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If You’re Surprised By America’s Wage Stagnation, Then You’re Not Paying Attention

By Larry Willis, President of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the economy and how well it’s doing. The unemployment rate has steadily fallen for years now, and jobs are being created.

But wages? Not so much.

The latest jobs report shows that while the unemployment rate remains low, wages aren’t keeping up with inflation. Instead, they are falling flat.

Some economists and policymakers seem baffled — but TTD and our affiliated unions aren’t.

Yes, there are a number of reasons for this trend. But, as we reflect ahead of Labor Day, it is clear that anti-union policies, like so-called “right to work” laws, and failure to invest in our crumbling infrastructure are contributing factors that need to be called out and addressed.

Unions act as a check against corporate power, making union representation one of the most reliable ways for working people to improve their quality of life and secure a living wage. In fact, data shows a direct correlation between high union density and higher wages and better benefits. And while union members are more likely to have a pension, employer-paid health insurance, and earn an average of 13.2 percent more than their non-union counterparts, the union difference doesn’t just affect those covered by collective bargaining agreements. Strong union contracts influence competition, driving up wages, benefits, and standards of living for non-union workers too.

So what happens when working people don’t have access to unions? Take a look around – we’re seeing it right now. While millions of Americans struggle just to get by, the average CEO makes nearly $14 million annually – 200 times what an average employee earns. This is not a coincidence. It is the result of ruthless, decades-long attacks on the rights of working people to demand better for themselves and their families.

As for all those jobs being created, it is time we ask ourselves what kind of jobs they are. Based on an analysis from MIT’s living wage calculator, it takes a typical family of four (two adults, two children) more than $58,000 annually to have their basic needs met. A minimum-wage, non-union job just won’t cut it.

This country needs more good jobs — the kind that allow people to own a car, buy a house, and put their kids through college. Attacks on the rights of working people to negotiate together for better wages and benefits are not the only reasons these jobs are lacking. Failure by political leaders to invest in our nation’s transportation system hasn’t just left us with infrastructure that’s crumbling and dangerous — this inaction has also resulted in missed opportunities to create as many as 900,000 long-term, good paying jobs, annually.

Thanks to high union density in transportation and infrastructure industries, people working in these sectors — including frontline workers who build, operate, and maintain our transportation system — earn higher pay, better benefits, and more job security than their low-wage counterparts. In fact, at $38,480, the median annual wage paid by occupations in infrastructure is nearly $4,000 higher than the national median wage.

When Congress considers transportation and infrastructure spending, TTD and our affiliated unions will fight for policies that ensure these investments will continue to create the type of jobs we know our country needs. We cannot support an infrastructure plan that threatens long-standing labor standards or undermines the collective bargaining rights of working people.

There are ways to turn things around and make our economy work for everyone. But doing so requires taking a stand against the rich and powerful — something working people cannot do alone. America needs a commitment from political leaders on both sides of the aisle, not only to invest boldly in infrastructure, but to end attacks on the rights of working families, and understand that strong unions aren’t part of the problem — they are part of the solution.

Leo W Gerard: Jeb! Cracks The Whip

Jeb! Bush, a boy born to wealth and privilege, whose family owns not a home but a compound of dwellings in Kennebunkport, Maine, and whose wife plunked down$25,600 for one pair of earrings, lectured last week that Americans should work longer hours.

If Americans would just work harder, every one of them could own a $600,000 getaway cottage, like the one Jeb! is building on a $1.4 million site in exclusive Kennebunkport.

And it’s not just longer hours. Jeb! believes Americans should work longer in life too. The rich boy wants to raise the retirement age to 70. But raising the federal minimum wage to help millions of struggling workers survive to age 70? No, Jeb! doesn’t see any need for that. His advice: Let working poor great-grandmas eat ramen!

2015-07-12-1436713949-4776617-Jebphoto.jpg

Art by DonkeyHotey on Flickr

As a result of Bush’s “work harder” scolding, Americans know exactly what that symbol is at the end of the name Jeb! on all of his presidential campaign literature. It’s a whip handle and blood splotch. As President, he’d crack Americans into shape!  Under a Jeb! administration, he’d demand they work more, get less and through it all gaze adoringly at another clueless, pampered Bush in the White House.

The wealthy like Jeb! made out like bandits over the past 40 years – Jeb! amassed $29 million in the eight years since he left the Florida governor’s mansion. But working Americans have not prospered. Their productivity rose, but not their wages. Part of the reason for that productivity increase is that Americans worked longer hours and corporations paid them nothing for it.

American workers put in more hours than those in any other large industrialized country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In a Gallup poll late last year, full-time employees reported work weeks averaging 47 hours. That is nearly a full day beyond what is supposed to be a 40-hour work week. Forty percent said they work at least 50 hours.

Most of these workers don’t see an extra dime for all that extra work because the federal overtime regulation is so outdated, and many corporations won’t pay time and a half for hours worked beyond 40 unless forced. As it is now, the regulation requires corporations to pay time and a half only to workers earning salaries less than $23,660 a year. That is so low that only 8 percent of salaried workers qualify for overtime. It means corporations can take every cent of gain from 92 percent of salaried workers when they put in more than 40 hours a week.

Late last month, President Obama proposed increasing the overtime threshold to $50,440. Then 40 percent of salaried workers would qualify.

Jeb! opposes that. After he was ridiculed on Wednesday for saying, “people need to work longer hours,” he tried to backpedal by contending that what he really meant was that the proposed new overtime rule would push workers into part-time jobs when they needed to work longer hours.

Here’s what he said on Thursday: “I think people want to work harder, to be able to have more money in their own pockets – not to be dependent upon government. You can take it out of context all you want, but high, sustained growth means people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours, and that by our success they have money – disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in [a welfare] line.”

Silver-spoon Jeb! is just wrong. People don’t want to work harder. They’re working almost an extra day a week. What they want is to be paid fairly for the work they’re already doing. They want the minimum wage increased so that they can use their own paychecks for groceries instead of food stamps. They want the money that they’ve earned to be in their pockets – not in the pockets of 1 percenters like Jeb!

For decades after World War II, income rose in tandem with productivity. Then, in the mid 1970s, that stopped. Workers received less and less, and the top 1 percent took more and more. The result was wage stagnation for workers and income inflation for CEOs.

2015-07-12-1436714113-7772078-incometoproductivitychart.538

The comments Jeb! made last week illustrate his complete misunderstanding of that.He said: “My aspirations for the country, and I believe we can achieve it, is for 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see .  .  . Which means we have to be a lot more productive. Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we are going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

Jeb! suffers from the Republican blame-the-worker syndrome. He says, “Workforce participation has to rise,” as if unemployed workers chose to be laid off and languish in a life of insecurity without regular paychecks.

Jeb! and his GOP buddies should blame those actually at fault: the nation’s highly profitable corporations that cheat America’s highly productive workers. Corporations need to rise to the occasion and hire workers at decent wages. Corporations must reward workers for their increased productivity by paying them time and a half when they work longer hours.

It’s the GOP that’s in a rut. It’s a mental ditch from which they fling mud on workers endlessly while shielding corporations and the rich, like Jeb!, from responsibility. Jeb! can go ahead and crack his whip. But he should make sure wage-stealing corporations and the idle rich are at the other end.

Jeb Bush Shows He Is Complete Out Of Touch With Real Working Families

Image by Gage Skidmore

Image by Gage Skidmore

I am sure you have already seen this but I feel that I cannot let Jeb Bush’s comments go by without taking a few minutes to talk about them.

In a recent interview with the Union Leader, Jeb said, “people should work longer hours.”

Are you kidding me? This is a asinine statement from an out of touch wealthy 1%-er, who does not understand what us little people have to do just to pay our bills. When you are a wealthy career politician who won the genetic lottery to be born into an ultra-wealthy family it is easy to see why it is so easy for Jeb to say people need to work more hours.

ABC US News | World News

Jeb Bush is currently worth an estimated $12,000,000 dollars, which is up over $10 million since he left office as Governor of Florida in 2007.   During the past few years Jeb enjoyed a very lucrative speaking career earning over $50,000 per speech.

It must be hard to make ends meet when you earn more in one speech than 50% of American’s earn in a year.

His full statement only adds to the fact that he has no idea what American workers are going through.

“…we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in,” said Bush.

Let me break this down for you Jeb, because it is clear to me you need some serious help.

People are already working more and more hours per week. A Gallop poll released in 2014 show that the average weekly hours worked is 47, and nearly 40% report working in excess of 50 hours per week.

Hours Worked GalluP

 

For those who are paid a flat salary work even more with at whopping 25% reporting working over 60 hours a week.

Have you met Dawn? She was a full time salaried employee from Dollar General. She enjoys a reasonable $34,000 a year salary and for working over 70 hours a week.

Dawn’s story in nothing new and show exactly why we have to fix our broken overtime policies. Under the new overtime directive from President Obama, workers who makes a salary less than $50,000 a year would be paid overtime for every hour worked over 40.

The biggest problem I have with Jeb Bush’s statement is that we as Americans need to work more hours and be more productive which will result in higher wages.

It has been proven over and over that American’s are working more hours and are more productive than we have ever been. Between 1973 and 2013 workers pay rose a meager 9% while productive rose a whopping 73%.

Our collective rise in productive has lead to massive gains by those at the top. The average CEO pay is now over 290 times higher than the average worker. That is an increase of 937% since 1978.

The idea that we need to work longer hours and we will see continued growth in our incomes is a great idea, however facts prove otherwise.

The idea that Americans need to work longer is truly frightening when you add to the fact that Jeb Bush is advocating for “entitlement reforms” that would force people to work until they are 70.

“I think we need to raise the retirement age, not for people that are already nearing, receiving Social Security, or already on it, but raise it gradually, over a long period of time for people that are just entering the system,” Bush said. “And I think we need to do that in relatively short order.”

Imagine being 69 years old, working 5 days a week for 10 hours a day or more. Is the kind of future we really want?

This entire statement by Jeb Bush just shows how out of touch with regular American’s he really is. People do not need to work longer hours and be more productive, we need our employers to actually raise the wages to compensate us for the productivity gains we have made in the past.

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