of Americans haven’t had a real raise since 1979.

It’s bad out there for American workers. Last month, their ranking dropped for the third year running in the World Happiness Report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a U.N. initiative.

These sad statistics reinforce those in a report released two years ago by two university professors. Reviewing data from the General Social Survey, administered routinely nationally, the professors found Americans’ assessment of their own happiness and family finances has, unambiguously, declined in recent years.

But if Americans would just work harder, everything would be dandy, right?

No. Not right. Americans work really, really hard. A third of Americans work a side hustle, driving an Uber or selling crafts on Etsy. American workers take fewer vacation days. They get 14, but typically take only 10. The highest number of workers in five years report they don’t expect to take a vacation at all this year. And Americans work longer hours than their counterparts in other countries.

Americans labor 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more than Brits, and 499 more than the French, according to the International Labor Organization.

And the longer hours aren’t because American workers are laggards on the job. They’re very productive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the average American worker’s productivity has increased 400 percent since 1950.

If pay had kept pace with productivity, as it did in the three decades after the end of World War II, American workers would be making 400 percent more. But they’re not. Their wages have flat lined for four decades, adjusting for inflation.

That means stress. Forty percent of workers say they don’t have $400 for an unexpected expense. Twenty percent can’t pay all of their monthly bills. More than a quarter of adults skipped needed medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it. A quarter of adults have no retirement savings.

If only Americans would work harder. And longer. And better.

Much as right-wingers have pounded that into Americans’ heads, it’s not the solution. Americans clearly are working harder and longer and better. The solution is to change the system, which is stacked against workers.

Workers are bearing on their backs tax breaks that benefited only the rich and corporations. They’re bearing overtime pay rules and minimum wage rates that haven’t been updated in more than a decade. They’re weighted down by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hobbled unionization efforts and kneecapped workers’ rights to file class-action lawsuits. They’re struggling under U.S. Department of Labor rules defining them as independent contractors instead of staff members. They live in fear as corporations threaten to offshore their jobs – with the assistance of federal tax breaks.

Last year, the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court handed a win to corporatists trying to obliterate workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and conditions. The court ruled that public sector workers who choose not to join unions don’t have to pay a small fee to cover the cost of services that federal law requires the unions provide to them. This bankrupts labor unions. And there’s no doubt that right-wingers are gunning for private sector unions next.

This kind of relentless attack on labor unions since 1945 has withered membership. As it shrank, wages for both union and nonunion workers did too.

Also last year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can deny workers access to class-action arbitration. This compels workers, who corporations forced to sign agreements to arbitrate rather than litigate, into individual arbitration cases, for which each worker must hire his or her own lawyer. Then, just last week, the right-wing majority on the court further curtailed workers’ rights to class-action suits.

In a minority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the court in recent years has routinely deployed the law to deny to employees and consumers “effective relief against powerful economic entities.”

No matter how hard Americans work, the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court has hobbled them in an already lopsided contest with gigantic corporations.

The administrative branch is no better.  The Trump Labor Department just issued an advisory that workers for a gig-economy company are independent contractors, not employees. As a result, the workers, who clean homes after getting assignments on an app, will not qualify for federal minimum wage (low as it is) or overtime pay. Also, the corporation will not have to pay Social Security taxes for them. Though the decision was specific to one company, experts say it will affect the designation for other gig workers, such as drivers for Uber and Lyft.

Also, the Labor Department has proposed a stingy increase in the overtime pay threshold, that is, the salary amount under which corporations must pay workers time and a half for overtime. The current threshold of $23,660 has not been raised since 2004. The Obama administration had proposed doubling it to $47,476. But now, the Trump Labor Department has cut that back to $35,308. That means 8.2 million workers who would have benefited from the larger salary cap now will not be eligible for mandatory overtime pay.

It doesn’t matter how hard they work, they aren’t going to get the time-and-a-half pay they deserve.

Just like the administration and the Supreme Court, right-wingers in Congress grovel before corporations and the rich. Look at the tax break they gave one percenters in 2017. Corporations got the biggest cut in history, their rate sledgehammered down from 35 percent to 21 percent. The rich reap by far the largest benefit from those tax cuts through 2027, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. And by then, 53 percent of Americans – that is workers not rich people – will pay more than they did in 2017 because tax breaks for workers expire.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers predicted the corporate tax cut would put an extra $4,000 in every worker’s pocket. They swore that corporations would use some of their tax cut money to hand out raises and bonuses to workers. That never happened. Workers got a measly 6 percent of corporations’ tax savings. In the first quarter after the tax cut took effect, workers on average received a big fat extra $6.21 in their paychecks, for an annual total of a whopping $233. Corporations spent their tax breaks on stock buybacks, a record $1 trillion worth, raising stock prices, which put more money in the pockets of rich CEOs and shareholders.

That’s continuing this year. Workers are never going to see that $4,000.

No wonder they’re unhappy. The system is working against them.

This article was originally published at Our Future on May 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard, is the International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) union and is the second Canadian to head the union. He is also a vice president of the AFL-CIO. Gerard is co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.

Study: Popularity of Joining Unions Surges

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

After holding steady for decades, the percentage of American workers in all jobs who would say yes to join a union jumped sharply this past year, by 50%, says a new, independent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The evidence is clear: The popularity of the labor movement is surging as more people want to join unions than ever before. Every worker must have the freedom to negotiate in a union over pay, benefits and working conditions.

The national narrative that the economy is doing OK, while working people struggle and billionaires bask in their latest round of massive tax cuts, is all wrong.

The truth is more working people want collective power. From 1977 to 1995, the percentage of all workers who would say yes to a union drive stayed flat, at about 32% of nonunion workers. Today, that number is 48%, a remarkable 50% increase.

This independent study from MIT confirms a broad trend we’ve seen in recent months as teachers have marched and rallied en masse for better school funding and higher pay, as tens of thousands of workers have voted to join unions and as the concept of unionism has spread in countless other ways in America.

The rich and powerful still hold many of the levers of power in America, but working people are claiming our seat at the table. We demand that every worker have the freedom to form or join a union.

This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.org on June 22, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

How Ending DACA Hurts All Low-Wage Workers

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

This morning Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration will “wind down,” and in six months, end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a Department of Homeland Security initiative put in place in 2012 that temporarily deferred the deportation of approximately 800,000 young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. DACA has been an unqualified success and has benefited not only the DACA recipients themselves, but also the country and the economy.

The young immigrants who met the requirements and passed the necessary background checks for DACA were promised by the federal government that they would not be removed from the United States for two years at a time, as long as they kept applying to renew, kept a clean criminal record, and were either enrolled in school or graduated, or serving in the military or honorably discharged. Because of these requirements, we know that nearly all of the recipients are deeply integrated into their local American communities and labor markets.

Along with protection from removal, DACA recipients are entitled to receive an employment authorization document (EAD), allowing them to be employed in the United States legally, along with certain other benefits. More than 100 legal experts and 20 state attorneys general have recently argued that DACA is a lawful use of the executive branch’s prosecutorial discretion, and as I have written before, the granting of an EAD to deferred action recipients is clearly authorized by statute. Together this means that eliminating DACA is entirely a political decision and not a legal one. The impact of this political decision is significant: 800,000 young immigrants—many of whom have never known another country except when they were small children—will become instantly deportable and lose the ability to work legally and contribute to the United States, and will be effectively left without labor rights and employment law protections in the workplace.

To call this decision tragic is an understatement. Not only is it inhumane—after President Trump promised to treat DACA recipients with “heart”—but the evidence is clear that DACA has positively benefited the U.S. labor market. The vast majority of DACA recipients are employed, 87 percent, and on average DACA recipients saw their wages increase by 42 percent after receiving an EAD. Those gains—and the higher tax revenue to the federal and state and local governments that have accompanied it and benefited public coffers—are now in jeopardy.

President Trump has also repeatedly voiced his desire to help improve working conditions for American workers, but by ending DACA he is harming the U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are employed alongside DACA recipients. Once DACA recipients lose their work authorization, they will effectively be unable to complain when they are paid below the minimum wage, aren’t paid for overtime hours, or when their employer subjects them to unsafe conditions at the workplace. All immigrant workers who are unauthorized are often too afraid to speak out when employers take advantage of them, because they know their bosses can threaten them with deportation and use their immigration status to retaliate against them. The impact of this is not theoretical: research has shown that unauthorized immigrants suffer much higher rates of wage theft than U.S. citizens. The reasonable fear unauthorized workers feel keeps them docile and quiet, which in turn diminishes the bargaining power of Americans who work alongside unauthorized workers. Ending DACA and forcing these young workers out of the formal, regulated labor market, thus making them easily exploitable, will not help American workers, it will do the opposite.

Ending DACA will destroy the educational and employment prospects of 800,000 young immigrants who did nothing wrong, while at the same time hurting the wages and labor standards of American workers. If President Trump were serious about improving labor standards for working people, he would reconsider and reverse his decision.

 This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 5, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Daniel Costa has been director of immigration law and policy research since 2013, having joined EPI in 2010 as an immigration policy analyst. An attorney, his current areas of research include a wide range of labor migration issues, including the management of temporary foreign worker programs, both high- and less-skilled migration, immigrant workers’ rights, and forced migration, including refugee and asylum issues and the global migration crisis.

How Can We Do ‘Trade’ Right?

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

dave.johnsonPeople have figured out that our country’s “trade” deals haven’t been working our so well for “our country.” A visit to Flint, Detroit or almost any town, city, state or region that was built around manufacturing make it clear what we have done. Shifting jobs and factories to places where people are paid squat and are forced to work long hours with few protections while the environment is sacrificed might have put a lot of money into the pockets of already-wealthy executives and Wall Street “investors” but it hurt almost everyone and almost everywhere else in the country.

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) coming up for a vote in the “lame duck” session of Congress following the election, and a new President coming in January, many are looking for a different way to do “trade.”

“Trade”

The way word “trade” is used in current discussions is misleading. “Trade” used to be about “trading” banana for cars. Bananas can only be grown in certain regions, and cars werealready being made in other regions. “Trade” meant the people who made cars could get bananas and the people grew bananas could get cars. Everyone benefited.

But “trade” has instead come to mean one and only one thing: moving jobs and production to low-paying areas that don’t spend to protect the environment, so executives and “investors” can pocket the savings. The regions production was relocated to did not have existing regional expertise in “making cars” (as in the “bananas example. Making smart phones is a better example.) The factories were not already located in these regions. The ecosystem of expertise, supply chains, etc. was not yet in existence. The only pre-existing regional specialty, or “comparative advantage” of the low-wage regions was governments that to one degree or another kept the wages low, kept the unions (and resulting worker protections) out and let the factories pollute freely. China, for example.

The result, of course, was devastating to American workers and their communities. Mike Konczal at The Nation, “Here’s the Trade Policy That Progressives Should Get Behind,” writes about the impact of opening up “trade” with China had on US workers:

Manufacturing was hit hard, and so were workers outside manufacturing—especially those without a college degree—as these areas lost their economic vitality. Contrary to the optimistic forecasts offered by many economists, workers didn’t magically get jobs in new places and new industries; instead, they faced worse employment prospects and lower wages—if they found jobs at all.

Corporate Influence

The biggest problem with our country’s trade policies is that the process of negotiating the deals has been “captured” by interests representing giant multinational corporations. As a result “trade” is not about “trade” at all, and “trade deals” are really about limiting the power of governments to make decisions that corporation don’t like.

Lori Wallach op-ed in the Washington Post, “Free Our Trade Deals from Corporate Interests,” describes the result of this capture:

Consider the Trans-Pacific Partnership: A 2014 Post infographic reveals that more than 500 official U.S. trade advisers representing corporate interests had special access to TPP negotiators and texts while the public, press and Congress were shut out.

Wallach says one result of this corporate-dominated process is “trade” agreements loaded up with “goodies” for corporations, and the deals “have been used as a backdoor delivery mechanism for the corporate-favored-versions of non-trade policies.” These “goodies” include moving multinational corporations — but not domestic corporations — outside of our own legal system:

Only nine of the TPP’s 30 chapters cover trade matters like cutting tariffs. Much of the rest is a smorgasbord of corporate goodies, such as the requirement that signatory countries protect pharmaceutical companies from having to compete with generic medicines, thereby raising consumer prices.

Another key provision grants new rights to thousands of multinational corporations to sue the U.S. government before a panel of three corporate lawyers. These corporations need only convince the lawyers that a U.S. law, regulation or court ruling violates the new privileges TPP grants them, and the lawyers can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by America’s taxpayers — including for the loss of expected future profits. The decisions are not subject to appeal.

Jared Bernstein writes about this in, “The New Rules of the Road: A Progressive Approach to Globalization,”:

Unfortunately, both the trade debate and trade negotiations have long been co-opted by multinational corporate interests at the expense of workers and consumers both here and abroad. Fortunately, this election season has finally elevated that reality. The days when elites, both here and elsewhere, could ignore those who perceive themselves as hurt (on net) by globalization are hopefully gone, if not for good, than for a number of years.

Dean Baker, writing in “It Was As Inevitable that Doctors and Lawyers Would Lose Jobs to Foreign Competition as Factory Workers,” notes that it isn’t just giant corporations that benefit from this, but an entire “class” of professionals:

There are millions of very bright people in Mexico, India, China and other developing countries who would be happy to train to U.S. standards and work as doctors and lawyers in the United States. However, because these groups have far more political power than manufacturing workers, we have maintained walls that largely prevent foreign professionals from competing with our own doctors and lawyers.

The result is that these professionals have seen substantial increases in real wages over the last four decades and the rest of us pay hundreds of billions of dollars more each year for health care, legal services, and other items. The cost to the economy from this protectionism is almost certainly an order of magnitude greater than any potential gains from a trade deal like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In spite of the enormous economic costs, the power of these professions largely prevents economists or the media from even discussing the protectionism enjoyed by professionals.

So What Can Be Done?

How can we negotiate trade agreements that are actually about trade and actually benefit people and the environment on all sides of trade borders?

Konczal starts with a suggestion about corporations, one that won’t happen if we have a corporate-dominated process. He writes:

So what can be done? First, we need a progressive vision of what trade deals should look like in the future. Here’s one: At this point in globalization’s spread, these deals are less about direct trading between countries and far more about the regulations that govern multinational corporations as they expand across the globe. We should be sure that trade deals don’t interfere with any country’s ability to regulate corporate behavior.

Wallach writes:

To get our trade policy redirected back onto trade — that is, to get rid of the protectionist baggage and develop trade terms that benefit U.S. workers and consumers — a new president will need to eliminate the special interest advisory system and greatly increase transparency. We need a new trade pact negotiation and approval process to replace the Nixon-era “Fast Track” regime that sets criteria for appropriate trade partner countries and what must and must not be in agreements. And, unlike our current system, Congress must approve agreements’ contents before they can be signed, making negotiators more accountable to congressional directives.

Bernstein and Wallach write at The American Prospect (same title, different content):

The new rules must prioritize the economic needs of low- and middle-income families while preserving the democratic, accountable policymaking processes that are essential to creating and maintaining the environmental, consumer, labor, and human-rights policies on which we all rely.
[. . .] A more transparent process with opportunities for meaningful engagement, accountability, and oversight by the public and Congress—rather than the current regime that privileges the commercial interests that have long captured these negotiations—is needed.

Wallach wants trade agreements that benefit not just giant corporate interests but also “U.S. workers and consumers.” Konczal wants agreements that limit corporations rather than unleash them. Bernetein and Wallach ask for transparency; and a democratic, accountable policymaking processes. They write,

U.S. positions on trade deals can be formulated the way other U.S. federal regulations are: through the on-the-record public process established under the Administrative Procedure Act to formulate positions, obtain comments on draft texts throughout negotiations, and seek comments on proposed final texts.

So “trade” shouldn’t just be about the interests of giant corporations. All of us have a stake in how we conduct trade. Trade deals should be negotiated openly with all of the stakeholders on all sides of trade borders involved and finalized in an open and democratic process.

We have the opportunity to accomplish this with a new administration, beginning in January.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 20, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

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