Posts Tagged ‘labor’
(Editor’s Note: Robert Reich has been a media pundit, lecturer and writer popular with progressives. From time to time he hits home as with this post on the lack of income predictability for a growing segment of Americans. It is now 40 percent, but soon to be a majority of workers, according to Reich. Here’s a snippet. Click through to read the entire post).
As Labor Day looms, more Americans than ever don’t know how much they’ll be earning next week or even tomorrow.
This varied group includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.
On demand and on call – in the “share” economy, the “gig” economy, or, more prosaically, the “irregular” economy – the result is the same: no predictable earnings or hours.
It’s the biggest change in the American workforce in over a century, and it’s happening at lightening speed. It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will have uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.
On Thursday the Los Angeles Times reported a Costco member sued the retailer on allegations that it knowingly sold frozen prawns that were the product of slave labor.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, alleges that Costco was aware that the prawns it purchased from its Southeast Asian producers came from a supply chain dependent on human trafficking and other illegal labor abuses.
The suit, which seeks class-action status, named seafood producers Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Co. in Thailand and C.P. Food Products Inc. in Maryland as defendants.
Based on claims of unfair competition and fraudulent practices, the lawsuit seeks a court order stopping Costco from selling prawns without a label describing its “tainted” supply chain and from buying, distributing and selling products they know or suspect to be derived from slave labor or human trafficking.
Read the rest of the article here.
If the allegations are true, the Costco halo with regard to labor relations should dim.
More than any other large retailer, Costco is in the good graces of members of the progressive community for its labor practices.
In January 2014, President Obama choose a Costco in Lanham, Maryland to advocate for an increase in the federal minimum wage because the retailer is “acting on its own to pay its workers a fair wage.”
“To help make that case, look no further than Costco,” said Thomas Perez, secretary of labor at the event. “Costco has been proving for years that you can be a profitable company while still paying your employees a fair wage. They’ve rejected the old false choice that you can serve the interests of your shareholders, or your workers, but not both.”
“Labor union officials and backers agree,” according to an article in USA Today, “saying other retailers, such as Walmart, could learn from the way Costco treats its workers and the results.”
Costco’s example is on the left end of the retail spectrum, and is set up to be taken down a notch. Slavery in its supply chain is nothing new as their shelves have long been stocked with canned tuna derived from a Thailand based fishing trade that sources from slave vessels. The Costco halo has protected it… perhaps until now.
When in high school I enjoyed having a tuna melt sandwich at Ross’ Restaurant in Bettendorf after working on the stage crew. The warm tuna salad, with a slice of melted cheese, served on toasted bread was sensually appealing and delicious. We are not in high school any more.
We live in a society where the mere mention of symbols of 19th century slavery creates cacophonous public debate. Just look at the recent news cycles regarding use of the Confederate battle flag in public places. It was a media firestorm with the defining act arguably being removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds. Modern day slavery? Barely a word about it.
Whether Costco’s association with slaves in its supply chain will become an issue among its members is uncertain at best. As a society don’t like to take down the symbols in our hagiography, even if all large-scale retailers, including Costco, are far from saintly. We take comfort in developing patterns and relationships with our retailers, creating a refuge from a world that seems increasingly hostile. “I like this brand,” a consumer might say.
The argument comes down to the face of the farmer. When we discover the farmer is a slave, it requires action on our part. That is, unless we concede the world is so screwed up there is no hope.
I’ve never eaten a prawn, and don’t plan to start. If the lawsuit is successful, I’m not sure it will matter among prawn-eaters or other Costco members. However, progressives should care, and stop referring to Costco as a model for labor relations until it pledges, and lives up to the pledge, to take slavery out of its supply chain.
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors set a public forum Aug. 12 to collect information regarding its proposal to increase the county-wide minimum wage to $10.10 per hour in three stages by 2017.
Something bigger than incremental hourly wage increases is at stake.
There are legal hurdles for the supervisors to jump in passing an ordinance, but to a person they are smart people and a vocal minority of the community has been supportive. State Senator Bob Dvorsky, who represents part of Johnson County, Cedar County and the City of Wilton weighed in favoring the proposal this week.
This action is indicative of local frustration with failure to act on the part of state and federal government. This is the third such prominent case where local authorities have taken things into their own hands absent governance.
The most familiar is the lawsuit initiated by the Des Moines Water Works over its increased costs of removing nitrates, mostly generated from farming operations, from the capitol city’s drinking water. Governor Branstad asked the public utility to “tone it down and start cooperating” in its criticism of the agricultural community. The water works is planning to spend $183 million for new nitrate treatment equipment because of increased levels in the Raccoon River resulting mostly from farm runoff.
Art Tate, superintendent of Davenport public schools, said he was going to break state law after the state legislature failed to provide adequate resources to his district during the most recent legislative session.
These examples present a dim picture for state governance, as each problem could be governed by the state with more effectiveness and broader impact.
Taking things into our own hands is a native impulse and very American. It is the same kind that gets small scale entrepreneurs to start businesses and community groups to form to solve local problems.
When in western Iowa a couple years back, a group of us stopped at a small diner attached to a truck stop in Missouri Valley, hoping to grab a quick breakfast before our scheduled event in Des Moines. The place was packed, but we placed our order, mindful of the time.
After about 20 minutes, a woman came from the kitchen and made an announcement, “Our cook just quit, and I’m not sure what we’re going to do about it.”
A regular patron stood up and said, “Hell, I can cook eggs, and rushed to the kitchen before anyone cold stop him.”
After ten more minutes, we tipped our server and said we had to go without eating.
The native impulse to take things into our own hands is part of what’s good about living in Iowa. What would be better is if people would connect the dots between the problems we all share and the purpose of government.
There are minimum wage earners who would spend extra money in their paycheck. Urban dwellers don’t deserve to pay for an unrecognized cost of agriculture. School children deserve the best education possible, and it’s possible to do much more than we are. Importantly, we deserve better governance.
Until people take matters into their own hands and elect men and women who will serve the electorate more than moneyed interests, we will be stuck. It is possible, using the same hands with which our country was built, we will engender democracy again by using the ballot box. It’s something sorely needed in Iowa.
The loud but small-sized movement to raise the minimum wage is made up of good people. There are not enough of them to make a difference. Their voice is amplified in corporate news outlets, but neither the federal nor state governments have acted to raise the minimum wage in a long time.
Today the Johnson County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss a county ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. Iowa City native David Goodner feels this is not enough and called for raising it to $15. As we posted yesterday, Iowa labor commissioner Michael Mauro said the ordinance Johnson County is discussing is inconsistent with Iowa law and therefore unconstitutional. The county attorney has not reported to the board on the legality of a potential ordinance.
Goodner wrote in the print edition of today’s Iowa City Press Citizen, “According to the Iowa Policy Project, a livable wage for a single worker in Iowa is $13.04 an hour. A single mom with kids needs $28.07 an hour to make ends meet. Married workers with two kids need $16.89 an hour each.”
The numbers are a familiar construct and seem reasonable to progressive readers who follow the Iowa Policy Project. Peter Fisher and Lily French’s article, “The Cost of Living in Iowa – 2014 Edition” is well researched and often quoted. “The Johnson County Board of Supervisors know what the research says. So why not $15 an hour now?” wrote Goodner. “Why should workers have to wait to earn a livable wage?”
Where is the groundswell of support from the 3.3 million U.S. workers who are at or below minimum wage to raise it? The answer is complicated, but Pew Research Center gets us started in answering the question.
People at or below the federal minimum wage are disproportionately young (50.4% are ages 16 to 24; 24% are teenagers age 16 to 19); mostly (77%) white; nearly half being white women; and largely part-time workers (64% of the total), according to Pew. They work in food preparation and serving; sales; personal care and service; office and administrative support; building and grounds maintenance; and other low-skill occupations.
Work needs doing and competitive compensation is required of businesses to get it done. If minimum wage gets the job done, and for the most part it has, there is no natural incentive to raise it.
Some try to subsist on a single minimum wage job. It is hard to tell from the Pew numbers how many people that is. What is borne out by my experience is it is unreasonable to assume people work a single minimum wage job to make household ends meet. Actually, as Iowa Policy Project research shows, it’s impossible.
At the same time, the old sawhorse of taking the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, multiplying it by 40 hours per week for a result of $290 per week gross income is essentially meaningless. It is no justification for much of anything. Minimum wage jobs are worked in a complex cultural context that matters more than the rate of pay.
From talking to dozens of low wage workers, I’ve found — in every case — taking a minimum wage or lowly paid job has been a trade-off of priorities and a temporary measure for those earning an hourly wage. What matters more is a social support network that includes income from a second job, pension or other household members; shared housing; alternative food sources; shared or public transportation; and no-cost child care from family and friends. Health care is a significant expense in terms of time off work, deductibles and co-pays. Our health care system has a long way to go to be affordable for low wage workers.
If the Johnson County supervisors decide to raise the county minimum wage, it would in part reflect a dissatisfaction with state and federal government for failing to act. People can demand what they want, and low-wage workers will take it.
People who talk about raising the minimum wage don’t get that cancer, hip replacements, divorces, incarceration, poor diet, addictions, lawsuits, sore backs, weak knees, bullying, discrimination, firearms, transportation, lack of access to health care and everything else involved in living in our society enter into the picture.
If government is going to raise the minimum wage, be quick about it. Then get on to solving more pressing problems that impact low wage workers.
No one in American labor history has won the mythic status of Mary “Mother” Jones (1837-1930).
This Irish immigrant, who lost her family to disease and her business to the Great Chicago Fire, became the nation’s roving rabble-rouser in the final third of her life.
Traveling from picket line to coal mine to jail cells, this spirited figure rallied many a strike. Today she rests in the Union Miners’ Cemetery in Mt. Olive, Ill., surrounded by the coal miners for whom she fought.
A unique two CD musical compilation brings together songs about her, coal mining and a working class fighting spirit.
The CD benefits the Mother Jones Monument over her grave, recently restored with the fund-raising efforts of the Illinois AFL-CIO.
Most of the 35 songs here are in a country or folk vein, some very traditional, others more contemporary in their sound. There are a few “name” musicians one might recognize here, like Steve Earle with Del McCoury and Billy Bragg. The majority are musicians inspired by a colorful woman, who knew well how music could lift the spirits and how her own appearance, dressed in Victorian garb, was theatrical itself.
A special treat is the original recording from 1930s-40s “singing cowboy” Gene Autry, who had his first hit in 1931, “The Death of Mother Jones.”
Liner notes from Dr. Rosemary Feurer tells the impact this woman’s life had, both the reality of her spirited interventions and the inspiration she was to others.
The CD is available for $24, including shipping, from http://www.motherjonesmuseum.org/catalog.
(Editor’s Note: These photos were published in early 2002 in the 911 issue of Hasta Cuando, a Spanish-English punk political magazine out of Pilsen, Chicago. They are by an extraordinary Chicago artist, teacher and musician, Rebecca Wolfram and reflect her response to the shallow and zealous patriotism after the destruction of the World Trade Center and bombing of the Pentagon.).
I usually loathe flags and symbols in general. Symbolic gestures are a lazy way to avoid substantial meaningful change. Focusing on symbolism is an intellectually dishonest way to ignore substantive argument. Not looking at a thing for what it is, but what it represents oppressively denies subjective experience.
And so, this 4th of July Holiday weekend, I’m sure most of us will have seen the store shelves and picnics festooned with US flag napkins, paper plates, table cloths, bikinis, beach towels, and parades lined in red, white and blue. People die for the flag, kill for the flag. But as Arundhati Roy explained, “Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s minds & then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.”
But it’s been quite an eventful flag waving couple of weeks.
Rainbow Gay Pride Flags flutter in parades and across social media screens around the world after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.
After the brutal racist murder of members of a prayer group at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the Confederate Flag has now descended from atop flagpoles in front of National Monuments and State Legislatures. Even historic revisionists white folk are losing their ability to deny its violent, racists origins – people have the google to dispel their racist idiotic claims.
Finally, the ISIS flag suffered a brilliant shaming at the Gay Pride Parade in London when artist Paul Coombs marched with his parody of the ISIS flag, substituting the caliphate propaganda with inscriptions of dildos and butt plugs. Coombs explained, “It [the ISIS flag] has become a potent symbol of brutality, fear and sexual oppression. If I wanted to try and stimulate a dialogue about the ridiculousness of this ideology, the flag was key.” Glaringly, Coombs flag was also key to exposing CNN’s shoddy journalism when it spread the panicky story that the flag was actually ISIS in the parade, rather than just a dildo afficianado making a political statement.
These series of events reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s anti-war, anti-nationalist lyric from, Games without Frontiers, “Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching’s is blue. They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu.” The lyric references extremist leaders prevailing in 20th Century, meanwhile peaceful democratic people remain sans patria…
And though the Gay Pride flag waves magnificently across parades and facebook statuses, it is a bittersweet victory. We can rightfully claim victory in the marriage equality ruling, yet it still remain legal in many states to fire someone for their sexual status. You can marry, but not work. You can marry, but you can’t shop in my store.
The Confederate Flag, long a symbol of white pride, of a hateful sublime oppression that remained to oppress African Americans in spite of and in backlash to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, is being taken down. As I write this, the seventh Black Church has been burned since the Mother Emanuel AME massacre.
We are all subjected to this Treachery of Images. Our work is to unravel the threads of all those flags, and use them to knit together a humanistic meaning and society.
Margie Mason of the Associated Press reported Tuesday that Indonesian police arrested seven suspects in an ongoing case.
“Five Thai boat captains and two Indonesian employees at Pusaka Benjina Resources, one of the largest fishing firms in eastern Indonesia, were taken into custody,” wrote Mason. “The arrests come after the AP reported on slave-caught seafood shipped from Benjina to Thailand, where it can be exported and enter the supply chains of some of America’s biggest food retailers.”
But for the investigative reporting by the Associated Press, these instances of slavery and human trafficking would have gone unnoticed, especially in the Western Hemisphere at the end of the global food supply chain.
American consumers don’t want to hear what goes on at the far end of the food supply chain. Using slave labor to fish is particularly egregious, and most people I meet don’t want to hear any of it. The focus is on the box, can, bag or piece of fruit or vegetable in front of them. Few want to dig very deep into where it comes from. We are the less as a society because of this prevalent American value.
I’m not a person who sees cause for alarm everywhere I look. I’ve been inside enough manufacturing and production operations during the last 40 years to know it requires oftentimes difficult work to make things we use every day. In most cases, there is a human impact with the means of production.
In the slow walk away from union representation since the Reagan era, much of what we learned about worker treatment has been abandoned by companies whose business model is to outsource or use subcontractors. That’s the immediate defense of Pusaka Benjina Resources: their subcontractors were responsible for any human trafficking and slavery. It is really no defense.
One should appreciate that the Associated Press is still willing to invest substantial resources in breaking stories like the slavery on Indonesian fishing vessels. Few others seem willing to do so as news organizations struggle to carve out a viable business niche, and as news and information gets blended into a vast soup of engaging, but largely irrelevant bits and packets transmitted with the speed of breaking news.
What’s a blogger to do? We begin like a fisher, setting sail on the sea of posts, articles, books, emails and letters that exist on electronic media. Waiting for what is relevant, what is news, and importantly, what matters. Not what matters to me, but what matters to all of us on this blue-green sphere.
What comes next is up to each of us.
(Editor’s Note: Read the first in this series about slavery in the seafood business here. Article includes links to brands whose tuna may be harvested by slaves).
Given Iowa’s early labor organizing among mineworkers, led by John L. Lewis, who went on to head the United Mine Workers and found the Congress of Industrial Organizations, this book review illustrates the struggles posed by this dangerous profession.
Grand Prairie Union News
The Devil Is Here In These Hills: West Virginia Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom, by James Green, Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 978-0-8021-2331-2 $28.00
Stereotypes abound about Appalachian people, “hillbillies” and “rednecks,” as rough clothed, rough fighting, straight shooting and inter-marrying tribal Americans, lost in deep eastern valleys.
Stereotypes are never fair and the determined labor battles that West Virginia coal miners fought receive their comprehensive due in James Green’s latest gift to labor history, The Devil Is Here In These Hills.
As the 20th century began, coal mining reached higher levels in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, as deep seams of high quality fuel were exploited on an industrial scale. Not only were native Appalachians recruited to work the mines, so were Italian immigrants and African-Americans. Soon forging common bonds, these workers struggled from the 1900s until the 1930s to win union recognition and security.
Isolated in coal camps where the companies controlled the town, housing and stores, paying the workers often in company-issued currency, the miners soon found themselves in debt, their safety and dignity disregarded.
Again and again these workers rose up, only to face Baldwin-Felts detectives, court injunctions, state militias and federal troops. Blood ran freely and the miners quickly learned to arm themselves and fight back, though the odds were stacked against them.
Famous characters show up to rally the workers – the “Miners’ Angel,” Mary “Mother” Jones, with her characteristic salty language, boldly marched into company towns. Sid Hatfield, scion of the famous feuding families and sheriff of Matewan, West Virginia, became a miners’ hero after he faced off against Baldwin-Felts agents, only to be assassinated on the courthouse steps in Welch, West Virginia.
Green thoroughly details the culminating battles that Hatfield’s death helped trigger, the 1920-21 Mine Wars, including the Battle of Blair Mountain, where thousands of armed miners skirmished for three days with company guards and sheriffs. The U.S. Army Air Force had its first and only foray against American civilians during this episode and Federal troops finally disarmed the miners. To their dismay, the miners soon learned that only they were being disarmed, not the coal companies nor the Baldwin-Felts agents.
The term “redneck” is often linked to these battles, as the miners wore red kerchiefs and the company white, to distinguish their separate sides.
Beat down but never surrendering, when the 1930s Roosevelt Administration legalized union organization, West Virginia miners quickly joined the United Mine Workers and not only won better conditions, but democracy in their own communities, freed from the company store and company house.
Too often working people and their efforts for a voice and dignity get lost; particularly rural workers are stereotyped. Green breaks through this to show a multi-ethnic workers’ community, united in seeking democracy, not only in politics, but also on the job, and bravely willing to shed blood to win it.
Catch this week’s Fallon Forum live on Monday from 11:00 am – 12:00 noon on KDLF 1260 AM “La Reina.” Join the conversation by calling in at (515) 528-8122. And you can hear the Fallon Forum on KHOI 89.1 FM (Ames) at 5:00 pm on Wednesday and on KPVL 89.1 FM (Postville) at 7:00 pm on Wednesday.
“What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures.” – Samuel Gompers, founder and long-time president of the American Federation of Labor
The American Labor movement has a prestigious history of accomplishments that benefit each and every one of us. Samuel Gompers – who died ninety years ago this week – provided the Labor movement not just with leadership and vision, but with a firm moral compass as well.
Yet as I walked across America, I met hundreds of hard-working people who had lost faith in Labor – people whose lives and land were being ruined by fracking, pipelines and pollution from oil and gas refineries. In each case, Labor’s leaders turned a deaf ear to the plight of those in the cross hairs of fossil-fuel expansion. They were focused solely on jobs to the point that they no longer cared what impact those jobs had on the well-being of others and future generations.
And I had to ask, “Has Labor lost its moral compass?”
As I attended one of the public meetings on the proposed Bakken Oil Pipeline last week, I thought about Gompers. Sure, everyone can get behind building a school. But what would Gompers say when it came to building jails, prisons, arsenals or pipelines? Would he agree with the leadership of the Iowa AFL-CIO in choosing to side with Big Oil over farmers, landowners, environmentalists, and the long-term best interest of its own members? I seriously doubt it.
I panned the roughly 250 people in attendance at last week’s public meeting and saw a crowd mostly opposed to the pipeline, or at best unconvinced. Then there was the other side: a few officials and staff of the corporations that will get rich; a handful of labor union reps; and some key Democratic and Republican operatives, including a former state party chair (Republican) and a former legislative leader (Democrat).
So, what does the Iowa Democratic Party Platform say relevant to the proposed pipeline?
“We support . . . Converting from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy;”
“We oppose . . . Tar sands oil/Keystone XL Pipeline;” and
“We oppose . . . Favoring private enterprise with Eminent Domain.” (On this point, the platform of the Republican Party of Iowa concurs.)
Given their history and stated policy, leaders of both the Iowa AFL-CIO and the Iowa Democratic Party should come out against the Bakken Oil Pipeline. In doing so, they would stand with their core constituencies and demonstrate an integrity and vision that look beyond short-term job creation and the next election cycle.
Thanks, and I hope to meet you on the airwaves this week!
WASHINGTON, D.C.— On Wednesday, Oct. 1, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez issued a final rule raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 per hour, effective Jan. 1, 2015. According to the Associated Press, the change will impact more than 200,000 workers.
The top ten federal government contractors in 2012 were Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, SAIC, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Hewlett Packard, Booz Allen Hamilton, Computer Sciences Corporation, and DynCorp International. They will feel the minimum wage hike a bit, but for the vast majority of Americans, especially the working class, the changes by the Labor Department will pass unnoticed.
The Labor Department also announced that effective Jan. 1, 2015, most direct care workers will be entitled to receive federal minimum wage and overtime pay protections. Direct care workers are workers who provide home care services, such as certified nursing assistants, home health aides, personal care aides, caregivers, and companions.
This is how change happens: bit by bit, incrementally, and job by job.
While many hoped for big changes when President Obama was sworn into office, expectations were set so high, he had an impossible task to meet them. While some small companies may complain about the new federal minimum wage rules, it is a basic tenant of living in our country that companies that secure a federal contract should pay a reasonable wage. Likewise, the notion that home care is real work, and that when a person runs a business that provides home care, they should be subject to paying the federal minimum wage with overtime is obvious. The rules set by the secretary create a floor, one that has been needed for a long time.
People who operate businesses want to make a profit, and that’s no crime. Running a profitable business is something basic and needed in our society. The political debate has been about the amount of government regulation and subsidy, and the dynamic of our bicameral legislature has been to create an environment that favors large, corporate businesses in the post-World War II era. Businesses like the top federal contractors.
At the same time, there is an economy of low wage workers, like those that provide home care. Someone knows a friend or relative who needs care, and an agreement is reached for compensation. The amount of compensation may not be as important as providing the service, especially when people can’t afford professional care. Personal relationships enter into the picture. Often this work is done off the books.
My point is this. Between the publicized, formal programs of the Labor Department and the reality of daily life there is and always will be a gap. That’s where many of us live our lives. We should appreciate the work of the Obama administration to fix known problems like those related to federal contractor wages and home care workers. In the working class, we may view that as nice, but less relevant to our lives than all of the brouhaha suggests.
It is something that we even noticed President Obama did what he said he would with regard to setting the minimum wage for federal contractors. But then that’s what blogs are for.