Thomas M. Conway

President’s Perspective

Tom Conway USW International President

American Democracy Is Not A Charity Case

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, America’s fourth-richest person, finally admitted that no one deserves to accumulate as much wealth as he has.

But hey, he says, at least he plans to give a lot of his $69.6 billion net worth to charity.

That’s nice. But it’s not enough considering the threat of concentrated wealth to the American ideal.

America’s very democracy is dying because billionaires like Zuckerberg amass ever more wealth—and thus ever more political power—while everyone else struggles with less. Less money. But, just as importantly, less clout in government.

Philanthropy is fine. But to preserve a functioning democracy, everyone, including billionaires, must pay a fair share of taxes so that America has the money it desperately needs to address shared priorities, reinvigorate the middle class and repair the social fabric torn by income inequality. And we need real limits on campaign contributions to stop the nation’s slide from democracy, where many have a voice, to oligarchy, where only the rich are heard.

The rich don’t pay anything like their proportionate share of taxes right now. Not even close.

In fact, a new study shows that the super-rich pay a lower rate than working Americans thanks to the Republicans’ 2017 tax giveaway.

Last year, the nation’s 400 richest families paid an average effective tax rate of 23 percent, compared to the 24.2 percent paid by the bottom half of U.S. households. It turns out hotel queen Leona Helmsley was right all those years ago when she said only the little people pay taxes.

More ...

Equality and Electability

Jack Metzgar Professor Emeritus, Roosevelt University

In 2015, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg advised Hillary Clinton to run on a promise to “level the playing field” and “rewrite the rules of the economy.”  She didn’t take his advice. Instead, she told voters she would “build on the progress” of the Obama administration and “create ladders of opportunity.”

Professors like me, who get to speak in full paragraphs all the time, can easily dismiss campaign slogans as superficial and manipulative.  But they are organizing principles that can align basic vision with both policy proposals and organizing strategies.  These two slogans still reflect two possible organizing principles for the Democratic Party in 2019-20.  Biden wants to build on Obama’s progress, and Sanders and Warren aim to rewrite the rules of the economy, boldly addressing our runaway inequality of income and wealth.  Like Greenberg four years ago, I believe that candidates who articulate a broad left-populist approach will be more electable in 2020.   And as we face a future filled with peril, they are the only leaders who can govern in a way that could repair our toxic race and class dynamics.

Greenberg skewers the “build on the progress” trope by showing how many people didn’t see any progress during Obama’s eight years, both in the economic data and in what people told him in surveys and focus groups.  He thinks this slogan actually moved some people to vote for Trump, who in 2016 seemed to many to be the one offering some hope and change.  Greenberg predicts that Trump will hang himself on the same trope next year, if he isn’t impeached and removed from office before then.

But I think it’s the second part of Clinton’s 2016 message that reflects the real problem: there’s an important difference between aspiring to “ladders of opportunity” versus “leveling the playing field.”  The first emphasizes equality of opportunity, while the second is about equality of condition.  Equality of opportunity aims to give everybody an equal chance to climb a ladder to get one of the limited number of spots on a playing field that is severely titled by race, gender, and class.  Equality of condition is about getting everybody on a level playing field, not necessarily in equally desirable spots but with some substantial narrowing of the best and worst spots and with the worst spots being adequate for a decent and meaningful life.

To get anything close to equality of opportunity, we would have to vote to take away the huge opportunity advantages currently enjoyed by most of the professional middle class.  This is a large group of people and they vote a lot, so no politician will either promise to or do what’s necessary, no matter how much they talk about equality of opportunity in the abstract.

More ...

Robots On Everyone’s Mind At the Fourth Democratic Debate

Matthew McMullan

Matthew McMullan Communications Manager, Alliance for American Manufacturing

Another hours-long primary debate is in the books. There were 12 candidates on stage last night! For another three hours! Not a great format for TV!

That said: One of these people could be in the White House in a little over a year from now, so we should probably pay a little attention, even if we're still months away from voting. So let’s boil it down. What did we notice in last night's debate?  

Elizabeth Warren on trade vs. automation 

Moderator: “Senator Warren, you wrote that blaming job loss on automation is, quote, ‘a good story, except it's not really true.’ So should workers here in Ohio not be worried about losing their jobs to automation?”

Warren: “So the data show that we have had a lot of problems with losing jobs, but the principal reason has been bad trade policy. The principal reason has been a bunch of corporations, giant multinational corporations who've been calling the shots on trade, giant multinational corporations that have no loyalty to America. They have no loyalty to American workers. They have no loyalty to American consumers. They have no loyalty to American communities. They are loyal only to their own bottom line.”

“I have a plan to fix that, and it's accountable capitalism. It says, you want to have one of the giant corporations in America? Then, by golly, 40 percent of your board of directors should be elected by your employees.”

Insta-Analysis: That is indeed Sen. Warren’s plan. Requiring 40 percent of all corporate boards to worker-elected is not the only part of it, but it’s a real big part. You can read about the rest here.

Is she right, though, that trade’s a bigger job-loss culprit than automation? It depends on which jobs you’re talking about. Manufacturing jobs have definitely been lost as we’ve run up trade deficits with China over the years. There’s a plausible argument to be made that import competition killed off factory employment in the United States.  

More ...

UFCW, Public Citizen Sue to Stop Dangerous Slaughterhouse Rules

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The United Food and Commercial Workers and three of its Minnesota locals, who represent workers at slaughterhouses, and the pro-worker Public Citizen activist group filed suit against a GOP Trump administration rule that could in effect return the nation’s pork production to conditions found in The Jungle more than a century ago.

The case, filed by UFCW and its Locals 2, 410 and 663 on Oct. 7 in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, says the new inspection regime – or lack of it – that Trump’s Agriculture Department wants to impose endangers both safety of workers on the job and the nation’s health, by leaving pork carcasses open to bacterial hazards.

Trump’s Agriculture Department promulgated the final rule in the last several weeks and officially published it on Oct. 1. Deep in its text, it says the rule will add $87 million to the profits of the nation’s agribusiness pork processors.

But it would do so, the suit and the unions retort, at the expense of worker health and safety – particularly repetitive motion injuries – and consumer health, by letting diseased pork carcasses go by on the production line with no oversight from federal inspectors. They’d only get to look at the hogs before the carcasses enter the line and after they come off.

In between, the suit says, untrained plant employees -- i.e. managers ordered to speed through as many hogs as possible to increase production and profits – would eye carcasses.

Trump’s pork processing rule is yet another instance of his pro-plutocratic GOP administration caving to the wishes of the corporate class. The pork processors have been agitating for years for no speed limits on pork processing lines. They also lobbied for fewer, or no, federal inspectors to yank off diseased hogs. They got their wish in Trump’s rule.

In both senses, those conditions harken back to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, published in 1905. It exposed dangerous conditions – both to workers and consumers – in pork slaughterhouses of Chicago’s stockyards, the “Hog Butcher to the World.”

More ...

Twin Cities home health care workers win unpaid overtime

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

It took almost five years to wend its way through state agencies and courts, but home health care workers who toil for the Twin Cities-based Baywood Home Care agency will share $350,000 from the firm for unpaid overtime.

The win came from the Minnesota Supreme Court on Sept. 18, in a case brought on the workers’ behalf by the state Department of Labor, the St. Paul Union Advocate reported.

The department investigated a complaint, filed in 2014, that the agency was violating the state Fair Labor Standards Act, which  mandates time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked over 48 per week.

The federal FLSA mandates overtime pay for all hours worked over 40 per week, but it doesn’t cover home health care workers. Minnesota’s does. Responding to evidence presented by the Service Employees, the Obama-era federal Labor Department brought home health care workers nationwide under the federal FLSA, for one year, until home health care interests got federal courts to toss that rule out.

Baywood broke the state law, the state agency told the state court, by working its employees for 24 hours at a time, but not every day. They were paid set daily rates regardless of how long they worked each week.

The state court said the daily rates are no substitute for overtime pay. When the home health care workers toiled more than 48 hours a week each, the workers were entitled to time-and-half pay “regardless of how the worker was compensated” before hitting that weekly limit.

Not paying the workers overtime is a form of wage theft, which costs Minnesota workers alone $22 million statewide every year, estimates show.

“All Minnesotans deserve to be paid every dollar they are owed for the work they perform,” state Labor Commissioner Nancy Leppink said in a statement after the court’s decision. The court also ordered the firm to pay the state agency $350,000 in damages.

“Too many workers are not being paid their full wages. With this decision, these employees are now one step closer to being correctly compensated for their work and for the harm they experienced,” she added.

***

Union Matters

America’s Wealthy: Ever Eager to Pay Their Taxes!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Why do many of the wealthiest people in America oppose a “wealth tax,” an annual levy on grand fortune? Could their distaste reflect a simple reluctance to pay their fair tax share? Oh no, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon recently told the Business Roundtable: “I know a lot of wealthy people who would be happy to pay more in taxes; they just think it’ll be wasted and be given to interest groups and stuff like that.” Could Dimon have in mind the interest group he knows best, Wall Street? In the 2008 financial crisis, federal bailouts kept the banking industry from imploding. JPMorgan alone, notes the ProPublica Bailout Tracker, collected $25 billion worth of federal largesse, an act of generosity that’s helped Dimon lock down a $1.5-billion personal fortune. Under the Elizabeth Warren wealth tax plan, Dimon would pay an annual 3 percent tax on that much net worth. Fortunes between $1 billion and $2.5 billion would face a 5 percent annual tax under the Bernie Sanders plan.

***

More ...

No Such Thing as Good Greed

No Such Thing as Good Greed