During yesterday’s Republican Primary Debate, Donald Trump and other candidates stated that they would not raise the minimum wage. Trump took this level of thinking even lower, proclaiming “Our wages are too high.” He thinks the only way for America to be competitive is for “people to work really hard” to “enter that upper stratum.”
This kind of language is out of touch. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich teamed up to “end welfare as we know it.” Most poor Americans work, but they don’t make enough money to get ahead. It’s easy for a billionaire who was born into a wealthy family to tell others to work hard. It’s also dishonest. Our economy does not produce enough jobs that pay enough for people to enter the middle class, much less Trump’s “upper stratum.” Complex problems need thoughtful solutions, not cliches.
I’ve blogged before about the job destroying impact of automation and robotics. Once a machine can do a job, it’s gone. Peter Coy of Bloomberg has a different take. He believes humans and robots will work together in a future society. Robots will do work that is rote and mindless. Humans will perform tasks that require creativity and emotional response.
Hopefully Coy is right, but I’m more pessimistic. Coy talks about the improvements in voice recognition software. How many phone sales and customer service jobs have been lost because of this innovation? How many more will be lost in the future? Similarly cloud storage is enabling companies to cut staff that manages network and IT support functions. Driverless vehicles, when they are perfected (not if), will push many workers out of a job.
I hope the optimists like Coy and many smiling futurists are right in predicting work will become more creative in the age of robots. I’m less sanguine. As Coy states, too many jobs involve rote tasks that can be automated. I grew up near the steel mills in Cleveland. Within ten years, 4 steel mills were closed because European competitors sold cheaper, higher quality steel produced with automated functions. The city was devastated and has never fully recovered. That was industrial automation. Now the service industry and professional services are being automated. What sane employer will pay an employer if she can invest in and profit from a much cheaper, more efficient robot?
I've always been a sports fan, and watching football has been one of my favorite pastimes. Over the last few years, however, it's been a guilty please at best and, maybe, hypocrisy at its worst. A few years ago, I attended a presentation on brain injuries that woke me up to the cost football players pay to entertain fans like me. PBS's Frontline series went even deeper into the issue, showing how pervasive brain injuries are for professional football players. The news has not gotten better.
On Thursday, a 17 year old football player, at Chicago's Bogan High School, Andre Smith, died after a game. He was the seventh high school player to die in the U.S. this season. At first, it was reported that he was injured on the last play of the game, but, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, he walked off the field and collapsed as he was leaving the field. No one knows the exact cause of death, and there will be an autopsy next week. Here's what we do know: He died playing football.
Is football so dangerous that it should be made illegal? Once upon a time, I scoffed at this question. There is risk in everything we do. Players willingly participate in the sport, which they know is dangerous. I've used all of those reasons to convince myself that football is the same as basketball and baseball. It's a game. But something interesting happens when we compare football and hockey. It is possible to play a much less violent version of hockey than we see in the NHL. Fighting is banned in the international game. Checking is limited or banned in many leagues. Unless you're playing some kind of touch or flag version of the game, football is all about violence, hitting another person with your body and knocking them to the ground. Fans like me often cheer loud when both the offensive and defensive player collide at full speed. Violent hits make us cheers, and we do not ask the question: What is happening to their brains and bodies when such collisions occur?
This blog is about career and work issues, and whether they are amateur or professional athletes, football players work very hard at what they do. They practice, lift weights, and eat special diets to maintain a certain weight. They learn complicated plays and signals that are called out before each play. Paid or unpaid, their work needs to be taken the same way we consider other workplace or work-like recreational activities. Is this game too violent however it is played? Tomorrow I am meeting two friends to watch the Carolina Panthers play the Philadelphia Eagles. We meet several times over the course of the season, but it's getting harder for me to watch football given what we now know about the price paid by those who play the game, those who are working for our pleasure. Andre Smith's death has made me question my complicity as a fan. Is it time to turn off football?
P.S. DNAInfo reports that Andre's Smith's autopsy has been completed. It found that he died of football related injuries, "blunt force trauma" to his head.
It's been a great day. The Cubs beat the Cardinals, and I met some friends for a steak dinner. So, now while chilling out listening to blues and catching up with The New Yorker, I read these words in Amy Davidson's October 8 profile of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina: "When HP fired her, she got a twenty-million-dollar severance package, plus fifteen thousand for career counseling. Only in this country, perhaps, could a C.E.O. receive compensation worth more than a million hundred million dollars in six years, get fired, and use the money to enter politics."
I don't believe in salary restrictions of any kind. If a company wants to pay any employee any amount, that's the company's business. At the same time, voters should be able to ask about a candidate's history and what it says about his or her potential leadership. In Fiorina's case, she laid off thousands of workers before she took the money and ran. As far as I can tell, none of her current positions would do anything to help American workers. "Only in America."
Aljazeera America reports that Senator Bernie Sanders and progressive allies in the Senate and House are proposing a new measure to help working Americans. The Workplace Democracy Act would make it easier for employees to unionize. It would also require that employers negotiate with unions within 10 days of a request to negotiate. This measure is a good thing, but it’s more of a political statement than a realistic attempt to change law. Republicans control the House and Senate, and they are very pro-employer. That said, Democrats and Independents like Sanders need to present a new vision for how working people will be treated. This bill along with the Fight for $15 is part of that vision.
P.S. John Nichols of The Nation connects this issue to changes in the TPP and other international agreements that protect the right of workers to form unions.
Diane Ravitch examines new tests results from Illinois, which have been released with dire warnings about “failure.” Ravitch puts this story in the context of current trends in education. She is very strong as an advocate for teachers in a time when many forces are attacking some of our country’s most talented and dedicated employees. Is the test (PARCC) a true measure of what students are learning and teachers are teaching? Or is it a tool to promote education “reform”?
Writing in Huffington Post, Bill Quigley, a law professor, lists several sad facts facing American workers on this picnic day that is supposed to honor labor. I urge to you take a minute, review this list, and ponder its meaning. The one point I would like to underscore is this: While productivity increased 21% between 2000 and 2014, wages only increased 2%. To quote the Talking Heads, “Who took the money away?”
Max Rust of the Chicago Sun-Times has produced a concise overview of right-to-work laws and their impact on states and workers. In short, the picture is not pretty. In right-to-work states, wages are lower, infant mortality rates are higher, fewer people have health insurance, and the average level of education is lower. Several states, mostly in the South and Southwest, have had these laws in place since the 1940s. More recently, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have passed such laws.
Right-to-work laws hurt the ability of workers engage in collective bargaining. Yes, they do give a few people the freedom to avoid union dues. Many others, however, have seen hourly wages in these states go down over recent decades. Unions are far from perfect. In fact, today’s Chicago Sun-Times also features a great investigative article on the family of a local Teamsters’ official. Even so, unions enable workers to bargain for better wages and working conditions. If unions are so bad, why do corporations and billionaires participate in groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Club for Growth, and ALEC? If the richest people in American can collaborate to protect their interests, shouldn’t working class and middle class Americans have the same right?
Laura Clawson of Daily Kos reports that the National Labor Relations Board is holding large fast food companies responsible as “joint employers” with franchise owners. This news is major. Employees will have more power to unionize and bring claims against global corporations who have denied responsibility for working conditions. Hopefully this is one more step toward giving more rights to hard working people who are paid too little.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently wrote an editorial that contrasts the few workers who get good benefits and the rest who are “replaceable.” Reich notes that Netflix and some other large companies are offering better work-life balance to their employees. However, these employees are considered “talent,” people who are hard to replace. Reich says this about the rest: “Employees treat replaceable workers as costs to be cut, not as assets to be developed.” Rather than work-life balance, these people endure what Reich calls “work as life.”
Reich is not referring to low wage workers. Instead, citing a recent story in the New York Times, he is talking about Amazon and similar companies that ask employees to give up family and personal interests in the name of professional advancement. He notes that Sheryl Sandberg can advise young women to “lean in” because it makes sense from her privileged status as an executive. Some do enjoy good benefits. For most workers – even some with high incomes – the workplace generates stress and anxiety, offering little chance to live a balanced life. Once again, Reich helps us look beyond the headlines and ask critical questions about how we can manager our careers and our lives.
Of course, things could be even worse. Jan Mickelson, an Iowa talk show host, has suggested that any undocumented worker who does not leave the U.S. should become “property of the state of Iowa.” He adds that these people would be an “asset.” Was Mickelson joking? If so, the joke was vulgar. It further shows how some Americans have no respect for hard work and the people who do it. Work should be paid, not as Mickelson puts it, “compelled.”
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