Archive for the ‘Jobs’ Category

Some things to read on Labor Day weekend

September 2, 2016

Inside the Corporate Utopias Where Capitalism Rules and Labor Laws Don’t Apply by Matt Kennard and Claire Provost for In These Times.

Trade Unions and the Fate of the American Left, an interview of political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. on The Real News Network.

How Unions Change Universities by Marley-Vincent Lindsey for Jacobin magazine.

Making Green Jobs Good Jobs by Kate Aranoff for In These Times.

The Housing Monster: a worker’s critique of the construction industry.

Abolish Restaurants: a worker’s critique of the food service industry.

Nearly 10,000 Current and Former Chipotle Workers Join in Wage Theft Class Action Suit, an interview of labor lawyer Kent Williams on The Real News Network.

No Other Way Than Struggle: The Farmworker-Led Boycott of Driscoll’s Berries, an interview of labor leader Felimoñ Peneda by David Bacon for Truthout.

Meet Jacqui Maxwell, the United Auto Worker Who Interrupted Trump’s Economic Speech in Detroit, an interview on Democracy Now

Jobless youth and oldsters who can’t retire

July 26, 2016

Thomas Geoghegan, a labor lawyer in Chicago, wrote a good article for The Baffler about the connection between low wages, high youth unemployment and older people (such as himself) being unwilling to retire.

Thomas Geoghegan

Thomas Geoghegan

A reporter asked Pope Francis to name the single biggest evil in the world.  Secularism?  No.  Abortion?  Not even.  Here’s what he said: “Youth unemployment—and the abandonment of the elderly.”

OK, that’s two evils.  But aren’t they really one thing?  Unable to get a start, boomerang kids move back home—while their grandparents hang on to their jobs.

Why hang on?  They fear being abandoned.  They didn’t save.  The young have always had to wait for the old to retire in order to move up a notch, but in the twenty-first century, that wait is getting longer, increasing the competition for scarce jobs.

For the state to shrink, the old must work more.  It’s a neoliberal axiom.  Call it the New Old Deal.

As a labor lawyer, let me defend my clients.  The working-class people I represent are dying sooner, not mucking up the labor market by living too long.  Alcohol and heroin are partially to blame, and trending stories on epidemics afflicting the white working class make easy fodder for TV newsmagazines.

But let me tell you what I more often see happening to non-college whites: those who do hard physical labor for an hourly wage go lame.  By age fifty-five, or certainly sixty, many are just done.

And when they go lame, they have no options.  They have no union-bargained pensions anymore.   They certainly have no 401(k) retirement accounts.

Maybe the country should be grateful; to the extent that they die prematurely, they help shore up Social Security.  And hey, should the GOP make it harder for them to receive workers’ comp or disability, these high school grads may die even younger.

The whole article is worth reading.  Click on Exit Planning to read it.

The coming of the robots

July 8, 2016

This video from Boston Dynamics shows the capability of robots to do human labor—not that they would necessarily be in humanoid form as in the video.

In theory, the use of robots could enable human beings to live lives of voluntary, meaningful, higher-level activity.  In practice, the results probably would be more like Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian novel, Player Piano, with an elite of engineers and a mass of unemployed or under-employed former workers.

If robots do everything, there will be no high-wage, full-employment economy.  There would be no mass consumer market.  Economic activity would be mainly devoted to serving the needs of the owners of the robots and the engineers and technicians who keep the robots running.

A guaranteed annual income would not be a solution.  Human beings degenerate if they have nothing useful to do.

Maybe a new economy would arise—a robot economy serving the elite and a parallel human economy serving the majority of humanity.

Or maybe—in some way I can’t foresee—robotic technology would come under democratic control, and there would be a public debate as to how robotics could be used to benefit everyone and not just a few.


New Rossum’s Universal Robots: Toward a Most Minimal Wage by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.  Lots of interesting links.

Toyota in talks to acquire Boston Dynamics from Google by Danielle Muoio for Tech Insider.

When the Robots Rise by Lee Drutman and Yascha  Mounk for The National Interest [added 7/11/2016]

Why a profitable company laid off 1,400 people

March 28, 2016


In February, 1,400 employees of Carrier Air Conditioner in Indianapolis were told their jobs were being transferred to Mexico to cut costs.

It turns out that, according to the annual report of United Technologies, its parent company, that Carrier was a profitable and growing business segment.  In 2015, it was UT’s best-performing division in the company.

So why mess with it?  UT management hoped to boost the company’s stock price by cutting costs.  Managers say they plan to keep on cutting costs for the indefinite future, evidently without regard to

All this runs contrary to the way I was taught in college that a capitalist free enterprise system is supposed to work.

I was taught that the duty of corporate management is to ensure that the corporation survives and is profitable into the indefinite future.  This goal is achieved by making good products and at a reasonable price, and provide good customer service.  To do this, it is necessary to re-invest a good portion of the profits in the business.

UT management’s philosophy is evidently the opposite—to take money out of the business and give it to the passive shareholders.


The New York Times evidently had a good article on this, which unfortunately is behind a pay wall.  David Dayen summarized its conclusions in an article for Salon.

Last year, Carrier produced a significant chunk of total profits for its parent company, United Technologies.  Of $7.6 billion in earnings in 2015, $2.9 billion came from the Climate, Controls & Security division, where Carrier resides.  Profits from this division have expanded steadily in recent years, which is not what you’d expect from a unit desperate to cut labor costs.

A look at United Technologies’ annual report reveals even more good news: Commercial and industrial products, Carrier’s category, make up over half of UTC’s $56 billion in net sales. Climate, Controls & Security had 3 percent growth in 2015, the highest in the company; it was the only division to increase its profit margin year-over-year.

“Organic sales growth at UTC Climate, Controls & Security was driven by the U.S. commercial and residential heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and transport refrigeration businesses,” according to page 14 of the report. In other words, air conditioners – what the workers are making in Indianapolis – drove the growth of the best-performing facet of United Technologies’ business.

So why would a profitable, growing business need to ship jobs to Mexico?  Because their shareholders demanded it.


Can college education be free for everyone?

March 25, 2016

I think it is feasible to provide college education with free or affordable tuition, as Bernie Sanders advocates.  Foreign countries do so, and the United States once did, too.

I have long been in favor of free or affordable college education for everybody who has the desire and ability to do college work, but this is different from providing free tuition for everybody.

collegekids97944673-copyRon Unz, the maverick political editor and writer, has proposed that Harvard University offer free tuition.  As he says, it can easily afford it because of the tax-free revenues of its huge endowment fund.  He also advocates for a fairer admissions process, especially for Asian-American students.

Those are excellent proposals.  But they wouldn’t get everybody who wishes into Harvard.

Sanders’ plan is for the federal government to pay for two-thirds of the cost of college education at state universities that offer free tuition and meet other conditions.  I expect that many state governors would turn down this generous offer.  Most states are cutting the budgets of their state university systems.  And after all, many states refused to expand Medicaid even though the Affordable Care Act offered to cover nine-tenths of the cost.

Germany is frequently cited as an example of a country that provides free college tuition for everyone, including foreigners, who can pass an entrance examination.

But only about 28 percent of young German adults are college graduates, compared to 43 percent of Americans.

During the golden age of American public higher education, college education was much less common.  As recently as 1990, only 23 percent of young American adults were college graduates.

Higher education in Germany also is much more bare bones than it is in the USA.  German colleged generally offer a rigorous academic program without the extra-curricular amenities that Americans typically regard as a part of the college experience.


‘Do you think that we have reached the end?’

March 22, 2016

I can hardly wait to read Thomas Frank’s new book.

Here’s another excerpt.

A while ago I spoke at a firefighters convention in the Pacific Northwest, talking as I always do about the ways we have rationalized these changes to ourselves.

Firefighters are the sort of people we honor for their bravery, but they also happen to be blue-collar workers, and they have watched with increasing alarm what has been happening to folks like them for the last few decades . . . watched as the people formerly known as the heart and soul of this country had their lives taken apart bone by bone.

listen,liberal.9781627795395They themselves still make a decent living, I was told—they are some of the last unionized blue-collar workers who do—but they can see the inferno coming their way now, as their colleagues in other parts of the country get their contracts voided and their pensions reduced.

After I spoke, a firefighter from the Seattle area picked up the microphone. Workers had been watching their standard of living get whittled away for decades, he said, and up till now they had always been able to come up with ways to get by.

The first adjustment they made, he recalled, was when women entered the workforce.  Families “added that income, you got to keep your boat, or your second car, or your vacation, and everything was OK.”  Next, people ran up debt on their credit cards.  Then, in the last decade, people began “pulling home equity out,” borrowing against their houses.

“All three of those things have kept the middle class from having to sink down into abject poverty,” he said. But now all three coping mechanisms were at an end.  There were no more family members to send to work, the expiration date had passed for the home-equity MasterCard, and still wages sank. His question was this: “Is there a fourth economic savior out there, or do you think that maybe we have reached the end?”

I had no good answer for him.  Nobody does.

Source: Listen, Liberal


Disinvesting in America, and what to do about it

March 21, 2016

Corporate executives and holders of financial assets—I’ll call them “capitalists” for short—are ceasing to invest in American industry.


Instead corporations are investing their profits in buying back stock, which automatically increases the value of the rest of the stock.  This, by the way, were an illegal form of stock market manipulation prior to 1982.


Meanwhile American manufacturing jobs are going away.



Why millions of ordinary Americans back Trump

March 11, 2016

Donald Trump is a con man, a racist and a bully.  The record is clear.  But the world is full of confidence men, racists and bullies.  What sets him apart?

Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter With Kansas? and other great political books, took the trouble to listen for himself to several hours of Trump speeches (which I confess I have never done).

I saw the man ramble and boast and threaten and even seem to gloat when protesters were ejected from the arenas in which he spoke.  I was disgusted by these things, as I have been disgusted by Trump for 20 years.

thomasfrank4718But I also noticed something surprising. In each of the speeches I watched, Trump spent a good part of his time talking about an entirely legitimate issue, one that could even be called left-wing. 

Yes, Donald Trump talked about trade.  In fact, to judge by how much time he spent talking about it, trade may be his single biggest concern – not white supremacy.   Not even his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, the issue that first won him political fame.  He did it again during the debate on 3 March: asked about his political excommunication by Mitt Romney, he chose to pivot and talk about … trade.

It seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies’ CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.

Trump embellished this vision with another favorite left-wing idea: under his leadership, the government would “start competitive bidding in the drug industry”.  (“We don’t competitively bid!” he marveled – another true fact, a legendary boondoggle brought to you by the George W Bush administration.) 

Many liberals think that Trump supporters are simply out of touch with reality.  But they themselves are out of touch with how trade and immigration are changing American life.


How to drive down American wages

February 5, 2016

Americans used to say that service jobs were safe from the impact of globalization because there was no way for companies to ship them overseas.

But employers can achieve the same goal by employing unauthorized immigrants, who, like the workers in Asian sweatshops, are outside the protection of American labor law.

A recent example of this was contracting the delivery of the Boston Globe to a company that employed unauthorized immigrants.  The public was upset by the huge number of delivery problems.  It should also have been upset by the loss of jobs of American workers who formerly provided reliable service.

The problem is not the unauthorized immigrants, who are hardworking people who are trying to get by the best they can.  The problem is those American employers who are trying to drive down American wages by any means necessary.


All the News That’s Fit to Print: How the Media Hide Undocumented Workers by Aviva Chomsky.

Economic snapshots of 2015

December 26, 2015

I thank my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey for pointing me to these charts from the Economic Policy Institute.  Any candidate for national office who ignores the issues raised by these charts isn’t worth listening to.



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‘Starving the beast’: public sector jobs decline

November 19, 2015


public-sector-jobs-gap1.pngClick on Economic Policy Institute for details (hat tip to Bill Harvey)

One of the reasons for the weakness of the current economic recovery is the loss of public sector jobs—mainly in state and local governments, including school districts.


Increased ‘productivity’ in education

October 5, 2015

TeacherJobGap5xnfRJSource: Economic Policy Institute.

Blogger Duncan Black thinks these figures indicate that Americans should stop cutting public school teachers’ wages and benefits, reducing their job security and making them scapegoats for all the ills of society.

But according to the neo-liberal philosophy that prevails in U.S. industry, the decline in the number of teachers is a good thing, not a bad thing.

A neo-liberal would tell you that fewer teachers with lower salaries teaching larger classes is by definition an increase in productivity (but that the best way to achieve this is through privatization).


Romney, Fiorina, Trump: who did the most harm?

September 22, 2015

Last week a friend of mine wondered out loud who ruined more lives—Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina or Mitt Romney?

After doing a little Internet research, I would say—probably Mitt Romney, possibly Carly Fiorina, but not Donald Trump.

romney-record-620x1024Mitt Romney was CEO of an investment firm called Bain Capital.  It started out in 1984 as a venture capital firm; its most successful investment was the Staples chain of office supply stores.

But from 1989 to 1999, it adopted a new strategy—borrowing money to buy existing companies, saddling the companies themselves with the debt while meanwhile giving Bain big consulting fees.

Some of the companies collapsed under the burden of debt, some survived.  Having to service a big debt obligation probably tipped many into failure.  Nobody would argue that it helped.  But Romney and the other Bain partners did well whether the companies succeeded or not.

Carly Fiorina became head of Hewlett-Packard in 1999.   Her most notable accomplishment was aquisition of Compaq Computer, which by most accounts didn’t pay off.  The H-P board of directors fired her in 2005.

The Boston Globe estimated that 30,000 employees were laid off during her tenure.  On the other hand total jobs at H-P when she left were roughly equal to the combined H-P and Compaq employment in 2009.

Donald Trump took his companies into bankruptcy—that is, reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code—four times.  These were Trump Taj Mahal in 1991, Trump Plaza Hotel in 1992, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts in 2004 and Trump Entertainment Resorts in 2009.

In each of these reorganizations, Trump took a loss and gave up control.   The businesses continued, and evidently there weren’t any big layoffs at the time.   Trump Taj Mahal filed again for bankruptcy last year, but Trump no longer controls it.


Have teenagers lost interest in summer jobs?

August 12, 2015

 d7dfdc782bc4d1a6970a09e3ffc40e73Source: Vox.

ft_15_0618_summerjobs_420px.png.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeSource: Pew Research.

Somewhat fewer teenagers from affluent families are interested in working summer jobs than in the past.  And more teenagers than in the past are attending school during the summer.

But another reason fewer teenagers are working summer jobs is that they can’t compete with the growing numbers of adults who want those same jobs.


Why American Teens Aren’t Working Summer Jobs Anymore by Peter Gosselin for Bloomberg News.

The fading of the teen summer job by Drew DeSilver for Pew Research.

Jobs, productivity and inequality

June 30, 2015



David Rotman, writing in MIT Technology Review, made the case that advances in technology and growth in productivity have not paid off for working Americans.

He considered whether there is something in the nature of technology that rewards highly-trained employees and eliminates the jobs of unskilled employees.

I think the problem is the priorities of the people in charge, not the nature of technology.

It is not technological progress that leads to public libraries having shorter hours, or public utilities have deferred maintenance, or customer service centers keeping people on “hold” for endless minutes.  Rather it is the priorities of the people in charge.

To the extent technology is the cause, I think the reason is that the impetus has been to develop technologies that eliminate jobs rather than technologies that provide better services and improve the quality of life for the majority of Americans.


How Technology Is Destroying Jobs by David Rotman for MIT Technology Review.

How job choices correlate with political choices

June 3, 2015

20150602_jobsHat tip to zero hedge.

This chart was created by Verdant Labs.  If you click on that link, you can find the original chart, plus an additional interactive chart with information about more occupations.  For example, it shows that, in my own former job of journalist, there are 88 Democrats for every 12 Republicans.

This by the way does support the claim of conservatives that reporters tend to be liberals, but I’m not sure what, if anything, could be done to change this.  An affirmative action program for journalists who claim to be conservatives?  I don’t think that would work.

I often hear that Americans prefer political centrists, but Americans classified by occupation are strongly polarized.   Interestingly, though, if you go to the original Verdant Labs article, you will find that some of the top corporate and business positions are more evenly divided between the two parties than many of the middle-class and working-class jobs.

I can understand while environmental protection workers would tend to be Democrats while oil field workers would tend to be Republicans.  But some of the other political polarizations seem to based on people deciding to fit stereotypes than the actual positions of the two parties.

The claim that off-shoring lowers costs

May 20, 2015

Yves Smith wrote on her naked capitalism blog:

… … The claim that outsourcing and off-shoring lower costs is greatly exaggerated.

Off-shoring and outsourcing … … do lower direct factor and lower-level worker costs.

But they do so at the increase of greater coordination costs of much more highly-paid managers.  And they also increase shipping and financing costs, and downside risk.

Having people work at a distance, whether managerially or by virtue of being in an outside organization where the relationship is governed by contract, increases rigidity (harder to respond to changes in market demand) and the odds of screw-ups due to communication lapses.

And outsourcing also reduces an organization’s skills.  Those lower-level people have a lot of product know-how that you lose when you transfer activities to an outside operation.

It’s nice to think that you can hollow out your organization and just do all the sexy design and marketing stuff and dump the grunt work on other players.  But over time you are breeding future competitors.

Thus off-shoring is best understood as a device for transferring income from the rank and file to middle level and senior executives.

via naked capitalism.

In short, off-shoring lowers the wages of production workers, and raises the salaries and importance of managers.   And who makes the decision about off-shoring?  The managers!

This reminds me of America by Design and Forces of Production, books I read by an economic historian named David Noble.   He wrote that there was no evidence of an overall economic benefit in replacing skilled workers with automatic machinery.  The benefit was in increasing the power of managers and industrial engineers, and decreasing the power of workers.

There’s something called public choice theory, which is about how public officials, when making decisions, consider their own good as well as the public good.  I’d say this theory applies just as much to decisions within corporations or any other organization.

What it means is that when corporate officials say “the market” determines this or that, we the people are entitled to ask—the market for what and for whom?

The changing U.S. economy in four maps

February 22, 2015

The most common job in each state in 1978.

16389997587_0e9959bd23_zThe most common job in each state in 1988.

16574791922_bd081f6292_zThe most common job in each state in 2000.

16574792062_6c7be6e8d6_zThe most common job in each state in 2014

mostcommonjobSource: National Public Radio via Mike the Mad Biologist.

Long story short:  The most common jobs remaining are the ones that haven’t been automated and aren’t being done cheaper overseas.


The emerging American job market

January 15, 2015

Tom the Dancing BugVia Tom the Dancing Bug

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.

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.


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 U.S. jobs market has recovered (or has it?)

June 7, 2014

The number of Americans with jobs has at long last gotten back to where it was before the state of the recession.

As the chart above shows, this has taken much longer than after any previous recession since World War Two.

But this doesn’t mean the U.S. economy is back to normal.  The population has grown since then, and so we still have a higher number of Americans than before who are out of work.

Economists define a recession as two quarters of a year in which GDP (output of goods and services) has fallen, and a recovery as two quarters in which GDP has risen again.

In theory this would automatically mean an increase in jobs.  If the output of goods and services is increasing, then supposedly more people are being put to work to produce these goods and services.  But this time around, there is a disconnect.

The percentage of working-age Americans with jobs is far below pre-recession levels.  Most Americans, based on their personal experience, think the United States is still in a recession.


Cheap steel, free trade and U.S. jobs

May 22, 2014

The world steel industry is going through a shakeout.  The world’s steel industry is producing more steel than can be sold on the market, which means some steel producers are doomed to go out of business.

USW-Calls-for-Action-amid-Surge-in-Unfairly-Traded-ImportsThe question is: Which ones?  As things stand now, it is the U.S. industry that is at risk, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank.   They say that’s because the U.S. market is more open to imports than other countries’ economies, and more vulnerable to dumping.

This means the 125,000 jobs in the U.S. steel industry are at risk, plus, according the EPI, up to three times that many whose jobs indirectly depend on the steel industry.

Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, have asked the U.S. Commerce Department for penalty tariffs against South Korea and other countries.   This may be necessary to enable the U.S. steel industry survive the current shakeout, but it is not a long-term solution to the industry’s problems.

It is an example of Robert B. Reich, writing more than 30 years ago, called industrial policy by historic preservation.   Reich, who later served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, said the U.S. government will spend money to rescue industries on the brink of failure, but not to help make these industries successful in the first place.