Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has announced that he will sign what is called “right to work” legislation. To be clear, this legislation enables workers at union work places to opt out of union membership and dues. Under this law, some workers will be able to benefit from union negotiation without paying dues. Eventually, no one will want to pay dues, unions will disappear, and workers will be left on their own to take what management will give them. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) cheered the law saying: "The public widely supports worker freedom and the potential positive impact to the state's economy can no longer be ignored."
In reality, as union membership has fallen in the U.S., so have wages. Take a minute and review the chart in this article from Huffington Post. From 1968 to the present, middle class income and union membership has declined at almost the same pace. I could call that many things. It is not freedom.
P.S. Daily Kos's great labor writer Laura Clawson gives her take on the parallel decline of unions and wages while also critiquing Nicholas Kristof for being late to the the party.
Huffington Post has published a list of 25 best jobs. Such lists are always subjective. They also reflect a group of people, not one person in his or her job. I think a good job is one where you are doing the right thing in the right place with the right people. If you are happy at work, you have a great job.
Walmart employees in 21 states have or will receive increases in pay because of changes in minimum wage laws. That sounds like good news. However according to a Reuters story reprinted in Huffington Post, other low wage workers will be moved into a single base rate. It appears that some will win while others will lose. We often focus on the minimum wage without considering those workers who make a few dollars more per hour, but still struggle to get by. We need to have a living wage as the base of a just society.
Huffington Post reports* that hospitals are now part of the wage theft game. Many would assume that these are for-profit hospitals who only care about the bottom line. Instead, the culprits are not-for-profit hospitals, the kind that like to use words like care in their marketing. They’ve given a new twist to wage theft. Rather than cheat their own workers (which they may or may not do), they are garnishing the wages of low income workers who have no health insurance or insurance that does not cover all of the bills. Wage garnishment laws vary from state to state. Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Alabama are most lenient in enabling wages to be garnished.
Some might argue that this isn’t wage theft because the charges are legitimate. Not so fast. Not-for-profit hospitals agree to serve the poor as part of their corporate charter, which provide tax-exempt status. Instead, too many of these “caring” institutions charge higher fees to those without insurance and sue to take a large part of their wages. Again, no one is saying that patients shouldn’t pay all or part of what is owed. The problem is that large hospitals that are supposed to serve the poor seem to be going out of their way to punish that’s wrong. That’s wrong.
I like Jimmy Johns’ sandwiches, but I will never eat them after what I learned today. Why? They treat their employees badly. Raw Story reports (based on a story from Huffington Post) that every employee who works for the company signs a non-compete agreement that would prevent them from working for an sandwich maker for two years. I’ve written about non-compete agreements before. Once upon a time they were a tool used to keep key performers from jumping to competitors. Those employees usually received some kind of compensation that would let them wait out the term of the agreement. Now companies like Jimmy Johns are using non-compete agreements to make it difficult for employees to leave their job. That’s wrong. I will never at Jimmy Johns again
Huffington Post reports that inequality in the U.S. is at a wider point than it has been since the Great Depression. Does this mean that we’re on the way to a new crash? I hope not. HuffPo points to the popularity of Thomas Piketty as a reason for hope. The problem I see is that too many Americans have been trained to think all taxes are bad. The super-rich and large corporations have used their lawyers and lobbyists to game the tax system. I don’t see any way that will change any time soon. Americans are too easily distracted by “crisis” stories like Ebola and ISIS. Income inequality affects all of us, especially those under 35. Maybe a crash is the only thing that will wake up Americans.
Reporting in Daily Kos, Meteor Blade compares robbery at gas stations with wage theft in the oil industry. Oil companies lost nearly $57 million in robberies, which was probably covered by insurance. Workers lost $185 million in wage theft. They were not covered by insurance. Blades quotes his colleague Laura Clawson who says that 64% of low wage workers are impacted by wage theft. It makes one wonder why gas prices are so high. Maybe the big oil companies aren’t stealing enough from their workers.
According to a national poll of HR managers, the minimum wage needs to be increased. 58% thought the minimum wage should be increased. However, the level of increase varied from $8 to $15. Incredibly, 9% actually said there should be no minimum wage.
What surprises me about this poll is that HR managers haven’t done more to address this problem. Maybe it shows that their opinion doesn’t matter to executives, whose first goal seems to protect their own compensation. As I’ve written in the past, many of my clients who make middle class incomes report not receiving a raise or only incremental raises over the last 6 years. The working poor and middle class are being squeezed like a toothpaste tube that is nearly empty. What will the investor class and the executive class do when there is nothing left in the tube?
I was taken aback by a large headline on Huffington Post: “1 in 4 Americans Open to Secession.” Could a quarter of American really feel this way? That’s a question driven by fear. In reality, the news isn’t that shocking. About 30% of Americans are conservatives who are not fans of big government. Put in that context, it’s surprising that even more Americans aren’t open to secession.
We saw similar frightening statistics when the American job market bled jobs in 2008 and 2009. Many people I talked to were paralyzed by what they heard on the news. Now many people are getting cocky because statistics say the job market is improving. As I noted in my last post, these statistics are true in that there are more jobs available now than there were four years ago. However, the problem on every level of the career ladder is pay. Many new jobs are low wage jobs. Many people have gotten small raises or no raises at all over the last five years. We need to look behind the statistics and get past the fear and the optimism.
Huffington Post tells the story of Jose’ Zamora who found a job by changing the name on his resume. Calling himself Joe rather than Jose, Zamora started getting calls on his resume. I have recommended that some clients follow a similar strategy. As the article states, people with more common names tend to be called more often, as much as 50% more. Some people are reluctant to change their names, and I respect their opinion. However, as Joe Zamora’s story shows, a small change can make the phone ring