Leo W. Gerard

President’s Perspective

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Tax Dollars Can Buy Happiness

Corporatists castigated two lawmakers in recent weeks for daring to offer economic Xanax prescriptions to cure rampant American economic anxiety.

 “Stupid,” is what they branded new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as she became the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. House.

“Unlikeable” is what they excoriated U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren with as she began exploring a run for the presidency.

Right-wingers and one percenters had to crush Ocasio-Cortez, Warren and others whose ideas promote dignified jobs with living wages, universal health insurance, affordable access to pre-K and college degrees and a national sense of social cohesiveness. 

That’s because in capitalist America, there are summer homes and pleasure boats for the wealthy, but no rest for the weary and worried. The rich and corporations get massive tax breaks, and the 99 percent, well, they get stagnant wages, growing bills and constant angst. How can families afford health care? How can they pay the rising cost of daycare? How can 20 somethings ever afford a home while paying off extortive college loans? Will the elderly avert the indignity of meals made of cat food as corporations eliminate pensions? Worry. Worry. Worry. So many are so miserable in the richest country in the world. 

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Time to Make a Deal on the Federal Minimum Wage

By Wade Rathke
Center for Working-Class Studies

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009.  Until last year, when the unemployment rate dropped almost to the level of full employment, wages were stagnant, exacerbating inequality.  In 2018, average hourly earnings went up 3.15% and closed the year with a 3.9% jump.  Even with those recent adjustments, workers still need a federal minimum increase.

The Raise the Wage Act offers the prospect for change.  The bill was introduced in May 2017 by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, but it died in committee in 2018 with 170 co-sponsors, Democrats all.  It proposed a dollar-a-year increase over seven years, eventually reaching $15.00 – more than twice the current minimum.  It would also phase out lower pay for tip-credit workers who are currently frozen at $2.13 per hour as well as disabled worker exceptions.

The Fight for $15 campaign, largely engineered and financed by the Service Employees International Union, has been a key force in defining $15.00 an hour as the goal.  Their work has helped set eight states on the path to establishing minimum wages of between $12 and $15 per hour in coming years, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Washington.  Thirteen cities, including New York City, Seattle, and San Jose, are already at $15 or higher.  While Fight for $15 has created momentum for the new Democratic House majority, today’s leaders should not forget the lessons learned from decades of living wage fights.

On January 18, 1997, ACORN and Local 100, United Labor Unions (then affiliated with the SEIU), presented voters in Houston, Texas with what seemed a radical proposal at the time: a city ordinance to raise the minimum wage to the level of $6.50 per hour for all workers.  Only months before, the federal minimum had finally risen from $4.25 per hour to $4.75.  In a patronizing campaign against us, service industry and general business employers insisted that they understood our demand, but we were going about it the wrong way, and our proposal would cost jobs.  While we won in lower-income and working-class districts, we lost the election 2 votes to 1. In River Oaks, the district where former President George H. Bush lived and voted, we garnered just one vote.

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‘Quality for All.’ Ethics When Forced?

Jesús Espinoza

Jesús Espinoza Press Secretary, AAM

North Carolina-based Badger Sportswear, whose athletic apparel can be found on college athletes and sports fans nationwide, no longer sources its goods from a clothing manufacturer that uses forced labor in Chinese internment camps that hold members of religious and ethnic minority groups.

We’re relieved to hear that Badger is finally ending its contract with the manufacturer, Hetian Taida Apparel, and hope that it will commit to ethical manufacturing by moving its production to the U.S. There are plenty of Made in USA companies ready to meet their needs. By moving its sourcing to the U.S., Badger would create jobs in communities that have long suffered from the outsourcing of America’s textile industry.

Despite Badger doing the right thing by no longer benefitting from Hetian Taida’s appalling labor practices, the company's decision seems a tad bit forced: It insists that Hetian Taida did not participate in forced labor.

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U.S. Tax Policy Can Turn on a Dime. Has Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Just Turned It?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

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Workplace Safety for the Week of January 7

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Freedom of the Press is not Free — or Safe: Reporters Without Borders released its annual report last month of deadly violence and abusive treatment of journalists and the news isn’t good: “A total of 80 journalists were killed this year, 348 are currently in prison, and 60 are being held hostage.” And it’s getting worse. Murders, imprisonment, hostage-taking and disappearances have all increased. According to RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire, “The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists.” I know at least one unscrupulous politician who should read this and reflect.

Spreading the Pain: Some federal employers are luckier than others because their agencies are still funded and they’re actually getting paid for their work. Instead of urging them to urge their elected leaders to end Trump’s vanity wall shutdown, “the Department of Labor’s assistant secretary for administration and management, Bryan Slater, sent an email urging department staff to help out workers at agencies affected by the partial U.S. government shutdown,” according to Bloomberg. Slater reminded those lucky DOL employees that ““This is a great opportunity to help fellow colleagues manage their bills, their child care and other everyday needs!” So instead of their employers paying them for the work they’re doing (or want to be doing), their fellow employees are now being asked to support them while the billionaire President sits in his bed, watching Fox “News” all day and tweeting lies after lie. Perhaps Labor Secretary Alex Acosta should do something real for the federal labor force and tell his boss to end the shutdown.

ADM Cutting Back on Safety?  ADM has been having problems. Or more precisely, those working in and around ADM have been having problems — deadly ones. Last weekend, OSHA launched two separate investigations into grain dust explosions at ADM corn processing plants in Iowa and Decatur, Illinois. A firefighter was killed responding to the explosion and fire in Iowa. The Decatur plant had experienced another fire and explosion just two months ago in the grain elevator that serves the company’s corn and soybean plants. As former OSHA Policy Director Debbie Berkowitz observed, “The standard to prevent explosions in grain elevators is 30 years old. There are no excuses here for these deadly explosions.”

Mining Fatalities Down Slightly in 2018: MSHA is boasting the second lowest number of fatalities n the nation’s history. 27 miners were killed in 2018 — 12 coal miners, and 27 metal/non-metal miners. Last year 15 coal miners were killed and 13 metal/non-metal miners. 2016 saw the lowest number with 25 killed — 8 coal miners and 17 metal/non-metal miners.  Unfortunately, it only took a few days into 2019 for the first mining fatality: John Ditterline, 55, of Equality, Illinois, was killed January 4. Ditterline was a contract employee in the underground mine, working for Clay, Kentucky-based S & L Industries. The mine is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, LP.

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Union Matters

No Money for Pensions, But Plenty for Parties

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Private equity work has been sweet for Marc Leder, the numero uno at Sun Capital Partners. He’s parlayed his takeovers of troubled firms into a fortune big enough to make him a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in basketball and the New Jersey Devils in hockey. New York’s tabloids, meanwhile, have come to dub the hard-partying Leder “the Hugh Hefner of the Hamptons.” The secret to his success? Private-equity firms, notes Center for Economic and Policy Research economist Eileen Appelbaum, plunder assets from the companies they buy, then send them into bankruptcy to sidestep their obligations to workers. Over the past decade alone, Sun Capital has bankrupted five firms and left their pension funds $280 million short. Leder, for his part, claims that the “vast majority” of Sun Capital deals have been successful. And he only parties hearty, the private-equity kingpin adds, 25 nights a year.

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How We Got Here

How We Got Here