Non-Union Working Women Face Greater Challenges on the Job

anti-union

In advance of the White House Summit on Working Families, the labor movement and worker groups are spending this week highlighting the stories of real working families and the challenges they face.

Today we’ll take a look at working women and moms in the workplace with the story from Bene’t Holmes.  Bene’t is a 25-year-old single mother who works at Walmart in Chicago and struggles to survive on low wages.  In February she suffered a miscarriage while at work, after a manager denied her request for job duties that were less physically demanding.  Following her miscarriage, she asked for a leave of absence to recover and was denied that request as well.  Read how Bene’t realized she needed a voice on the job and took action with the OUR Walmart campaign.

A quote from Bene’t’s story

“….Besides feeling betrayed by Walmart I questioned how a company that champions family could be so cold and heartless when one of its own employees is dealing with a tragedy.

I had to act—no woman should ever be put in that position again. I used my story to speak out and empower other women….”

On the policy front, the Center for Economic Policy and Research is out with a new study on women, working families and unions.  The study concludes that “firms with a union presence were 22 percent more likely to allow workers to take parental leave for a new child, 16 percent more likely to allow workers to take medical leave for their own illness, 12 percent more likely to allow workers to take medical leave for pregnancy, and 19 percent more likely to allow workers to take medical leave to care for a family member.”  View the full study here

Follow the conversation on social media at #WFSpeakUp and #WorkingFamilies.  Or visit the AFL-CIO blog for more stories from working families. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog

AFL-CIO Wraps up Week of Activity in Support of Walmart Workers

Image via WikiCommon
Image via WikiCommon

Image via WikiCommon

Working Families Take to the Streets Leading up to Walmart’s Shareholders Meeting

Washington, DC – This week working families and Walmart moms across the country hit the streets to protest Walmart’s egregious workplace policies.  And this afternoon Walmart moms are rallying outside of the Walmart Supercenter in Washington, D.C., in protest of the company’s illegal firings and disciplinary action against co-workers who have struck to end illegal retaliation and spoken out for better jobs for their families.

On Monday AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called on people to stand with Walmart moms going on strike: http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/Why-We-Should-All-Support-the-Moms-on-Strike-Against-Walmart

On Wednesday the AFL-CIO named Rob Walton, Chairman of Walmart the “Low Wage Villain of the Week”: http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/Low-Wage-Villain-of-the-Week-Rob-Walton

On Thursday AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler penned an open letter to working women in support of Walmart moms: http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/Walmart-Moms-Their-Fight-Is-Our-Fight

Today AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre will join Walmart moms in Washington, DC to call on new Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon, to publicly commit to take the company in a new direction.

The strike follows a series of events in Phoenix, Ariz., where Walmart moms tried todiscuss their concerns of low pay directly with board chairman Rob Walton in his neighborhood.

Worker shareholders who are OUR Walmart members —including many striking moms—are set to attend the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Friday, June 6 in Bentonville, Ark., to take their concerns directly to shareholders.

The annual shareholders meeting will begin as Walmart workers—part of the three-year old national organization OUR Walmart—make significant strides in changing policies of the country’s largest employer. Recently, Walmart upgraded its pregnancy policy after OUR Walmart memberswho are also shareholders submitted a resolution to the company about its discriminatory pregnancy policy. And,responding to OUR Walmart members’ growing calls on the retailer to improve access to hours, Walmart rolled out a new system nationwidethat allows workers to sign up for open shifts in their stores online.

One ‘Modest Proposal’? Or the other?

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cloverI couldn’t help it.  This year, on Saint Patrick’s Day, I didn’t feel much like partying.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Ireland’s Great Famine — and hearing echoes across the centuries, right here in the United States, as the working class endures Year Seven of their Great Recession (while the elite are taking home more money than ever).

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines.  If you can take three minutes to read “Paul Ryan’s Irish Amnesia” you’ll see what I mean.

[In the 1840s] A great debate raged in London: Would it be wrong to feed the starving Irish with free food, thereby setting up a “culture of dependency”? Certainly England’s man in charge of easing the famine, Sir Charles Trevelyan, thought so. “Dependence on charity,” he declared, “is not to be made an agreeable mode of life.”

That Great Famine, of course, wasn’t the first time Ireland’s poor had been ravaged by economic conditions.

In 1729, Irish author Jonathan Swift (writing anonymously) tried to call attention to the plight of the poor — and the heartless attitudes of the rich — through his classic satire, “A Modest Proposal.”

The plight of the poor… versus the attitudes of the rich.  Some things don’t ever seem to change.

I found an interesting chart on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It compares the amount of federal taxes paid by corporations (red line) with the amount of profit that corporations pay out to their stockholders as dividends (blue line).

And it looks like during all those decades when the American Middle Class was thriving, corporations were paying about the same amount in taxes to the federal government as they were paying in dividends to their stockholders.

  • Corporate taxes help the federal government fund the various infrastructures that businesses need to thrive, including transportation (highways, bridges, ports); the court system (contract enforcement); public safety and law enforcement.  These days, large employers like WalMart, McDonalds and the country’s biggest banks also depend on safety-net programs such as Medicaid and Food Stamps to supplement their workers’ low wages.
  • Dividends represent the payout of corporate revenues which were not spent on wages/benefits or invested in expansion (new factories, new equipment, new product development, new employees).  To the stockholders, they are “passive earnings” — similar to the bank interest most of us used to earn on money in our savings accounts — money that you get simply because you already have money.

All the way up until Ronald Reagan signed “The Tax Reform Act of 1986″, it looks like those two amounts were pretty much equal: what corporations paid as taxes, and what they paid out as dividends.

So I’d like to make a “Modest Proposal” of my own: let’s go back to that tradition.

From the chart, it looks like that single change would add about $380 billion a year in federal revenues: enough to fund the Food Stamp program four times over (and still have billions to spend other things).

Restore corporate tax levels.

MY “Modest Proposal” isn’t intended as a satire. And it would be a lot easier to swallow than Jonathan Swift’s.

Just sayin’.

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka On the Gap Increasing Wages and the Question of Walmart

Richard Trumka (The Nation / AP-Photo)

Gap’s announcement that it will raise its own minimum wage to $9.00 an hour in 2014 and $10 an hour next year represents a major victory by working people in their growing campaign to raise wages and working standards. While Gap has more work to do both in the United States and with its supply chain in countries like Bangladesh, this wage increase is a turning point.

The Gap’s decision exposes the greatest economic fraud of our time: that large employers cannot pay their employees fair wages.  With one decision, the Gap has stripped the oligarch of his clothes and changed the economic debate in America.

So now Wal-Mart is exposed.  The landscape is clear.  What will the largest employer in our country, owned by the world’s richest family, do?

Walmart workers have been protesting and striking, demanding justice.  What is Walmart’s answer?

As a first small step, Walmart workers, like all workers need a federal minimum wage of at least $10.10 an hour.  But Walmart can do better than that.  It must agree to its workers demands to stop using low wages and abusive scheduling practices to condemn its workers to poverty – and agree to the $25,000 a year minimum.

Then we can start to get to work.  Everything that should constitute a normal working life – from a national living wage to paid sick days, among  many other improvements – should move forward swiftly and with genuine purpose under the  combined leadership of Wal-Mart, all of corporate America, and the labor movement.

The AFL-CIO, and all American workers, are ready to meet the challenge of falling wages and rising inequality that has been growing painfully for decades.  The Gap has issued an invitation to Wal-Mart, and offered America a new path forward.  Will Wal-Mart respond and join the tens of millions who deserve a better future?

The ‘War On Thanksgiving’ Has Already Begun; Retailers Have Stolen Thanksgiving

War On Thanksgiving

The holiday season is about to begin. On Wednesday at sundown Hanukkah begins (Hanukkah Sameach). Then on Thursday the Black Friday sales begin!  Did I miss something? Oh that’s right, Thursday is also Thanksgiving Day.  Or at least it used to be. The events of Black Friday are quickly taking over Thanksgiving and soon there will be nothing left.

Sarah Palin says there is a ‘War on Christmas’.  She is wrong; the ‘war’ is on Thanksgiving and the American worker.  The difference is that Black Friday is ‘free-market capitalism’ in action, so that makes it suitable in their book.

I would expect this trend to continue and next year Walmart, and other terrible retailers, will be opening at 12pm (noon) on Thanksgiving.  If we do not do something to stop these greedy retailers from opening earlier and earlier, it will not be long before they do not even bother to close for Thanksgiving.

This year millions of workers are being forced to work on Thanksgiving to feed the greed of their corporate owners.  This action absolutely disgusts me.  There are some jobs like police, fire, doctors, nurses, and emergency staff that works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, holidays included.  These jobs are necessary for public safety and are usually paid a hefty bonus for working the holiday.  These are not the people I am complaining about.

I am disgusted at the retail stores who continue to steal the Thanksgiving holiday from their employees.  Last year stores opened at Midnight on Friday morning, or 10pm on Thursday night.  Now stores are opening at 6 or 7 pm.  Utterly disgusting!

Forced to work on Thanksgiving, for what, $7.25 an hour.  Walmart makes $25 billion dollars in profits every year and yet workers are living in poverty due to low wages.

Recently MIT created the living wage calculator.  The living wage calculator is chart that shows how much you would have to earn to have a ‘living wage’.

Screen shot 2013-11-24 at 9.35.03 AM

Living Wage Calculator Southern NH

As you can see in New Hampshire a single person would need to make a little more than $10 an hour to meet the living wage standard.  The numbers go up dramatically when you start to include children in the mix.  A single parent with two children would need to make almost $30.00 to meet the living wage standards.

This year thousands of Walmart workers will be walking out on Black Friday.  They are trying to make national attention to the low-wages that Walmart is paying.  They are striking for a living wage.  The organizers of the group Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) is asking for a few simple things.

  • Respect workers as individuals.
  • Schedule workers for full time- 40 hours a week- positions.
  • Pay workers a living wage, $25,000 per year (full time work) or $13 per hour.
  • Expand their healthcare options to make it affordable to workers.
  • End the retaliation against workers who speak up about problems.

Click here to find a Black Friday protest near you.

This year (and every year) I vow not to shop at Walmart until they begin to give their workers respect and start paying works a living wage.  I know I am only one man, and my family will not make a difference in the billions of dollars in revenue that Walmart brings in.   That is not going to stop me.  The more of us that take a stand against Walmart and their evil greedy mentality we will start to make a difference.

We are already making a difference. Since last year’s strikes, Walmart has lost 2% in overall sales. We need to keep the pressure on Walmart to show them we value the workers more than their low-priced Chinese crap.

(Please take a moment to read and sign OUR Walmart’s declaration for respect.)

Related posts: The Outrageous Truth About A $12 Minimum Wage And Your Grocery Bill

“GOP VALUES” — How The GOP Shows Favoritism to Unearned Income over Hard Work

Horatio Alger

Something else I don’t understand about Republican dogma…

GOP rhetoric seems to idealize the virtues of hard work:  “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “Just get a job.”  “Quit freeloading.” It’s like they actually believe the Horatio Alger myth.

But look at our federal tax structure, and the changes Republicans have forced through since Ronald Reagan.   There is no reward for hard work.  Instead, our current tax system is tilted strongly in favor of those who already have money.  Investment income — unearned income — is now taxed at about half the rate of wage income.

Flashback to the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis: “Even an architect of the Bush tax cuts, economist Glenn Hubbard, tells Rolling Stone that there should have been a ‘revenue contribution’ to the debt-ceiling deal, ‘structured to fall mainly on the well-to-do.’ Instead, the GOP strong-armed America into sacrificing $1 trillion in vital government services – including education, health care and defense – all to safeguard tax breaks for oil companies, yacht owners and hedge-fund managers. The party’s leaders were triumphant: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even bragged that America’s creditworthiness had been a ‘hostage that’s worth ransoming.’ ”

Now, let’s look at the impact that this VERY ODD tax preference has had on the US economy.

What happens, when our tax system rewards investment income, rather than actual work?

  1. Private equity “investors” use acquired corporations to borrow money – and then use that borrowed money to pay themselves dividends.  “Investment”?  Not hardly.  The acquired corporations go belly-up when they can’t pay pack the debt, leaving hundreds (or thousands) of workers unemployed.  Read “What Mitt Romney Taught Us about America’s Economy.”
  2. CEOs take more compensation as dividends, rather than wages.  Even accounting for inflation, top-tier taxpayers took home six times more dividends in 2009 than in 1992.  “But each dollar paid to the CEO in dividends costs the company (and the economy) a whole lot of money that could have been reinvested. Going back to Fred Smith as an example, his 15 million shares in the company represent only a fraction of the outstanding stock. For Mr. Smith to receive $8.5 million in dividends, personally, the company has to pay out well over $100 million in total dividends – money that could have been invested in new hires, or new planes, or new facilities (or improved employee benefits).”
  3. Some of those CEOs “invest” that money in politics.  And the cycle repeats itself.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”??!? Bootstraps are getting very hard to find, these days.

(But please don’t shop for them at Walmart.  The corporation’s “Lowest Prices” policy has had a devastating effect on the US economy.  “Wal-Mart has the power to squeeze profit-killing concessions from vendors. To survive in the face of its pricing demands, makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas.”   Meanwhile, Walton family members – who receive about half of all dividends paid by Walmart – are doing just fine.)

It’s Baaack! GOP puts US economy at risk (again) over the Keystone Pipeline

Keystone Pipeline by Shannon Patrick via Flikr

Trans Canada Keystone Oil Pipeline by Shannon Patrick via FlikrJust like an unwanted dinner guest that you can’t convince to leave, the Keystone Pipeline project is still on the GOP’s legislative agenda.  Actually, it’s now at the top of the GOP’s legislative agenda.

Read the news stories: Republican leaders have apparently given up on efforts to rein in their Tea Party legislators.  Last Friday, the House voted – for the 42nd time – in their futile attempt to repeal Obamacare.  Next Monday, the federal government is probably going to close down – because Congress can’t bring itself to pass annual Appropriations bills.  Jobs bills – and legislation to repair long-neglected roads and bridges – are gathering dust on Representatives’ shelves.  Immigration reform isn’t going anywhere.  Common-sense gun reform?  Yeah, right.  (About 8,400 Americans have been killed in the nine months since Newtown.  Crisis?  How many people have to die before Congress considers it a crisis?)

But no matter what else they’ve given up on, Republican leaders are still determined to force through TransCanada’s pipeline project.  Sometime in the next month or so, Republicans plan to use debt-ceiling legislation to bypass the administrative review process and authorize construction of the pipeline by Congressional fiat.

No, it’s not the first time the GOP has used fiscal emergencies to try to push the Keystone project through.  Back in December 2011, the Republicans traded about $3 trillion in federal debt for an expedited review process (which resulted in the project being rejected).  Since then, House Republicans have inserted Keystone into four other pieces of legislation, including the federal budget.

But why does Congress even care about Keystone?  TransCanada’s pipeline is nothing more or less than a construction project built by and benefitting a private corporation.  Sort of like… if Walmart wanted to build another gazillion-square-foot distribution center.  (Except that a new Walmart distribution center would probably create more than 35 permanent jobs.  Yep, that’s the number of permanent jobs that Keystone is expected to create: just 35.)  So why is Congress getting so involved in the project permitting?

One more time: Keystone is a construction project of a privately-owned corporation.   (Wondering exactly who owns that corporation?  According to Morningstar’s shareholder records, it looks like a whole lot of TransCanada stock is owned by foreign banks.)

One more time: WHY are the Republicans insisting that TransCanada be allowed to build this pipeline?

And whatever happened to “fiscal responsibility”?  Do Republicans really want our government to default on its bills?  That’s the scenario they’re setting up, by tying the debt-limit increase to construction of this private pipeline.

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You can read (experience?) the GOP’s latest press release about Keystone here.

Read NHLN’s “Why Is the House GOP Obsessed with the Keystone Pipeline” here.

The Outrageous Truth About A $12 Minimum Wage And Your Grocery Bill

Angry Woman Customer Stock

Every time I even mention the idea of raising the minimum wage, I am immediately attacked on social media.

Opponents imagine that inflation will skyrocket; some have even claimed that ‘milk will be $10.00 a gallon’ if we raise the minimum wage. Oh, the hysteria. Milk is currently around $3.50 a gallon and that is up 25% from just ten years ago. Is that 25% due to rising wages? Sadly, no – wages in America have declined during that time. Must be some other economic force at work. (Read “Even Dairy Farming has a 1%” here.)

So, what if we raised the floor to a living wage, and paid non-tipped employees a minimum wage of $12.00 per hour? Oh, more hysteria. Opponents claim that will drive our costs up so much we will be unable to eat!

Let’s look at a few facts about minimum wage.

Who gets paid minimum wage? People opposed to raising the wage claim that ‘minimum wage workers are kids in high school; adults do not make minimum wage’. The fact is 25% of minimum wage workers are below the age of 19 – which means that 75% of all minimum wage earners are above the age of 20. That means they’re adults – not high school kids. In fact, almost half of all minimum-wage earners are above the age of 25.

Another fact: under the current minimum wage, a full time worker makes only $15,500 per year – before taxes.

Another fact: 64% of all minimum wage earners are women. Of that a whopping 66% are women above the age of 20.

Another fact: More than a third of minimum wage workers (35.8 percent) are married, and over a quarter (28.0 percent) are parents. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that if Congress raised the minimum wage, it would raise the standard of living for more than 21 million children.

The UC Berkley Labor Center studied the effects of raising the minimum wage to $12.00 per hour. They specifically looked at the nation’s largest employer, Walmart.

Walmart employs about 2.2 million peoplealmost 2% of America’s workers, these days.

If the minimum wage is raised to $12.00 an hour, 37% of Walmart employees would see a raise ranging from $3,200 (part-time workers) to $6,500 (full-time workers). Another 14.6% would see a raise between $1,670-$2,640 per year.

Impact of Raises on Wal Mart WorkersOpponents claim ‘pay raises like that are unrealistic and unsustainable’. They claim ‘Walmart would go bankrupt having to pay that much for labor.’

But that’s completely wrong. According to the UC Berkeley study, increasing the minimum wage to $12.00 an hour would add only $3.21 billion to Walmart’s annual labor costs. To put that in perspective:

Giving all those workers a pay increase might cut Walmart’s profit margin by 20% – but it certainly won’t bankrupt the company.

Now, let’s assume that Walmart passed every penny of the minimum wage increase onto customers, rather than taking it out of profits or dividends. What would that mean to consumers? The average customer would see an increase of $12.49 per year – about 46 cents per visit – if Walmart executives passed the total cost along, rather than cutting their profits.

FOURTY-SIX CENTS per visit would ensure that all Walmart’s workers are paid a living wage.

Annual Cost Per Shopper

Annual Cost Per Shopper

That’s a lot less than the increase in the price of milk.

Would it be worth it, to help the nearly 4 million Americans who are currently working at or below minimum wage? Even if corporate executives pass the total cost along to consumers, rather than taking some of it out of their dividends. I think so.

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A closer look at Walmart’s dividend payments: corporate “insiders” own more than half of Walmart’s stock. Once again, the people who run the company personally benefit from decisions about profits paid out as dividends.

For example, Walmart Director Jim Walton owns 10.5 million shares of the company. This year, the company paid out $1.88 per share in dividends. That means Director Walton received more than $19.7 million in dividends (which are taxed at about half the rate as executive salaries).

Walmart President and CEO Michael Duke owns about 1.2 million shares of the company – that means he personally received about $2 million in dividend income this year.

All that money to corporate executives. And some people claim Walmart can’t afford to give raises to its workers?

 

Walmart and GAP Bangladesh Safety Alliance: Weak and Worthless

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Joint Statement by Richard L. Trumka (AFL-CIO) and Joe Hansen (ChangetoWin)
July 10, 2013

Int Sol USA Tringle 25 03 11

Photo taken by Derek Blackadder in 2011.
Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment industry workers have died since this photo was taken.

The so-called Global Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, announced today by Walmart, Gap and the Bipartisan Policy Center, was developed without consultation with workers or their representatives and is yet another “voluntary” scheme with no meaningful enforcement mechanisms. Companies that sign onto the alliance but fail to meet a commitment face no adverse consequences beyond expulsion from the scheme. Instead, workers will continue to pay.

In stark contrast, more than 75 corporations from 15 countries, including the United States, have signed the binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety negotiated with Bangladeshi and international unions. The Accord has rules to make real improvements in the safety of garment workers. Workers, unions and worker rights organizations negotiated this agreement with employers and integrated worker safety efforts by governments and the International Labor Organization (ILO). The AFL-CIO and Change to Win, along with global unions IndustriAll and UNI and numerous organizations representing Bangladeshi workers, also endorse it. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win reject the Walmart/GAP plan as a way to avoid accountability, limit costs and silence workers and their representatives.

Rather than sign the binding Accord, Walmart and Gap are pushing a weak and worthless plan that avoids enforceable commitments. The Bipartisan Policy Center, which has clear financial and political connections to Walmart, is releasing the document, which is the product of a closed process and has been signed only by the same corporations that produced it.

The Accord departs from the broken system of voluntary corporate responsibility in supply chains that has so often failed to protect workers. It makes a clear commitment to worker safety and rights, and to transparency. It expresses values that most countries uphold.

The Accord has been endorsed by the United Nations, the ILO, the government of Bangladesh, both the parliament and commission of the European Union, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Members and leaders in both houses of the U.S. Congress have also endorsed the Accord.

In the last eight years, more than 1,800 Bangladeshi garment workers have been killed in preventable factory fires and building collapses while producing mostly for European and U.S. markets. This tragic loss of life requires more than a wink and a nod from two of the richest corporations in the world. It means taking responsibility for the safety of workers by entering into a legitimate, binding process that will save lives. Seventy-five brands have taken that important step. It is time for Walmart and GAP to join them, rather than trying to undermine those efforts and maintain a system that has a long and bloody record of failure.

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Watch this new video from the American Federation of Teachers:


Visit: go.aft.org/GAP to show your support for the AFT campaign to force the GAP to sign the international fire and building safety accord.

 

The NH Senate Commerce Committee Says Low Wage Workers Are Paid Enough

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The current debate over raising the minimum wage has gone national.  Across the country low wage workers are striking for a living wage.  Many of these people work in low wage jobs like McDonalds and Wal-Mart, earning minimum wage.  According to the votes of the NH Senate Commerce Committe $7.25 or $15,000 a year appears to be enough for New Hampshire workers.

Recently the NH Senate Commerce Committee voted to ITL (kill) HB 501. The vote of 3-2, right down party lines moves this bill to the full Senate.  Just because the Senate Commerce Committee wants to kill this bill this does not mean the fight is over.  The GOP has control of the Senate and even though this bill would do nothing more than establish the right for NH to set a minimum wage above the federal minimum, it means this will be a completely uphill battle.

Workers deserve a wage that allows them to work without being forced to live in poverty.   Contact your State Senator and tell them to reject the Commerce Committee recommendation and vote to pass HB 501.  Find your Senator here. Do not wait, call today. Ask them if the are truly looking to reduce dependence of government welfare programs, then why are they not raising the minimum wage?