Opinion

The Great Debate

It’s harder to reach the American dream if you’re reaching all alone

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“Hours of chaos” is how the New York Times described the work reality of more and more Americans. It highlighted Jannette Navarra, a Starbucks barrista, who is regularly forced to work part-time with fluctuating hours. She usually gets her work schedule three days ahead of the workweek, so she is always scrambling to arrange childcare for her son. Any hope Navarra has of advancing by pursuing a degree is shattered by her inability to schedule classes.

These sorts of lousy jobs are the increasing reality for many American workers. They are labeled “contingent” workers — part-time, temporary, on contract, on call. They generally earn lower wages than fulltime employees, with little or no benefits, and constant insecurity. They now represent one-third, perhaps as much as 40 percent of the workforce.

The Times focused on new technology that allows Starbucks to micro-manage worker hours to fit outlet demand. This really isn’t about technology, however. It’s about power. Workers have less power in the workplace in part because of continued high unemployment. When jobs are scarce, workers have learned to accept what they can get.

It’s is also due to the absence of a worker voice on the job because of the virtual disappearance of unions, particularly in the private sector.

No job is inherently marginal. Lousy jobs in places like non-union Phoenix are middle-class jobs in unionized New York City. Economist Robert Kuttner, writing in the American Prospect, described the very different reality of New York hotel workers, represented by the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. New York employers, faced with variable demand for rooms, would also want workers to be on-call. But as Kuttner notes, in this case workers have a union to speak up for them. Through tough negotiations the union has guaranteed workers regular hours, decent pay (a housekeeper gets roughly $50,000 a year), paid vacation, pension and health benefits

Pennsylvania as the new Wisconsin in union fights

The Wisconsin state capitol was the site of massive protests in 2011 during the fight to pass Republican Governor Scott Walker’s labor reforms. The following year Big Labor staged demonstrations in Michigan against Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s right-to-work bill, which ultimately passed. Now Pennsylvania’s state capitol is set to reach fever pitch, as unions plan to bus in hundreds of protestors this week to fight legislation that, if bad for union bosses, could be a boon to rank-and-file workers.

Pennsylvania is a longtime labor stronghold. Consider that a plaque directly across from the state capitol commemorates the unionization of government workers. But Pennsylvania lawmakers are now poised to pass a law to end automatic deduction of union dues from government employee paychecks.

The “paycheck protection” bills pending in state Senate and House of Representatives committees, propose to prohibit government employers from deducting from a public employee’s salary “any funds which inure to the benefit of a private organization.”

Rebuilding America’s high-wage economy

Good for President Barack Obama for emphasizing the need to restore America’s middle class. However, the actual proposals in his new summer offensive would not go very far toward that worthy goal.

America is moving, at an accelerating pace, toward an economy with tens of millions of poorly paid service jobs at one end, and a relatively small number of astronomically compensated financial jobs at the other. In between the fast food workers, who demonstrated this week for a living wage, and the hedge fund billionaires is a new creative class heavily based on the Internet. But the web entrepreneurs are too narrow a segment on which to rebuild a broad middle class.

For a quarter-century after World War Two, America was a far more equal society — with jobs that paid a “family wage” on a single paycheck. One question dividing economists now is whether the more equal, high-wage economy of the postwar era is irrevocably gone with the steel mills of Pittsburgh. Or whether a service economy can become an egalitarian one with a different set of policies.

‘Inclusive Capitalism’: Bridging business-labor divide

Economic policy debates often focus on areas of division and discord. On the minimum wage, you’ll see some businesses fighting labor. On regulation, you have government versus the free market.

There are plenty of areas where American workers and companies agree, however, such as the need for public investments in infrastructure and education.

There is another worker-business alignment, explored in a new Center for American Progress report, that has us — a corporate chief executive and a labor leader — excited about its potential to boost innovation and workers’ wages when we desperately need both.

Why do unions seek exemption from anti-stalking laws?

Valentine’s Day is a time when couples go out for romantic dinners and exchange gifts, while singles meet up in bars, hoping to make some bad decisions. Valentine’s Day is also a day when people with crazy ex-boyfriends or -girlfriends are reminded of how thankful they are for anti-stalking laws.

Every state has made stalking a crime. These laws help protect people who might otherwise live in fear. Yet labor unions have successfully, and disconcertingly, lobbied to be exempt from anti-stalking laws in at least four states – California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nevada.

“The most glaring examples of union favoritism under state laws,” notes a 2012 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, “tend to occur in criminal statutes and allow individuals who engage in truly objectionable behavior to avoid prosecution solely because they are participating in some form of labor activity.”

We must focus on the working poor

In many respects the economy is healing, as both the unemployment rate and hiring statistics slowly improve. But there are growing numbers of Americans being left out.

These are not just the unemployed. Rather they are families that, despite having a working adult in the home, earn less than twice the federal poverty income threshold – a widely recognized measure of family self-sufficiency. They are working, but making too little to build economically secure lives. And their number has grown steadily over the past five years.

They are cashiers and clerks, nursing assistants and lab technicians, truck drivers and waiters. Either they are unable to find good, full-time jobs, or their incomes are inadequate and their prospects for advancement are poor.

One big reason for GOP optimism

There are 25 reasons for Republican optimism in the wake of a disappointing November. Twenty-five is the number of states next year where Republicans will have unified control of the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the legislature. Up from the current 24.

The significance of this is already clear in Michigan — where state lawmakers are seeking to make it the nation’s 24th right-to-work state.

Governor Rick Snyder announced Tuesday that right-to-work will be on the docket during the Michigan legislature’s lame duck session this month.

What the Ohio vote means

By Gerald W. McEntee
The views expressed are his own.

The voters of Ohio sent a clear message on Tuesday.  They overwhelmingly defeated Gov. John Kasich’s radical attempt to end collective bargaining for public employees in Ohio and brought an end to one of the most flagrant “bait and switch” efforts seen in recent American history.

Last November, voters in states such as Florida, Ohio, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin elected governors and legislators who campaigned on the issue of jobs.  Yet in state after state, and in the nation’s capitol as well, these newly elected politicians launched an unprecedented assault on the basic rights of working Americans.  Instead of creating jobs, they sought to eliminate public sector collective bargaining, restrict the rights of citizens to vote, provide unneeded tax cuts to the wealthy, privatize vital services and promote public employee layoffs.  All of these efforts were designed more to reward their Wall Street-backed campaign donors than to serve the public who had every reason to expect that the focus would be on jobs.

Ohio and Wisconsin were the breeding grounds of these anti-worker campaigns.  Newly elected governors Scott Walker and John Kasich both rejected federal high-speed rail funds that cost their states tens of thousands of new jobs.  Both put through unwise tax cuts for the wealthiest businesses and individuals in their states and then sought draconian cuts in services to make up the difference in lost revenue.  Both signed highly restrictive voting laws, designed to keep seniors, minorities and students from participating in the political process.  And both targeted public employees and the rights of workers to collectively bargain for wages, working conditions and safety on the job.  They claimed these changes were needed to promote economic growth, but voters rightly saw the proposals as small-minded efforts to silence workers and reward the Wall Street backers who bankroll political campaigns.

China hits a welcome turning point

CHINA

China’s massive supply of cheap labor may at last be drying up, a development that in time will bring higher wages, inflation, a stronger yuan and help to right dangerous global imbalances.

If these trends hasten financial liberalisation they could eventually set the stage for a broader Chinese bubble.
The formerly extremely unequal balance of power between workers and employers in China appears to be shifting.

Workers for a Chinese company which supplies Honda with auto parts have struck and successfully won large wage increases. Other strikes have followed, and firms have often been quick to compromise.

Migration statistics: our biggest weak spot

gurria-birdsallcomposite– Angel Gurría is Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Nancy Birdsall is President of the Center for Global Development. The views expressed are their own. —

All financial crises end. The question is not if we will recover, but how we can build a resilient global economy to speed and bolster that recovery. While many immediate dangers remain, now is the time to look beyond the exigencies of today.

We must take a hard look at weaknesses in the international system that might stand in our way as we rebuild. There are several, but we take this opportunity to highlight one weakness in our ability to build a resilient global economy for the future: the inadequate state of comparable data on international migration.

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