Archive for the ‘Labor’ Category

The work scene: November 3, 2014

November 3, 2014

Get more done by working shorter hours: Shorter days are more productive by Jeff Sutherland for Slate.

When Jon Katzenbach started out as a consultant at McKinsey & Co., it was customary for everybody to work seven days a week, but, for religious reasons, Katzenbach worked only six days a week.  He noticed he got more done than his peers, and so he cut back to five days a week, and got even more done.  He never quite had the nerve to cut back to three or four days a week.

The reason is why fewer hours equaled better productivity was that he made better decisions when he was alert and rested.  When he was tired, he made mistakes, and fixing the mistakes took up so much time that his productivity declined.  Also, the mistakes you make when you’re tired can be dangerous.

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Self-imposed corporate regulations control workers but choke productivity by William Mitchell for Billy Blog.

An Australian study indicates that the chief source of red tape in corporations is the corporations themselves.  Senior executives spend nearly nine hours a week filling out reports and otherwise demonstrating compliance, while lower-level staff spend more than six hours.

If compliance work were a separate industry, it would employ more Australians than construction, manufacturing, education or government, and three times as many as mining.

When I reported on Eastman Kodak Co. during the 1980s, I’d ask Kodak executives how they spent their days.  Typically they said they spent most of the regular work day attending meetings, and would come in early and stay late to get their real jobs done.

The purpose of all this, as Mitchell noted, is not efficiency and productivity, but to maintain control from the top—a milder version of the old Soviet system.

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We’re not Denmark.  But we can learn something from that nation about how they pay their workers by Jared Bernstein for The Washington Post.

The base pay for a fast-food worker in Denmark is $20 an hour, and the pay package includes five weeks’ vacation, paid maternity and paternity leave, and a pension plan.  Bernstein said the average fast-food pay in the U.S. is $8.90 an hour, the base pay is closer to $8 and there are few benefits.

A hamburger costs more in Denmark, but a hamburger is still affordable.  Profits of fast-food companies are less, but sufficient to keep Burger King and McDonald’s in business.

The difference between Denmark and the USA is that there is a standard set for all fast-food restaurants, so that no restaurant is at a competitive disadvantage as a result of treating its workers decently.   In Denmark, the standard is set by a powerful labor union.  In the USA, it could be set by a higher minimum wage.

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My takeaway:  There’s nothing inherent in the nature of things, but only in certain ways of thinking about things, that prevents American companies from having well-paid workers, with reasonable hours, who are accountable for results and not for following rules.

The passing scene: November 1, 2014

November 1, 2014

Common Core and the End of History by Alan Singer for Huffington Post.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Is the purpose of public education to educate citizens or to train employees?   Alan Singer described how the New York State Board of Regents voted to allow high school students to skip final examinations in either American history or global history and substitute an exam or proficiency test in some unspecified vocational-technical subject.  He quoted a teacher on how a school dropped social studies so students would have more time to cram for Common Core standardized math and reading assessments.

Living wages, rarity in U.S. fast-food workers, served up in Denmark by Liz Alderman and Steven Greenhouse for the New York Times.

A Burger King employee in Denmark is paid the equivalent of $20 an hour, about two and a half times his U.S. counterpart.  He gets his work schedule four weeks in advance, and cannot be sent home without pay just because it is a slow business day.  And he enjoys the benefit of Denmark’s universal health care plan.  What’s the secret?  A powerful labor union, which negotiates wages and working conditions on an industry-wide basis.  And employers who are satisfied with a smaller profit as the price of not having extreme poverty.

Americans are working so hard it’s actually killing people by Esther Kaplan for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Under-staffing is dangerous, but it is on the rise as a means of cutting costs and increasing short-term profit.  Workers such as nurses, who are tasked with preserving life, are stretched too thin to be able to do their jobs well.  Workers in dangerous occupations, such as coal mining, neglect safety precautions in order to get the job done on time.  This is a major factor in industrial accidents.  And workers who are pushed to their physical limits are worn down over the years.

Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked by what she learns by Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post.

An experienced high school teacher spent two days shadowing high school students, one a 10th grader and one a 12th grader, and did everything the students did.  She learned how exhausting it is to spend most of the day sitting still and passively listening, and took away lessons she will use in her teaching.  I think the shadowing exercise should be required in college courses in education.

As infrastructure crumbles, trillions of gallons of water lost by David Schaper of National Public Radio.

Trillions in global cash await call to fix crumbling U.S. by Mark Niquette for Bloomberg News.

Get ready for deja vu in the credit markets by Ben Eisen for Market Watch.

With interest rates being held down by the Federal Reserve System, this would be a great time to issue bonds to perform needed repairs and reconstruction of water and sewerage systems, roads and bridges and other public works.  But now the Fed has decided to end its “qualitative easing,” which held down interest rates, so that window of opportunity is going away.

The Caliph fit to join OPEC by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Pepe Escobar speculated on whose interests are served by the fact that ISIS is allowed to sell oil on world markets.

The War Nerd: Crunching Numbers of Kobane by Gary Brecher for Pando Daily.

Gary Brecher discussed the public relations war against ISIS and the appeal of terrorism and war to sexually-frustrated young men.

Public employment fails to keep up

October 14, 2014

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My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me links to articles with the charts shown above, both from the Economic Policy Institute, whcih the seriousness of the current attack on the public sector and the decline of public employment.

Public employment, unlike in previous economic recoveries, is still depressed, especially at the state and local level.  In and of itself, this creates a drag on the whole economy, just like job losses in any other category.

And after a certain point there aren’t enough public employees left to do their jobs adequately.   Teachers with too-large classes teach less effectively.  Firefighters with too-long shifts and too-small crews fight less effectively.  Nurses with too many patients may not be able to keep track of them as they should.  Public roads and public utilities aren’t maintained.

While there can be featherbedding in public employment, this is not the situation now.  Public services in many places are in dire straits.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 9/30/14

September 30, 2014

Bernie Sanders: Longterm Democratic strategy is “pathetic”, an interview by Thomas Frank for Salon.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said the Democratic Party is too beholden to big-money donors to do anything meaningful for working people.  Instead Democrats pin their hopes on social issues, demographic changes and fear of Republican extremism.

Sanders told Thomas Frank that nothing is going to change until there is a political awakening in this country as to the power of big money and the need to overthrow it.

Obama’s Long Battle to Cut Social Security Benefits by Eric Zuesse for Washington’s Blog.

President Obama throughout his term of office has tirelessly campaigned for a budget-balancing bargain in which Social Security and Medicare would be cut.  This is not something Republicans have forced upon him.  It goes well beyond anything they have asked for.

None of this is a secret.  It is all on the public record.  Yet few of Obama’s supporters seem to notice.

Did Indiana Autoworkers Strike a Blow Against Two-Tier Contracts? by David Moberg for In These Times (via Bill Harvey)

Two-tier union contracts, in which newly-hired workers start at a lower pay rate than the incumbents, demonstrate the weakness and lack of solidarity of labor unions and their pessimism about the future.

The United Auto Workers signed a contract with a Lear Corp. auto parts plant in Hammond, Indiana, that supposedly restores the principle of equal pay for equal work.  But the price of the contract is wage reductions for sub-assembly workers.  So did the workers gain or lose?

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey, who sent me the link, pointed out that the two-tier benefits structure remains in place.

After Surgery, $117,000 Medical Bill from Doctor He Didn’t Know by Elisabeth Rosenthal for the New York Times.

Hospitals and physicians jack up medical bills by bringing in “out of network” consultants without asking the patient’s permission.  Not every ethical!

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David Malone, a British blogger who posts as Golem XIV, has written a new installment in his series about the strategy of the global over-class.   Here are links to the complete series so far.

The Next Crisis – Part One

The Next Crisis – Part Two – A manifesto for the supremacy of the 1%

The Next Crisis – Part Three – The World Turned Upside Down

These articles a bit long to read on a screen, but they contain good information and insight.

Overworked and underworked in the USA

September 3, 2014

A Gallup poll shows that half of all American full-time workers put in more than 40 hours a week, which once was considered the standard work week.

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The average work week for full-time workers is 47 hours, according to Gallup.

The average work week is much longer for salaried workers than for workers whose pay is based on hours worked.

According to Gallup, one out of every two salaried workers puts in more than 50 hours a week and one in four more than 60 hours.

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So much for the superior middle class status of working on a salary!

On the other hand, roughly four out of 10 American workers are employed only part-time, and their average work week is declining.

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Gallup reported that 12 percent of Americans hold two jobs, and 1 percent hold three or more, but they don’t change the overall poll results.

Working overtime is not necessarily bad, if you love your work or if overtime pay is more important to you than leisure.  Similarly, many people—full-time students, or parents of small children—have a need for part-time work.

But my guess is that the vast majority of people who are working 47 or more hours a week, and those who are working 25 hours or less, would prefer the standard 40-hour week.

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The history and meaning of Labor Day

September 1, 2014

Labor Day, like Martin Luther King Day, arose out of a struggle for human rights—the right of workers to bargain collectively for better wages, hours and working conditions.

Thanks to the struggle of labor unions, we Americans (some of us) have an eight-hour day and 40-hour week, weekends off, paid vacations, workers compensation for injury on the job and contracts defining the obligations of employers and employees.   And if fewer and fewer of us enjoy these rights, it is because of the eroding power of organized labor.

Here are links to articles on the history of  Labor Day and North American labor struggles.

Labor Day History: 11 Facts You Need to Know by Nate Hindman and Craig Kanally for Huffington Post.

When Labor Day Meant Something by Chad Broughton for The Atlantic Monthly.

The Forgotten Meaning of Labor Day by Jack Marshall on his Ethics Alarms web log.

The First Labour Day in Canada on the Canada’s History web site.

Debunking the Myth: The True History of Labor Day by Eugene E. Ruyle for Popular Resistance.  Why the U.S. labor holiday is not on May Day.

Organizing “The Organized” Is Now the Key to Union Survival by Steve Early for Counterpunch.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

 

The sanctity of contracts

September 1, 2014

class.warfare

Big Brother and the ‘Internet of things’

August 7, 2014

The ‘Internet of things’ is the next big thing in technology.  Supposedly you will have combinations of sensors, RFID tags and Internet links that will be as much a part of you as your clothes, and will allow you  to control everything in your life, from your thermostat to your garage door.

But this is not just a new technology for people to control things.  It is a new technology for people to control other people as if they were things.

“The next wave is wearable technology, like Google Glass, smart watches, and smart vests,”  [Jason] Prater of Plex systems explained.

internetofthingsThe advantage of these devices is that they “will allow you to continue using your hands without having to input or look for data.”

The data will be sent to the factory’s computer where every movement and drop of sweat will be recorded and analyzed.

In Gartner [Inc.]’s words: monitoring, sensing and remote control … …

“Today, decisions are made instantaneously,” Prater said. “We can’t wait to hear about things after the fact.”

And then the industry insider too had an intriguing forecast: “Turning people into essentially walking sensors is going to be the future.”

via Wolf Street.

“Monitoring, sensing and remote control.”  Hmm.

Engineers will be able to constantly monitor the air temperature, humidity, and working conditions of a factory process, and track employee motions for ergonomics research and safety concerns.

New Internet-based technologies will allow all the data to be managed automatically, so that factory tooling and equipment can be adjusted without human intervention, Jason Prater … said … at the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars.

via Automotive News.

“Track employee motions.”  Hmm.

What the new technology will mean for factory workers is this: Managers will track what every line worker is doing every minute of the day, and make sure that (1) they never let up and (2) they always do things in the “one best way” as outlined in Frederick W. Taylor’s system of Scientific Management.

The key idea of Scientific Management is for industrial engineers to design an optimum way to perform any repetitive task, to teach factory workers to do it that way and to make sure they conform.

This is dehumanizing, but I think it is a bad idea even from the standpoint of economic efficiency—that is, unless you think economic efficiency is the same thing as managerial convenience.

The “one best way” system does not allow workers to use their intelligence and experience to adapt to variability of circumstancs.

And, of course, if you decide to treat employees as if they were machines, there is no reason not to decide to replace them with actual machines.

Telephone operators, data processors and customer service representatives know what it is like to work every minute of the day under surveillance, and to be punished for any slippage from the schedule or deviation from the script.  The new technology would bring surveillance and control to a new level.

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Goal of Becoming ‘Internet of Things’: Monitoring, Sensing, Remote Control – Factory Workers First, You Next by Wolf Richter on Wolf Street. Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

When profits and productivity aren’t enough

July 9, 2014

Losing Sparta by Esther Kaplan on VQR tells the following story.

A Philips lighting fixtures plant in Sparta, Tenn., was named by Industry Week in 2009 as one of the 10 best factories in the USA.

Workers and managers had worked together to increase output on some lines by 60 percent, lower changeover time between small orders by 90 percent, and reduce defective parts by 95 percent.  As a result the plant generated a good profit.

Yet in 2010 an executive showed up from corporate headquarters in the Netherlands and announced that the plant was closing, and its operations moved to Monterey, Mexico.

To people in Sparta, this didn’t make sense.  Local business leaders did a study that showed that any savings on wages (which generally are no more than 10 to 15 percent of manufacturing costs) would be offset by increased transportation costs of Philips’ markets in the Northeast and Midwest.  They were unable to make contact with anyone in Philips who was willing to listen or who had authority to make the decision.

Esther Kaplan thinks that the decision probably was based not on study of the Sparta plant specifically, but on an overall policy of centralizing manufacturing in low-wage countries.

I know from reporting on business years ago that there are fashions in management.  In one era, the fashion was diversification, so that your business is not dependent on any one market; in another, it was divestment and concentration on core competency.  And I know there are managers who think that willingness to cause human suffering is a sign of realism and tough-mindedness.

I also know from my own experience that when managers tell employees it is necessary to do X in order to keep their operation going, they almost always will do everything humanly possible to achieve X—provided that they think the statement is being made in good faith.

Workers in Sparta did everything management asked of them, but to no avail.  Kaplan wrote that this is the story of American workers as a whole.   Americans by many measures are the most productive workers in the world, and U.S. productivity continues to increase, but this does not keep manufacturing jobs in the USA.

The logic of being required to pay union dues

July 1, 2014

At first glance, it seems wrong to require people who don’t believe in labor unions to pay union dues just to be able to work for an employer with a union contract.   Here’s how I see the logic.

unionsShould workers have the right to bargain collectively and make contracts with employers?  Under U.S. law, workers have that right.  It would be absurd to say that investors have the right to join together to form corporations, but workers do not have the right to join together to form unions.

If there is a union contract, should the union have the power to say who is hired and who isn’t?  Under U.S. law, unions do not have that right.   If they did, they would, in effect, be the employer.

Should everyone who is hired by a union employer be covered by the union contract?  Under U.S. law, they are.  If not, the contract would be meaningless.

Should someone who gets the benefit of a union contract pay the same dues as fellow employees for union representation.  I would say, “yes,” but yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court said “no,” at least as regards home care workers and public employee unions.

LINKS

Supreme Court rules against home care workers unions by Laura Clawson for Daily Kos.

Supreme Court: It Could Have Been Worse by David Cole for the New York Review of Books.

Alito and the expected pretzel on Psychopolitik.

Six Groups That Are Reinventing Organized Labor by Josh Israel for Think Progress.   In the light of recent Supreme Court decisions restricting labor and empowering business, some worker groups are organizing without the protections and restrictions of U.S. labor law.


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