Huffington Post’s labor writer Dave Jamieson has written a compelling story on the death of a temporary worker at an Amazon distribution center in Virginia. In his long, detailed, fascinating article, Jamieson never simply blames Amazon or a subcontractor company for the employee’s death. Instead, he tells the story of a human being who went to work one day and did not come home. He takes us into a world of temporary workers and how they labor with little security and no benefits. I don’t want to try to summarize this article. Instead, I urge you to read it and consider the story of Jeff Lockhart, Jr., who died at age 29, leaving behind a wife and three children. Jamieson gave his work the subtitle, “What the Future of Low Wage Work Really Looks Like.” In those words, he challenges us (and Jeff Bezos): Even if this system is legal and makes good business sense – is it right?
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?”
One of the blogs I read daily is written by a real education reformer, Diane Ravitch. Today she cited an article in Huffington Post that describes a teacher shortage in Kansas and what caused it. Many conservatives and pseudo-education reformers (Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, Secretary Duncan) argue that education promote choice through charter schools. They point to unions as a cause of poor education outcomes.
What’s happening in Kansas tells a different story. Teacher pay in the state is low, hours are longer, and the legislature has made it easier to fire teachers. The result is exactly what any sane person would expect. Teachers are retiring as soon as they can. Others are changing careers, and college students are choosing majors other than Education. Schools will be forced to rely on substitutes to cover classes.
In the past, I’ve asked who will want to teach if the pay is low, there is no union protection, and working conditions are poor. Market forces work in career choices just as they do in purchasing. If teaching is a difficult and disrespected profession, fewer and fewer people will pursue careers as teachers. Kansas proves this point. I expect we’ll hear similar stories from other states very soon.
Huffington Post reports that New York is making a big stride toward a state-wide minimum wage of $15 per hour for fast food workers. A panel set up by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a politician often criticized for not being liberal or progressive. It’s not clear if this measure would only apply to the fast food industry or if it would cover all industries. In any case, this is another example of politicians admitting that the current minimum wage is too low. America needs a raise, and hopefully leaders in New York will set a good example.
During his last State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that “America needs a raise.” Yesterday, he acted on those words. The president announced that salaried employees (5 million Americans) making as much as $50,400 would be eligible for overtime. As Laura Clawson of Daily Kos puts it, employers will no longer be able to use exempt status (salaried employees) to keep from paying overtime. This move by the Obama Administration (if it’s not overturned by a court challenge) will either give employees more money or more time off. The 40 hour week will again become meaningful to millions of Americans. It’s a good day for working people.
P.S. President Obama is featured in The Huffington Post on his overtime reform. The president express great confidence that he is doing the right thing for American workers: "That's how America should do business. In this country, a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. That's at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America." I agree, but would add that what the president is doing will also help the working class and the working poor, who are often victims of wage theft. We all deserve a fair day's pay.
According to the Department of Labor, there are more than 5 million open jobs in the U.S., the highest number since such statistics were first kept in 2000. Huffington Post reports that this news is good for the labor market and the overall economy. This good news does not guarantee that you can find a good job. Finding a job and managing a career is always an individual enterprise. It’s a lot easier when companies are hiring.
Jenny Che of The Huffington Post has written an article exploring how new college graduates can earn more on their first job. Che’s advice can be summed up in one word: Negotiate. According to an expert cited by Che, many companies are willing to increase salaries for new college graduates by as much as 5-10% over the initial offer. If the employer won’t offer more money, it’s possible to negotiate some other aspect of compensation: employer share of health care, education reimbursement, or related benefits. What’s the secret to getting more on your first job? Know you worth, and ask the employer to give a little more.
Anyone who cares about working people needs to read Laura Clawson of the Huffington Post. Today she examines the state of Workers Compensation, which has been cut in 33 states. There is also great disparity between states and how they pay for injuries. Clawson points out that if a worker in Alabama loses an eye, she will be awarded $27,280. The same injury in Pennsylvania will be compensated at $261,525. Companies are paying less and less in damages every year and finding new ways to restrict workers' benefits. This story is outrageous, but it’s no more outrageous than stories of workers losing pensions or wage theft or union busting. Until American workers – white and blue collar – realize their common interests, employers will continue to find new ways to make them suffer. It’s easy to blame the super rich. They are acting in a way that makes sense for their interests and security. What is our problem?
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