The Nation

Posted: December 2, 2014
By: Clay Cerny



John Nichols of the Nation is one of my favorite political writers. Today he called for something that U.S. retail workers sorely need: A bill of rights. Here is an outline of his key points:

  1. Employers should offer full time jobs whenever possible.
  2. Employers should offer predictable schedules that let workers plan their lives.
  3. Employers should encourage worker retention and job security after companies are sold.

I agree with these points and would add the following for all workers:

  1. Workers should have the right to form unions without facing intimidation from their employers
  2. The minimum wage should be raised according to changes in inflation.
  3. The use of non-compete clauses should be limited and regulated. No minimum wage worker should be restricted by a non-compete clause.
  4. Equal pay for equal work.
  5. Repeal Taft-Hartley and other anti-worker, “Right to Work” [for less] laws.

Working people need to demand some protection.  They deserve a workers' bill of rights.

Posted: June 6, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


The great labor reporter Michelle Chen has written a piece for The Nation that examines the use of temporary labor. She breaks out the various methods large companies use to pay less and not be responsible for worker safety issues or unemployment claims. Many contingent workers have experienced wage theft. In essence, these workers are meant to be replaceable at a moment’s notice. Chen gives a great overview of this disgusting system. I strongly recommend her article.

Posted: September 7, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

What if the shoppers showed up and there were no workers?  That’s the dilemma the nation’s largest low wage employer/retailer could be facing on the day after Thanksgiving.  Common Dreams has reposted an article by Josh Eidelson of the Nation, who reports that Walmart workers across the U.S are discussing a major work stoppage on Black Friday.

Negotiation is all about leverage.  Walmart will never need its works so much as it will on Black Friday.  A major walk out on that day will send a message.  Hopefully Walmart and other workers will hear it.  All workers deserve a living wage.

Posted: May 30, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in the Nation, Josh Eidelson reports that workers at “dozens” of fast food restaurants have walked off the job.  Some restaurants had to be closed because so many workers are on strike.  Eidelson also discuss a report that alleges wage theft in the New York fast food industry.  Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.  Low wage workers need to stand up, and the rest of us need to support them.

Posted: March 20, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

We hear all the time about greedy unions.  Do workers want more money?  Sure.  So do CEOs.  The corporate media ignores other issues that unions and working people care about.  For example, class size and school closing were a major concern for striking teachers in Chicago.  Similarly, SEIU is taking action against Providence Health & Services, which is changing healthcare coverage and transferring more cost to workers.

According to Greg Kaufmann writing in The Nation (Common Dreams), family coverage has increased from $750 to $3,000.  This isn’t just a salary issue.  If a large (5 state) not-for-profit like Providence can make this decision, what sane for-profit company will not follow suit?  SEIU is standing up for a social good.  That’s not greed.  It’s a commitment to justice.

Posted: February 27, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Steve Early has a great article in the Nation that examines corporate wellness programs.  The programs sound good on the surface since they promote, as Early puts it, “a social good.”  The deeper problem is about employer’s motives and the real impact of the program.  Employees who don’t comply with the program will face higher payments for healthcare if they fail to meet standards set by the employer.  Is the real purpose of such programs better health for working people or a shift of health care costs from employer to employee?  Given how the wage game has been going for the past few decades, it’s not too cynical to say that employers’ first concern isn’t the employees’ health.  It’s a stealth and selective salary cut, another way to push money up and pain down.

Posted: July 31, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Laura Flanders of The Nation interviewed Robert Pollin, author of the new book, Back to Full Employment.  Pollin believes the Federal Reserve could take the lead in cutting unemployment by getting more money into the economy.  His view goes against the experts who want to “cut, cut, cut” [everything except the military].  I like what Pollin is saying, but it sounds too easy [and too good] to be true.  Our politicians and their rich patrons want to strip government and let working people fend for themselves.  In this environment, I don’t see how a great plan like Pollin’s will ever get off the ground.  I hope I’m wrong.

Posted: July 22, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog examines the world beyond careers in “Sabbath.”]

Children of Cain

A few days ago, I read a great profile of the conservative pundit David Frum, which was written by Mark Oppenheimer in The Nation.  It’s clear that Oppenheimer admires Frum, even if he disagrees with his politics.  At the same time, the author tries to understand his subject by contrasting him with his mother, who was one of Canada’s leading liberal politicians.  He finds the answer in an insight from another Nation writer, the great Naomi Klein, who summed up the difference between mother and son in one word: compassion.

Feeling for others.  Frum is not alone in calling for a world where people have to make it on their own (while he was collecting a $100,000 salary from the American Enterprise Institute).  Republicans and Democrats argue policies as if their sole purpose was to win an election.  Their language seldom touches on compassion or sympathy.  No one wants to give the poor a “free ride” (no that’s reserved for the super rich and corporations).  The poor need to be responsible (You know, like the bailed-out banks and automakers were).

I posted a blog yesterday about the bottom 50% of Americans who have seen their wealth decline from 3% to 1.1% over the last 30 years.  Maybe that’s not a big deal to some.  It could be argued that the poor are still poor, just a little more so.  But it’s hard not to wonder what it means – how it feels – to go from having a little to having even less.  Once upon a time, our society had a safety net, social programs to help the poor, disabled, and elderly.  More and more, that protection is going away, replaced by the simple message:  “You’re on your own.”  More to the point, we as a society are looking at our brothers and sisters and saying:  “We don’t care.”

The same people who condemn the “Me” generation of the 1960s often preach the gospel of self-reliance.  They say things like welfare makes the poor dependent.  College grants and loans make students stay in school to avoid work (jobs that don’t exist for young people today).  A few months ago I read a book called Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez.  Rodriguez is a great thinker and writer, but when it comes to having sympathy for people who don’t have the advantages he did, his solution is simple:  I made it – why can’t you?

It’s disturbing how people who enjoy advantages of wealth and power – especially recently acquired wealth and power – have little sympathy for those with less.  These people often forget how their achievement was not solely their doing.  Rodriguez was lucky enough to be born to parents who put him in a good school.  His family lived in a middle class neighborhood.  It is absurd to compare his upbringing to that of a kid growing up in poor community attending a school where most of the children share a heritage of poverty, illiteracy, and violence.  A child can want to succeed.  However, her odds are minimal if she’s growing up in a gang-infested community where there are no jobs, most girls have babies in their teens, and most boys go to jail instead of college.

They need to be more responsible and make good choices.  Those words are easy to say.  They absolve us of any responsibility for our fellow human beings.  We don’t need to sacrifice for others if we can simply say, “Go get your own.”   Community means living together.  Compassion enables us to feel others’ suffering.  We have lost our sense of community and compassion.  Think about the alienated young men turned killing machines in Columbine and Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colorado.  When we cannot feel sympathy for others, is it any wonder that we are going mad?

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel they brother? and he said, I know not.  Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

Posted: July 13, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Common Dreams has reposted an article by Greg Kaufmann of The Nation who is reporting on growing janitor’s strike in Houston.  The average annual salary for janitors in the city is less than $9,000.  Since the hourly rate is $8.35 an hour, it follows that most janitors are working part-time, probably with no benefits. The janitors have asked for a wage of $10 an hour to be phased in over three years.  Management has counter-offered a .50 raise.

Kaufmann profiles Alice McAfee who spoke at a strike event.  He uses her words and describes the kind of work she does to make us realize how hard janitors work.  Since joining the union, McAfee’s workload has been increased and her hours cut.

Last week I wrote about the one-day CEO of Duke Energy, who is slated to earn as much as $44 million compensation.  When that story is compared with hard-working people who are paid so little, we have look in the mirror and ask:  What kind of work do we value in this country?  Is it all about rewarding those who already get the greatest rewards?

The union janitors of Houston are demonstrating the true spirit of freedom.  May their courage inspire others to stand up for their rights as workers and as human beings.

Posted: June 3, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog considers intersections of work and life in “Sabbath.”]

Wisconsin – the Final Round?

Over a year ago, 100,000 students, teachers, police officers, fire fighters, union workers and other protests flooded into Madison, Wisconsin.  They came together to protest  Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to end collective bargaining as well as other “reforms.”  Later, activists collected over a million signatures to force a recall election, which will take place this Tuesday.

Polling suggests that the governor will win the election, but activists remain confident that their organization can mitigate the effect of Walker outspending his opponent Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a ratio greater than 12:1.  Barrett and his supporters have filled the state’s airwaves with commercials that have little to do with fact.  However, demonstrating the power unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, Walker and his allies are using advertising to recreate reality.

This election will go a long way to testing the power of repeated messaging, which is made possible by big money, invisible funders.  If Walker wins, the floodgates will open between now and November.  Local TV stations will get fat with ad revenue, and voters will hate politics even more.

What if Barrett wins?  His victory would signal the ongoing power of traditional forms of politics, such as get out the vote campaigns.  It would give us hope that people working together can defeat the terminator-like power of big money.  In his book Uprising, John Nichols talks about the impact of new media and citizen journalism during the protests.  He also describes a revitalized labor movement that is focusing on what is good for workers, not just funneling money to the Democratic Party (which has not done enough to help Barrett).

Whatever happens on Tuesday, there is no denying the significance of the protests in Wisconsin and the recall effort.  Nichols links the protests to those in the Middle East which preceded them and the Occupy Movement which followed.  Just in the past few weeks, students in Quebec and Mexico have hit the streets to protest government policy.  Occupiers in New York marched in solidarity with those protests.  Even if Scott Walker keeps his job, the energy of people saying, “No,” cannot be stopped by any one election or – as the brave people of Syria show – even by bullets.

Nichols places the Wisconsin uprising in the context of the American Revolution and its leaders.  He quotes the most radical thinker of the time, Thomas Paine: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.  A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now.  The birthday of a new world is at hand.”  What happens in Wisconsin will be just one step in the creation of that new world.  Let’s hope it is a step forward*.

* Governor Walker’s campaign (like President Obama’s) is using “forward” as its slogan.  Clearly my idea of going forward is not the same as the governor’s.  Worst of luck to him (not just the election, the indictment too).

Postscript:  While reading Common Dreams today, I found that John Nichols has written a new article about how the recall and election put Wisconsin in line with its progressive tradition.