Pressure On Wages As Well As Jobs

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Our economy is not structured to produce enough jobs. Tomorrow’s jobs report is expected to show as many as 200,000 jobs created in March, but a lot of that is temporary Census hires, and even 200,000 jobs created is still 2-300,000 fewer jobs than number of new entrants into the job market each month! So even a “good” report of 200,000 will be just another “economy still getting worse more slowly” story.
We need jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs, and we need them to pay people enough.
It’s not just trade pressures that are keeping job growth from occurring, but trade pressures are a very big and very immediate part of the problem. Fixing the trade imbalances will be a great start and will give us a small bit of breathing room in which we will hopefully address larger structural problems.
Those trade pressures are not just destroying jobs, they are destroying wages and benefits, too. It’s the way of the world; a business owner can’t help but look at the legacy wages that built up and up and up during the competitive good times, and wonder why they’re still paying those high wages during the bad times. If you have a company full of people making $80,000 or $100,000 and you see people accepting work in similar positions for $40,000 you are going to wonder how to reduce the amount you are paying people. One way is to make them work more for the same pay.
In yesterday’s Washington Post, Holding back job growth? Workers’ awesome output,

One of the great surprises of the economic downturn that began 27 months ago is this: Businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.
That means high-level gains in productivity — which in the long run is the key to a higher standard of living but in the short run contributes to sky-high unemployment. So long as employers can squeeze dramatically higher output from every worker, they won’t need to hire again despite the growing economy.
[. . .] Fearful of losing their jobs, people seem to have become more willing to stretch themselves to the limit to get more done in any given hour of work. And they have been tolerant of furloughs and cutbacks in hours, which in better times would drive them to find a new employer. This has given companies the leeway to cut back without the fear of losing valuable employees for good.

It’s not “awesome output” it is workers being squeezed to death. And it’s the way our system is designed.
In Fixing Jobs: Normal Isn’t An Option I wrote that the way our current system is structured employers have every incentive to figure out how to eliminate your job or at least cut your pay,

The core of what needs to be restructured is that we have a system where people with power and wealth benefit when they figure out how to cause other people to receive lower pay and benefits — or just lose their jobs. The incentives come down to this: if someone can figure out how to cut your pay and benefits or just get rid of you (“eliminate your position”) they get to pocket what you were making, and you get nothing. If you don’t own the company you’re out of luck.

Returning to “normal” is not an option now and it just isn’t going to happen. We have hit the wall of the old economic paradigm. We need to start looking at new models for a sustainable, people-friendly economy that works for all of us, not just a lucky few.
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Unions

I asked a friend if she thought people would join a union where she works. She said “I think everyone would be too scared.” But a recent survey found that 60% of all workers would choose to join a union if they could.
The Employee Free Choice Act is coming to the Congress one of these days. Keep that name in mind for when it comes up. This law would protect workers from being fired for talking about unions, and would allow workers to organize without the boss finding out using a method called “card check.” Once a majority of workers in a company or at a location sign up for a union, the union is recognized as the bargaining agent and laws protecting organized workers take effect.
The current methods of organizing a union, where the workers have a day when they all vote in a secret ballot,will also still be available. The Employee Free Choice Act, though, lets them choose to have card check instead. The problem with the current method is that it happens entirely on management’s terms, often delayed and delayed, and with the manager calling workers into the office one at a time to “explain” what will happen to the worker if a union comes in.
It would be nice if our economic system didn’t have the kind of outcomes that make unions so necessary. But they are.

Why Do We Allow This System?

I have been writing about the Campaign to Improve Assisted Living — please visit their website.
I’d like to talk about the larger picture. The other day I asked Who Is the Corporation

So here is the thing. When you talk about a corporation doing something, who are you talking about? In reality you are talking about a few PEOPLE, not some anonymous corporation, PEOPLE. And when you talk about the people of a corporation you are not talking about Bob in Sales or Mary in Accounts Receivable. They are not the people who make decisions — they aren’t even asked. They are told from the top how it is going to be. When you talj about a corporation doing or saying something you are really talking about A FEW PEOPLE and the things these people do and say are not for “the company” they are necessarily for THEMSELVES. Corporations do not have voices or thoughts or ideas, a few people who have control of the resources of the corporation do, and always, always act for their OWN gain.

Today let’s take a look at Why?
Here we have a country that allows vulnerable elderly people to be treated as a product to be harvested and workers to be treated as economic units or annoying costs to be replaced if they are not efficient enough. The average worker faces longer working hours for less pay and fewer benefits each year.
How did we get here? When did we decide to have a system like this? Did we ever decide?
Who benefits from this system? In the case of Atria Senior Living Bruce Wasserstein benefits. Other executives at Atria and Lazard benefit. Does anyone else? Why do we allow it?
We used to have kings and feudal lords who “owned” almost everything and told everyone else what to do. People rose up, battles were fought and eventually a compromise was reached. England still has a Queen!
In America workers faced brutal conditions because a few powerful wealthy people controlled the economy and the mines and the mills and the factories. Over time unions formed and fought this and a compromise of sorts was eventually reached. And over time those unions have been eroded and things have been slipping backwards. That is a gross simplification, but here we are.
When do We, the People start to decide what kind of economy we want? In Europe and much of the rest of the world people get five weeks vacation, health care, child care, and rights. That is because the people there understand that they are in an ongoing fight between the people and the powerful, and they still have strong unions. In America a very few get fabulously wealthy, supported by the work the rest of us — here and in the outsourcing countries — do.
When will We, the People decide that WE want a better system for US? I suggest taking a look at the SEUI’s Accountability Project. This campaign is intended to help all of us, not just their own membership. It’s a start. But in your own actions and thoughts, start demanding more. Start demanding that the few ultra-wealthy and the corporations butt out of our system. We are We, the People and We are supposed to be in charge here.
This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

Unions: Sticking Together to Fight Corporate Power

I have been writing about the strike by California Kaiser Permanente security guards working for contractor Inter-Con Security, who are demanding that laws be enforced and their rights be honored.
SEIU sent out a press release on the situation, titled, Workers With No Healthcare Protecting Kaiser Facilities, Security Contractor May Be Misleading California’s Largest Healthcare Provider. In summary, the security guards at Kaiser are supposed to be provided with individual healthcare after working for 90 days, but it turns out that many are not. The security contractor Inter-Con Security has found a way around the promise: they classify workers as “on-call” instead of permanent.

As more and more workers report that Inter-Con is keeping workers on temporary or “on-call” status for months or years, it’s still unclear whether Inter-Con is misleading Kaiser or if Kaiser is simply turning a blind eye to these tactics which short-change workers.

And their families are not provided with health insurance at all. The security guards — paid as little as $10.40 an hour — are supposed to buy it. The result is that 41% of the officers who responded to a survey cannot. And without paid sick days they cannot afford to take the time off to see a doctor anyway.
So here we are with a company finding ways around a promise by changing the classification of the workers to “on-call.” This points out yet one more problem of workplaces that do not have unions. How many people are classified as “temporary” or “contractors”? This is one of the bigger scams that is going on these days. One reason companies do this is because if someone is not an employee the employer doesn’t have to pay their share of the Social Security payroll tax. (There are other reasons as well, including avoiding paying promised benefits.)
How do you know if you should be called an employee or an independent contractor? For a quick guideline, let’s go to the IRS. They say that by-and-large you are an employee,

if the organization can control what will be done and how it will be done. This is so even if the organization gives the employee freedom of action. What matters is that the organization has the right to control the details of how the services are performed.

Yet most of us see examples of people in this situation who are called “temporary workers” or “contractors” all the time.
Companies are not supposed to do this to us, but here’s the thing: What can you do about it? You and I are individuals, alone. But corporations have the ability to amass immense power and wealth and influence. You and I as individuals must stand alone against this power and wealth. What can you or I or anyone else do on our own? The average person in our society has very little ability to stand up against this kind of power and wealth.
Over time people discovered that there are some things they can do that will work. One of these has been to form unions. By joining together the workers in a company can amass some power of their own. The company needs the workers in order to function so the workers — if they stick together — have the ability to make the corporation obey employee/employer laws, provide decent pay, and all the other benefits that the unions have brought us. This is why they are also call “organized labor.” By organizing into a union and sticking together people have the ability to demand respect and compensation for their work.
This is what the security guards at Kaiser are trying to do. This is what you should do.
I encourage you to visit StandForSecurity.org.
I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2

Why They (And You) Need A Union

Yesterday I wrote about the security guards who are striking at Kaiser Permanente because their contractor-employer is engaging in illegal tactics while trying to block them from forming a union. The guards work for Inter-Con Security Inc., which is contracted by Kaiser to provide security services.
You can read articles with details about what happened with the strike yesterday here and here. (There is close to zero coverage of this strike in newspapers. But you wouldn’t expect a corporate-owned media to provide information about labor, now would you?)
Please visit the site Stand for Security for background and details about the security guards’ fight to form a union.
While this strike is about violations of workers’ rights, there are very good reasons for their three-year effort to form a union.
In Oregon, the state just north of California, Kaiser Permanente security guards are employed by Kaiser, not by a contractor. They are unionized and here is a short chart of just some of the difference this makes.

In-House Union (ILWU)
Kaiser Security Officers
Inter-Con Officers at Kaiser
Wages $15 – $18 per hour
(Oregon has a much lower
cost of living)
As little as $10.40 per hour
Raises $.70 – $1.45/hour annually,
depending on seniority
(Guaranteed in writing!)
No schedule, no guarantee
Free Family Health Care YES NO
Health Insurance Elegibility 20 hours worked “Full-time”, which for many
officers means 1-2 years of
working 40 hours a week before
qualifying for health insurance.
Bereavement Pay 3 days paid time off none
Sick Leave 1.6 hours per pay period
(Time accrues)
none
Jury Duty Paid off as needed none
Pension YES none
Grievance Procedure YES none
Shift Differential $.90/hour evenings
$1.25/hour nights
none

This chart is an example of the difference that a union makes. The column on the left — the one with better pay, health care, sick days, pension and other benefits — is the workers who are in a union. The column on the right is these security guards. So this is why these security guards have been fighting for three years to join a union. The employer, Inter-Con Security won’t even give sick days! For people working in hospitals! What are these workers supposed to do? And they won’t even pay when the workers have jury duty! (Shouldn’t a company be concerned about the greater public good, like a court system that works?)
But this chart is also representative of other workplaces, showing the difference that forming a union can make for other workers. How else are workers going to get back their rights, get health care, get pensions, and get paid? If you see a better idea out there, please let us all know because this strike and the things happening to these security guards shows that it is very very difficult to form a union. In today’s environment where workers are afraid of employers moving their jobs overseas – or even just laying them off and telling everyone else to work harder – and then giving their pay out as raises to the executives and multi-million-dollar bonuses to the CEO, this is a very brave action to take.
On top of that, the Republican government has stacked the labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board to side with the big corporations. So it is even harder to form a union than ever. Which is, of course, why wages are stagnating and CEO pay is off the charts.
This is why these workers are striking — to demand that their civil rights be honored and to demand that their right to form a union be honored. These security guards are placing everything on the line — and doing this for all of us. If they win this fight, all of us are a step further toward our rights being honored, and toward our own jobs paying more and giving benefits.
I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2.gif

Security Guards Striking for the Right to Have Our Laws Enforced (updated)

There is a three-day strike starting today at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in California. 1800 security guards are striking for three days in an “unfair labor practice” action. This strike is not against Kaiser and is not to ask for money or benefits; it is not even to form a union in the first place. This strike is just to ask that our laws please be enforced. This may be a lot to ask for in today’s corporate-dominated system, but they’re asking for it anyway.
Here is some background:
Rather than directly employ security guards Kaiser contracts with a company called Inter-Con Security Systems, Inc. Inter-Con hires and manages the security guards for Kaiser, paying them very little and giving them few benefits – not even sick leave. So these security guards, even though they work at Kaiser, (some for many years), are paid far less than other security guards at Kaiser facilities in other states, and receive few benefits. Kaiser is one of the more responsible, unionized companies for its workers, which makes this situation even worse for these workers.

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What Does Corporate Control Of Media Mean?

Think about this: When was the last time you heard, read or saw anyone in the major media explain the benefits of joining a union?
Almost all of the outlets for news and information in the United States are now owned by five corporations. From The New Media Monopoly,

When the first edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 1983, critics called Ben Bagdikian’s warnings about the chilling effects of corporate ownership and mass advertising on the nation’s news “alarmist.” Since then, the number of corporations controlling most of America’s daily newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, book publishers, and movie companies has dwindled from fifty to ten to five.

Think about that. Five corporations control almost everything that most people in the country “know.”
Again, think about this: When was the last time you heard, read or saw anyone in the major media explain the benefits of joining a union?
So, do you think these five corporations are using this near-total control of information for their own benefit, or not?

Want A Raise?

Do you want a raise? Better working conditions and job security? Better benefits?
Try leaving a few union organizing flyers around where you work. It’s the worker’s counterpart to management hinting that they could outsource all the jobs to other countries.
Unfortunately it is very difficult to locate downloadable flyers that explain the benefits of joining a union. I have been searching around and have located only two. Download and print these and leave them around your workplace for others to find:
The Union Advantage By The Numbers.
Unions 101 – A quick study of how unions help workers win a voice@work
Please let me know of others, and I’ll post them here. UNIONS – please make downloadable flyers available explaining the benefits of joining a union, how to organize a union, etc., for people do print and distribute. You don’t have to have local info on these flyers, they are ust informational and get people thinking.

They’re Going To Ban BuzzFlash

UpdateWE WON! Go read.

The Republicans are trying to “deregulate” the Internet. They’re about to allow the big telecommunications companies to decide which websites their customers (YOU) can and can’t see. This is what “Net Neutrality” is about. If you are against letting big companies decide what websites you can see, that means you are in favor of Net Neutrality.
MAKE NO MISTAKE about what this will mean. In the 1980s the Republicans “deregulated” radio and television by getting rid of the Fairness Doctrine and allowing a few big companies to buy up all the stations, and now you can’t turn on the radio without hearing that conservatives are good and liberals are bad. And you will not ever see a representative of organized labor on your television telling you about the benefits of joining a union. In the South the ONLY viewpoint you ever hear is the Republican Party viewpoint. MAKE NO MISTAKE about what “deregulating” the Internet will mean. It means they will ban BuzzFlash, and DailyKos, and Digby and any other voice that speaks out against the corporate takeover of your country.
Here is what you can do today. Matt Stoller has a post up at MyDD with a list of members of Congress to call TODAY. Matt says

Urge them to support the bipartisan Sensenbrenner-Conyers Net Neutrality bill (HR 5417) in the Judiciary Committee on Thursday — and to support it without amendment. Saying without amendment is key.

Here is the list:

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Free Markets and Ponies

In science you study what happens. In ideology you talk about what you wish would happen. One DEscribes, the other PREscribes.
The Wrath of the Free Market God takes a look at what actually happens when right-wing economic ideology is implemented. Enron, concentration of wealth, corporatization and the Dubai Ports deal.

Make no mistake what is happening. The Globalists are attempting to replace the nation/state with corporate hegemony. In many respects they have already succeeded. Our democracy has been subverted not by dictatorial government takeover, but by the stealth usurpation through a shadowy pay to play scheme. Instead of the traditional coup by military means, an army of corporate lobbyists has descended upon Washington with decidedly similar results.

Now, to be fair, I will grant that what we have with countries like China certainly is not free trade. China “pegs” its currency – and Bush lets them. This means that everything made in China costs about half as much as it should, and everything we make costs Chinese consuers about twice what it should. And our trade with most other countries is certainly not “free” because they by-and-large subsidize industries, don’t allow unions or environmental laws, or so many other non-free-trade violations that you can’t keep up And Republicans let them all get away with it in the name of free-market ideology.
But, of course, that’s the real world, and that’s the point. REAL people take advantage when you let them. That’s where DEscribing what people actually do interferes with right-wing ideological dreams of what people should do. People SHOULD get ponies. But what really happens is we get poorer, lose our health insurance, lose our pensions, lose our manufacturing infrastructure and lose our democracy.