Posts from Sam Pizzigati

The Wall Street Con Now Shredding Our Economic Future

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Imagine yourself sitting in a corporate chief executive suite. You run a Fortune 500 corporation, and you’re facing the biggest decision of your career. Lawmakers have just enacted the largest corporate tax cut in world history. Hundreds of millions of unexpected dollars, maybe billions, will soon be pouring into your corporate coffers.

The immediate question for you, the CEO: What are you going to do with this incredible windfall?

You have options, plenty of options. You can invest your golden windfall in new plants and equipment. You can put money into R&D and create exciting new products. You can retrain your workers and reward them — with higher pay — for their increased productivity.

All reasonable choices. Which would you pick? Or would you choose some combination of all three?

In real life, America’s top corporate executives are facing exactly this same set of choices. And they’re picking . . . none of the above!

These execs are choosing instead to devote a huge chunk of their windfall to “stock buybacks.” Instead of investing in their corporate long-range future, they’re shelling out billions buying back shares of their own stock on the open market.

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Wage Theft: To Fight the Crime, Attack the Motive

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

The American economy rests ultimately on trust, a mutual understanding between employers and employees that each side, in the end, will behave honorably. A fair day’s wage, as the classic formulation puts it, for a fair day’s work.

This covenant gets broken, of course, on a regular basis. The most damaging betrayals? They come when employees put in that fair day’s work and don’t get paid a full fair day’s pay. Labor market analysts today have come to call these betrayals “wage theft,” and this thievery is thriving.

The employer culprits include the predictable fly-by-night operators we would expect. But the culprits also include, as an alarming new report details, veritable pillars of Corporate America, billion-dollar companies that can clearly afford to honor their side of our core employer-employee bargain.

These corporate pillars are committing their thievery on many fronts. They’re not paying employees for work performed “off the clock.” They’re stiffing workers on overtime and violating minimum wage laws. They’re requiring employees to buy particular work clothes and not compensating them for their outlays.

How widespread has this corporate wage theft become? Grand Theft Paycheck, a landmark new report from Good Jobs First and the Jobs with Justice Education Fund, has catalogued over 1,200 lawsuits since the year 2000 won by groups of workers who took their employer to court “to recover the pay they were wrongly denied.” Employers in these cases paid out $8.8 billion in penalties.

Adding in actions against large employers that regulatory agencies at the federal and state level have taken brings that penalty total up over $18 billion.

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A Coffee Bean Baron Rushes to Our Rescue

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Billionaire Howard Schultz, the former CEO of the Starbucks coffee empire, has just announced he’s stepping down as the company’s chairman. Political insiders think that move means that Schultz just may be planning to make a bid for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. The day after the announcement, in a CNBC interview, Schultz not so subtly hinted that he’d be running to oppose progressive proposals on single-payer health care, job guarantees, and the like. Pronounced the coffee king: “It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, how are we going to pay for these things?” Maybe we could start by raising taxes on billionaires like Howard Schultz.

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For Minimum Decency, a Maximum Wage

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

In the United States today, a just-released Federal Reserve report informs us, over a fifth of the nation’s families simply cannot afford to “pay all of their current month’s bills in full.”

Over a quarter of families, the report goes on, skip “necessary medical care” because they can’t afford the cost. And an even greater share — 40 percent — wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected expense of $400 without having to borrow cash or sell something they own.

In other words, many millions of American households have essentially almost nothing in the way of savings. And not much in the way of income either. Two out of every five Americans, the new Federal Reserve study details, have annual household incomes less than $40,000.

Meanwhile, at the other end of America’s economic spectrum, we have households raking in much more than $40,000 every day. Half the CEOs at America’s 200 biggest corporations now make over $336,538 per week, according to a review of 2017 corporate compensation that Equilar, a pay consulting firm, has just completed for the New York Times.

These top execs and their fellow wealthy can afford to handle any personal emergency life may throw their way. More importantly, they can also afford to buy a level of political influence that turns their needs — and their needs alone — into national priorities.

The end result? We find ourselves in a United States where nearly half the nation lives at the edge of economic disaster while government wallows in a “gridlock” that magically vanishes only when lawmakers have a chance to enrich the already rich.

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A Sensitive CEO Wants Props for His Sensitivity

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Jim Murren, the CEO of gaming giant MGM Resorts International, is feeling more than a little peeved. Last month he blasted the investor community for not recognizing his company’s efforts to promote women into management. Investors, Murren charged, “talk about wanting companies with a good conscience, but they’re really looking for companies that are going to make them a lot of money.” Workers at MGM, meanwhile, are still waiting for Murren to flash a “good conscience” toward them. MGM has just announced a new $2 billion share buyback program, on top of a recently completed $1 billion buyback. All those billions will mean a hefty stock-based pay hike for the 56-year-old Murren, who already makes 396 times more than the median MGM worker. Unions representing MGM’s 24,000 workers in Las Vegas joined last month with workers at other local casinos and voted to authorize a strike when their current contract expires the end of this month.

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To Grasp the Horror of CEO Pay in America Today, Look Global!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

No single statistic, in isolation, tells us particularly much. Numbers only gain real meaning when we compare them. Take, for instance, the figure for the increase in CEO pay last year at major American corporations. A statistic for this increase — 6.4 percent — appears in the just-released 2018 edition of the AFL-CIO’s annual PayWatch reporton corporate compensation.

Does that 6.4 percent increase rate as a big deal — or nothing to get worked up about? We can’t reasonably answer that question without putting the 6.4 percent figure into some sort of broader perspective. The new PayWatch report, thankfully, provides that context: Average worker pay in the United States last year increased just 2.6 percent.

In other words, as the PayWatch study notes, “the imbalance in our economy between the pay of CEOs and working people is worsening.” And that rates as a big deal.

But to really understand how staggering America’s CEO-worker pay imbalance has become, we need to widen our field of comparative vision, from domestic to global.

And what do we find when we take that step? Simply this: CEOs in the United States make significantly more than their counterparts in our peer nations, and American workers make significantly less.

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Why Make News When You Can Fabricate It?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein likes to see himself styled as someone who would give people a chance no one else would. Must be only a coincidence that the people he gives chances all seem to share his ultra-conservative right-wing political stances. The 72-year-old Uihlein poured $22 million into 2016 political campaigns and, the Washington Post reports, is bankrolling right-wingers at a higher level this year. His wife Liz says she and hubbie Dick “love reading newspapers.” But Dick appears to love faking newspapers even more. The Chicago Tribune has revealed that one political outfit he subsidizes, Think Freely Media, helps mail to targeted voters bogus local papers filled with slanted articles about candidates. Uihlein, for his own part, routinely refuses all legitimate media requests for comments on his “anti-union, free-market” political agenda.

Three Cheers for a Frugal Brooklyn Legal Secretary

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

The world at large knew virtually nada about Sylvia Bloom for 96 years. Then she died in 2016. Now Sylvia Bloom is enjoying her belated — and richly deserved — 15 minutes of worldwide fame.

The New York Times has just published a heart-warming story of the caring, upright life Sylvia Bloom lived and the remarkable — and hidden — fortune that Bloom quietly accumulated over the course of her 67-year career as a Manhattan legal secretary.

That fortune totaled over $9 million, and the bulk of that wealth, the Times account reveals, is going — per Bloom’s wishes — to help students from poor families advance their educations.

None of Bloom’s surviving relatives or law firm colleagues or fellow volunteers at the Henry Street Settlement, the social services agency set to get $6.24 million from her bequest, had any idea that their unassuming loved one and friend had saved anything remotely close to multiple millions.

Bloom lived frugally all her life in Brooklyn and commuted, by subway, to her job. The “high life” never interested her in the least. She led a simple existence. She counted her pennies. In the end, she put them all to good use.

Stories like Bloom’s have been popping up regularly over recent years. Leonard Gigowski, a Wisconsin shopkeeper, died three years ago at age 90 and left a “secret $13 million fortune” that’s currently funding scholarships. Grace Groner passed away in 2010 at age 100. She spent most of her life in a one-bedroom Illinois home, shopped at thrift stores, and left $9 million for her alma mater.

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The Fake Frugality of the Fabulously Rich

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

The Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, a prime American source for advice on all matters money related, has just published a piece fetchingly entitled “Frugal Habits of the Super Rich.”

The piece graciously invites readers to meet ten people of substantial means “whose modest lifestyle habits — from clipping coupons to clipping their own hair — has helped them maintain vast fortunes.” The spending discipline the 10 all model, Kiplinger’s promises, can help the rest of us “learn more about the cost-cutting moves that help make these successful millionaires and billionaires who they are.”

Kiplinger’s has actually been promoting frugality as a freeway to grand fortune for some time now. Knight Kiplinger, the magazine’s editor in chief, a dozen years ago penned a column that declared that the “biggest barrier to becoming rich is living like you’re rich before you are.”

Profligate spending on everything from chic apartments and cars to frequent travel and restaurant meals, Kiplinger went on to write, “crowds out the saving that will enable you to be rich someday.”

Ready to become rich? Let’s all look at the frugalities Kiplinger’s highlights. We can start with Danica Patrick, the race-car driver worth $60 million. She makes her own meals while traveling. Mitt Romney — net worth, $250 million — buys golf clubs at Kmart. T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire Texas oilman, buys new business suits only once every five years.

“People are always surprised that I don’t have a closet full of suits,” says Pickens. “I buy three suits every five or so years and only own ten total. That’s all I need.”

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Op-Ed: Unions Decline, Construction Worker Deaths Soar

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Try this the next time you find yourself standing on a Wall Street corner. Ask the first power suit you see why Wall Street’s finest deserve to be making $25 billion in bonuses a year.

Wall Streeters actually have a ready response for impertinent questions like this: We deserve the big bucks, they’ll tell you, because we take risks.

Truth be told, risk-takers do abound in the canyons of Manhattan. But to see them, you have to lift your line of sight off street level – and beyond the corner offices of Wall Street’s high-finance movers and shakers.

You have to look skyward, up into the “high steel” world of construction workers continually adding new towers to the city’s skyline.

These workers risk life and limb every day—and don’t get anywhere near the reward those “risk-taking” power suits grab.

How risky has construction work in New York become? Over the past two years, 31 construction workers in the city have died. Between 2011 and 2015, the city’s Department of Buildings reports, instances of on-the-job construction injuries climbed 250 percent.

But New York hardly counts as an isolated example. In 2016, the latest year with full stats, 991 construction workers nationwide died from fatal work injuries, a 3 percent increase over the year before.

Why so much carnage in construction? Some of the same factors that make Wall Streeters fabulously rich are making construction work tragically unsafe. Start with the steady erosion of America’s unions.

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Union Matters

A Broken Immigration System

From the AFL-CIO

After a week of family separation, workplace raids and even more bad legislation, it is clearer than ever that we must fix our broken immigration system.

“The Trump administration is using enforcement overreach to terrify immigrant workers and is directly threatening our freedom to stand together and fight in unions for fair pay and treatment,” said AFL‑CIO President Richard Trumka.  

Trumka added: “Nothing embodies our broken immigration system more than the unnecessary pain and suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters as families are torn apart at the border.”

America’s broken immigration system and threats of detention and deportation have been used as leverage to lower pay, worsen benefits and make workplaces less safe for decades.

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Concern of Concentration

Concern of Concentration