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“New GOP Meaning Of Terrorist Warnings”: What’s A ‘Credible Threat’ In Wisconsin? Unions

On Tuesday evening, a Republican committee chairman in the Wisconsin state senate, Stephen Nass, cut short a hearing on an anti-union bill, citing a “credible threat” that union members were about to disrupt the proceedings.

Credible threat? That’s the phrase used in terrorist warnings. But the only union members in Madison were the estimated 1,800 to 2,000 workers, many of them wearing hard hats and heavy coats, who’d gathered peacefully in and around the Capitol during the day to oppose  the bill. They believe it’s an attack on working families designed to weaken organized labor – which it is.

So who was credibly threatening whom?

The Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage service workers, had planned to protest the committee’s scheduled hard stop of testimony at 7 p.m., because the cut-off was too early to accommodate everyone who wanted to be heard. To avoid that, all the committee chairman had to do was extend the hearing. Instead, by ending it abruptly, dozens of people who had been waiting all day for the chance to speak were deprived of that opportunity – even as the Republican majority on the committee hastily voted to send the bill to the full Senate.

Not surprisingly, when the meeting ended early those who had been waiting erupted in anger and indignation, shouting profanities and “shame,” according to the A.P., and creating so much noise that the roll call vote could not be heard. The result — 3 Republicans in favor, 1 Democrat against and 1 Democrat who didn’t vote because he wanted more debate — was announced later.  For someone so concerned about avoiding a disruption, Mr. Nass didn’t seem too concerned about causing one.

Mr. Nass later said he didn’t want protestors to disrupt the meeting the way they did hearings on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s measure in 2011 to strip public unions of collective bargaining rights. Leaving aside the fact that those rallies lasted for weeks and drew up to 100,000, Mr. Nass said the protestors were trying to “take over the process of representing all of the people of this great state.”

Where does one start to unpack that? The protestors are the people of the great state. The bill in question threatens their pay, their jobs and their values.  They were trying to participate in the process. Democracy, anyone?

 

By: Teresa Tritch, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, February 25, 2015

February 27, 2015 Posted by | Scott Walker, Terrorists, Unions, Wisconsin Legislature | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hold Your Applause”: Walmart’s Wage Hike Still About Greed

With much fanfare and platitudes like “Our people make the difference,” WalMart has achieved a public relations coup by granting quite meager raises to its employees. The headlines make the $277 billion (market cap) company look quite generous as it has raised its starting hourly wage immediately to $9 an hour, which is 19 percent higher than the prevailing federal minimum wage.

It sounds like great news from the world’s largest private employer, but the news is nowhere near as good as headlines suggest.

The New York Times estimates that there are only about 6,000 retail workers among WalMart’s 1.4 million employees that are paid the federal minimum wage. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since 28 states already mandate higher minimum wages than the federal standard and, says the law, the highest required wage wins. Only seven states have minimum wages set at $9 or higher. So WalMart workers in 43 states are getting some sort of raise.

But in the vast majority of cases, it’s nothing like the 19 percent number you’re seeing thrown around.

For those getting the largest bump from the federal minimum wage to $9, it’s important to put this all in perspective. The federal minimum wage has not been raised since 2009. It would take a wage of $8.55 an hour to equal the purchasing power of $7.25 six years ago.

So, in a real sense, WalMart’s lowest paid employees are getting a 45-cent-per-hour raise—a 6.2 percent increase. Meanwhile, workers in California, Massachusetts and Rhode Island will see no increase (the state hourly minimum is already $9) while minimum wage workers in Washington, Oregon, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., already make more than $9 an hour.

In its release to workers and the public, WalMart says that the wage increase scheduled to go into effect in April will raise the average part-time worker’s wage to $10 an hour across the company. Back in 2010, IBISWorld, a market research firm, estimated that WalMart cashiers made about $8.81 an hour. That 2010 wage inflations adjusts to a $9.56 wage in today’s dollars. According to WalMart’s release, part-time workers will see their wages rise from $9.48.

That means, until now, WalMart’s part-time workers were losing ground against inflation. While nice, this isn’t the saintly endeavor WalMart is making it out to be. The current bumps gets those employees just a few coins ahead of the rise in the cost of living since the end of the Financial Crisis.

For its full-time workers, WalMart says that the average wage is rising from $12.85 an hour to $13. In 2013, WalMart said that its average full-time wage was $12.83. So WalMart’s full-time associates got a 2-cent raise between 2013 and 2014 and now get a 17-cent bump. Adjusted for inflation, you’d need $13.04 cents today to buy what you could with $12.83 in 2013. WalMart’s full-time employees are coming out of this 4 cents short of inflation.

WalMart’s workforce is split about evenly between full- and part-timers. Part-timers will make $17,500 a year if they work 35 hours a week for 50 weeks a year. Full-timers will make $26,000 working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks.

For a two-person household, the federal poverty line is $15,930. For a four-person household it is $24,250.

Even after the raises, WalMart will continue to employ people who will be living below, at or barely above our various, imperfect measures of poverty.

These workers will continue to depend on public subsidies to get by, whether they need help with health care, buying food, or lunches for their school-aged children. It’s hard to see, even, how these wage increases will do enough so that WalMart employees don’t have to hold holiday food drives for each other.

WalMart has wanted to open a store in New York City for years and has been rebuffed at every turn by coalitions of labor and local retailers. The chain most recently failed to infiltrate East Brooklyn. It faces community opposition in cities and towns around the country.

The retailer is clearly tired of being seen as an unwelcome neighbor—and that’s likely a big consideration for why they’re upping their wages just enough.

The company would also like to buy itself a new labor history. For years, WalMart used contractors to clean and maintain its stores, putting a buffer between the companies and the often abused workers—especially when those workers were very often not authorized to work in the U.S. Since the middle of the last decade the company has also been hit with scores of class action lawsuits, some relating to the treatment of women workers and some alleging wage theft through various means.

In 1914, Henry Ford paid his workers $5 a day. It was a move that truly helped create the middle class.  Five dollars in 1914 is $118 today, although that would only add up to a $35,000-a-year salary for a six-day workweek, which is well below our current medium income.

What some forget about Ford is that he had ulterior motives: He wanted to mold his workers into what he considered model Americans. WalMart has ulterior motives as well: It wants to mold your perception of it until you see a model American corporation.

If WalMart is a model corporation, the model is broken.

 

By: Michael Maiello, The Daily Beast, February 20, 2015

February 21, 2015 Posted by | Poverty, Wage Theft, Walmart | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“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

“Is It Bad Enough Yet?”: “True Citizenship” In The Words Of Jefferson, Is “People Continually Protesting”

The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.

You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse.

This in part explains why we’re seeing spontaneous protests nationwide, protests that, in their scale, racial diversity, anger and largely nonviolent nature, are unusual if not unique. I was in four cities recently — New York, Washington, Berkeley and Oakland — and there were actions every night in each of them. Meanwhile, workers walked off the job in 190 cities on Dec. 4.

The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent; the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country’s people combined; and “income mobility” now describes how the rich get richer while the poor … actually get poorer.

The progress of the last 40 years has been mostly cultural, culminating, the last couple of years, in the broad legalization of same-sex marriage. But by many other measures, especially economic, things have gotten worse, thanks to the establishment of neo-liberal principles — anti-unionism, deregulation, market fundamentalism and intensified, unconscionable greed — that began with Richard Nixon and picked up steam under Ronald Reagan. Too many are suffering now because too few were fighting then.

What makes this an exciting time is that we are beginning to see links among issues that we have overlooked for far too long.

In 1970, after spending a year in New York absorbed by concerns seemingly as disparate as ending the war, supporting the rights of Black Panthers to get fair trials (and avoid being murdered) and understanding the role of men in the women’s movement, I — and others — had conversations like this: “Let’s make people understand that all of those issues, plus poverty and racism and the environment and more, are all part of the same picture, and that fixing things means citizens have to regain power and work in their own interests.”

Of course we failed, as others did before and since. But these same things can be said now, and they’re being said by people of all colors. When underpaid workers begin their strikes by saying “I can’t breathe,” or by holding their hands over their heads and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” they’re recognizing that their struggle is the same as that of African-Americans demanding dignity, respect and indeed safety on their own streets.

And of course it’s the same struggle: “It’s the same people,” says Saru Jayaraman, the director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “Young people working in fast food are the same people as those who are the victims of police brutality. So the Walmart folks are talking about #blacklivesmatter and the #blacklivesmatter folks are talking about taking on capital.”

The N.A.A.C.P.’s Rev. Dr. William Barber II, a leader of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, captures the national yearning this reflects. “I believe that deep within our being as a nation there is a longing for a moral movement that plows deep into our souls,” he writes. “We are flowing together because we recognize that the intersectionality of all of these movements is our opportunity to fundamentally redirect America.” (The full text of Dr. Barber’s email is on my blog.)

“All of these movements”? Yes: The demands of the fast-food workers movement — $15 minimum wage and a union — have helped to unite movements among airport workers, hospital workers, retail workers and more.

There are already results. Two years ago, there was talk of raising the minimum wage to $10; now $15 per hour is seen as the bare minimum. Seattle and San Francisco have already mandated this, Chicago’s City Council voted to gradually increase to a $13 minimum by 2019, Oakland will move to $12.25 in March and a proposal is being considered in Los Angeles. (And although the amounts were woefully inadequate, four red states voted to approve minimum wage increases last month, showing that the concept resonates across party lines.)

Meanwhile, the credibility of those who argue that employers “can’t afford” to raise pay — McDonald’s paid its C.E.O. $9.5 million last year — is nil. For one thing, there are examples of profitable businesses that treat their employees decently, and even countries where fast-food workers can make ends meet. And for another, underpaying workers simply shifts the cost of supporting them onto public coffers. As Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont says, “In essence, taxpayers are subsidizing the wealthiest family in America.” That would be the Waltons. (Incredibly, many Republicans still want the working poor to pay more taxes.)

Then, of course, there are the matters of justice and morality. It simply isn’t right to pay people a sub-living wage with no potential for more, and as the comedian Chris Rock says, employers would pay even less if they could get away with it.

The #blacklivesmatter movement — there’s no better description — is already having an impact as well. Don’t think for a second we’d be having a national debate about police brutality (one that includes many on the right), or a White House plan to examine and fix law enforcement, without demonstrations in the streets.

The initial Obama plan is encouraging but lacking, and that’s all the more reason to keep demonstrating. (What good are body cameras, by the way? The videotape of Rodney King’s beating was seen around the world yet resulted in acquittals; Eric Garner’s choking death, viewed millions of times online, didn’t even lead to a trial, even though police chokeholds are banned in New York City.) Besides, as Sanders says, “Even if every cop were a constitutional lawyer and a great person, if you have 30 percent unemployment among African-American young people you still have a huge problem.”

I have spent a great deal of time talking about the food movement and its potential, because to truly change the food system you really have to change just about everything: good nutrition stems from access to good food; access to good food isn’t going to happen without economic justice; that isn’t going to happen without taxing the superrich; and so on. The same is true of other issues: You can’t fix climate change or the environment without stopping the unlimited exploitation of natural and human resources (see Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”). Same with social well-being.

Everything affects everything. It’s all tied together, and the starting place hardly matters: A just and righteous system will have a positive impact on everything we care about, just as an unjust, exploitative system makes everything worse.

Increasingly, it seems, there’s an appetite and even unity to take on the billionaire class. Let’s recognize that if we are seeing positive change now, it’s in part because elected officials respond to pressure, and let’s remember that that pressure must be maintained no matter who is in office. Even if Bernie Sanders were to become president, the need for pressure would continue.

“True citizenship,” says Jayaraman of Berkeley — echoing Jefferson — “is people continually protesting.” Precisely.

 

By: Mark Bittman, Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, December 13, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Citizenship, Criminal Justice System, Inequality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Haves And The Have-It-Alls”: The Pain Of Inequality Among Yacht Buyers

In this season of mass commercialism, let’s pause to consider the plight of simple millionaires.

Why? Because we now share a common cause: Inequality. You don’t hear much about it, but millionaires are suffering a wealth gap, too, and it’s having a depressing impact on both their level of consumption and their psychological well-being. While it’s true that millionaires certainly are still quite rich — indeed, they’re counted as full members of the 1 percent club. But that generalization overlooks the painful and personally grating fact that mere millionaires today are ranked as “lesser 1 percenters.” They don’t dwell in the same zip codes as the uber-rich few, who comprise the uppermost 100th of the 1 percenters, with wealth starting in the hundreds of millions of dollars and spiraling up into multiple billions.

No doubt you’ll be saddened to learn that this divide between The Haves and The Have-it-Alls is widening. Astonishingly, plain old millionaires are being abandoned by retailers that are now catering to the most lux of the luxury market. For example, have you checked out what is happening in the yacht market recently? Sales of your 100- to 150-footers are down by as much as 50 percent from 2008, and that is just one indicator of the hidden suffering being endured by the merely rich.

In the same time period, however, yacht sales of your 300-footers, with price tags above $200 million, are at all-time highs. As noted by Robert Frank, a New York Times wealth columnist (yes, such a rarefied beat does exist), “For decades, a rising tide lifted all yachts. Now it is mainly lifting megayachts.”

“Whether the product is yachts, diamonds, art, wine, or even handbags,” says the Times‘ chronicler of American wealth, “the strongest growth and biggest profits are now coming from billionaires and nine-figure millionaires, rather than from mere millionaires.” What this reflects is not the widely acknowledged wealth divide between the 1 percenters and the rest of us, but a stunning concentration of America’s total wealth in the vaults of the ever-richer 0.01 percenters.

They are the elitest of the elites, an extravagant moneyed aristocracy, sitting so high above our society that they largely go unseen. This exclusive club includes only a tiny fraction of American families, with each holding fortunes of more than $110 million. The riches of these privileged ones keep snowballing — their outsized share of our national wealth has doubled since 2002, and their holdings are expanding twice as fast as other 1 percenters.

Their growing control of wealth is distorting high-end consumerism, including not just yachts, but private jets as well. Sales of your common millionaire-sized jets are down by two-thirds since the 2008 Wall Street crash. So jet makers have shifted to the billionaire buyers, including some who are spending eye-popping levels of lucre to possess such pretties as their very own Boeing 777-300 — which normally carries 400 passengers, rather than one gabillionaire.

Imagine how this makes people with only a few million dollars feel. This extreme, obscene concentration of wealth is creating an intolerable inequality that will implode our economy and explode America’s essential, uniting sense of egalitarianism. It’s important to remember that money is like manure — it does no good unless you spread it all around.

In the spirit of holiday harmony and good will toward all, I say it’s time for you working stiffs (and even those of you who’ve been badly stiffed and still can’t find work in this jobless economic recovery) to extend your hands in a gesture of solidarity with America’s millionaires. Let’s reach out to comfort our downcast brothers and sisters. Tell them, “We’re all in this inequality fight together,” and invite them to come to the next rally in your area to raise America’s minimum wage above the poverty level.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Plutocrats, Wealthy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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