Sam Smith essays
- ECONOMIC NEWS
- MINIMUM WAGE
RIGHT TO WORK MYTH
SHORTER WORK WEEK
TRANS PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP
Congressional Research Service - The peak value of the minimum wage in real terms was reached in 1968. To equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage in 1968 ($10.69), the current minimum wages real value ($7.25) would have to increase by $3.44 (or 47%).
If Obama wants to index minimum wage then $9 isn't enough. He proposed $9.50 in 2008. Inflation makes that $10 today
BACK TO TOP
Generation gap on unions
While 51 percent of all Americans have favorable views of unions, 61 percent of Americans under 30 hold that view....Union approval ratings grows weaker as respondents grow olderfrom 50 percent among Americans aged 30 to 49; to 49 percent among those 50 to 64; and to just 42 percent among Americans 65 or over.
AMERICANS AGAINST THE TEA PARTY
While union membership has declined to modern lows, union members had median weekly earnings of $943 last year, compared with $742 (about $38,600 annually), for comparable nonunion workers.
@amprog - Unionized workers are 28.2% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance
Why unions matter. . .
AFL-CIO - Some 1,200 workers at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel will share a $2.5 million settlement to a class-action suit that alleged the hotel withheld wages, failed to pay overtime and failed to provide meal and rest breaks to workers from 2004 to 2011.
If American workers are being denied their right to organize when I'm in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes and I will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States, - Barack Obama, 2007
ESSAYS BACK TO TOP
BACK TO TOP
- Unions & organizations
- FREELANCERS UNION
- INTNL CONF OF FREE TRADE UNIONS
JEWISH LABOR COMMITTEE
JOBS WITH JUSTICE
UNITED ELECTRICAL, RADIO & MACHINE WORKERS
UNITED FOOD WORKERS
- EXECUTIVE PAY WATCH
INTL LABOR RIGHTS FUND
LABOR EDUCATION LINKS
RAISE THE FLOOR MOVEMENT
SELF EMPLOYED WOMEN'S ASSN
SHOP UNION MADE
TAKE BACK YOUR TIME
UNION JOBS CLEARING HOUSE
STATE MINIMUM WAGE LAWS COMPARED TO FEDERAL STANDARD
CAN MY BOSS DO THAT?
The rate of unionization among American workers fell to 11.3% in 2012, which is the lowest since 1916
Gallup - Adults employed full time in the U.S. report working an average of 47 hours per week, almost a full workday longer than what a standard five-day, 9-to-5 schedule entails. In fact, half of all full-time workers indicate they typically work more than 40 hours, and nearly four in 10 say they work at least 50 hours.
Americans desert those who brought them the 7 day, 40 hour work week
The Labor Department reports that the 13 states that raised their minimum wage in 2014 have added jobs faster than those that didn't.
The last time the labor force participation rate was as low as the present 62.8% was in 1978
Where low paid workers work
BOOKS & HISTORY
Documentary on the UAW leaders, the Reuther brothers
Zero Hedge - While it has been no secret that ever since the quote-unquote recovery virtually all job gains have gone to older workers, those 55 and over and ever closer to retirement, April merely confirmed this demographically disastrous trend, and of the 255K workers added in the household survey when broken down by age group, more than all, or 266K went to workers aged 55 and older.
Since 2013, when the new minimum wage laws were first introduced and looked like an absolute certainty, the number of places to eat in Seattle has increased:
Mary Hansen, Yes Magazine - Wolde Gebremariam is one of more than 160,000 people nationwide who drive their own cars for Uber. Based in Denver, Gebremariam, age 28, drives his Chevy SUV for the company and occasionally works as a private limo driver...
He and 644 other drivers are on a mission to form a new taxi company that will be both worker-owned and unionized. The new co-op, Green Taxi, will have a fleet of hybrid or high-efficiency vehicles, and will offer a ride-hailing app.
The drivers arent going it alone. The Communications Workers of America Local 7777 union is playing a key role in helping them break into Denvers heavily regulated taxi industry.
The new cooperative faces many legal barriers before they can get taxis on the road. For example, the Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the industry, requires potential new companies to prove that they have a viable business plan, that more drivers are needed, and that the new company wont put existing ones out of businesses. This is just one hoop a new transportation company must jump through, and one that, Gebremariam points out, Uber never had to attempt. But the CWA, with its lobbying experience, will be there to help Green Taxi...
Big upfront capital costs are usually a challenge for startup cooperatives, but as the drivers already provide most of the equipment, worker-ownership could be a logical next step. Jeff Spross at The Week echoed this idea when covering another new taxi cooperative, Transunion Car Service, based in Newark, New Jersey.
What makes Transunion Car Service and Green Taxi unique is that they are both union-backed cooperatives. The union-backed cooperatives combine the solutions of classifying Uber drivers as employees and of socializing the companys ownership...
If unions create worker-owned, union-backed cooperatives like Green Taxi, Peck argues that this would strengthen the co-op model and breathe new life into a labor movement that has seen a steady decline in membership. The resulting co-ops would provide alternatives to the Uber-like companies proliferating into other services, like Urban Sitter for child care or Washio for laundry service.
Further, the partnerships give unions more choices. They offer an alternative to the uphill battle for important yet limited issues like living wages, job security, and safe working conditions. Supporting worker-ownership presents an opportunity for unions to help create situations where workers define their own labor conditions.
A new report finds that wages of manufacturing workers have fallen 4.4% in the past decade- "almost three times faster than for workers as a whole."
Canadian Supreme Court orders Walmart to imburse workers from store it closed after employees voted to unionize
McDonalds workers in New York, California and Michigan filed class action suits against the chain, as well as several franchises, for wage theft violations. The cases accuse the fast-food giant of systematically stealing employees wages by forcing them to work off the clock, shaving hours off their time cards and not paying them overtime, among other practices, according to a press release by the workers lawyers.
Word: Trade unions have been an essential force for social change, without which a semblance of a decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism - Pope Francis
Why GOP wouldn't like Reagan today
@Harpers - Amount the average U.S. worker spends annually on coffee: $1,092
About those new jobs
- There have been 246, 000 waiter and bartender jobs added
- There have been 24,000 manufacturing jobs added
The labor force participation rate in June 2013 remained near the lowest level it has been at any time since 1978.
@RBReich - Recovery? US has 2.4 million fewer jobs than when recession began, real median wage 5 percent lower, and 58% think we're in recession.
20% of workers have been turned down for a job in the past year
The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed job openings falling by 118,000 in April to 3.8 million. Job openings have improved very little over the last year and remain very depressed. In 2007, there were 4.5 million job openings each month, so Aprils level of 3.8 million is more than 16 percent below its prerecession level.
THE PHOTOS THAT HELPED TO BRING CHILD LABOR LAWS
State Rep. Carol McGuire (R-NH) believes the federal minimum wage is too high. In a statement to reporters, she said she would like to repeal all minimum wage laws and have corporations pay workers whatever rate they desire. She also said the $7.25 minimum is overly generous to young people: Its very discriminatory, particularly for young people. Theyre not worth the minimum, she said.
In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten. - Mark Miller, Wisconsin Democratic leader
A new Bloomberg National poll finds Americans 64% of respondents, including a plurality of Republicans (49%), say employees should have the right to collectively bargain for their wages
Sharon Johnson, WeNews - The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 60 percent of married mothers are now in the work force, 4 percentage points lower than in 1997. The rate of married mothers of infants who work fell 6 percentage points to 53 percent. With mothers representing about two-thirds of adult women those figures help explain why the United States is one of only two industrialized countries--the other is Japan--out of 23 where women's work force participation rate fell between 1994 and 2006, according to data from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Reversal of Trend
From the 1950s through the 1990s the percentage of U.S. women in the paid work force steadily increased. But that trend has begun to reverse and today 3.3 million fewer women are working than would be if the trend had continued.
While a spate of news reports has explained the trend as women preferring to stay home or "opting out," an array of women's policy groups disagree. The real explanation, they contend, is a workplace that fails women on some basic interlocking fronts: inflexible scheduling requirements, job discrimination, lack of child care, lack of parental leave, lack of sick leave.
Researchers for the San Francisco-based Center for WorkLife Law found 13,000 cases of discrimination that showed that mothers were 79 percent less likely to be hired and 100 percent less likely to be promoted because they are held to a higher standard than non-mothers in their companies. . .
The United States, Swaziland, Liberia, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea are the only countries among 173 surveyed in 2007 by the Institute for Health and Social Policy at Montreal's McGill University that don't guarantee paid maternity leave to new mothers.
The Family Medical Leave Act, which provides 12 weeks of job-protected leave to new parents or adoptive parents or caregivers of elderly relatives, only applies to firms with 50 workers or more, said Williams. "This disproportionately affects women who earn low wages . . . or work for small companies."
Then there's the cost of child care, which ran between $4,000 and $20,000 a year per child in 2001, according to a study from the Children's Defense Fund in Washington. .
SEIU ENDORSE CONYER'S SINGLE PAYER PLAN
The SEIU convention went on record in support of HR 676, single payer healthcare legislation introduced by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI). The SEIU is the thirteenth international union to endorse HR 676. Other international unions that have endorsed HR 676 are UAW, NEA, ILWU, NALC, IAM, Plumbers & Pipefitters, Musicians, UE, CNA/NNOC, SMWIA, IFPTE & OPEIU.
HR 676 would institute a single payer health care system in the U.S. by expanding a greatly improved Medicare system to every resident. HR 676 would cover every person in the U. S. for all necessary medical care including prescription drugs, hospital, surgical, outpatient services, primary and preventive care, emergency services, dental, mental health, home health, physical therapy, rehabilitation (including for substance abuse), vision care, chiropractic and long term care. HR 676 ends deductibles and co-payments. HR 676 would save billions annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private health insurance industry and HMOs. HR 676 currently has 90 co-sponsors in addition to Conyers. It has been endorsed by 435 union organizations in 48 states.
ZOGBY One out of every four working Americans describes their workplace as a dictatorship, while just 34% of bosses in the American workplace react well to valid criticism, according to a new Workplace Democracy Association - Zogby Interactive survey.
The survey also found that less than half of working Americans - 46% - said their workplace promotes creative or inventive ideas, while barely half - 51% - said their co-workers often feel motivated or are mostly motivated at work.
GOVERNMENTS OF 20 COUNTRIES AHEAD OF U.S. IN WORKPLACE FLEXIBILITY
A NEW REPORT by the Institute for Women's Policy Research and the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California, finds that of 21 countries reviewed, 17 have statutes that allow parents to move to part-time work or otherwise adjust their working hours; 12 have statutes to help workers adjust work hours for training and education; 11 allow reduced hours with partial pension prior to full retirement; 5 allow working time adjustments for those with family care-giving responsibilities for adults; and 5 countries give everyone the right to alternative work arrangements.
According to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, college-educated women in the United States are now less likely than women in many other high-income countries to participate in the labor market. Participation in the U.S. labor force for women aged 24-54 has stalled in the last decade while 19 of 20 other high income countries surveyed have seen growth during the same period.
Most countries target statutory regulation at specific circumstances, such as family caregiving responsibilities, old age or lifelong learning. More recent is an all encompassing approach that provides a mechanism for changing working time arrangements to all employees, irrespective of why they want change.
The Institute for Women's Policy Research conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women, promote public dialogue, and strengthen families, communities, and societies. IWPR focuses on issues of poverty and welfare, employment and earnings, work and family, health and safety, and women's civic and political participation.
The Center for WorkLife Law, based at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that seeks to eliminate employment discrimination against employees who have caregiving responsibilities for family members, such as mothers and fathers of young children and adults with aging parents. WorkLife Law works with employees, employers, attorneys, legislators, journalists, and researchers to identify and prevent family responsibilities discrimination.
PHIL MATTERA, DIRT DIGGERS DIGEST Fortune magazine has come out with the latest edition of its list of the 500 largest publicly traded U.S. corporations, and all the attention will be paid to which companies rank higher or lower based on revenue. For the average person, another measure of the performance of those giant corporations may be more relevant: the extent to which they are depressing wage rates by getting rid of unions or continuing to keep them out of their operations. . .
One way to gauge this is to look at the new 10-K filings that companies have been issuing in recent weeks. Each of those documents-annual reports submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission-has a section on employees in which companies have traditionally given an indication of the extent to which their workforce is unionized.
I decided to look at these sections for the top 50 on the new Fortune list. I found that, of that group, only five reported that a majority of their U.S. employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement: General Motors, Ford, AT&T, Kroger and UPS. An additional half dozen reported that a minority of their U.S. workers have union protection: Verizon (40%), Boeing (36%), General Electric (15%), Costco (11%), AmerisourceBergen (4%) and Wellpoint ("a small portion"). Two companies-United Technologies and Marathon Oil-mention unions but don't indicate the extent of their presence. The remaining 35 companies (State Farm and Freddie Mac don't file 10-Ks) make no reference to unions or declare they are union free.
CNN A Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered Starbucks to pay its California baristas more than $100 million in back tips and interest that the coffee chain paid to shift supervisors. San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cowett also issued an injunction that prevents Starbucks' shift supervisors from sharing in future tips, saying state law prohibits managers and supervisors from sharing in employee gratuities.
Starbucks spokeswoman Valerie O'Neil said the company planned an immediate appeal of the ruling, calling it "fundamentally unfair and beyond all common sense and reason." The lawsuit was filed in October 2004 by Jou Chou, a former Starbucks barista in La Jolla, who complained shift supervisors were sharing in employee tips. The lawsuit gained ground in 2006 when it was granted class-action status, allowing the suit to go forward for as many as 100,000 former and current baristas in the coffee chain's California stores.
BANANA REPUBLIC BECOMES SWEATSHOP TARGET
GUARDIAN, UK One of the biggest fashion retailers in the US last night began an investigation into allegations that workers in India who make its clothes are being forced to work more than 70 hours a week for as little as 15p an hour. Ahead of today's high-profile opening of its three-story European store in London, Banana Republic said it was "deeply concerned" by the claims and insisted it made frequent factory visits to check that suppliers complied with the law and with the company's ethical code. . . The alleged plight of the Indian workers who are making Banana Republic's clothes will be publicized by the charity War on Want, which plans a demonstration at the opening of the London store. . . Garment workers interviewed by the Guardian near Delhi claimed they were verbally abused if they complained, saying they could be docked money for petty disputes. Other workers said they had been "coached" to lie about the amount of overtime they had to do; the overtime is meant to be capped at two hours a day.
MATT LABASH, WSEEKLY STANDARD - Wilmington, Del. If you're a loyal employee like me, you occasionally check your company's Vision Statement to make sure all the T's in "empowerment" have been crossed, and the I's in "mission" have been dotted. But if you come across buzzwords like "excellence" and "leadership," you should know that your corporate culture is sadly behind the curve--those terms are as '90s as Reebok Pumps, Zima, and Total Quality Management. There's a new core value on the loose, and it goes by the name of "Fun."
Maybe you assumed the fun stopped when the tech bubble burst. Or at least you hoped it did. After all, who could stand to read yet another profile of the ubiquitous IPO-enriched dot-commissar, who'd get the toe of his footie-pajamas (which he wore in his nonhierarchical workspace) caught in the brake of his indoor Razor scooter, causing him to bump into the Pachinko-machine/copier, making him spill his Tazoberry Crème Frappuccino all over the conference-room foosball table? Ahhhh, the boyish hijinks of it all. With the benefit of hindsight, we can all now agree that the real fun was watching dot-com execs ride their Segways to the unemployment line.
IAN WELSH, HUFFINGTON POST - Unions in America have been in a decline for over 60 years. Union membership has dropped from almost 35% of all workers in 1945 to less than 15% today. In fact, union membership has declined to almost exactly the same percentage as it was in 1930 before FDR took power and encouraged the growth of unions. . . The mainline old unions centered around industrial concerns like GM and Ford have shrunk to a tiny fraction of their former self; and despite the efforts of the SEIU unions and others, new economy workers mostly have not been organized.
The National Labor Relations Board, created by the Wagner Act in 1935 as independent agency of United States Governments holds the official mandate to conduct elections for labor union representation and to investigate and remedy unfair labor practices. Under the Bush administration, the NLRB has:
- made it impossible for large numbers of workers to join unions;
- potentially reclassified many workers as supervisors (including many nurses) in order to remove them from unions;
- passed numerous rulings which treat employers in one way, and unions in another.
The union movement, it is fair to say, is in many respects in its weakest position in over 60 years.
Another 4 or 8 years of a Republican presidency could doom American unions, pushing them below 10% and subjecting them to more and more hostile NLRB rulings, which will cripple what ability they have to organize. Even a moderate Democratic president who halts the slide at the NLRB but doesn't reverse it will leave unions in a shaky situation. . .
Amongst the Democratic candidates it's safe to say that Hilary Clinton, who has as her main advisor a union buster and whose husband did very little for unions, would be a largely status quo President. Her board would be decent, she'd be bad but not awful on trade, and she wouldn't sink a lot of personal capital into union issues.
As with many things with Obama, it's hard to determine how good or bad he'd be, but one has to have their doubts about a Democratic candidate who argued that union advertisements in Iowa were unacceptable, and who acted as if union money were the equivalent of corporate money. Certainly there are those who see unions and corporation as little different--but they aren't friends of unions.
John Edwards has spent the last four years working with unions, walking their picket lines and making their cause his. He's clearly the most pro-union of the three remaining candidates; his primary issue is economic justice and he believes that corporations have too much power. His campaign, from the very beginning, was predicated on union support.
But unions didn't reciprocate.
Lists of major union endorsements make this clear. AFL-CIO unions predominantly endorsed Clinton, and in fact more major unions endorsed Clinton than anyone else, with Edwards coming in second in the endorsement stakes. Most recently Nevada's largest union, the culinary union endorsed Obama and is working hard for him in that key swing state.
Now let's imagine a world in which labor had taken a strong stand and endorsed the candidate who was most pro-labor, John Edwards. Edwards came in second in Iowa, behind Obama by 8%. It is hard to believe that if unions had come in, say 4 months ago, and used their ground machine (still, even today, probably the best organizing machine in the Democratic party) that they couldn't have swung the election 8 points. . .
And here's the thing--neither Clinton nor Obama, should they win now, will feel a massive debt to Labor. The endorsements were useful and appreciated, and they helped. But they weren't desperately needed. The payback will be a slightly better NLRB, but not enough to save American labor. . .
I can only assume that labor read too many polls and made too many political calculations. . . The irony here is that if labor had taken a strong stand and put their own best interests first instead of triangulating and currying political favor, the strongest pro-labor candidate would be in the lead today.
GOVERNMENT SAYS CORPORATIONS BAN BAR UNION-RELATED E-MAIL
RAW STORY - Employers have the right to bar employees from sending union-related E-mails using company servers, the New York Times reports. The National Labor Relations Board ruled 3-2 that an employer, using internal company policy, has the right to classify a union-related communication as a "non-job-related solicitation." The two dissenting board members noted that E-mail has become a major form of communication in the workplace, and disagreed with the majority's assertion that a company's "property rights" trump an employee's right to organize and discuss workplace-related issues with other workers.
The ruling involved The Register-Guard, a newspaper in Eugene, Ore., and e-mail messages sent in 2000 by Susi Prozanski, a newspaper employee who was president of the Newspaper Guild's unit there. She sent an e-mail message about a union rally and two others urging employees to wear green to show support for the union's position in contract negotiations. . .
"Anyone with e-mail knows that this is how employees communicate with each other in today's workplace," said Jonathan Hiatt, general counsel for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. "Outrageously in allowing employers to ban such communications for union purposes, the Bush labor board has again struck at the heart of what the nation's labor laws were intended to protect - the right of employees to discuss working conditions and other matters of mutual concern."
'OFFICE' STAFF EXPLAIN WRITERS' STRIKE
WHAT WORKERS DON'T LIKE ABOUT MEETINGS
Disorganization tops the list as the biggest frustration for meeting attendees, according to a new "Ouch Point" study by Opinion Research USA that measured the tolerance thresholds of U.S. workers at business meetings.
Of 1,037 full or part-time workers polled, 27 percent ranked disorganized, rambling meetings as their top frustration, followed by 17 percent who said they were annoyed by peers who interrupt and try to dominate meetings.
Respondents considered Black Berry use less intrusive than people falling asleep during a meeting -- 9 percent of respondents were bothered by co-workers nodding off, compared to just 5 percent who said they get frustrated by others checking e-mail. Respondents also cited cell-phone interruptions (16 percent) and meetings without refreshments (6 percent) as more annoying than the much-maligned Black Berry.
Among the other "ouch points" ranked by respondents were: meetings without bathroom breaks (8 percent) and people leaving the meeting early or arriving late (5 percent). Only 4 percent of respondents said they were most frustrated by meetings that start late and those that end without distributing a written recap.
Respondents from the Northeast were less bothered by disorganized meetings than those from other parts of the country. Additionally, respondents over the age of 55 considered meetings without a bathroom break a significant issue, and for respondents ages 18 to 24, serving food is a priority at meetings.
DC LABOR - Unionized professional women receive better wages and benefits than women in the non-union sector but women still make less than their male counterparts according to a new fact sheet. "The union difference is quite apparent when you look at the median weekly wages" for professional women, according to Professional Women: Vital Statistics, a fact sheet just published by the Department of Professional Employees (DPE), AFL-CIO. Examples include "union preschool and kindergarten teachers earned a whopping 56.7% more than their non-union counterparts union librarians earned almost 29% more than their non-union counterparts, while union social workers and counselors earned 27 and 26.4% more, respectively." But the wage gap "still plagues the American workforce," says the report. In 2006, the "median weekly earnings for women were 80.8% those of men."
L.A. GANG MEMBERS FIND NEW HOME IN LABOR UNIONS
SAM QUINONES, LA TIMES - A large and growing number of Southern California gang members . . . have joined building-trade unions over the last decade as construction work has boomed. These good-paying jobs were once reserved for those with family connections, as fathers recruited sons. But today, beset by nonunion competition and an aging membership, unions have stepped up recruitment in minority enclaves where many young men have criminal pasts. Now homeboy recruits homeboy.
Members of Dog-patch, in Bellflower, and West Side Wilmas, in Wilmington, are in the Ironworker Union Locals 416 and 433. Members of the 204th Street gang in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles are in the Sheet Metal Workers Local 105. And members of the South Side 18th Street Tiny Diablos are Teamsters.
WHY WORKING LESS IS BETTER FOR THE GLOBE
DARA COLWELL, ALTERNET - Americans are working harder than ever before. The dogged pursuit of the paycheck coupled with a 24/7 economy has thrust many of us onto a never-ending treadmill. But of workaholism's growing wounded, its greatest casualty has been practically ignored -- the planet. . .
Americans work more hours than anyone else in the industrialized world. According to the United Nations' International Labor Organization, we work 250 hours, or five weeks, more than the Brits, and a whopping 500 hours, or 12 and a half weeks, more than the Germans. So how does ecological damage figure in to the 40-plus workweek?
Do the math: Longer hours plus labor-saving technology equals ever-increasing productivity. Without high annual growth to match productivity, there's unemployment. Maintaining growth means using more energy and resources, both in manpower and raw materials, which results in increased waste and pollution.
Unsurprisingly, the United States is the world's largest polluter. Housing a mere 5 percent of the world's population, it accounts for 22 percent of its fossil fuel consumption, 50 percent of its solid waste, and, on average, each citizen consumes 53 times more goods than a person in China, according to the environmental nonprofit, Sierra Club.
When people work longer hours, they rely increasingly on convenience items such as fast food, disposable diapers, or bottled water. Built-in obsolescence has become standard business practice -- just throw it away and make more -- leaving mountainous landfills in its wake. "Earning more often means spending money in ways that are environmentally detrimental. We're finding that to compensate for lack of time, you actually need more money to work those extra hours," says Monique Tilford, acting executive director of the Centre for a New American Dream, a Maryland group promoting environmentally and socially responsible consumption. "When people are time-starved they don't have enough time to be conscious consumers. The overarching theme of our organization is to remind Americans that every single dollar they spend has a carbon impact, to make the connection."
If the world started clocking American hours, then it would be detrimental to its environmental health. According to a paper issued by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., if Europe moved towards a U.S.-based economic model, it would consume 15-30 percent more energy by 2050. This would impact fuel prices worldwide and boost carbon emissions, resulting in additional global warming of 1-2 degrees Celsius. Any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions made through conservation, cleaner fuels or green technology would be overwhelmed by increased industrial output.
"Productivity normally increases every year, but we haven't seen massive productivity gains reflected in our working hours," says Mark Weisbrot, CEPR's co-director, who also authored the study "Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment?" "Because there's no limit to what we can consume, a change of values has to take place if the planet stands a chance of survival."
SOME SEE IMMIGRANT RAIDS PART OF RIGHTWING ATTACK ON LABOR UNIONS
AMY TAYLOR, DRUM MAJOR INSTITUTE - Is there another agenda behind the recent surge in workplace raids? Some commentators argue that in addition to a pre-holiday show of force on the issue of illegal immigration, the raids are part of a larger conservative agenda aimed at creating a climate of fear to undermine union organizing efforts.
Union membership is at an all time low at 12.5%, and not because workers are uninterested in joining them. Union members and potential members face real challenges to organizing in the workplace. A recent commentator cites a "long-standing conservative political objective to eradicate unions" which has led to 30% of employers terminating pro-union workers when faced with an organizing drive. Even more employers will threaten to close a worksite or attempt to use bribery and favoritism to convince workers to oppose the unions. Furthermore, the governmental agency charged with addressing unfair labor practices is the supposedly independent National Labor Relations Board, notoriously bureaucratic and run by anti-union presidential appointees. Suffice it to say that it is no coincidence that union membership is down. And as membership levels have gone down, wages have stagnated and employee benefits have been slashed across entire industries.
The reasons for such anti-union fervor are obvious. Union members had wage increases that were double the rate of non-union members in 2005. Employers work hard to keep union membership down to save their own costs.
This is where immigrant workers come in. The great organizing power of immigrant communities have often been viewed as fringe movements and placed outside of the progressive agenda. This has been viewed as a great failure of the progressive movement. In order for working Americans to protect their livelihood, they must join hands with the new face of workers in the U.S., and that includes immigrant workers.
Unions are, for the most part, already on board and have been outspoken supporters of legislation creating a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers. Union leaders understand the connection between immigration reform and the future of organized labor -- if immigrants did not face daily threats from their employers because of their immigration status, they would be more likely to join the ranks of organized labor fearlessly. . .
If immigrant workers are threatened underground even more than they already are through the use of scare tactics such as workplace raids, it will not only be their families who have less in the bank at the end of the year. The power of organized labor will continue to decline if unions cannot join hands with immigrant workers to fight for a living wage and better working conditions.
BOSSES RECEIVE LOW RATINGS FROM EMPLOYEES
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY - The abusive boss has been well documented in movies and even the Internet. Now, a Florida State University professor and two of his doctoral students have conducted a study that shines some light on the magnitude of the problem and documents its effects on employee health and job performance. . .
Working with doctoral students Paul Harvey and Jason Stoner, Hochwarter surveyed more than 700 people who work in a variety of jobs about their opinions of supervisor treatment on the job. The survey generated the following results:
- Thirty-one percent of respondents reported that their supervisor gave them the "silent treatment" in the past year.
- Thirty-seven percent reported that their supervisor failed to give credit when due.
- Thirty-nine percent noted that their supervisor failed to keep promises.
- Twenty-seven percent noted that their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.
- Twenty-four percent reported that their supervisor invaded their privacy.
- Twenty-three percent indicated that their supervisor blames others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment. . .
GOP RUN LABOR BOARD MOVES TO KICK MILLIONS OF WORKERS OUT OF ITS PROTECTION
DALE RUSSAKOFF WASHINGTON POST - The National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that nurses with full-time responsibility for assigning fellow hospital workers to particular tasks are supervisors under federal labor law and thus not eligible to be represented by unions. . . Labor leaders decried the ruling, with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney saying it "welcomes employers to strip millions of workers of their right to have a union by reclassifying them as 'supervisors' in name only." The labor-backed Economic Policy Institute said the new definition could affect 8 million workers who give direction to fellow workers in fields ranging from construction to accounting. . .
The ruling defines workers as supervisors if they give assignments to other workers, if they are held responsible for the performance of those assignments and if they exercise independent judgment rather than follow an employer's detailed instructions. NLRB members Wilma B. Liebman and Dennis P. Walsh, the only Democrats on the board, argued in dissent that the definition was so broad it "threatens to create a new class of workers under Federal labor law: workers who have neither the genuine prerogatives of management, nor the statutory rights of ordinary employees."
AMERICANS THINK MORE HIGHLY OF WAL-MART THAN OF LABOR UNIONS
RASMUSSEN - Fifty-eight percent of Americans have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of labor unions while 33% disagree and have an unfavorable view. . . By way of comparison, 69% of Americans have a favorable opinion of a company the unions love to hate-Walmart. Twenty-nine percent have an unfavorable opinion of the retail giant. Forty-eight percent (48%) have a favorable opinion of General Motors while 21% hold the opposite view. The volunteer Minutemen who organized patrols of the Mexican border are viewed favorably by 54% and unfavorably by 22%.
Fifty-three percent (53%) of men have a favorable opinion of labor unions along with 61% of women. White Americans are less likely to have a favorable opinion of unions than others. Thirty-and-forty-somethings have less favorable views than those under 30 and over 50.
This year, 38% of Americans say they celebrate Labor Day as a time to honor the contributions of workers in society. Forty-five percent celebrate the holiday as the unofficial end of summer.
AMERICAN FAMILIES WORKING 500 HOURS MORE ANNUALLY THAN 30 YEARS AGO
ROBERT KUTTNER, BOSTON GLOBE - Labor was created by the machinists union in New York in 1882 as a "workingmen's holiday." Unions all over America adopted the idea. By 1894, Congress passed legislation making Labor Day an official holiday. The day also celebrated the act of organizing, politically and in the workplace, to improve livelihoods and lives. Today, the politics have largely been leached out of it. Labor Day is a long weekend that marks summer's end. And that extra day of rest is needed more than ever. Government statistics show that the typical family works about 500 more hours a year than families did 30 years ago, because it takes two incomes to make it. Even so, family incomes are failing to keep pace with the cost of living.
LABOR UNION FORMED AT CHINESE WAL-MART
KFSM - An official Chinese news agency says the first labor union at a Wal-Mart store in China has been formed following a lobbying campaign by the country's official union group. The official Xinhua News Agency reported today that 30 employees at a Wal-Mart store in the southeastern city of Quanzhou, in Fujian province, voted Saturday to form a union.
TRANSIT UNION CHIEF CHEERED AS HE GOES TO JAIL
ZITA ALLEN, AMSTERDAM NEWS - TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint turned himself in Monday, April 24 at the Manhattan jail known as the Tombs, to begin serving a 10-day sentence for leading the city's first transit strike in 25 years, but not before getting a hero's send off.
THE COST OF DEPENDING ON TIPS
TALIA BERMAN, WIRETAP - Last Monday at lunch in a Spanish restaurant in New York City, server #228 earned $12. Tuesday at lunch, $14. Thursday night and Friday night: $480 total. On Saturday morning at lunch, she made $75. Last summer, in August, the slowest restaurant month of the year (except in vacation towns), she made less than $500 -- and didn't make rent.
Thanks to tipping, restaurant service is one of the most erratically paid professions in the United States. In some states, tips comprise 100 percent of a server's income, and all but seven have separate, decreased minimum wages for tipped employees. On the federal level, the minimum hourly wage for tipped employees is $2.15. In Kansas, it's $1.59.
With a wage this low, most or all of it is diverted to payroll taxes, leaving servers and often table bussers and food runners to survive on the whims of their wining and dining guests.
So how do servers survive? As it turns out, many of them don't -- servers have a greater turnover rate than virtually any other profession. Tipping is part of the problem, according to Michael Lynn, associate professor of Consumer Behavior at Cornell University's Hotel School and an expert on tipping norms and practices, "Part of it has to do with tipping itself. It's an unsure source of income. If you are a professional server making money on tips, it is difficult to establish credit ratings and to buy a house.". . .
THE MEDIA'S WAR ON LABOR
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT and least covered aspects of media bias is the dislike of labor by the corporate press. From public radio's board room-sucking Marketplace to the lack of labor beat reporters on the staffs of newspapers and the networks, and from labor stories being ignored or buried on the business pages to a consistent pro-business bias in stories involving workers, it is hard to find a greater example of the fraud of media "objectivity."
In keeping with our tradition of quantifying what you can't reform, we are launching a business bias rating service on major labor stories. Our standard is simple: how many paragraphs do you have to read before you find out labor's side of the story?
Since we obviously can't analyze every story, we hope readers will provide us with particularly admirable or egregious examples.
The get started, here are the number of paragraphs you had to go through to get the union's side of the story in the matter of the Delphi buyouts:
NEW YORK TIMES: 26
DETROIT NEWS: 22
WASHINGTON POST: 11 in the news section, 27 in the business section
TODAY IN HISTORY
1864 -- The Collar Laundry Union forms in Troy, New York. Led by Kate Mullaney, a National Labor Union activist, the union successfully increases earnings for laundresses from 2 dollars to 14 dollars a week. In May 1869, the women strike for a wage increase with support of the whole city. Seven thousand attend a mass rally. As the strike drags on with no end in sight, Mullaney and the union organize a cooperative called the "Union Linen Collar & Cuff Manufactory." The co-op provides work for members and combat employer attempts to starve them out. But the strike ended in defeat when the companies eliminate their jobs by putting a new paper collar on the market. The union breaks up and the cooperative is closed
APPROVAL OF LABOR unions has certainly declined since 1936 - from 72% to 58% says Gallup. But over the past quarter century the figures have been remarkably stable - almost the same today as in 1978 (58% vs 59%)
THE DISAPPEARING PENSION
PROGRESS REPORT - In a move the company called a "restructuring" that "reflects the realities of our changing world," Verizon Communications announced that it will be cutting pension benefits for 50,000 of their managers. "Verizon is the latest in a long line of U.S. companies that have phased out defined-benefit [pension] plans." Under such a plan, the employer assumes the risk and workers are guaranteed a set monthly payment in their retirement based on length of service, age, and other factors. As USA Today warns, "The traditional pension, once considered a bedrock of retirement, is eroding for many American workers -- and working for a financially strong company is no guarantee a full pension will be there at retirement." Verizon's move may signal the beginning of the end of traditional pensions in yet another industry.
Around 50,000 managers will no longer earn pension credits after June 30, 2006, and next year's managerial hires will receive no credits at all; current retirees will retain their full pensions. In exchange for the pension freeze, managers will be eligible to invest in 401(k) plans. In words similar to those used by President Bush to sell his "ownership society," Verizon's chairman said, "The changes will also provide employees a transition to a retirement plan more in line with current trends, allowing employees to have greater accountability in managing their own finances and for companies to offer greater portability through personal savings accounts." Said Pension Rights Center director Karen Friedman: "If a company as large as Verizon goes in this direction it could encourage others to do likewise to the detriment of the retirement security of millions of American workers."
Many big telecom firms have already taken such steps, with Verizon being only "the latest in a long string of companies to decide to halt the growth of its pension plan either to remain competitive, save money or reduce exposure to regulatory uncertainty." Verizon competitors AT&T and BellSouth are considering cutting pensions costs as well. "Chances are, when they see this they'll all be huddling up," tech analyst Robert Rosenberg said. "This most likely will be the first of several similar announcements that we'll see." Both Motorola and Hewlett-Packard have already "embarked on similar overhauls, switching emphasis from a defined-benefit plan to 401(k)s and shifting the burden for saving and investing to employees."
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a federal corporation that insures pension benefits and is financed by employers, reported an accumulated shortfall of $22.8 billion over the past several years. According to Labor Department figures, the 29,651 companies that offer single employer private pension plans underfunded their pension liabilities last year by $450 billion. This is especially prevalent in the airline and automotive industries, with Delta, Northwest, and others dumping their pension liabilities onto PBGC as part of bankruptcy proceedings. Pension legislation has failed to address much of the problem and what reform proposals exist have stalled in Congress. . .
LABOR CONFLICT INCREASING
ZNET - [Wall Street Journal] reporter Kris Maher [writes that] strikes are spreading along with other employer-labor fights and company-sponsored lockouts. These are so far largely defensive battles against management efforts to cut wages and benefits, but they could be more. And it's not just graduate assistants taking on greedy NYU and Radio City Music Hall musicians battling with Cablevision. It's Verizon Wireless workers and telecom workers at Sprint Corp. and copper workers at Asarco LLC, too. Labor action is back in the news, big time. . .
Maher cites Bureau of National Affairs statistics showing "231 work stoppages initiated through the end of August, compared with 202 in the same period last year, with the vast majority being strikes." . . . Strikers seem to be getting results, too.. Boeing machinists got a better health-care package after striking, though the outcome is unclear at Delphi Corp., where the nation's largest car-parts manufacturer refuses to back away from King Kong sized takeaways in wages, health care and pensions.
One thing that helps militant job actions sprout and succeed is that the economy is in recovery, at least statistically. Historically, it's during economic recoveries, when the labor market tightens, that unions do best, both on the picket line and at the bargaining table. It's also why conservative economists value a degree of unemployment, as a way of tempering wage demands. The real growth in labor organizing in the mid-1930s came on the heels of a mini-recovery, and the nation's largest strike wave hit after World War II, when the economy boomed even as workers salaries stayed frozen at war levels.
BLACK UNION MEMBERS DISAPPEARING
LOUIS UCHITELLE, NY TIMES - Despite a growing economy, the number of African-Americans in unions has fallen by 14.4 percent since 2000, while white membership is down 5.4 percent. For a while in the 1980's, one out of every four black workers was a union member; now it is closer to one in seven. This loss of better-paying jobs helps to explain why blacks are doing worse than any other group in the current recovery. Labor leaders have acknowledged the disproportionate damage to African-Americans, but they decline to make special efforts to organize blacks and offset the decrease, saying that all groups need help. That lack of priority angers one prominent black scholar.
"The future of black workers is very bleak indeed if they lose their place in the union movement," said William Julius Wilson, a professor of sociology and social policy at Harvard. "I would hope there would be an effort on the part of union leaders, white and black, to address this very important issue. They haven't done so as yet."
MAY 2005. . .
THE WAL-MART ALTERNATIVE: COSTCO
MOIRA HERBST, LABOR RESEARCH - These days, the story goes, consumers demand low prices, meaning goods must be produced and sold cheaply - and retail wages must be kept as low as possible. Companies like Wal-Mart insist they're feeling the squeeze and must pay workers poverty wages - even while netting $10.5 billion in annual profits and awarding millions to top executives.
But there's another company that is breaking the Wal- Mart mold: Costco Wholesale Corp., now the fifth - largest retailer in the U.S. While Wal-Mart pays an average of $9.68 an hour, the average hourly wage of employees of the Issaquah, Wash.-based warehouse club operator is $16. After three years a typical full-time Costco worker makes about $42,000, and the company foots 92% of its workers' health insurance tab.
How does Costco pull it off? How can a discount retail chain pay middle-class wages and still bring in over $880 million in net revenues? And, a cynic may ask, with Wal-Mart wages becoming the norm, why does it bother?
A number of factors explain Costco's success at building a retail chain both profitable and fair to its workers. But the basic formula is one the labor movement has been advocating for decades: a loyal, well-compensated workforce means a more efficient and productive one.
Though only about 18% of Costco's total workforce is unionized, union representation creates a ripple effect and helps determine labor standards in all stores. . .
A 2004 Business Week study ran the numbers to test Costco's business model against that of Wal-Mart. The study confirmed that Costco's well-compensated employees are more productive. The study shows that Costco's employees sell more: $795 of sales per square foot, versus only $516 at Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart (which, like Costco, operates as a members-only warehouse club). Consequently Costco pulls in more revenue per employee; U.S. operating profit per hourly employee was $13,647 at Costco versus $11,039 at Sam's Club.
The study also revealed that Costco's labor costs are actually lower than Wal-Mart's as a percentage of sales. Its labor and overhead costs (classed as SG&A, or selling, general and administrative expenses) are 9.8% of revenues, compared to Wal-Mart's 17%.
CORPORADO SUES BECAUSE LIBRARY WANTS TO USE UNION LABOR
DENNIS YUSKO, ALBANY TIMES UNION - An Albany company sued the Clifton Park-Halfmoon library's Board of Trustees, claiming the board's decision to use union labor for its new $15 million facility discriminates against nonunion workers. The suit -- filed by attorney Joel Howard in state Supreme Court on behalf of E.W. Tompkins Inc., a nonunion shop -- seeks a restraining order against the library board to stop it from awarding contracts for the project until the matter is settled.
"By including this union-only project labor agreement with the bid project, the trustees will not allow me to use my own workers if I win the bid," E.W. Tompkins President Tom Colloton said.
Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs, do not prevent nonunion companies from bidding on work, but they guarantee bid winners use mostly union labor on a job.
LABOR DIVIDE GROWS SHARPER
THOMAS B. EDSALL, WASHINGTON POST - Four dissident union presidents have demanded that their members' names be removed from the AFL-CIO's master list of 13 million households, attacking what many consider to be organized labor's most important tool to influence political campaigns and legislative proceedings on Capitol Hill. "It's the heart and soul of labor," said an official at the AFL-CIO who is worried about the growing hostilities within the labor movement. Top Democrats in the House and Senate have privately voiced concern over the latest development in the split between federation President John J. Sweeney and four major unions determined to force him out of office. . .
JOHN SWEENEY'S TIES TO WAR HAWKS
HARRY KELBER, LABOR NOTES - AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has declined to explain why his name and title appear on a list of supporters of the Project for the New American Century, an organization whose prime activity is to promote the establishment of an American global empire through the use of military and economic power.
On the list of "people associated" with the Project, besides Sweeney, are: Vice President Dick Cheney, a founder; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and a gallery of neo-conservatives, many from the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. The list is "current to Dec. 2004."
The Project for a New American Century is a think tank, founded in 1997, whose principles are now the governing foreign and military policies of the Bush administration. In September 2000, the Project released a "grand plan" that called for sufficient combat forces to fight and win multiple major wars and be equipped for "constabulary duties" around the world, with American rather than U.N. leadership. The Project supports the doctrine of pre-emptive war and the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons.
Union members are entitled to know what, exactly, is Sweeney's relations with the PNAC? What prompted him to collaborate with an organization that, to say the least, is hardly a friend of organized labor?
Sweeney is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, regarded as the most influential think tank on foreign and economic policy, whose recommendations are often adopted by the government. Executives from 200 "international companies representing a range of sectors" participate in special Council programs. They include the largest commercial banks, insurance companies and strategic planning corporations. Petroleum, military and media companies are also well represented.
How is Sweeney's presence on the Council of any benefit to the 13 million union members he represents? Doesn't his name on the Council imply support for its activities?
BLACKS LEFT OUT OF LABOR REFORM http://www.blackcommentator.com/128/128_cover_labor.html
BLACK COMMENTATOR - Far from ameliorating the crisis afflicting what's left of organized labor in the United States, a number of 'reforms' proposed by some of the nation's largest unions appear as attempted rollbacks of historic gains won by Blacks, Latinos and women unionists a decade ago. Simply put, the vast changes in AFL-CIO structures demanded by the giant (and heavily minority) Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and others, contain no formal mechanisms to ensure that core labor constituencies have a voice remotely commensurate with their numbers and strategic importance. . .
'If the ten largest unions will comprise the Executive Committee, no Black that I'm aware of, or woman that I'm aware of, heads up a union of that size,' said William Lucy, President of the 33-year-old Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. 'How does our voice get in that decision making process? How do we talk about the value of organizing as a community empowerment process? Who do we discuss that with?'
PROPOSAL FOR LABOR: SPEND MONEY ON ORGANIZING, NOT CAMPAIGNS
JONATHAN TASINI, PRESIDENT EMERITUS OF THE NATIONAL WRITERS UNION - For the last 25 years, employers have broken labor laws with impunity and fired tens of thousands of workers trying to organize. By every measure, life for most workers has become more difficult. Few politicians challenge the right of corporations to run the workplace like a dictatorship. . .
I admire the fire and dedication of the labor people who pour their souls into campaigns. But we've been acting on the belief that the political arena could make up for our declining numbers and weakness in the workplace. Our money and troops have squeezed out a few victories for Democrats. But we've remained passengers, not drivers of the political vehicle. . .
So my proposal is simple: During the coming two-year election cycle, labor should not write a single check to a federal candidate or a political party. Let's take the money - and, more important, our focus and energy - and pour it into organizing new workers, kicking the stuffing out of the Wal-Mart family, pushing a national campaign for healthcare for all and advancing the labor-environment-sponsored Apollo Alliance, a brilliant idea to pour billions of dollars into good-paying jobs through new sustainable-energy projects. . .
Given that virtually every incumbent is reelected in Congress, there is no chance the Democrats will be in a position to retake either the House or Senate in the next cycle - nor will Democratic incumbents lose. And, if by some miracle the Democrats recapture Congress, the chances are less than zero that they would attain a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate. Serious labor law reform is a pipe dream for a long time to come - even if we could get full Democratic Party support, which is doubtful.
NUMBER OF UNION WORKERS IN MARYLAND PLUMMET
I-WEI J. CHANG CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE Union membership in Maryland dropped by 82,000 people from 2003 to 2004, a reflection of the continuing "demise of the industrial base" in the state, said labor and business officials. The U.S. Department of Labor said in late January that union membership in Maryland fell from an estimated 354,000 to 272,000, while the share of state workers who were union members fell from 14.3 percent of the work force to 10.9 percent. . .
"Nationwide, sectors in which unions have been stronger are losing jobs for various reasons," said Fred Feinstein, a visiting professor at the university's School of Public Policy. "We've heard about outsourcing and globalization and companies moving overseas to take advantage of lower wages." . . .
One labor observer said the declining union numbers point to "a challenge" for unions to rethink their strategy of the last 70 years. Unions should start organizing internationally, since many U.S. companies and businesses operate overseas, said Bill Barry, director of labor studies at the Community College of Baltimore County. "Building global unions is an essential part of the 21st century," he said.
THE CASE FOR A LABOR DAILY
[As we have pointed out, there have been some 2,000 labor newspapers published in America in the past and Lindorff joins us in urging a revival of the tradition that helped to build the labor movement]
DAVE LINDORFF, COUNTERPUNCH - The union leadership continues to squander untold millions of dollars on publicity campaigns and publicity departments, trying to get its story told in [a] biased and uninterested media.
It's time to take at least some of that money and put it to much better use, by subsidizing the creation of an independent but pro-labor daily newspaper - a publication that would have its own reporters in Washington, D.C., New York, and key labor areas like Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and that would cover all the news in the country and the world from a perspective that takes working people and their viewpoints into account.
I propose that such a paper be published on-line, not on paper. Why? The cost of printing a newspaper, and of getting it delivered to millions of homes across the country, would be prohibitive, and the money would be better spend on having a crack staff of reporters and editors. These days, working families for the most part have computers and online access, so there's really no need for paper. An added advantage is that if the publication obtained a mass list of union members' email addresses, members could receive a brief news summary of the day's headlines each morning as an alert message, with a link to the publication.
Having the seed money for such a daily news journal come from the labor movement would free the publication from the constraints that have sapped the will and integrity of the corporate press. A few million dollars might seem like a lot of money to the unions, but since the many millions more spent on publicity for the most part just go into media office wastebaskets, it's really not a big new expense-just a shifting of funds to a much more productive use.
The key to the success of such a publication would be its independence. It would have to move way beyond the traditional captive labor media, and even be ready and able to write critically about the labor movement when necessary. If there were not this independence, the venture would be doomed from the start.
SEIU TRIES ORGANIZING IN THE SOUTH
STEVEN GREENHOUSE, NY TIMES - The Service Employees International Union, the nation's fastest-growing labor union, is undertaking one of the largest private-sector organizing drives in the South in decades, seeking to represent 7,000 condominium workers, mostly immigrants, in the Miami area: janitors, concierges, parking valets, security guards and building engineers.
Not since 1963, when the textile workers' union began an ultimately successful 17-year battle to organize 4,000 Carolina millworkers with J. P. Stevens, has labor undertaken such a far-reaching effort in the South, a region known for its hostility to unions.
BLACK UNIONISTS QUESTION SEUI-TEAMSTERS PLAN
BLACK COMMENTATOR - The push to 'streamline' and consolidate the structures of the AFL-CIO threatens to diminish the influence of Blacks in the labor movement. 'They want bigger unions,' said Bill Lucy, head of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, referring to leaders of the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters, the Communications Workers of America and others. 'They want power players, big unions in charge. The end result is diminution of community power.'
Blacks make up about 30 percent of organized labor, concentrated in the urban centers, says Lucy, who is also Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). However, the proposed AFL-CIO restructuring would concentrate power and resources in the headquarters of a few large union chiefs, and away from the metropolitan area Central Labor Councils. 'Our fortunes lie at the local level. Most of the national leaders are talking about getting a bigger bang for the buck.' We lose out on this.'
The driving force behind revamping the AFL-CIO is Andrew Stern, president of SEIU, the nation's largest and fastest growing union, with 1.6 million members. Stern has threatened to pull out of the labor federation if it does not essentially replicate the measures he has taken in his own union, where many locals have been forced to merge and the Washington headquarters maintains tight reins on resources and decision making. Stern's plan &SHY; which many in labor consider to be a kind of ultimatum &SHY; would rationalize union activity by grouping members according to trade and, ultimately, eliminate all but 20 of the AFL-CIO's 60 unions, altogether. . . .
Lucy is the first to point out that 'the structure of the AFL-CIO is nonproductive in the areas of political action and community outreach,' but views the Stern- Hoffa alternatives as even more inimical to Black interests.
LABOR'S NEW BOSS, ANDY STERN
MATT BAI, NY TIMES MAGAZINE - The S.E.I.U. is a different kind of union, rooted in the new service economy. Its members aren't truck drivers or assembly-line workers but janitors and nurses and home health care aides, roughly a third of whom are black, Asian or Latino. While the old-line industrial unions have been shrinking every year, Stern's union has been organizing low-wage workers, many of whom have never belonged to a union, at a torrid pace, to the point where the S.E.I.U. is now the largest and fastest-growing trade union in North America. . .
All of this makes Andy Stern -- a charismatic 54-year- old former social-service worker -- a very powerful man in labor, and also in Democratic politics. The job of running a union in America, even the biggest union around, isn't what it once was. The age of automation and globalization, with its ''race to the bottom'' among companies searching for lower wages overseas, has savaged organized labor. Fifty years ago, a third of workers in the United States carried union cards in their wallets; now it's barely one in 10. An estimated 21 million service-industry workers have never belonged to a union, and between most employers' antipathy to unions and federal laws that discourage workers from demanding one, chances are that the vast majority of them never will.
WHAT'S GOING ON IN AMERICAN LABOR?
[A summary of the struggle now going on in the labor movement]
CHRISTOPHER HAYES, IN THESE TIMES - It's a concrete possibility we will wake up one morning and there won't be a single American labor union left. For 30 straight years, American organized labor has been hemorrhaging members, power and influence. [Fifty years ago, 35 percent of workers belonged to unions, today just 12 percent do (and only 9 percent in the public sector).] There are already 22 states in which "right-to-work" rules effectively outlaw collective bargaining; the National Labor Relations Board, entrusted with the sacred duty of protecting the human right to organize, has been turned into just another way station for GOP corporatist hacks; and the American manufacturing sector, once the backbone of the movement, has been eviscerated by globalization.
Faced with the possibility of permanent irrelevance, different factions of the AFL-CIO have recently been engaged in a knock-down, drag-out fight over what is to be done. Despite occasional coverage in the mainstream media, this has drawn just a smattering of attention in liberal publications and the blogosphere. But progressives everywhere need to realize that they have a powerful stake in its outcome: Without the American labor movement there is no American left, and the debate taking place right now could very well determine if the movement survives.
THIS CHART, prepared by David Swanson gives an example of why the federal government isn't the political salvation that many liberals think. Shown in dark green are states with a minimum wage higher than the federal standard and have an inflation index; light green states are higher than the federal law and blue are states considering action. In addtion 123 cities and counties have passed living wage laws. In other areas, including the enviroment, smoking laws, and gay and women's rights state and localities have also led the way. FULL STORY
STEVEN GREENHOUSE, NY TIMES - In interviews and in affidavits supporting employee lawsuits, more than 50 workers from a dozen companies said they were required to do unpaid work despite federal and state laws that prohibit it and despite recent lawsuits against Wal-Mart and other companies that have highlighted the problem. "It is prevalent," said Alfred Robinson, director of the wage and hour division of the Labor Department. "It is one of the more common violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act."
Though there have been no formal studies of the practice or of its overall cost to employees, the workers interviewed said off-the-clock work took place at a variety of companies: A&P, J. P. Morgan Chase, Pep Boys, Ryan's Family Steakhouses, TGF Precision HairCutters and Ms. LeBlue's company, SmartStyle, which is part of the Regis Corporation, the nation's largest chain of hairstylists. SmartStyle and many of the other companies say they bar off-the-clock work, and they are fighting the lawsuits.
SELF EMPLOLYED UNITE - There are over twenty million self-employed Americans. They account for nearly 3/4 of American businesses. The labors of the self-employed are as old as agriculture, and as new as computer programming. Unfortunately, Democratic politicians, like Republican politicians, have little history of supporting legislation that would help the self-employed. In fact, most politicians have so little respect for the self-employed, that they seldom refer to this producer group by name, 'self-employed'. Usually, the self-employed only see their name on tax forms, or hear their name when their accountants give them the bad news concerning the Self-Employment Tax.
Democratic and Republican politicians indirectly refer to them as 'small business', but the term 'small business' is code to the self-employed for being ignored. The Small Business Administration gives the self-employed less than 1/10th of 1% of SBA loans.
No other income group in the nation pays a draconian flat tax anything like the Self-Employment Tax. It exists because the self-employed have virtually no representation in Congress-- despite the fact that they make up about 15% of the work force in the United States, and are the backbone of rural and many local urban economies. 90% of farmers are self-employed: to save the family farm, the self-employed must be saved.
About 30% of the self-employed have no health insurance. This is primarily because the current market approach to the purchase of health insurance reflects a market economy in which the economies of scale reward large buyers. Consequently, health insurance rates for the self-employed are much higher than for any other producer group, and are often unaffordable. If the United States does not adopt a single payer universal healthcare system, the federal government must at least step in to broker health insurance rates that reflect the twenty million self-employed producers in the United States.
Governor Howard Dean has put forward a plan that would allow the self-employed to buy the same health insurance as offered to members of Congress for a flat rate equaling 7.5% of a self-employed family's income.
HERMAN BENSON, NEW POLITICS - What John Sweeney did unto Lane Kirkland in 1995 may now be done unto him. On September 18, this year, Sweeney announced he would run for reelection as AFL-CIO president, along with Rich Trumka, secretary-treasurer, and Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice-president. But his term of office doesn't expire until mid 2005, almost two years to go.
Ordinarily, such a premature declaration would seem strange. Not this time, however, because Sweeney needs to forestall a not-so-subtle drive by five international union leaders to push him out. They had planted stories in Business Week and in the American Prospect about his probable "retirement" in 2005 (news to him!); they were already mulling over the choice of his successor. The pressure on Sweeney continues. When the New York Times reported that he would run for reelection, it added, "Some labor officials questioned whether Mr. Sweeney might reverse himself and . . . not seek another term." [What "officials?"]
The five were banding together, they said, because at a time when labor must grow or die, the AFL-CIO remains passive and impotent. Calling for change, they propose to show the way to organize the unorganized. And so memories of the 1995 AFL-CIO convention in New York! That's when Sweeney, at the head of a coalition of international presidents, proclaiming that labor must grow or die, called for change and proposed to lead the federation in a drive to organize the unorganized. His drive for change succeeded only partially. He was elected AFL-CIO president to head a new leadership; he beat the drums for organizing; he called upon affiliates to put forces in the field; he recruited hundreds of eager students for demonstrative summers of organizing.
But it didn't work. Now, eight years later, back to square one. Despite his exhortation, the response from the established labor leadership was limp. There have been some gains in organizing, but the unionized section of the private, nongovernmental workforce remains at the dangerously low 9 percent.
Now, the five restive international union leaders, publicly expecting Sweeney to bow out, have joined together in a formal organization, partially inside the AFL-CIO and partially outside, complete with a name, New Unity Partnership. Time and tide wait for no one. They intend to reorganize themselves and then demonstrate to the labor movement how to organize the unorganized. The implication of their message: Lane Kirkland and Tom Donahue, the AFL-CIO old guard and all their predecessors, talked of organizing; but did nothing. Sweeney promised to organize, but accomplished next to nothing. But this time, really and now, they will organize.
Together, the five international presidents make up an odd combination: Douglas McCarron, Carpenters union; Bruce Raynor, UNITE; John Wilhelm, Hotel union; Terrence O'Sullivan, Laborers; Andy Stern, Service Employees.
In 1995, the Carpenters and UNITE both voted for the old guard against Sweeney, the reformer. The other three backed Sweeney. When McCarron pulled the Carpenters out of the AFL-CIO, Sweeney announced that Carpenter locals would be barred from AFL-CIO state and city federations. In a serious rebuff, an unusual coupling of the building trades and the New Unity Partnership defeated Sweeney and blocked his move. . .
Unlike Sweeney, the Partnership starts out with a scientific plan scrupulously worked out on paper by research workers, complete with graphs and statistical charts. The NUP program is inspired by a 44-page analysis prepared by Stephen Lerner of the SEIU organizing staff. The key aim of any organizing effort, according to this plan, is for unions to win a decisive market share in industries by increasing "union density" and controlling the "labor supply" and so gain the ability "to take wages out of competition and raise standards."
According to Lerner, here's the problem: "The current structure of the labor movement stands in the way of organizing workers and building increased strength for workers at every level of the labor movement." And so, they would reorganize the labor movement, but really reorganize it: Unions must stop taking the lazy way out; no more picking up whatever is easy to organize; and so no more "general workers unions" that reach out for anyone who will pay dues, from laborers to nuclear scientists. They must concentrate on increasing that "density" in their assigned basic markets. We have to get rid of that clutter of little organizations, those "corner store" unions which are happy with a tiny, selective membership so long as they pay enough dues to sustain the officers' salaries.
The graphs and charts demonstrate that American industry is shaped into 15 great segments: services, government, manufacturing, mining, etc. And so, we have to get rid of that useless proliferation of impotent unions and organize into 12-15 big, powerful unions, each in its defined industrial segment. To get there, we must eliminate the defectives, merge some, swap locals and members, and end with those powerful few, each with its authorized clearly defined sphere of influence. . .
Like many a grand plan emanating out of the minds of great thinkers, the NUP project requires that its leaders be endowed with extraordinary authority. Naturally, they are impatient with questions of union democracy. Not necessarily hostile to the idea as an abstraction, but impatient with anyone who would focus on the subject as a practical need.
THOMAS B. EDSALL WASHINGTON POST - The AFL-CIO has failed to keep up with the changing workplace and must be radically reinvigorated -- or replaced -- if the labor movement is to survive, the president of the nation's largest union said yesterday.
A loose federation of 13 million union workers, the AFL-CIO wields little control over the 65 individual unions that are its members and has not been effective at creating a single, powerful voice for American organized labor, Andrew L. Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, told a national convention of his union in San Francisco.
"Our employers have changed, our industries have changed and the world has certainly changed, but the labor movement's structure and culture have sadly stayed the same." Union activists must "either transform the AFL-CIO or build something stronger that can really change workers' lives," Stern said.
ANOTHER BLOW TO EUROPE'S 35 HOUR WORK WEEK
FINANCIAL TIMES - French workers at a car components factory owned by Bosch on Monday dealt a blow to the country's law limiting the working week to 35 hours, as they unilaterally accepted demands from the private German automotive group to work longer for the same pay. The near-unanimity of the vote at Bosch's Vénissieux plant near Lyon is expected to encourage other companies to seek ways of securing greater flexibility in Europe's rigid labour markets, in the absence of political will for reform. [sic] The vote was the first of its kind in France and could set a precedent for a gradual de facto reversal of the 35-hour week. . .
In Germany, moves to extend working hours could become unstoppable. Siemens had said it would otherwise shift production to Hungary - a threat that Nicolas Sarkozy, French finance minister, described as "a form of extortion that would be unthinkable over here". . . .
REUTERS - Buried inside the official U.S. employment report each month is a little-known figure that gives a much less rosy picture of the labor market than the headlines. The government agency that produces the data also publishes an alternative measure that tries to capture the hidden unemployed, those who are not included in the official unemployment rate for various statistical reasons. That broader measure is dramatically higher, at 9.7 percent in May, compared with the official level of 5.6 percent. That's an extra 5.96 million people, in addition to the 8.2 million "officially" unemployed, who are waiting on the sidelines and may at some point step back into the labor force. . . None of the unemployment measures include the 1.7 percent of the male wage-earning population who are in prison, or another 1.36 million men, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Indeed, the labor force participation rate is at its lowest level since 1988 -- lower even than in the last recession.
NY TIMES - Experts on compensation say that the illegal doctoring of hourly employees' time records is far more prevalent than most Americans believe. The practice, commonly called shaving time, is easily done and hard to detect - a simple matter of computer keystrokes - and has spurred a growing number of lawsuits and settlements against a wide range of businesses.
Workers have sued Family Dollar and Pep Boys, the auto parts and repair chain, accusing managers of deleting hours. A jury found that Taco Bell managers in Oregon had routinely erased workers' time. More than a dozen former Wal-Mart employees said in interviews and depositions that managers had altered time records to shortchange employees. . .
Officials at Toys "R" Us, Family Dollar, Pep Boys, Wal-Mart and Taco Bell say they prohibit manipulation of time records, but many acknowledge that it sometimes happens.
9/11 CO-CHAIR IS UNION BUSTER
TOM ROBBINS, VILLAGE VOICE - New School University--founded by left-leaning intellectuals more than 80 years ago--is taking a page from anti-labor corporations in fighting an ongoing union-organizing battle. Despite a mail-in vote last month in which a majority of part-time faculty members casting ballots voted to be represented by a division of United Auto Workers, university president and former U.S. senator Bob Kerrey is asking that the results be thrown out, saying the vote wasn't sufficiently representative of employees.
Some 65 percent of the school's 1,600 eligible adjunct faculty members voted in the February 27 election, with 530 voting in favor of the UAW and 466 opposed. Such elections are normally binding on employers, but corporate lawyers are increasingly contesting them in a bid to block unionization.
EYAL PRESS, NATION - As the UAW points out, 1,043 of 1,602 eligible faculty voted, a proportion significantly higher (65 percent) than the 48 percent who voted in the 1994 contest that sent Bob Kerrey to the US Senate. . .
Adolph Reed, a political scientist at the New School, notes that despite its unique history, the university's actions should not be viewed in isolation. "President Kerrey's response to this campaign has been more worthy of the CEO of Wal-Mart than the president of a university, but it fits into a broader tapestry--the casualization of the academic labor force, the increasing prominence of corporate values in university governance."
KIM SCIPES LABOR NOTES - The AFL-CIO is once again on the scene, this time in Venezuela, just as it was in Chile in 1973. Once again, its operations in that country are being funded by the U.S. government. This time, the money is being laundered through the quasi-governmental National Endowment for Democracy, hidden from AFL-CIO members and the American public. Once again, it is being used to support the efforts of reactionary labor and business leaders, helping to destabilize a democratically-elected government that has made major efforts to alleviate poverty, carried out significant land reform in both urban and rural areas, and striven to change political institutions that have long worked to marginalize those at the lowest rungs in society. And also like Allende's Chile, Venezuela's government under president Hugo Chavez has opposed a number of actions by the U.S. government.
DANA MILBANK, WAHSINGTON POST - "The unemployment rate of 5.6 percent continues to be below the averages of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s," said Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, using a phrase echoed by the White House press secretary, and by the secretaries of Commerce and the Treasury. But Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called the employment report "pathetic" because 2.3 million jobs were lost on President Bush's watch. He said "long-term unemployment is at its highest level in 20 years."
Who's correct? Actually, they both are.
HARRY KELBER, LABOR EDUCATOR - Hardly any union member knows anything about the AFL-CIO's American Center for International Labor Solidarity, because it operates largely as a clandestine organization. It was established in 1997 to replace the four regional organizations under former AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, whose staffs had worked with CIA agents to destabilize democratically-elected governments in the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Chile and to undermine governments that were either friendly to the then Soviet Union or hostile to American business interests. . .
Solidarity Center gets three-quarters of its budget from government sources, with annual grants from the State Department, the Agency for International Development, the Labor Department and the National Endowment for Democracy. The AFL-CIO also donates a significant amount to the Center. Repeated attempts to get a complete list of donors and the amount of their contributions have been rebuffed. . .
Solidarity Center maintains offices and staffs in at least 26 countries. They include Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Croatia, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. It's not clear how Solidarity Center's operations in these countries have any relevance to the problems of American workers and their unions. But they do have importance for the U.S. State Department and President Bush's foreign policy advisers by providing them with channels to U.S.-financed labor movements in countries around the world.
Solidarity Center was thrust into an embarrassing limelight by an article that appeared in the New York Times on April 25, 2002 under the headline, "U.S. Bankrolling Is Under Scrutiny for Ties to Chavez Ouster." The article by Times writer Christopher Marquis listed numerous grants by the National Endowment for Democracy to various pro-coup groups in Venezuela, prior to the April 11 coup against the democratically-elected president, Hugo Chavez.
Marquis wrote: "Of particular concern is $154,377 given by the endowment to the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the international arm of the AFL-CIO, to assist the main Venezuelan labor union in advancing labor rights."
The article noted: "The Venezuelan union, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers led the work stoppages that galvanized the opposition to Mr. Chavez. The union's leader, Carlos Ortega, worked closely with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessman who briefly took over from Mr. Chavez in challenging the government."
How the Center's $154,333 to the CTV was spent is still unclear. Stan Gacek, assistant director for the AFL-CIO's International Affairs Department, says it was for internal union elections, but CTV's Institute director, Jesus Urbieta, says the money was used for conducting training courses. . . A series of work stoppages by the CTV, followed by prolonged, widespread strikes, paved the way for the "democratic revolution" on April 11, 2002, with Pedro Carmona, a pro-U.S. businessman, selected to run the country. Carmona's first act was to dissolve the National Assembly. . .
The opposition to Chavez hasn't given up and neither has the Endowment, which is still handing out grants totaling more than one million dollars to organizations it feels can be of use in the anti-Chavez movement. Available records show that NED contributed $116,000 to the Solidarity Center every three months, from September 2002 to March 2004. In return, the Center had to submit five quarterly reports, whose contents were obviously designed to please its benefactor.
AFL-CIO GOES AFTER CHINA ON TRADE
ALBERT B. CRENSHAW WASHINGTON POST - The AFL-CIO yesterday petitioned the Bush administration to pressure the Chinese government to increase wages and improve working conditions there, arguing that worker "repression" in China constitutes an unreasonable trade practice that violates U.S. law.
More than 700,000 U.S. workers have lost jobs over 10 years "as a direct result of violations of workers' rights by the Chinese government," AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka said at a news conference yesterday. He said the number, based on 2001 data, is conservative, and that China's "workforce is so large and its labor repression so comprehensive that it is dragging down standards for the entire world economy."
RUTH MILKMAN, TOM PAINE - Once upon a time, strikes were a tool used by labor unions to advance the interests of their members and to extract higher wages and improved benefits. In recent decades, however, with unions on the defensive against increasingly aggressive corporations, strikes have morphed into an employer weapon. The massive four-and-a-half month labor dispute that just ended this week, affecting 70,000 workers from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border, must be understood in this context...
Strikes are the equivalent of war in the labor relations arena, and the employers planned their offensive like a military operation. When the union belatedly decided to strike, only the Safeway-owned stores, Kroger and Albertson's immediately announced they would lock their workers out. All three chains meticulously prepared for the conflict, hiring thousands of replacement workers well in advance of the strike deadline, obtaining commercial drivers' licenses for their managers, and even recruiting truck drivers who could replace any Teamsters who went out on sympathy strikes. They entered into a pact among themselves to share any profits for the duration of the conflict, an arrangement whose legality has since been called into question. Their public relations machines were well oiled for the occasion as well, pouring out endless newspaper ads and other messages to the public to create the impression that their demands were modest and reasonable..
Unfortunately, the UFCW failed to capitalize on the enormous public sympathy the picketers evoked. In retrospect it's clear that they did not realize the enormity of the challenge they were up against until very late in the process. Twenty-five years of labor peace left them poorly prepared for war. Their own members entered the fray with only limited information about the strike issues, and equally important, the union failed to communicate effectively with the wider public until several months had elapsed. The UFCW, as a traditional "business union," was not practiced in the innovative tactics that other unions have developed to effectively confront employers in a hostile political and economic environment. And sadly, the longstanding tradition in the U.S. labor movement of decentralization and local autonomy meant that the more savvy unions that could have unleashed such tactics were not invited to help until it was much too late.
PETER DREIER AND KELLY CANDAELE, ALTERNET - The 60,000 grocery workers who went on strike almost five months ago have reluctantly ratified a contract that most consider a setback in terms of their wages and benefits. In Los Angeles and around the country, the labor movement and its allies hoped the strike would be settled on the union's terms -- without significant givebacks. Instead, employees will now shoulder increased costs for health care benefits and a "two-tier" wage system will bring new hires in at dramatically reduced levels.
United Food and Commercial Workers members and others in the labor community are asking themselves whether this result was inevitable -- the inexorable logic of economic forces over which neither the grocery chains nor the union had control -- or were there strategic missteps that could have been avoided. In other words, had the UFCW done things differently, could they have won the strike?
The answer is important because unions throughout the country will be looking at the strike and drawing lessons from it. The grocery chains are feeling their oats from this contract settlement. . .
In a classic divide and conquer strategy, the stores calculated well in advance that they could take billions of dollars in losses in their Southern California stores but cushion their losses by operating unimpeded throughout the rest of the country. The three chains have a total of 6530 stores nationwide, while workers in only 860 stores in Southern California were on strike. The corporate chains convinced most institutional investors that they could amortize any losses over a period of years if they could beat down their labor costs significantly nationwide by starting in California. The grocery chains knew that the UFCW had a limited strike fund. Employees need to work or risk losing their homes, their health insurance and their kids' college tuition.
There is a reason why the United Auto Workers negotiate a national contract that covers all locals and the three major automobile manufacturers under one agreement. It keeps the employer from playing one small local off against another, utilizing givebacks from one group to pressure the same from another.
The Hotel and Restaurant Employees unions, which also negotiates contracts with major hotel chains on a local basis, is currently designing a national strategy to align their local contracts with other large city contracts throughout the country.
Historically, unions have won major strikes through grass roots solidarity, organizational preparation and the astute cultivation of community and political support. The UFCW's campaign should have been nationwide from the start. Through national action such as boycotts, picketing of stores throughout the country, and the early involvement of the AFL-CIO, the union could have demonstrated early on that they could affect the employers beyond Southern California.
When the United Farm Workers were attempting to organize in the California grape picking industry beginning in the 1960s, their boycott of Gallo wine engaged virtually every community in the nation. Millions of shoppers started making the connection between their consumer choices and the conditions of workers in the California grape fields.
In the recent grocery strike, however, it wasn't until three months into the strike that the national AFL-CIO was brought in to galvanize support, but little was done to mobilize allies in cities across the country. Even in California, the state AFL-CIO initiated a statewide boycott only a few weeks ago.
HARRY KELBER, LABOR EDUCATOR - Independent studies have shown that there are as many as 50 million unorganized workers who say they want to join a union. That number is substantially more than three times the 13 million who are members of the AFL-CIO. That's the richest, highly favorable field for organizing since the 1930s, and we should take advantage of it.
It is probably true that millions of workers are scared to join for fear of losing their jobs. The AFL-CIO has frightened many of them by constantly repeating a litany of ways that employers can use to intimidate and fire them for even talking about a union. They are constantly being told by both employers and labor leaders that joining a union is a risk, not a right.
But there must be millions of workers who would like to join a union but have never been asked. They've figured out that they can get better wages and benefits with a union than without one, but they don't know where to go to join, or what happens next when they do join...
Let's establish AFL-CIO Recruiting Centers in every city and community where unions have a presence. They should be staffed by union members who know how to answer questions from unorganized workers. The centers should have plenty of union literature and samples of union constitutions and contracts. The walls should be lined with posters and photographs of labor's achievements. And the centers should be open to the public.
Most important, each center should build a database of workers who are interested in joining, containing information about their occupation, workplace, where they can be reached and other relevant data. AFL-CIO Recruiting Centers should also be set up on the Internet, performing many of the same functions as those on the ground.
GROCERY WORKERS SHAFTED IN NEW CONTRACT
JOHN O'DELL LA TIMES - Grocery workers, hungry to return to their jobs, overwhelmingly approved a new three-year contract this weekend, ending a nearly five-month strike and lockout that cost the supermarket chains almost $1.5 billion in lost sales and disrupted the shopping patterns of millions of consumers throughout Southern California... "It was take it, or there's the door," said Ralphs cashier Carlos Beltran, 25, who voted "yes" at Local 770's polling place in Hollywood. "They are all thieves, the companies and the unions. They're just sticking it to us." Still, not everyone was unhappy. "I'm glad we're going back to work, and I supported the strike," union member Andrea Gonzales said after hearing the results Sunday night...
The contract will put veteran workers and new hires in separate pay and benefits tiers for the first time. The newly hired will receive substantially less in wages and benefits, slashing stores' labor costs... "What these companies got is cheap labor so they can perform in the stock market," said Danny Mauro, 52, a clerk at Ralphs.
HARRY WESSEL ORLANDO SENTINEL - "Americans work more hours by far than any other workers in the world," said Benjamin Balak, who teaches economic history at Rollins College in Florida. "If you want to be a high-income wage earner, you have to work like a dog. If you want leisure in today's economy, you'll be stuck in a low-income job. It's income or leisure." For many if not most professionals today, Balak said, working in excess of 40 hours a week "is expected. You don't have an option."
Recent government surveys appear to contradict Balak. They show the amount of weekly hours put in by full-time workers has remained virtually unchanged since the mid-1970s - 43 hours then, 42.9 hours now. But there is more to it than meets the eye because the surveys include both salaried and hourly workers. An unpublished U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study, for example, finds that those in administrative, managerial and executive occupations spent an average of 45 hours at work each week in 2002.
THE PRICE OF BEING PRO-UNION
STEWART ACUFF, AFL-CIO ORGANIZING DIRECTOR - In the United States, when private sector workers in America try to form a union through the National Labor Relations Board process, they are subjected to weeks, months or even years of harassment, surveillance, subtle and overt intimidation, and retaliation -- including demotions, suspensions, firings, and sometimes beatings.
When the miners at an American Electric & Power coal mine in southern Ohio tried to form a union last winter, 31 were laid off because of the company's poor financial performance. Six weeks later -- just a week before the workers were to vote in an NLRB election -- the remaining workers received $1,000 plus bonuses a week for "good financial performance." This sort of anti-worker, hypocritical whipsawing is now typical of American corporations, which frequently employ legal "consultants" and attorney attack dogs who go to any length to stop workers trying to organize.
Three years ago, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting the fact that the United States is in violation of international law and internationally accepted human rights standards for failing to protect the rights of American workers to freely form unions. According to the NLRB, an average of 20,000 American workers a year are victimized by their employers for organizing and union activity. Cornell University scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner has documented the abuse. According to her research:
· In 90% of unionization efforts, the employer hires a consultant to frustrate the will of the workers;
· In 70-80% of campaigns, the employer conducts forced meetings to harangue the workers against the union and, more insidiously, holds one-on-one supervision meetings;
· 50% of the time, the employer threatens to close the work site; and
· In over one-quarter of all unionization efforts, activists are fired.
The effects on our society of depriving workers of a fundamental human right are devastating: declining civic and political activity, steadily eroding retirement system, an ever-widening wage and income gap, growing poverty, and a dangerous rightward drift of our cultural and political life.
KIRSTIN DOWNEY WASHINGTON POST - Some companies are interpreting language in new national overtime pay rules as possibly allowing them to exempt workers who have received military training. . . Under federal law, workers who are "learned professionals" are presumed to have control of their own time and are exempt from receiving overtime pay. Historically, that category included workers such as doctors, lawyers, scientists, theologians and others with advanced degrees. In proposing changes in the rules last spring, the Labor Department said in the Federal Register that "the exemption is also available to employees in such professions who have substantially the same knowledge as the degreed employees, but who have attained such knowledge through a combination of work experience, training in the armed forces, attending a technical school, attending a community college or other intellectual instruction."
HOW DOES YOUR STATE'S MINIMUM WAGE
COMPARE WITH THE FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGE?
GREEN STATES HAVE HIGHER RATES, BLUE STATES ARE THE SAME, YELLOW STATES HAVE NO MINIMUM WAGE LAW, AND RED STATES ARE BELOW THE FEDERAL LEVEL
DEPT OF LABOR
HARRY KELBER, LABOR EDUCATOR - Robert Chase, president of the independent National Education Assn., the largest union in the United States with 2.7 million members, was paid almost $223,000 in 2002, while Sandra Feldman, president of the rival American Federation of Teachers, with one-mullion members, received $328,941. . Why does Doug Dority, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, deserve to receive $329,792 a year, the highest salary of any of the AFL-CIO's 64 international union presidents? The UFCW is only the fifth largest in the labor movement. But Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, the largest within the federation, earns only $210,000. . .
Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a long-established reform group, annually publishes its "100,000 Club" of Teamster officials earning six-figure salaries. The list contains 270 names for 2002, a 20% increase over the preceding year, according to the TDU.
The 35,000-member United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers pays its president the same salary as the highest paid worker in the electrical industry. His salary last year was $48,888. The UE philosophy is that the people who work for the union should not be too removed from the daily lives of the people they represent.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union maintains a close relationship between officer salaries and the earnings of its 35,000 members. "That was always a matter of pride, something Harry Bridges institutionalized that he would never earn more than the average longshoreman," says ILWU spokesman Steve Stallone. "He was president of the union for 40 years, and it's only recently that it was raised above that."
NY TIMES - For more than 15 years, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, has locked in overnight employees at some of its Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores. It is a policy that many employees say has created disconcerting situations, such as when a worker in Indiana suffered a heart attack, when hurricanes hit in Florida and when workers' wives have gone into labor. Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's vice president for communications, said the company used lock-ins to protect stores and employees in high-crime areas. She said Wal-Mart locked in workers - the company calls them associates - at 10 percent of its stores, a percentage that has declined as Wal-Mart has opened more 24-hour stores. Ms. Williams said Wal-Mart, with 1.2 million employees in its 3,500 stores nationwide, had recently altered its policy to ensure that every overnight shift at every store has a night manager with a key to let workers out in emergencies.
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, IN NEW YORK TIMES - The government's announcement on Tuesday that the economy grew even faster than expected makes the current "jobless recovery" even more puzzling. To give some perspective, unemployment normally falls significantly in such economic boom times. The last time growth was this good, in 1983, unemployment fell 2.5 percentage points and another full percentage point the next year. That's what happens in a typical recovery. So why not this time? Because we have more to recover from than we've been told. The reality is that we didn't have a mild recession. Jobs-wise, we had a deep one.
The government reported that annual unemployment during this recession peaked at only around 6 percent, compared with more than 7 percent in 1992 and more than 9 percent in 1982. But the unemployment rate has been low only because government programs, especially Social Security disability, have effectively been buying people off the unemployment rolls and reclassifying them as "not in the labor force." In other words, the government has cooked the books. It has been a more subtle manipulation than the one during the Reagan administration, when people serving in the military were reclassified from "not in the labor force" to "employed" in order to reduce the unemployment rate. Nonetheless, the impact has been the same.
Research by the economists David Autor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Mark Duggan at the University of Maryland shows that once Congress began loosening the standards to qualify for disability payments in the late 1980's and early 1990's, people who would normally be counted as unemployed started moving in record numbers into the disability system - a kind of invisible unemployment. Almost all of the increase came from hard-to-verify disabilities like back pain and mental disorders. As the rolls swelled, the meaning of the official unemployment rate changed as millions of people were left out.
By the end of the 1990's boom, this invisible unemployment seemed to have stabilized. With the arrival of this recession, it has exploded. From 1999 to 2003, applications for disability payments rose more than 50 percent and the number of people enrolled has grown by one million. Therefore, if you correctly accounted for all of these people, the peak unemployment rate in this recession would have probably pushed 8 percent.
THE BETRAYAL OF WORK
Fast food jobs constitute less than 5% of all low-end jobs. Low-wage, low-reward jobs are all around us and include: security guards, nurse's aides and home health-care aides, child-care workers and educational assistants, maids and porters, call-center workers, bank tellers, data-entry keyers, cooks, food preparation workers, waiters and waitresses, cashiers and pharmacy assistants, hair dressers and manicurists, parking-lot attendants, hotel receptionists and clerks, ambulance drivers, poultry, fish and meat processors, sewing-machine operators, laundry and dry-cleaning operators, and agricultural workers.
As important as these jobs are, most of us do not even notice them. When we do so, it is almost always in a negative light. In the public view, low-wage jobs tend to be lumped together and referred to as "hamburger flipper," insinuating both a lack of real skill and social value. Policy analysts and public officials refer to "low-wage, low-skilled" jobs as if the two terms were inseparable. This mistakenly assumes that if a job pays poorly, it must be because it does not call for many skills. In fact, these jobs require knowledge, patience, care and communication.
America's low-wage workers are mostly (nearly two-thirds) white, female, high school educated and have family responsibilities. Teenagers comprise only 7% of the low-wage workforce. Minorities and women are disproportionately found in low-wage jobs and occupy the lower rungs of the ladder within this workforce.
Mobility will not bring significant advancement to most low-wage workers. Even after a 25 year period, half of those in the lowest 20 percent of wage earners had not moved above that group and of those that moved half had only moved to the next highest wage group, still below the median wage.
In the next ten years, the low end of the job market will account for more than 30% of the American workforce. Employers will hire nearly twice as many food-service workers as software engineers, hire as many cashiers as they do computer-support specialists an hire more than twice the number of customer-service representatives as they do computer systems analysts. The reskilling approach will do little to improve the lives of most workers in these low-wage jobs, jobs that will continue to grow as a proportion of our economy. What these workers need is to be adequately rewarded for the skills they already possess.
As profound as the impact of global trade has been on our economy, it does not preclude improving the wages and working conditions for lower-wage workers. Only a small portion of low-wage jobs are actually in industries such as manufacturing that compete globally. Most lower-wage jobs are and will continue to be in the non-tradable service and retail sectors. Checking out groceries, waiting on tables, servicing office equipment, caring for children, tending the sick and cleaning up for the rest of us must take place in a specific location where the child, patient or customer is present.
Workers in similar jobs in other industrialized countries have fared far better than American workers. Low-income Americans have living standards that are 13% below that of low-income Germans, 17% below low-income Belgians and 24% below the average income of the bottom 20% of Swedes. This is despite the fact that the median American enjoys a standard of living far above the median German, Belgian or Swede. ORDER
KIMBERLY BLANTON, BOSTON GLOBE - More than two-thirds of US employers in a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management have paid-time-off banks, nearly double the number in 1999. During the recent economic downturn, employers seized on the plans to crack down on unscheduled absences by employees who call in "sick" to cover for a day off to shop or care for a child. . .
Companies promote the policy as rewarding employees who never call in sick by giving them more days to use at their discretion. Employers say they design these programs to provide workers with more flexibility to deal with family logistics because they combine vacation, sick, and personal days into one pool, unlike traditional plans that allot a set number of days for each purpose. Community Services Council includes holidays in its time-off bank, but most employers do not. . .
From Divided We Fall:
The Story of the Paperworkers' Union
and the Future of Labor
By Peter Kellman
Today people in the labor movement don't talk about labor and capital. We talk about labor and management or industrial labor relations. Management represents capital in the workplace and society. Labor has forfeited to capital any claims over the direction of society and it has conceded to management all issues except those of wages, hours, and working conditions. And now that the unionized industrial workforce is down to nearly nine percent of all industrial workers, management prerogatives also dominate the arena of wages, hours, and working conditions.
The big questions being debated at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries were: in whose interest would the society be run -- capital or labor? Who would set the parameters of the political debate? Who would define education? Would the culture be consumer oriented or cooperative?
Although the polarization between capital and labor largely ended in the early 1920s, a public discussion that questioned the role of capital continued into the late 1940s. Then the Cold War's withering hand, McCarthyism, clamped a suffocating lid on any serious questioning of the role of capital being the dominant force in the United States. To argue otherwise was declared unpatriotic by the people in power. Many who continued to raise questions lost their jobs and some were put in jail. Unions that refused to buckle under were run out of the AFL and the CIO. "In 1949 the CIO purged unions representing 900,000 workers for refusing to purge themselves of Communist leaders and support government policies such as the Marshall Plan."
The New Deal and the CIO greatly improved the lives of many people for many years. But what happened to the CIO? What happened to the New Deal? Neither Franklin D. Roosevelt nor John L. Lewis wanted a revolution. Roosevelt wanted to create a full-production economy that he hoped would eliminate poverty and at the same time keep most of the profits going into the bank accounts of the people he grew up with, the already rich. Lewis wanted the laboring people he grew up with to get a bigger piece of the pie, but he didn't question in any fundamental way the role of the rich in running the society.
Labor, by Lewis's standard, produces and consumes but does not contest the role of the corporate elite in deciding what is produced or consumed, what and how fast resources are extracted, what our children are taught, who our heroines and heroes are, and, most importantly, in whose interest the society is run -- capital or labor? Lewis's militant -- but still pro-capitalist -- view of the world is commonly held by many labor people.
In studying most accounts of labor history, we are led to believe that the Knights of Labor and the I.W.W. were marginal, quirky movements -- not part of the modern labor movement, which supposedly began with the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the CIO in 1937. Underlying this view of labor history is the assumption that the Knights and the I.W.W. were naïve and immature because they dared to challenge the hegemony of the corporate state, while the AFL and the CIO were mature because they accepted the role of the corporate elite in directing our society and determining the future of our culture. The leaders of the AFL and the CIO saw the role of the state as limited to decreasing the severity of corporate harm and providing a safety net for the working class.
The membership of the Knights and the I.W.W. saw material goods as necessities -- not as the purpose of existence. They rejected the notion that most human activity should be geared toward creating consumer goods. They rejected a society where those who invest money should earn a profit and those who risk and invest life and limb should only receive a wage. The Knights and I.W.W. fought for "eight hours for work, eight for rest and eight for what we will," while Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Chisholm had people working 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week. The radical unions rejected the notion that corporate managers should define for the common people the very essence of life. But because the CIO accepted corporate hegemony, modern corporate/labor history tries to make us believe that the modern labor movement began with the CIO.
Just as the CIO never fundamentally questioned the liberal vision of Franklin Roosevelt, neither did the AFL-CIO of the 1980s ever raise any fundamental objections to the conservative vision of Ronald Reagan. Both eras provided excellent opportunities for organized labor to challenge the direction of the society advocated by those in power. But in neither case did labor throw down the gauntlet.
Meanwhile, the corporate managers were allowed to continue to consolidate more and more wealth and power and the unions were not. The period in which workers got more money, better benefits, and better working conditions ended in 1973 when real wages peaked in this country. Meanwhile, the corporations had Taft-Hartley and the "prudent man" rule passed by Congress to prevent the unions from using the deferred wages of workers -- pension and benefit funds -- to buy the industries in which they work. Thus, the most important institution of the working class, the union, is legally prevented from consolidating economic wealth and power in the same way as labor's chief adversary, the corporate elite, does.
Most of today's union leaders have trouble dealing with the idea that unions can only survive if they challenge the existence of a corporation. The way they see it, it's the corporation that feeds the membership, not vice versa.
In the 1970s, Ray Rogers developed a union strategy called the "Corporate Campaign" and successfully used his tactics against the J.P. Stevens textile corporation. This strategy sets the union on a path that will lead to the destruction of a corporation if it doesn't come to terms with the union's demands. But this approach goes against the grain for most union leaders because the unions' bottom line in our society, as defined by the National Labor Relations Act, is to deliver industrial peace for the corporation, not to threaten or contest the existence of those corporations. As a UPIU international vice president once said to me, in spite of the fact that the International Paper Company had just locked out 1,200 workers for a year and permanently replaced another 2,000, "We can't destroy this company; we have contracts with it at other locations." In the late 1970s, organized labor proceeded to isolate Rogers and neutralize his militant tactics.
Another problem union leaders have with the Corporate Campaign is its emphasis on the mass mobilization of the membership. Union leaders who are trained to sit down with management to negotiate contracts are, for the most part, very ill at ease with an active membership. In fact, many find an active membership threatening. There are several reasons for this relationship between the leadership and the membership, but the most important is the way most unions are structured.
In most unions and union organizations like the AFL-CIO, the campaigns run by those seeking national office are conducted not amongst the membership at large but among those local leaders who cast large numbers of votes based on the size of their locals. The result is that only a handful of people decide who speaks for labor in this country. And that handful is generally pretty far removed from the everyday life and pressures of actual rank-and-file union members.
Consequently, people seeking leadership in these union organizations go to the meetings of, interact with, and learn the skills necessary to win elections among the union's elite, and therefore usually have no reason to learn the skills of mass public debate and organizing to keep their jobs. This contributes to the scarcity of high union officials who are able to speak effectively at public meetings, motivate and active their own membership, or deal appropriately with the media. These leaders are spawned in an institution where they play an insider's game. This is what the institution of organized labor trains its leaders to be: inside players and inside politicians, not mass organizers or mass leaders.
Organized labor presently operates with a vision that assumes a society where corporate managers make the decisions in the plant about what is to be made and how it is to be made. And on the outside it accepts a system in which corporate-financed think tanks, media, foundations, trade organizations (their unions), and political contributions are used to control the political process and determine how the overall society will function, not just the one in the workplace. So organized labor's activity is aimed at dealing with the problems of adding members and getting better wages and benefits for them, which is based on the belief that we live in a democracy governed by the rule of law and labor obeys the law. The theory is if you don't like the laws, organize and change them through the electoral process.
This has been the operating theory of the AFL since its 1947 convention. Despite the AFL's position that Taft-Hartley was unconstitutional, George Meany's claim that it was "the law of the land" and must be obeyed eclipsed the previous theory that labor is bound to disobey unconstitutional laws. The new theory has tied labor's body and soul to the mast of a sinking ship because it is based on a lie. Workers don't have rights. Meany was content to live off a large membership that would soon begin a half-century decline that labor has yet to reverse.
If we want to live in a democracy, we must make a radical departure from the vision of the CIO and the AFL. You can't have a democracy when one group accumulates profits and the other works for wages, because the one that gets the profits will use that money to become more and more powerful, and that power will be exercised and accumulated in both the political and the economic realm. That is why union membership in this country peaked in the 1950s and real wages for 80 percent of the population have been declining since the early 1970s, along with the quality of family life and the environment. That is why our governments are being privatized and our public schools and public radio are now covered with corporate advertising. As the rich get more powerful they use that power to take more from the rest of society -- to invade more of our space, to exploit more of our labor. With the corporatization of our hospitals, prisons, and welfare programs, the rich are even profiting from our misery.
The good news is that labor is very effective in its day-to-day tactics. Unions do organize workers. Unions do represent workers. Unions do motivate members to vote in political elections. But these tactics are based on a false vision of America, followed by a strategy that has failed to halt labor's decline.
[Divided We Fall: The Story of the Paperworkers' Union and the Future of Labor, by Peter Kellman, is now available from Apex Press. Price: $29.95 plus $4.00 shipping. Send check to: Apex Press, P.O. Box 337, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520]
JEAN SHAOUL, WORLD SOCIALIST - How is it that state pensions, the first piece of social insurance to be introduced more than 100 years ago in Western Europe and still the most significant aspect of the welfare state, are supposedly no longer affordable at the beginning of the twenty-first century?. . .
It is indisputable that life expectancy has increased and there are more pensioners living longer in the advanced capitalist countries. But this has not been a problem since it has been offset by a declining birth rate, leaving the dependency ratio-the number of dependants (those under 16 or over 59 years of age) per adult worker-largely static if not declining.
Data from the United Nations' World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision shows that the dependency ratio actually declined between 1950 and 1998. In the developed world the dependency ratio declined from 64 to 61, while it rose from 88 to 90 in the least developed countries. Thus in those countries where state pensions actually exist the age structure of the population is not the source of the problem. . .
Like all welfare provision, pensions represent in the final analysis a deduction from the surplus value extracted from the working class and realized for the capitalist corporations and their owners in the form of profit. Any increase in the retirement age or reduction in pension benefit - be it in the form of corporation tax or employers' contributions to a state and/or occupational pension plan - represents an attempt by the capitalist class to increase their profit or the rate of return on capital employed.
WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL - Fewer Americans are happy with their jobs and more are willing to go elsewhere than was the case two years ago, according to a report by Reston-based jobs site Career Builders. The survey of about 2,400 full and part-time workers reports that nearly one in four are dissatisfied with their current job, up 20 percent from two years ago. Six in 10 say they plan to leave their jobs for other pursuits within the next two years. . . The survey also found 53 percent of men are unhappy with their pay, up from 43 percent two years ago, and 48 percent of workers think their workloads are too heavy, a slightly higher response than 2001.
POVERTY: THESE JOBS SUCK
CITY LIMITS - Having full-time work is no guarantee you'll avoid economic hardship in New York. Nearly a quarter of people with full-time jobs that don't pay enough to bring them above the poverty line fell behind on rent in the last year, 21 percent put off dealing with medical problems and 27 percent couldn't get the meds a doctor prescribed, according to the Community Service Society's second annual survey of New Yorkers living on less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. CSS's poll of 753 city residents also found that 44 percent of respondents working full-time got not health insurance, 63 percent didn't get a single day of paid sick leave, and 64 percent did not get paid vacation.
TOM PAINE - A number of factors must be considered in order to understand the severity of the current labor slump:
The record length of time that jobs have failed to recover: Prior to the current slump, jobs had never fallen over a two and a half year period since monthly job numbers began in 1939. As of October 2003, payroll jobs had fallen by 2.4 million below the level of March 2001.
The growth in the working age population since the recession began in March 2001: Even as jobs were shrinking by 1.8 percent, the working age population (i.e., the number of people of working age) was growing by 3.4 percent. Had job growth kept up with working age population growth over that period, 6.9 million more payroll jobs would have been filled in October 2003.
The effect of the "missing" labor market on the unemployment rate: The unusually prolonged loss of jobs has caused an unprecedented number of people to refrain from actively looking for work, and therefore to be excluded from the unemployment measurement. Had the labor force grown more in line with the population - as it has in past labor slumps -another 2.3 million people would have been in the labor force in October 2003.
The loss of wage and salary income: Although real hourly wages have grown since the start of the recession, those gains have been more than offset by declines in the number of jobs and the amount of hours paid per job. The U.S. labor market has remained mired in a slump since the recession began in March 2001.
This slump saw the longest duration of job loss - 28 months.
This slump is the first time in which there was not a full recovery of jobs 31 months after the recession began.
NY TIMES - A year shaved off an estimate here, a decimal point's difference there can significantly reduce a company's pension obligations on paper.
NANCY CLEELAND AND MARLA DICKERSON, LA TIMES - When Southland supermarket workers went on strike Saturday, their main beef was an employer proposal to cut back their health plan. Mechanics with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are upset over the same thing. And health benefits are key to the contract fight that has prompted a sickout by Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies. Around Southern California and across the country, attempts by employers to curtail medical benefits have become the top issue in labor contract talks, setting off a wave of strikes and other job actions that are likely to escalate as health insurance costs continue to balloon. "It's at the core of every major contract struggle," said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University. "And it's going to be an issue until we see some national solutions." In fact, at least half the strikes in California this year have been staged over health benefits, according to Ken Jacobs, a researcher at the UC Berkeley Labor Center. He counted 11 such work stoppages in a four- month period this year in Northern California.
HARRY KELBER, LABOR EDUCATOR - After years of trying, the one million-member United Food and Commercial Workers, an AFL-CIO affiliate, has been unable to unionize a single one of Wal-Mart's 4,750 supermarkets, despite a heavy investment of money and resources in its organizing campaign.
The best that the union's large staff of organizers has been able to achieve is its only "historic" breakthrough back in Feb. 17, 2000, when the meat cutters in the delicatessen department of a Wal-Mart supermarket in Jacksonville, Tex. voted 7 to 3 in favor of the UFCW in a National Labor Relations Board election. The union was unable to capitalize on this toehold victory to organize the entire store.
The UFCW can't blame its organizing failures on the grounds that the nearly one million people who work for Wal-Mart (the world's largest employer) are so happy with their pay, benefits and working conditions that they don't need a union. The average pay for Wal-Mart employees (they're called "associates") is $8.23 an hour or $13,861 a year. That's well below the federal poverty line of $14,630 a year for a family of three.
Wal-Mart's health-insurance plan is considerably below par, compared with those in the retail industry. It requires a six-month waiting period for new hourly employees. Its deductibles are as high as $1,000, triple the norm. It raised premiums 50% during the past two years. It does not cover retirees.
. . . Two years ago, the giant retailer had to shell out $50 million to 69,000 workers in its Colorado stores, whose class-action suit cited overwhelming evidence of an enormous amount of off-the clockwork by employees. Wal-Mart also paid $485,000 to 10 former Hispanic employees in a discrimination suit. Family members of deceased Wal-Mart employees are suing the company because it took out about 350,000 insurance policies on the lives of its workers, made payable to the company.
. . . The UFCW might have won the trust of Wal-Mart employees if it had led them in their law suits, but apparently it didn't get directly involved. Even though unionized store employees average about 30% or more in wages and benefits than those at Wal-Mart, UFCW organizers haven't been able to persuade a majority of workers at even one store to join the union.
The abysmal failure at Wal-Mart highlights the fact that AFL-CIO unions in the private sector won't try to unionize scores of corporations with a work force of 30,000 or more. . . If AFL-CIO unions can't organize the big companies, how are they to grow?
DAVID LEONHARDT, NY TIMES - A lack of hiring, rather than a wave of layoffs, appears to be the main problem afflicting the American economy. Even as unemployment continued to mount last year, the number of jobs being eliminated fell below the level in the late 1990's, according to a new government report. But the number of jobs that businesses created in 2002 dropped to its lowest level since 1995. Compared with the size of the economy, the rate of hiring was even slower than during the weak recovery of the early 1990's.
The results come from a survey that the Bureau of Labor Statistics published for the first time yesterday, offering a fuller picture of the nation's long jobs slump. The government previously reported only the net change in employment, which does not explain whether a weak job market like the current one stems mainly from layoffs or from companies' unwillingness to hire.
The new numbers portray an economy stuck in neutral, with workers no longer losing their jobs at the rapid pace of 2001 but with relatively few new job opportunities popping up. In the last three months of 2002, 7.8 million jobs were eliminated, while 7.7 million were created, according to company records studied by the bureau.
WAL-MART'S HEALTH BENEFITS 40% BELOW U.S. AVERAGE
BERNARD WYSOCKI JR. AND ANN ZIMMERMAN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Wal-Mart makes new hourly workers wait six months to sign up for its benefits plan and doesn't cover retirees at all. Its deductibles range as high as $1,000, triple the norm. It refuses to pay for flu shots, eye exams, child vaccinations, chiropractic services and numerous other treatments allowed by many other companies. In many cases, it won't pay for treatment of pre-existing conditions in the first year of coverage.
The payoff: Last year, average spending on health benefits for each of the company's roughly 500,000 covered employees was $3,500, almost 40% less than the average for all U.S. corporations and 30% less than the rest of the wholesale/retail industry, according to estimates by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.
As the nation's biggest private employer, with a U.S. payroll of 1.16 million, Wal-Mart could carry enormous influence with this approach at a time when all companies are struggling to contain the soaring cost of health care. In 2003, some 13% of U.S. employers trimmed health benefits, while seven percent increased them, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research group in Menlo Park, California
RON SCHERER, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR - While seniors were also hired in large numbers during the booming late 1990s because of labor shortages, the trend has continued during faltering economic times, as cautious employers turn to those they see as reliable as well as inexpensive. Employment experts believe the surge in senior workers is likely to have a spillover effect on the labor force as a whole, since they are competing with younger workers for available positions. . . In fact, over the past year, individuals 55 and over are the only age group that has been able to find work. For many seniors, the stimulus to go back to work is a sharp drop in income - in large part because of the steep decline in interest rates. According to the Bureau of Economic Statistics, interest income has fallen about $26 billion in the past two years.
JOE ROBINSON, ALTERNET - In this country, vacations are not only microscopic; they're also shrinking faster than revenues on a corporate restatement. A survey by Internet travel company Expedia has found that Americans will be taking 10 percent less vacation time this year -- too much work to get away, said respondents. This continues a trend that has seen the standard U.S. vacation, as measured by the travel industry, buzzsawed down to a long weekend.
Some 13 percent of companies now provide no paid leave, up from 5 percent five years ago, according to the Alexandria-based Society for Human Resource Management. In Washington state, a whopping 17 percent of workers get no paid leave. Vacations are going the way of real bakeries and drive-in theaters, fast becoming a quaint remnant of those pre-downsized days when we didn't have to keep the CEO in art collections and mansions. The result is unrelieved stress, burnout, absenteeism, rising medical costs, diminished productivity, and the extinguishing of time for life and family. . .
Vacations are being downsized by the same forces that brought us soaring work weeks: labor cutbacks, a sense of false urgency created by tech tools, fear and guilt. Managers use the climate of job insecurity to stall, cancel and abbreviate paid leave, while piling on guilt. The message, overt or implied, is that it would be a burden on the company to take all your vacation days -- or any. Employees get the hint: One out of five employees say they feel guilty taking their vacation, reports Expedia's survey. A new poll of 700 companies by Com Psych Corp., a Chicago-based employee assistance provider, found that 56 percent of workers would be postponing vacations until business improved.
The whole neurotic vacation system is based on guilt, on the notion that you are never worthy enough to take time off. The guilt works, because we are programmed to believe that only productivity and tasks have value in life, that free time is worthless, though it produces such trifles as family, friends, passions -- and actual living.
HARRY KELBER, LABOR EDUCATOR - The AFL-CIO Executive Council, at its meeting in Chicago on Aug. 5-6, decided to continue its virtually unbroken silence about events in Afghanistan, the Middle East and the war in Iraq. At a press conference, AFL-CIO's political director Karen Ackerman stated that organized labor would have the "biggest ever" campaign to defeat President George Bush in the 2004 elections. But in response to reporters' questions, she said that the AFL- CIO campaign would focus exclusively on domestic issues. . .
Some national union leaders have privately told us the rationale for the AFL-CIO's anomalous political position. The issues of war and peace are too divisive, they say, at a time when labor needs to be united. Many union members feel it is their patriotic duty to support our government in the war in Iraq and the young men and women who are fighting and dying there.
Other union members believe that it was a mistake for President Bush to launch a pre-emptive war in Iraq with only Great Britain as our ally, and that our troops should be brought home, now that Saddam Hussein's hateful regime has been overthrown. But by its silence, the AFL-CIO is not being neutral. It is, in effect, giving President Bush a blank check to conduct the war in Iraq and wherever else he deems necessary, for as long as he decides and whatever the cost. . .
LABOR EDUCATOR: An estimated 10,000 workers are fired each year simply for wanting to join a union.
In one-third of the cases where workers vote for a union, employers never agree to a first contract.
Employers spend $300 million a year on consultants trained to stop workers from forming unions.
At least 50% of businesses threaten to shut down if employees decide to form a union.
91% of employers force employees to attend ³captive audience² meetings designed to indoctrinate them against unions.
75% of employers use supervisors to hold one-on-one meetings with workers to discourage any pro-union sentiment.
ELLEN GOODMAN, BOSTON GLOBE - Americans have always been a touch suspicious of leisure. Our Puritan patriarchs not only famously regarded idle hands as the devil's workshop, they believed the grindstone cleared the path to salvation. We've long been wary of both the idle rich and the idle poor as threats to our democracy.
In the early 20th century a few hard-working researchers declared that a little time off was a good thing. Not surprisingly, they decided that "brain workers" needed a rest from days spent laboring in the minds, while physical workers could do without it. The idea of vacations finally caught on in the middle and working classes, but it was never codified into the law.
WORK TO LIVE - The average middle income family now works four months more in total hours than they did in 1979 (economists Barry Bluestone, Stephen Rose)
Some 80% of men and 62% of women work more than 40 hours a week, according to the International Labor Organization
Almost 40% of Americans now work more than 50 hours a week, reports U.S. News and World Report and a survey by the National Sleep Foundation
Americans work up to 12 weeks more in total hours per year than the Europeans
Half of all U.S. travel is in two or three-day microscopic bits (Travel Industry of America)
Twenty-six percent of Americans take no vacation at all (Boston College survey)