Malcolm Harris, writing in Aljazeera America, explores a new law that would force employers to make the status of their workers transparent. I urge you to read Harris’ editorial and consider the law he is discussing. It has no chance of passing in the current make up of Congress. However, it should be part of what workers demand. It’s not just a matter of increasing wages, which I support. We need to advocate for workers’ rights.
Aljazeera America reports that 1,300 fast food workers from across the U.S. have gathered in Chicago to organize and fight for an increased minimum wage. They want more than more money. The workers are also seeking the protection that comes from being part of a union. Their efforts will set an example for workers in other industries, even middle class professionals who have seen small salary increases over the past few years. Low wage workers are leading the way.
Aljazeera America’s Inside Story Team analyzed the recent “good news” about job growth in the U.S. The numbers are positive, but there are still big problems. Many of the new jobs are in low wage sectors, such as service and retail. Is Aljazeera just being a buzz kill, looking for bad news? Not at all. Job growth over the past few years has been highest for lower wage workers. Just as bad, many middle class Americans have seen low or no raises from year to year. I’ve had several clients whose bosses have told them some version of “be happy you have a job.” Until wages go up for the lower and middle class, the American economy will struggle. Worse still, millions of working Americans will live with a constant dread of insecurity and a feeling that they are never getting ahead. The news about unemployment is good, but for many it does not address the real problem: America needs a raise.
Aljazeera America reports that children as young as 7 are harvesting tobacco in the United States. It cites a report by Human Rights Watch that features interviews with 130 children in four Southern states. The children are paid the minimum wage of $7.25, which does nothing to mitigate the fact that child labor is wrong. Apparently, these children are working legally according to a law that lets children of any age work on “small” farms. Worse still, many of the children report becoming ill from a condition called nicotine poisoning. This report is outrageous. Will it become part of our political debate? Of course not. The children are poor and minority. They are invisible, and what is being done to them is shameful.
Aljazeera America has a mind-blowing profile of one of America’s top paid CEOs, Charif Souki of Cheniere Energy. Souki “earned” $142 million in 2013. Not bad for the leader of a company that has never turned a profit. His company is building a natural gas processing facility in Louisiana that is projected to be a big money maker. Investors must agree because the company’s stock has doubled. Aljazeera America points out that the industry is very risky. That doesn’t seem to matter to the people paying Souki or those investing in his company. Profitable companies lay off workers to keep their share price up. Some people win, and some people lose. Charif Souki is a winner, and that says a lot about what’s wrong with the U.S. economy and its politics.
Aljazeera America reports that McDonald’s issued an SEC report claiming that its sales may suffer because of “campaigns by labor organizations and activists” to raise the minimum wage. This is the message the corporation sent to shareholders via the SEC report. Aljazeera quotes an industry spokesperson who says that a raise to the minimum wage would have little to no impact on McDonald’s stock price. It would have a big impact on workers’ lives. $15 per hour would have a bigger impact. We need a living wage, not a minimum wage.
Aljazeera America reports that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is backing a plan that will help Detroit workers save their pensions. That’s great news if it is true. Snyder is the man who brought emergency managers to strip out public wealth from poor cities throughout the state. Now he’s promising $350 million to offset what his own emergency manager in Detroit claims is an $18 billion debt. As Scott Walker in Wisconsin is promising voters big tax cuts, Snyder is trying to show that he really cares about poor people. What is this about? It’s time to run for re-election. If working people are gullible enough to elect leaders that work against their interest, they will get what they deserve.
[On Sundays, this blog explore topics outside the career world in “Sabbath.”]
Cold Weather and Climate Change
Aljazeera America has posted a great feature on cold weather and misunderstandings about climate change. Cold weather or hot weather in any one place does not mean that climate change is a myth or as some like to put it “just a theory.” Scientists study patterns over time. They also look at patterns across the world, especially at the North and South Poles. That evidence has been conclusive: the climate is changing and, year over year, the planet is growing warmer.
My biggest problem with climate change deniers is that they base their claims on limited evidence. They are not just denying climate change, but science and knowledge. There are similar debates about evolution. Science has established that life on earth evolved. Some people see this as a challenge to their faith and deny evidence produced by scientists who have studied the question for over 150 years.
Everyone has a write to hold an opinion. When that opinion is countered by facts, however, it should be taken as hollow thinking. The odd thing is that many Americans are more on the side of opinion than science, which does not bode well for the future.
A final point: To those who point to the cold weather in the U.S. as evidence against climate change, check out the weather in Australia, which Aljazeera calls “an unprecedented heat wave.”
David Cay Johnston, reporting for Aljazeera America, documents that the median wage in the U.S. is at its lowest rate since 1998. The median wage for 2012 was $27, 519. In 1998, that rate was $26, 984. Workers’ wages are going in the wrong direction. Or, as Aljazeera America puts it: “Half of America is being left behind.”
How could this problem be fixed? Raise the minimum wage. Defend the rights of workers to organize. Repeal NAFTA and pass no more international trade schemes that pull jobs out of the U.S. Tax companies that pull jobs out of the U.S. (currently those companies get a tax benefit). These are just a few ways that the federal government could help stressed American workers earn a little more money. Given what we seen out of Washington, don’t hold you breath waiting for solutions.