Blog Archive - April 2011
David Bacon, a writer for In These Times, explores how the Mexican government is “reforming” laws that protect workers. Funded by business interests that defeated presidential candidate Andres Manual Lopez Obrador calls “oligarchs,” Mexican politicians would give employers the right to hire employees on 6 month probationary periods. Workers would also lose their protections for a 40 hour week and a minimum wage. According to the CIA, half of Mexico’s population lives in poverty with 20 percent living in extreme poverty. These new laws will not make working Mexicans more secure. However, they will enable employers to hammer wages, which will make the rich richer. Where have we heard that before? Somewhere, the Koch brothers and their friends are smiling.
Seth Godin has a great post today about what he calls “headroom,” the ability to innovate and make change in your company and job. The challenge is that you risk failure when you make such a move. Most people want to play it safe (a major theme of Godin’s recent book Poke the Box). I don’t know that I agree with Godin that most white collar employees have this power, but many do and don’t use it. It’s easier to leave things as they are, even if they are second or third rate. If you want to change and make things better, don’t blame your boss or the company. Find a new boss and company that will let you “poke the box.” Take that responsibility, and you will make your own reward (and be much happier in your career).
In an interview with Jon Stewart, Senator Bernie Sanders repeatedly points to the worker protests in Wisconsin as a force for change (real change) in American politics. Sanders also demonstrates why Paul Ryan’s budget is a very bad idea.
The mainstream media is dominated by corporatist and right wing voices. However, the more open world of the Internet offers a broader range of opinions. Turn off the TV (unless you’re watching sports). Look for sources of news and opinion that support you and the people you care about. Networks don’t do that. They are PR firms for billionaires.
“There are no jobs.”
No statement could be more false. There are always open jobs. The problem in an economy like the current one is that more people are looking for jobs than there are open positions. A recent article on hiring college graduates underscores this point. It cites the Department of Labor as projecting that 1.7 million students will graduate from college this year. It also claims that AT&T will add 20,000 employees without increasing head count (overall number of employees).
Those two statistics are significant in understanding job churn. If 1.7 million people graduate in a year, most will get jobs because new positions are created and existing positions open up. If AT&T is adding 20,000 without increasing its total number of employees, it means 20,000 workers have been laid off, quit, or retired. Job churn means that there will be openings. The challenge for people seeking a new job is to find these positions. It’s not easy. It is possible. Keep the faith.
Today’s USA Today featured a claim that over 18% of Americans are relying on “entitlements” to survive. There’s just one problem: working people paid for these alleged entitlements. Because of the Social Security reform enacted under President Reagan, some of us have paid for our parents’ generation as well as our own. Now, alleged reformers want to transfer the money we have paid into these programs to insurance companies, banks, and financial services firms. They also want to introduce limits and means tests. This is a joke. No, it’s not a joke. It’s a crime.
It’s a crime that has happened before. Both private and public employers have failed to make their contributions to pension funds. Workers made their contributions, which were deducted from their paychecks. However, when a pension fund fails because of an employer’s failure to meet an obligation, it is the worker who receives a smaller pension. How is this a matter of entitlement? A contract was made and broken with no consequences to the party that failed to live up to its obligation.
Too many working people in America are first class suckers. People who will lose their retirement income and health care cheer Paul Ryan’s plan because it is labeled “conservative.” Please tell me what is conservative about cutting Medicare and transferring funds to insurance companies? What is conservative about giving greater tax cuts to the most wealthy individuals and corporations? Ryan’s plan is a redistribution of wealth, and it is class warfare. Bernie Sanders has put it best in calling it “Robin Hood in reverse.” Ryan’s plan takes from the poor and gives to the rich.
Don’t buy this Frank Luntz-inspired nonsense about “entitlements.” What about the entitlements for companies like GE or BP that make billions and pay no taxes? What about entitlements for billionaires who manipulate the tax code so they pay a lower tax rate than a person making $50,000 a year? (Yes, my good conservative friends, the rich do pay more taxes. But they are paying less on a dollar than they have in decades, and they are often paying less per dollar than middle class and working Americans.)
Whenever you hear a word being repeated again, again, and again, it’s time to ask why this word is being repeated and who is behind the message. Our political leaders are weak, and they owe their existence to special interests that want to transfer public funds to support private interests. We as working people have paid for Social Security and Medicare. We are entitled to what we have paid for. Let’s send a simple, direct message: Hands off!
Huffington Post reports thatNew Jersey has passed a law that makes it illegal for employers to post ads that prohibit applications from the unemployed. Employers can be fined up to 5,000 for this offensive. Who signed the law? Scott Walker’s good buddy, Chris Christie (Isn’t he against such “nanny state” laws?).
This law might make some job seekers feel better, but it really doesn’t make much of a difference in the real world. Employers can still screen out employees who are not currently employed if they choose. Moreover, as I’ve written in the past, this controversy makes no sense. If an employer can choose between equally qualified candidates who are employed and unemployed, they will choose the unemployed. Why? Because unemployed workers will usually take a lower starting wage.
[On Sundays, Career Calling takes a break from job stuff to look at other aspects of work and play.]
When Billionaires Lock Out Millionaires
People who care about workers and their rights have been focused onWisconsin. However, there are two other labor stories that might tell us more about where we are headed as a country: the NFL lockout and a possible lockout in the NBA.
Many sports fans love to complain that athletes are overpaid. “It’s just a kid’s game.” “They don’t work every day like I do.” These folks would be sick if they read in the Seattle Times that “the 74 top wage earners together made as much as the combined income of the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.” We focus too much on sports, ignoring CEOs, bankers, and hedge fund managers.
That said, let’s talk about sports. The situation in the NFL troubles me for at least three reasons.
1. The players have been willing to compromise and restructure rookie salary. However, the owners want to take a majority of profits (the players now get the majority) and they want expand the season from 16 to 18 games per year. What worker in his right mind would agree to work more for less pay?
2. The average NFL player’s career lasts 3 ½ seasons. Owners run and profit from teams for decades and generations. The Halas-McCaskey family has controlled the Bears since the team was started in the 1920s. The Rooneys have managed the Steelers for decades. If owners aren’t making money, why do they keep these bad investments? (According to USA Today, 5 NFL teams are worth more than a billion dollars.)
3. Who pays the real price? We hear more and more stories about the physical and mental damage that retired players have to deal with. Yes, the league has better resources for retired players, but how can it compensate for the pain and shortened lives? Owners tend to live a long time. According to a study by the LA Times, players aren’t so lucky.
The situation in the NBA is almost as bad. Writing in Edge of Sports, David Zirin describes NBA Commissioner David Stern as a man looking for a fight. In recent months, he has challenged players, coaches, and referees. According to Zirin, Stern and the NBA owners are following the NFL example of seeking a bigger piece of the profit pie. They are also trying to end free agency, which would tie a player to one team and limit his bargaining power. This would turn the clock back 30 years – certainly Governor Scott Walker would approve of such forward-looking thinking.
Why should we as simple working people care about these battles between millionaires and billionaires? Like it or not, the millionaires are like us, working people who are controlled by company owners. Players are protected by unions. 93% of Americans working in non-public jobs are not. Who protects them? The lock out battle reminds us that no working person is safe in the current labor market. It also teaches us that workers standing together can protect each other and win some concessions. If you think athletes are overpaid, take a lesson from them – support unions!
Postscript (April 27): David Zirin comments on a recent op-ed by NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell, a rich man who thinks the world is against.
“Courageous” Representative Paul Ryan suggests gutting Medicare while giving the ultra-rich and corporations even bigger tax breaks. This plan is outrageous. However, it’s just a plan. When we look back at the past 30 years, American workers have lost more and more while the rich have gotten richer through social insecurity.
American are sick of this Screw Deal. Roger Bybee from In These Times notes that so many jobs were offshored between 1999-2009 that no new jobs were created. At the same time. 2/3 of the country’s biggest corporations paid no federal income taxes. In his article, Bybee cites polling data to show that all Americans, including a majority of Republicans, think the rich should pay more in taxes. Multinational corporation cut 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. while hiring 2.4 million people outside of the country. I guess that's why conservatives claim big corporations are “job creators” who should not be taxed. Bybee ends his article by talking about the spirit of the Wisconsin protestors: “Workers are increasingly moving from outrage to action.” That’s good. Enough of being screwed.
A client told me an interesting story today. He works in sales for a company that is affiliated with health care. In mid-December, he and other sales representatives were notified that the company would no longer give commissions on existing business. This change meant that he would lose $20,000 a year. The note from management informed employees that they could make up lost income by drumming up new business (while keeping existing accounts).
My client complained to his manager about the change. The manager replied, “I dare you to find a better job.” Here’s the good news. My client is taking him up on his dare. He will find something better. Many companies have taken similar short-term, short-sighted actions that punish their employees. They will pay in the long run when their competitors hire good employees who respect themselves. If you’re company is taking advantage of you in this way, it’s time to leave.
Writing in Common Dreams, Mike Elk examines what it would take for Wal-Mart to raise its lowest wages to $12 per hour. Elk calculates that 1% of sales would be needed to move the wage up. If Wal-Mart wanted to make its customers pay for the raise, the average annual purchase would go up by $12.50 per year. This article challenges us to think about how companies pay workers and how it might be time for some real trickle down economics.