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“Corporate Wage Hike Subsidities”: CEOs Call For Wage Increases For Workers! What’s The Catch?

Peter Georgescu has a message he wants America’s corporate and political elites to hear: “I’m scared,” he said in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

He adds that Paul Tudor Jones is scared, too, as is Ken Langone. And they are trying to get the Powers That Be to pay attention to their urgent concerns. But wait — these three are Powers That Be. Georgescu is former head of Young & Rubicam, one of the world’s largest PR and advertising firms; Jones is a quadruple-billionaire and hedge fund operator; and Langone is a founder of Home Depot.

What is scaring the pants off these powerful peers of the corporate plutocracy? Inequality. Yes, amazingly, these actual occupiers of Wall Street say they share Occupy Wall Street’s critical analysis of America’s widening chasm between the rich and the rest of us. “We are creating a caste system from which it’s almost impossible to escape,” Georgescu wrote, not only trapping the poor, but also “those on the higher end of the middle class.” He issued a clarion call for his corporate peers to reverse the dangerous and ever-widening gulf of income inequality in our country by increasing the paychecks of America’s workaday majority. “We business leaders know what to do. But do we have the will to do it? Are we willing to control the excessive greed so prevalent in our culture today and divert resources to better education and the creation of more opportunity?”

Right on, Peter! However, their concern is not driven by moral outrage at the injustice of it all, but by self-interest: “We are concerned where income inequality will lead,” he said. Specifically, he warned that one of two horrors awaits the elites if they stick to the present path: social unrest (conjuring up images of the guillotine) or (horror of horrors) “oppressive taxes” on the super rich.

Motivation aside, Georgescu does comprehend the remedy that our society must have: “Invest in the actual value creators — the employees,” he writes. “Start compensating fairly (with) a wage that enables employees to share amply in productivity increases and creative innovations.” They have talked with other corporate chieftains and found “almost unanimous agreement” on the need to compensate employees better.

Great! So they’ll just do it, right? Uh… no. But he says he knows just the thing that’ll jar the CEOs into action: “Government can provide tax incentives to business to pay more to employees.” That’s his big idea. Yes, corporate wage-hike subsidies. He actually wants us taxpayers to give money to bloated, uber-rich corporations so they can pay a dab more to their employees!

As Lily Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”

First of all, Georgescu proposes this tax giveaway to the corporate elite could “exist for three to five years and then be evaluated for effectiveness.” Much like the Bush tax cuts that helped drive the economic divide, once the corporate chieftains get a taste for a government handout, they will send their lawyers and lobbyists to Washington to schmooze congresscritters into making the tax subsidy permanent.

Secondly, paying to get “good behavior” would reward bad behavior, completely absolving those very CEOs and wealthy shareholders of their guilt in creating today’s gross inequality. After all, they are the ones who have pushed relentlessly for 30 years to disempower labor unions, downsize and privatize the workforce, send jobs offshore, defund education and social programs, and otherwise dismantle the framework that once sustained America’s healthy middle class. These guys put the “sin” in cynical.

If we want to fix income inequality, Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, has a solution. In response to Gerogescu’s offer of charity to corporations, Hanley wrote: “Strengthen labor laws, and we can have democracy and equality again.”

 

By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, August 26, 2015

August 27, 2015 Posted by | CEO'S, Corporate Welfare, Wages, Working Class | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless”: Most Working People Have No Choice; It’s Now Take It Or Leave It

A security guard recently told me he didn’t know how much he’d be earning from week to week because his firm kept changing his schedule and his pay. “They just don’t care,” he said.

A traveler I met in the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport last week said she’d been there eight hours but the airline responsible for her trip wouldn’t help her find another flight leaving that evening. “They don’t give a hoot,” she said.

Someone I met in North Carolina a few weeks ago told me he had stopped voting because elected officials don’t respond to what average people like him think or want. “They don’t listen,” he said.

What connects these dots? As I travel around America, I’m struck by how utterly powerless most people feel.

The companies we work for, the businesses we buy from, and the political system we participate in all seem to have grown less accountable. I hear it over and over: They don’t care; our voices don’t count.

A large part of the reason is we have fewer choices than we used to have. In almost every area of our lives, it’s now take it or leave it.

Companies are treating workers as disposable cogs because most working people have no choice. They need work and must take what they can get.

Although jobs are coming back from the depths of the Great Recession, the portion of the labor force actually working remains lower than it’s been in over thirty years – before vast numbers of middle-class wives and mothers entered paid work.

Which is why corporations can get away with firing workers without warning, replacing full-time jobs with part-time and contract work, and cutting wages. Most working people have no alternative.

Consumers, meanwhile, are feeling mistreated and taken for granted because they, too, have less choice.

U.S. airlines, for example, have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers that divide up routes and collude on fares. In 2005 the U.S. had nine major airlines. Now we have just four.

It’s much the same across the economy. Eighty percent of Americans are served by just one Internet Service Provider – usually Comcast, AT&T, or Time-Warner.

The biggest banks have become far bigger. In 1990, the five biggest held just 10 percent of all banking assets. Now they hold almost 45 percent.

Giant health insurers are larger; the giant hospital chains, far bigger; the most powerful digital platforms (Amazon, Facebook, Google), gigantic.

All this means less consumer choice, which translates into less power.

Our complaints go nowhere. Often we can’t even find a real person to complain to. Automated telephone menus go on interminably.

Finally, as voters we feel no one is listening because politicians, too, face less and less competition. Over 85 percent of congressional districts are considered “safe” for their incumbents in the upcoming 2016 election; only 3 percent are toss-ups.

In presidential elections, only a handful of states are now considered “battlegrounds” that could go either Democratic or Republican.

So, naturally, that’s where the candidates campaign. Voters in most states won’t see much of them. These voters’ votes are literally taken for granted.

Even in toss-up districts and battle-ground states, so much big money is flowing in that average voters feel disenfranchised.

In all these respects, powerlessness comes from a lack of meaningful choice. Big institutions don’t have to be responsive to us because we can’t penalize them by going to a competitor.

And we have no loud countervailing voice forcing them to listen.

Fifty years ago, a third of private-sector workers belonged to labor unions. This gave workers bargaining power to get a significant share of the economy’s gains along with better working conditions – and a voice. Now, fewer than 7 percent of private sector workers are unionized.

In the 1960s, a vocal consumer movement demanded safe products, low prices, and antitrust actions against monopolies and business collusion. Now, the consumer movement has become muted.

Decades ago, political parties had strong local and state roots that gave politically-active citizens a voice in party platforms and nominees. Now, the two major political parties have morphed into giant national fund-raising machines.

Our economy and society depend on most people feeling the system is working for them.

But a growing sense of powerlessness in all aspects of our lives – as workers, consumers, and voters – is convincing most people the system is working only for those at the top.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, April 26, 2015

April 30, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Wages, Workers | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Power And Paychecks”: There’s No Excuse For Wage Fatalism; We Can Give American Workers A Raise If We Want To

On Wednesday, McDonald’s — which has been facing demonstrations denouncing its low wages — announced that it would give workers a raise. The pay increase won’t, in itself, be a very big deal: the new wage floor is just $1 above the local minimum wage, and even that policy only applies to outlets McDonald’s owns directly, not the many outlets owned by people who bought franchises. But it’s at least possible that this latest announcement, like Walmart’s much bigger pay-raise announcement a couple of months ago, is a harbinger of an important change in U.S. labor relations.

Maybe it’s not that hard to give American workers a raise, after all.

Most people would surely agree that stagnant wages, and more broadly the shrinking number of jobs that can support middle-class status, are big problems for this country. But the general attitude to the decline in good jobs is fatalistic. Isn’t it just supply and demand? Haven’t labor-saving technology and global competition made it impossible to pay decent wages to workers unless they have a lot of education?

Strange to say, however, the more you know about labor economics the less likely you are to share this fatalism. For one thing, global competition is overrated as a factor in labor markets; yes, manufacturing faces a lot more competition than it did in the past, but the great majority of American workers are employed in service industries that aren’t exposed to international trade. And the evidence that technology is pushing down wages is a lot less clear than all the harrumphing about a “skills gap” might suggest.

Even more important is the fact that the market for labor isn’t like the markets for soybeans or pork bellies. Workers are people; relations between employers and employees are more complicated than simple supply and demand. And this complexity means that there’s a lot more wiggle room in wage determination than conventional wisdom would have you believe. We can, in fact, raise wages significantly if we want to.

How do we know that labor markets are different? Start with the effects of minimum wages. There’s a lot of evidence on those effects: Every time a state raises its minimum wage while neighboring states don’t, it, in effect, performs a controlled experiment. And the overwhelming conclusion from all that evidence is that the effect you might expect to see — higher minimum wages leading to fewer jobs — is weak to nonexistent. Raising the minimum wage makes jobs better; it doesn’t seem to make them scarcer.

How is that possible? At least part of the answer is that workers are not, in fact, commodities. A bushel of soybeans doesn’t care how much you paid for it; but decently paid workers tend to do a better job, not to mention being less likely to quit and require replacement, than workers paid the absolute minimum an employer can get away with. As a result, raising the minimum wage, while it makes labor more expensive, has offsetting benefits that tend to lower costs, limiting any adverse effect on jobs.

Similar factors explain another puzzle about labor markets: the way different firms in what looks like the same business can pay very different wages. The classic comparison is between Walmart (with its low wages, low morale, and very high turnover) and Costco (which offers higher wages and better benefits, and makes up the difference with better productivity and worker loyalty). True, the two retailers serve different markets; Costco’s merchandise is higher-end and its customers more affluent. But the comparison nonetheless suggests that paying higher wages costs employers a lot less than you might think.

And this, in turn, suggests that it shouldn’t be all that hard to raise wages across the board. Suppose that we were to give workers some bargaining power by raising minimum wages, making it easier for them to organize, and, crucially, aiming for full employment rather than finding reasons to choke off recovery despite low inflation. Given what we now know about labor markets, the results might be surprisingly big — because a moderate push might be all it takes to persuade much of American business to turn away from the low-wage strategy that has dominated our society for so many years.

There’s historical precedent for this kind of wage push. The middle-class society now dwindling in our rearview mirrors didn’t emerge spontaneously; it was largely created by the “great compression” of wages that took place during World War II, with effects that lasted for more than a generation.

So can we repeat this achievement? The pay raises at Walmart and McDonald’s — brought on by a tightening job market plus activist pressure — offer a small taste of what could happen on a vastly larger scale. There’s no excuse for wage fatalism. We can give American workers a raise if we want to.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 3, 2015

April 5, 2015 Posted by | Businesses, Labor, Wages | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Where Employees Are Treated With Contempt”: Obama Blasts Staples, And Reveals Larger Partisan Divide Over Workplace

Another big interview with President Obama came out today, this one from Buzzfeed, and this section, in which Obama slammed Staples for limiting employee hours, supposedly in response to Obamacare, is creating a bit of buzz:

BEN SMITH: If I can move on to the Affordable Care Act. We reported yesterday that the office supply store Staples is — I’m sure this is an issue you’ve heard about before — is telling its workers that it will fire them if they work more than 25 hours a week. A manager had told a worker we talked to that “Obama’s responsible for this policy,” and they’re putting these notices on the wall of their break room saying that. I wonder what you’d say to the CEO of Staples, Ronald Sargent, about that policy?

OBAMA: What I would say is that millions of people are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act. Satisfaction is high. The typical premium is less than 100 bucks.

SMITH: But this is a specific consequence…

OBAMA: No, I’m gonna answer the question. And that there is no reason for an employer who is not currently providing health care to their workers to discourage them from either getting health insurance on the job or being able to avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act. I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security, and if they can’t, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages.

This is the same argument that I’ve made with respect to something like paid sick leave. We have 43 million Americans who, if they get sick or their child gets sick, are looking at either losing their paycheck or going to the job sick or leaving their child at home sick. It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers — even though a large percentage of those small businesses do it because they know it’s the right thing to do — but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.

Obama obviously didn’t know any details of the Staples situation when he was asked the question, but Buzzfeed reported Monday that the company is becoming particularly aggressive in making sure its part-time workers don’t work more than 25 hours a week, now that an Affordable Care Act provision mandating that large companies offer health insurance to employees working over 30 hours is in effect. Staples says that the policy is years old and has nothing to do with health insurance; the employees Buzzfeed talked to say it’s being enforced with renewed vigor.

Regardless of those details, this is another example of the fundamental difference between the approach to workplace issues Obama is trying to move Democrats toward, and the ways that Republicans are pushing back. As I argued a few weeks ago when Obama raised the issue of paid sick leave — which the United States is alone among highly developed countries in not mandating — Republicans essentially want to help people get to the employer’s door, while Democrats want to go inside with the worker and help make the workplace more humane.

The Staples story illustrates the environment of so many contemporary American workplaces, where employees are treated with contempt and suspicion while being told how much they’re loved. The original Buzzfeed story contains a Staples memo threatening part-time employees with discipline up to termination if they clock in for more than 25 hours in a week. The memo ends with, “I appreciate and value you.” I’m sure that warmed the workers’ hearts.

There may be some part-time workers who find that in response to the ACA’s insurance mandate, their employers try to limit their hours in the way Staples is doing. That’s why Republicans want to change the mandate’s definition of full-time employment from 30 to 40 hours. But we should be clear about what would happen if Republicans got their way. Some number of people like those at Staples might be able to work a few more hours (though if Staples is telling the truth, it wouldn’t matter for their part-timers, because they’re adamant about keeping them below 25 hours regardless). But a much larger group — full-time hourly workers — would then be in danger of losing their health coverage.

Right now if a large company (remember, this provision only applies to large companies) wanted to cut a full-time employee’s hours so they wouldn’t have to offer her health insurance, they’d have to cut her all the way down from 40 to 29 hours, which in most cases just isn’t practical. But if the law’s definition of full-time work was 40 hours, they could cut her from 40 to 39 and be able to take away her health coverage, which would be a lot easier. One hopes that few companies would want to do that, and indeed, over nine out of ten large companies were already offering insurance to full-time workers even before the Affordable Care Act. But some would, and the number of employees at risk of losing their coverage would be much higher than it is under the current 30-hour definition.

The populist stance Obama is taking here is undoubtedly good politics; Republicans will try to say that they’re the ones on the side of the part-time workers, but voters generally understand that they’re always in favor of giving employers the power to treat employers however they wish. In any case, this kind of dispute is just one more reason why we should try to move away from a system where most people get insurance through their employers. If we did that, people wouldn’t have to rely on the generosity of their bosses, and we wouldn’t have to argue about who’s part-time and who’s full-time. And neither party has a particular stake in, or ideological commitment to, the employer-based insurance system; it’s an artifact of history. Moving beyond it would be a major change, and we all know by now that when it comes to their health coverage, people fear change. But it would be better for everybody.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 11, 2015

February 12, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Health Insurance, Wages | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Biggest, Most Important 2016 Debate”: Writing The Obituary Of Supply-Side Economics

It’s now shaping up that wages and the condition of the middle class are going to be the dominant issues as we enter this first phase of the 2016 slog. Don’t take it from me, or even from Elizabeth Warren. Speaker John Boehner said as much (well, almost) on the day he opened the new session of Congress.

This is a very big deal, and it’s about more than our usual, tug-of-war politics. Boehner’s mention of wage stagnation was clearly opportunistic, because it’s a current problem that can be hung around the President’s neck. But middle-class wage stagnation is much more than an Obama problem. It’s our main economic reality for 30-plus years now.

The first chart in this article tells the basic story. Since 1979, American workers’ productivity has increased by 80 percent. The income of the top 1 percent has increased 240 percent. And the average American wage, adjusted for inflation, has gone up just a few percentage points, maybe 8 percent. It wasn’t always this way, and it isn’t nearly this bad in other advanced countries. The median wage in the United States today is around $50,000. If wages had kept pace with productivity gains, the median wage would be more than $90,000.

But look: It’s highly serendipitous that the wage problem is something the Republicans can use against Obama (at least for now). That means they’ll talk about it. What they’ll come up with in terms of solutions beyond tax cuts and deregulation is another matter, but the mere fact that they’ll talk about it means that both parties will be talking about it, and when both parties are talking about an issue, that issue tends to rise to the top of the charts.

On paper at least, this is great for Democrats, because wage stagnation is basically a Democratic issue, one that most voters would probably trust the Democrats to do a better job on than Republicans. Although of course, if it comes to be October 2016 and wages are still as flat as they’ve been since the crash, that could be a problem for the Democrats. So what they need to do is frame wages not as a post-crash, Obama-era problem, but instead to make sure Americans know that this is a deep historical problem, and that the moment to address it is right now.

To that end, you should know that this past week was a really good one for progressive economics in Washington (and none of it had anything to do with Warren!). Two major proposals were floated to address these problems. They’re real and meaty. And if events go in the direction I hope they do, their release in mid-January 2015 will be remembered as the moment when the debate turned.

First, on Monday, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland put out a report by the Democratic staff of the House Budget Committee called “An Action Plan to Grow the Paychecks of All, Not Just the Wealthy Few.” All right, a bit cumbersome as a title. But give it credit anyway for getting to the point.

“I sat down with our team many months ago,” Van Hollen told me Thursday, “and we began to really tackle what would need to be done to deal with wage stagnation.” The plan is built around nine ideas. The one that’s gotten the most attention because of the obvious “class warfare” angle is the so-called Wall Street tax, a fee of .1 percent on financial market transactions.

But there are much more interesting ideas in the paper. The most notable may be a limit on the amount of deductions corporations can take for executive pay if those executives are keeping wages stagnant or laying off workers. “From 2007 to 2010,” Van Hollen says, “corporations took $66 billion in deductions on executive pay. That’s a huge amount of money. We say here that if you want to take a tax deduction, you’d better be giving your employees a raise.”

Van Hollen unveiled his proposals at the Center for American Progress on Monday. Then, two days later, CAP president Neera Tanden led a press conference unveiling a major new report on inclusive prosperity, under a panel co-chaired by Larry Summers and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor of the exchequer for the British Labour Party. The CAP plan, which Tanden stressed is international in the scopes of its analyses and proposed fixes (hence Balls’s inclusion), is aimed at the same basic problem Van Hollen is shooting at—the need to raise the incomes of the middle class.

Summers, speaking at the press conference, emphasized an issue he’s been talking up for a long time, a “very substantial” increase in infrastructure investment. “When we can borrow at 1.8 percent in our own currency, and when construction unemployment approaches double digits,” as it is now, Summers said, “that’s the moment when Kennedy Airport should be fixed.”

No one is under the illusion that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are going to rush out and pass these measures. That isn’t the point. The point is to influence the direction of the debate, especially the presidential campaign debate. And that, of course, raises the question of the extent to which a certain former senator and secretary of state will embrace these ideas. Tanden was a longtime Hillary Clinton staffer. The imprimatur of Summers on these progressive ideas should raise Clinton’s comfort level with them. If Clinton runs on half of these ideas, and she’s signaling that she might, she’ll be a more progressive candidate than she was in 2008.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve lived with this kind of wage picture, this kind of raging unfairness, for nearly 40 years. Of course, part of the reason that we have lived with it for 40 years is that the Democratic Party wasn’t always much good at articulating a theory of economic growth that could counter the Republicans’ trickle-down argument. They’re finally finding their voice on this. And so, the real importance of the next election is not the Supreme Court, not climate change, not foreign policy, crucial as all those things are. It’s that it could write the obituary of supply-side economics.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 17, 2015

 

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Wages, Workers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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