Aug 042013

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

After Warrensburg On To Chattanooga
This pleasant medium sized Tennessee city, climbing Lookout Mountain from which several states can be viewed, used to mainly attract struggling artists and budget conscious retirees. In recent times the area has lured a Volkswagen assembly plant and an Amazon “Fulfillment Center” warehouse. Both are nonunion–and aim to stay that way.

Ironically, on a day marked by strikes and demonstrations by thousands of fast food and commercial workers and allies demanding fifteen dollars an hour and a right to a union, Amazon was the venue for another populist speech by labor’s “friend” in the White House.  The President used the pulpit of the world’s biggest online merchant to call for more high wage jobs with benefits to rebuild the fast disappearing “middle class.”

This was a bit much even for his most loyal friends at the AFL-CIO. In a blog entitled Sorry, Mr. President, Amazon Isn’t the Place to Go for Good Jobs, they said,

“The Seattle Times notes that unions are unwelcome at Amazon. ‘Early on, Amazon took a hard line against unions. A high-profile organizing effort by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) at an Amazon call center in Seattle ended in 2001, when the center was shut down and some 400 workers were laid off as part of a larger company restructuring.’ Fulfillment center workers say that they were forced to attend a meeting once a year where the company would denigrate unions and warn employees against joining them. The use of a largely temporary workforce also undercuts union organizing efforts, since the workforce is constantly changing and few workers are there long enough to participate in or lead organizing efforts. So, while it is laudable that the President is pushing policies that would expand good jobs, he should pay a little more attention next time around to where he’s giving such a speech and make sure that the company he’s gracing with his presence isn’t part of the problem.”

As my generation so often said, if you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem. How are the policies pushed by the AFL’s friend doing? We’ve got new data that accurately reveals the state of jobs, wages, and benefits. Considering we are nearly four years in to “recovery,” the picture is bleak indeed.

Now it has to be admitted that some aspects of recovery are exceeding expectations. Stock markets keep setting new records. House prices are on the upswing from their bubble collapse. Fortune 500 corporate profits exude robust health.

But the July BLS employment and compensation reports bring no joy to the rest of us. Dianne Stafford writes in the Kansas City Star,

“The lowest U.S. unemployment rate in 41/2 years should be cause for celebration, but party hats stayed on the shelf Friday. The jobless rate sank in July to 7.4 percent from 7.6 percent in June, but ho-hum job growth and a decline in the size of the labor force dampened enthusiasm.”

She continues,

“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised down by 26,000 the net job gain previously reported for May and June. As notable as the paltry job creation rate was the nature of the new jobs–many were part-time and low-pay. Part-time employment rose by 174,000 in July, compared with a gain of just 92,000 full-time jobs. Many of the new jobs were in the restaurant, retail and lodging industries. The part-time trend helped push lower the length of the average workweek on private non-farm payrolls to 34.4 hours, a 0.1-hour reduction from June. It also helped shove down average hourly earnings for all employees on private payrolls. That measure edged 2 cents lower…”

The New York Times reported on a different twist,

“The number of federal workers forced to work shorter hours soared this summer–to 199,000 in July, from 55,000 a year earlier–in a sign of the problems that federal budget policy is causing for the economy….Contributing to the hangover from the worst financial crisis in decades is a wave of cuts in domestic and military spending, known collectively as the sequester, which is causing government furloughs as well as job losses and curtailed hours among federal contractors.”

If you are inclined to attribute this downsizing of Big Government to right-wing Republicans let me remind you this was a bipartisan deal brokered by the President, passed only because of  his muscle used on reluctant members of his party.

The President’s friends have been counting on the Affordable Care Act–ObamaCare–to bring an important middle class benefit to all. Open enrollment for the new plans is scheduled to begin in less than two months. I have tried to find out how to utilize the new insurance exchanges in my state–without success. A New York Times article, Missouri Citizens Face Obstacles to Coverage, explained my failure,

“The marketplace, or exchange, being established by the federal government under President Obama’s health care law has no visible presence here [Missouri], no local office, no official voice in the state and no board of local advisers. It is being run like a covert operation, with no marketing or detailed information about its products or their prices.”

Republican obstructionism and administration incompetence share the blame on this one.

Jenny Brown writes in a front page Labor Notes story, Obamacare Opens For Business, Shuts Out Labor,

“When the Obama administration announced July 2 that it would give a breather to employers affected by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), angry unionists noticed a pattern. Even before this delay, ‘every corporate interest that’s asked for regulatory relief has gotten it,’ said Mark Dudzic, chair of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, ‘but the concerns of union plans have been overridden.’”

Labor’s “friend” must accept full culpability for his dual class standard. ObamaCare, which will fall far short of the goal of universal coverage, and will lead to less affordable care for millions, is a big step backward for the health of the working class. It should be replaced by us–not sabotaged by the even more mean spirited boss opposition party.

Even the partial single-payer health care reform, an improved model of what was won by Canada’s labor party decades ago, could bring quality care to all at far less cost. The money currently sucked up by the insurance robber barons in collective bargaining could be shifted to the wage component of our compensation package. That recovered extortion would mean more for our savings–or to spend on consumer items that could truly stimulate the economy and create jobs.

In the run-up to the Federation’s September convention in Los Angeles, the House of Labor is promoting a conversation among both union members and the unorganized, as well as community activists and faith-based projects, about how to build a movement for a “shared prosperity.” Thousands have submitted online comments and substantial numbers will attend next month’s conclave in person.

Many labor activists, including some I greatly respect, have enthusiastically embraced this reach down from the top. I will offer my somewhat less sanguine appraisal next time.

Student Help Mixed Backpack
Sean Savett writing on the AFL Blog summarizes recent Congressional help for higher ed students, linking loan interest rates to Treasury notes, which includes “Because Treasury interest rates are expected to rise over the next couple of years, student loans will become more costly….The bill adds an unexplainable 2.05% fee to student loans….The government is expected to net nearly $200 billion over the next 10 years from student debt payments, including an additional $700 million from this deal. Our government is using students to reduce the deficit, rather than asking corporations to pay their taxes.”

In Brief…
* From the AFL-CIO Blog, “AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director Peg Seminario told a U.S. Senate committee on Thursday that the current system for developing and issuing worker and workplace safety rules is: ‘A broken and dysfunctional system, which is failing to protect workers and costing workers’ lives.’”
* Kudos to Climate & Capitalism for posting a previously unpublished 1976 speech by the late Barry Commoner, perhaps more relevant than ever, Oil, energy and capitalism.
* As this is written, another BART strike seems likely. For some good background check out Clock Ticking on Bay Area Transit Strike Deadline by Alyssa Figueroa.
* The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, “Palermo’s Pizza, the scene of a yearlong worker dispute, said Tuesday it had agreed to rehire eight workers with back pay and had asked the National Labor Relations Board to set a date for a union election.”

That’s all for this week.

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