Archive for the ‘Labor’ Category

Can Democrats win back white working men?

December 12, 2014

From Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic Party was the party of white working men, with all the good and bad things that phrase implies.

Now a majority of white Americans vote Republican and the Republicans are especially strong among blue-collar white working men with high school educations—people who in FDR’s time would have been the backbone of the Democratic Party.

which-side-are-you-onI think there is a very obvious way that the Democrats (or, for that matter, the Republicans) could win the votes of the majority of white working people, and it is the same way they could win the votes of the majority of black, brown, yellow and red working people.

It is to put the United States on the path to a full employment, high wage economy.   I admit I do not have a blueprint on how to accomplish this, but there are a number of obvious things that would be both popular and beneficial to the vast majority.

Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans favor (1) a higher minimum wage, (2) prosecution of financial fraud, (3) breakup of “too big to fail” banks and (4) higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires and lower taxes on middle class and working people.

Polls also show a majority of Americans are opposed to (1) NATA-style trade pacts and (2) chipping away at Social Security and Medicare.   In all these cases, the American people are wiser than the decision-makers in Washington.

I think the AFL-CIO has some good ideas.  But I don’t think the problem is lack of good ideas, or even the inability to convince the public of good ideas.

The problem is that certain financial institutions and corporations are so entrenched in the federal government, in lobbying and in the political parties’ nominating process that they have the power to block good ideas.


Hillary Clinton Presidency Could Have the Same Problems as Obama’s by Norm Scheiber for The New Republic.

Can We Talk?  Here’s Why the White Working Class Hates Democrats by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Have Democrats Failed the White Working Class? by Thomas Edsall for the New York Times.

Our real white male problem: Why Fox News beats Bruce Springsteen and liberal moralizing every time by Jim Sleeper for Salon.

Germany on the same path as the USA

December 12, 2014
Wage and productivity growth in Germany

Wage and productivity growth in Germany

Via VoxEU

Some years back I wrote a post holding up Germany as a role model for the United States.  I said Germany’s policies showed that a nation can have a strong labor movement and a strong social safety net and yet have a growing economy and success in world markets.

I failed to recognize that Germany was and is following the same path as the United States—high profits, wage stagnation and financialization.  Germans are better off than Americans only because their starting point was higher when they started on the road to decline.

The chart shows that German productivity is increasing, just as in the United States, but German wage-earners aren’t getting the benefit of it.

Just like in the USA.


Which side are they on?

December 9, 2014

The Republican Party leadership is explicitly anti-union because they recognize that unions are a key support for the Democratic Party and a key opponent of the right-wing corporate agenda.

It would seem logical to think that President Obama and the Democratic leaders would defend organized labor, one of the pillars of their party, but they don’t.

RTW_protestAs Thomas Edsall pointed out in his New York Times column, the Democratic leadership has been not only indifferent to labor’s goals, but sometimes actively hostile.

Republicans such as Scott Walker and Chris Christie have persuaded the public that low wages, job insecurity and lack of benefits are normal, and that a policeman who gets a pension enjoys an unfair privilege at the public expense.

Democratic leaders do little or nothing to counteract this.

The problem is not that Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or the other Democratic leaders are naive or weak, or that the Republicans are obstructionist (they are, but that’s not the problem).

The problem is that the goals of the Democratic leaders are different from what they say and from what their core supporters want.


Non-compete contracts and the right to quit

December 8, 2014


“Non-compete” agreements were originally, at least in theory, a means by which companies protected inside information.  Now they’re being used to prevent employees from exercising their right to quit.


Source: The Wall Street Journal

Top executives and key researchers in big corporations have long been asked to sign “non-compete” agreements, forbidding them to go to work for a competing company within a certain number of years after they leave their original employer.  The idea is that they possess inside information that the competitor would pay well to know.

But now fast-food workers, dog handlers, camp counselors and workers in other mundane jobs are being required to sign “non-compete” agreements.  It is unlikely any of them know any crucial trade secrets.  The purpose of such agreements is to limit their freedom to change jobs.

The Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop chain, for example, has a “non-compete” contract that forbids sandwich makers, for the first two years after leaving, to work in any restaurant that makes sandwiches and is within three miles of a Jimmy John’s.  Since most fast-food restaurants are located near other fast-food restaurants, this locks the ex-employee out of much or probably most of fast-food jobs.

IMG_2237High-tech workers have another problem.  If they’re prevented from working in their fields, even for only a couple of years, their skills may become obsolete.

“Non-compete” agreements discourage entrepreneurship.  I know of a number of founders of successful businesses who started out in large corporations, had an idea they couldn’t convince top management to accept, and left to pursue it on their own.  Under some of these agreements, the former employer might sue to stop them.

Another problem is that such agreements make it hard for a start-up company to hire new employees.

Employers say that the cost of training employees is so high it is necessary to lock them into their jobs to prevent them from taking their training elsewhere.  But this is to overlook another way of winning employee loyalty:  Just treat employees decently and respectfully.

There’s some question as to just how enforceable “non-compete” agreements are, especially for low-level employees who don’t know trade secrets.  But in the absence of definite rulings, the employees and their possible new employers are likely to treat them as if they are.

This is a good reason for fast-food workers, and all workers, to join together in unions to represent their interests, including in court.


What’s wrong, and what to do about it

December 3, 2014


The AFL-CIO has an excellent series of infographics about what’s wrong with the U.S. economy, which I have put into this post.  For those who have a little time, I link to four articles explaining the infographics.  For those who have more time, I then link to background information on which the articles are based.

My only argument with the AFL-CIO is that they attribute bad economic policies exclusively on Republicans, while ignoring Wall Street Democrats such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and Christopher Dodd.


‘Assembled in the USA,’ but made in China

November 26, 2014


Walmart is selling TV sets with the label, “Assembled in the USA,” but the Association for American Manufacturing has complained to the Federal Trade Commission that the TV sets are actually made in China.

FTC rules say that a product can’t be labeled as assembled in the USA unless the principal assembly takes part in the USA, and the assembly work is substantial.  Walmart’s supplier, Element Electronics, doesn’t do enough assembly to qualify, the complaint says.

One reason American manufacturers have shifted production overseas is to meet Walmart’s demand for low prices.  Walmart is the USA’s largest importer.  That’s something for American Christman shoppers to think about.


How Walmart Destroyed U.S. Manufacturing by Molly McGrath and Brad Markell for the Walmart 1 Percent.

Walmart Workers Ramp Up Protests for Black Friday by Diane Krauthamer for Labor Notes.

The passing scene: Links & comments 11/22/14

November 22, 2014

Whatever Happened to Overtime Pay? by Nick Hanauer for Politico.

Nick Hanauer, the wealthy entrepreneur who wrote “The Pitchforks Are Coming … for Us Plutocrats,” wrote a new article about how the erosion of overtime pay is a reason so many middle-class people are poorer than their parents.

In 1975, the Department of Labor’s definition of eligibility for overtime pay—time-and-a-half for overtime— applied to 65 percent of the American work force.  Now it only covers 11 percent.

President Obama could fix it with a stroke of the pen, Hanauer wrote.  Either millions of workers would get more pay raise through overtime.  Or millions of jobs would be created as employers sought to avoid paying overtime.  But Hanauer said his inside information is that this isn’t going to happen.

Bank of North Dakota Outperforms Wall Street by Ellen Brown for Counterpunch.

The Bank of North Dakota, which is the only U.S. bank owned by a state government, outperforms the big Wall Street banks while promoting the state’s economic development and financing public works.  Ellen Brown said the reason for the bank’s success is that it doesn’t gamble with speculative investments and it plows its profits bank into the state rather than into big bonuses and executive salaries.

How the Government Steals from Citizens by A. Barton Hinckle for Reason magazine.

D.C. police plan for future seizures years in advance in city budget documents by Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Steven Rich for the Washington Post.

 A reminder: The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that “no person … shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”  This is a principle of justice.  It should not be regarded as an obstacle to get around.

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.


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.


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.


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


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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