The New York Times reports that 1,500 McDonalds restaurants will raising employees' pay by $1 over local minimum wages. The company will also offer paid time off to employees who stay with the company more than a year. This move comes just a day after another round of major protests. The raise is not enough, but it shows that employers will listen when workers stand up. May many more workers stand up for their rights and to be paid a fair wage. There is still a very long way to go.
P.S. I should have noted yesterday that only McDonalds-owned franchises will raise their minimum wage. There are over 14,000 McDonalds restaurants that are owned by franchisees, who make their own decisions about salary. To their credit, the corporation has set a good example for them - as far as it goes.
Buzzfeed reports on an interview between Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times. The good news is that Blankfein recognizes the problem of inequality. The bad news is that he implies that it will get worse. He talks about a new economy that will employ labor in “new ways.” From capital’s perspective, that means the best return for investors, which has traditionally result in process improvements, automation, and offshoring. I’m not condemning Blankfein. As a leading investment banker, he is saying what he should. Working people and unions need to walk up to this reality, or the current good news on the job market will be temporary. We need a real workers’ bill of rights that provides realistic security for labor as well as capital.
A picture – or a graph – can be worth a thousand words. In a recent blog post, Paul Krugman includes a graph that tracks the wages of U.S. workers from 2007-Present. Between 2009-2010, the average wage of American workers takes a sharp drop. In the years since 2010, wages have remained stagnant. This graph helps us understand why many American remain downbeat despite the “good” news about job growth. Too many people are working hard and running in place – or–worse still – falling behind. As Krugman says, our political leaders don’t get it or don’t care. Hopefully they will wake up before it’s too late.
Conservatives and Neoliberals often blame unemployment on the skills gap, the claim that jobs are open because workers are not able to fill them. Paul Krugman takes this claim apart by pointing to the most deadly thing of all – facts. Using economic data and a tool called the Beveridge Curve, Krugman shows that the rate of unemployed based on skills is its usual rate. Rather than blaming workers for not being skilled, shouldn’t we be debating better ways to train workers and educate students? Shouldn’t we be talking about how to invest in the future?
Common Dreams is one of my favorite websites for understanding our world. Today it reposts an article by Jeff Faux that examines a very hot book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty. The book’s thesis is pretty simple: the rewards of capitalism are now flowing to very few people. After WWII, the opposite was true. Economic expansion built the middle class in America and allowed Europe and Japan to rebuild after a terrible war. Poverty in America shrank. Now the opposite is true. Even though workers are more productive, their pay has declined.
Piketty claims that capitalist growth is fueling income inequality. Looking at capitalist societies over 300 years, he finds that most periods of growth increased inequality. The post-war period in the U.S was an outlier. Piketty refutes the claim that markets are self-correcting. Instead, they benefits most often go to those who do not have to work for a living (big investors, capitalists). Faux is careful to point out that Piketty is not a radical, that he is closer to Keynes than Marx. What excites me about a book like this is that it will challenge the way people think. It will force people to reexamine accepted wisdom, which is often the first step to real change.
PS: In Daily Kos, Mark Sumner criticizes Ross Douthat’s attempt to pooh-pooh Pikkety’s book.
David Sirota of Pando has written a fascinating article outlining some funny business at PBS. One of PBS’s funders, John Arnold, has backed a series that is critically of public pensions. Is this reporting or advertorial? Sirota reports that PBS denies any conflict of interest. However, they refuse to release any documents that would verify their claim. Sirota also cites an expert who points out that grant payments could be made over time, which means that PBS needs to play ball with Arnold if they want him to pay the full grant. So much for PBS being the voice of the “liberal media.”
What really bothers me about this story is that we have in Arnold another “poor” billionaire who wants to strip working people of their retirement security. Why can’t billionaires be happy with their money and leave the little people alone? Maybe they’re chess addicts who see the working and middle class as pawns that must be sacrificed. Thanks to David Sirota and others who have reported on this story, we have the chance to see the game they are playing and understand its consequences.
Think twice before you give to PBS or NPR. They have billionaire friends and well-endowed foundations who can pay to keep the propaganda coming.
P.S. Sirota updated his story with one from the New York Times that PBS will return the $3.5 million given by Arnold’s foundation. Will they keep spreading his message? That’s the real question.
Timothy Eagan of the New York Times has written a great editorial on the current declining state of the middle class. Corporations get tax breaks from the government. Then they do whatever they can to drive down wages. Eagan looks at the case of Boeing, which received an $8.7 billion tax break and then asked its unions to make concessions. The Machinists Union said, “No.” Now Boeing is threatening to leave the state for one where wages are lower (“Right to Work for Less State”).
Is Boeing in trouble? Eagan writes: “Boeing is on a roll, its stock at a record high despite the troubled rollout of its 787 Dreamliner, and the pay of its C.E.O. boosted 20 percent to a package totaling $27.5 million last year.” If Boeing can give its leader such a raise, why doesn’t it want to compensate the people that build its planes? That’s the magic question, and the answer is that executives and boards of directors do not care about their workers or the health of the national economy. All they know is that they want more and more, which means working people have to make less and less.
Writing in the New York Times, Susan Lambert, a Professor is the Social Work Program at the University of Chicago, explores the issue of women who work low wages and work “flexible” schedules. Flexible sounds warm and fuzzy. Everybody likes things that are flexible. The problem is that employers are using this word to mask the fact that employees will only work when there is work – on call.
Once upon a time, I managed a phone center that offered on call positions. My bosses called the position flexible. After about six months of lying to people, I put my foot down and started telling prospective employees the truth. An on call position can be a good thing for someone who’s working full time and looking for supplemental income. For someone relying on a job to pay their bills, an on call position doesn’t work. You can’t tell from week to week how many hours will be available. It is impossible to budget for rent, food, and other essentials.
As Professor Lambert attests, more hourly employees today are given no option. Their schedules are flexible. She suggests that the government must legislate a solution. I’d like to agree, but the idea seems beyond utopian given our current political climate.
What we need is real solidarity. When a company treats workers like dogs, it needs to be called out and boycotted. As long as consumers want cheap at whatever cost, the cost will be the exploitation of their fellow workers. We need to stop blaming the employer and the government. Look in the mirror. If you shop at a company that pays its workers wages that force them to use food stamps, you are supporting exploitation. Worse than that, you are saying its o.k. for your tax dollars to supplement what the employer pays workers, which is nothing more than corporate welfare.
American workers need to wake up. It’s not the fault of big corporations. We know their games, and we have to put an end to them. Solidarity.
Common Dreams has reposted an editorial in which New York Times food writer Mark Bittman ponders the significance of Wendell Berry. My admiration for Berry is clear in my Sunday blog posts, which were inspired by and often feature words and ideas from his Sabbath poems. I’m also a big fan of Bittman, a great food writer who turned his attention a few years ago to considering the relation of how we eat and its impact on our health and the environment.
Bittman seems in awe of Berry’s “patience,” his way of understanding the world as something bound in nature and its cycles. He contrasts his city life with the rural community where Berry’s family has lived for 200 years: “He knows the land the way I know the stops on the Lexington Avenue subway line and, predictably, I begin feeling like the fairly techie city person I am and wonder if it could have been otherwise.” Even so, Bittmann cites Berryas someone who changed his thinking, an appreciation that is clear at several points in the editorial.
Berry could live in a university town and enjoy the comfortable life of the academic. Instead, he has chosen to stay where he was raised. While his home may be isolated, Berry continues to engage his fellow Americans about how we eat and, more importantly, how we live. His career is a gift to us and to the generations that will follow. May we heed his wise, patient voice.
Whether you love him or hate him, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman states his opinions in language that is clear and concise. In a recent blog post, he explains why the December job growth number of 200,000 is not necessarily good news. Taken in relation to recent news, it sounds good. However, Krugman contrasts the growth number with job growth in the 1990s and what should have come from that period. Taken in context, the news is not good. We’re still in the ditch.
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