Skip to main content

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush
Is this Mitt Romney's big legacy? Republican presidential candidates are straining to show that they really, really care about people who aren't rich. And it is a strain, since they certainly can't offer up any policies they support that would help the non-rich. There are those who use their own biographies to argue that they care:
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida praises his parents, a bartender and a Kmart stock clerk, as he urges audiences not to forget “the workers in our hotel kitchens, the landscaping crews in our neighborhoods, the late-night janitorial staff that clean our offices.”
Don't forget them, but don't do anything nuts like raise the minimum wage so many of them are paid, or support paid leave or affordable health care.

There are also those Republican candidates who can't run on biography, so they just make broad claims and hope no one asks for details:

On a visit last week to Puerto Rico, Mr. Bush sounded every bit the populist, railing against “elites” who have stifled economic growth and innovation. In the kind of economy he envisions leading, he said: “We wouldn’t have the middle being squeezed. People in poverty would have a chance to rise up. And the social strains that exist — because the haves and have-nots is the big debate in our country today — would subside.”
So ... free college? Strengthening regulations on Wall Street? Taxing the rich and using the revenue to invest in infrastructure, creating lots of good construction jobs? Yeah, I didn't think so.

There's a cliche in writing that may need to become a cliche in politics: Show, don't tell. Don't tell me you care about non-rich people, show me. In policy, not by showing up at a soup kitchen and washing dishes that aren't dirty.

13 states rank in the top 20 on both high union density and low workplace fatalities.
This week, in honor of Workers Memorial Day, the AFL-CIO released its Death on the Job report. Some facts:
In 2013, 4,585 workers were killed on the job in the United States, and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, resulting in a loss of 150 workers each day from hazardous working conditions.

Nearly 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but many injuries
are not reported. The true toll is likely two to three times greater, or 7.6 million to 11.4 million injuries each year.

Over the past four years, the job fatality rate has declined slightly each year, with a rate of 3.3 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2013 compared with a rate of 3.6 per 100,000 workers in 2010. [...]

Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of job fatalities. The fatality rate among Latino workers increased in 2013 to 3.9 per 100,000 workers, up from a rate of 3.7 per 100,000 in 2012. At the same time, the number and rate of fatalities for all other races declined or stayed the same. There were 817 Latino workers killed on the job in 2013, up from 748 deaths in 2012. Sixty-six percent of the fatalities (542 deaths) in 2013 were among workers born outside the United States. There was a sharp increase in Latino deaths among grounds maintenance workers. Specifically, deaths related to tree trimming and pruning doubled among Latino workers since 2012, and 87% of the landscaping deaths among Latino workers were immigrants. [...]

Workplace violence continues to be the second leading cause of job fatalities in the United States (after transportation incidents), responsible for 773 worker deaths and 26,520 lost-time injuries in 2013. Women workers suffered 70% of the lost-time injuries related to workplace violence.

The cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous—estimated at $250 billion to $360
billion a year.

Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's education and labor news.
Continue Reading
People clean up Pennsylvania avenue in Baltimore, Maryland April 28, 2015. Baltimore erupted in violence on Monday as hundreds of rioters looted stores, burned buildings and at least 15 police officers were injured following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a
If you work something close to a 9-5 schedule, a 10 p.m. curfew may be a drag. It may cramp your style on the weekend. But it's unlikely to threaten your livelihood. Thing is, the American economy does not operate on a 9-5 schedule, and Baltimore's curfew means loss of income for restaurants, bars, and other businesses and for the workers who staff them, among other potential problems:
"With a curfew, you will do more damage financially to our bars and restaurants than rioters will do," writes Liam Flynn, proprietor of Liam Flynn's Ale House, a Station North tavern not far from the CVS burned on Monday night, in an open letter to the mayor. "We have insurance for vandalism, not loss of revenue."

For Hong's part, the Thames Street Oyster House is stopping its dinner service at 7:30 p.m. While the restaurant could stay open later, Hong says he's concerned that his workers get home on time—no mean feat, given bus-service interruptions and road closures, especially in West Baltimore. Plus the hassle could be a problem for some workers.

"The mayor stated that, if you are stopped in violation of the curfew, you would be required to show an ID and a letter from your employer stating that you are traveling to or from work. I'm sure this is true across the service industry," Hong says, "but some of the staff might not have IDs that they can just pull out, whether it's due to immigration status or other concerns."

A local bartender tells Citylab's Kriston Capps that his income has fallen to one-fifth of his usual take ... and that's with the weekend coming. It's not just income and problems getting too and from work, either. An emergency-room nurse told Capps that "Emergency care is primary care for a lot of people in Baltimore" and a decline in overnight visits suggested that some people were delaying care for things they'd normally want treated.
Here's more on the strike.

In other news:

Super committee co-chair Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) speaks to reporters as she arrives for a meeting in the Capitol in Washington November 18, 2011. The special congressional committee is tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
While many states—including red states—have raised their minimum wages in recent years, the federal minimum wage has stayed stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Democrats keep proposing to raise it, and Republicans keep blocking it, with House Speaker John Boehner having once insisted that "I’ll commit suicide before I vote on a clean minimum-wage bill." So, after a couple years of pushing for a $10.10 an hour minimum wage, Democrats are saying "screw it," but not in a giving-up way:
On Thursday, members of the party will introduce a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour, a $4.75 increase over the current rate, which has gone untouched since 2009.

The so-called Raise the Wage Act, which will be introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate, will slowly boost the current $7.25 rate over the next five years, with the first hike to $8 coming in 2016 and $1 annual increases occurring through 2020. The bill’s sponsors—Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, and Congressman Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia—estimate that raising the federal minimum wage to $12 would result in increased pay for 38 million Americans.

If Republicans are going to go to the mat to keep poverty wages, Democrats might as well go to the mat for something a little closer to a living wage—though they're still not pushing for the $15 an hour that fast food, retail, and other workers have been pushing for and that's been passed in Seattle. In other good news, though, the Raise the Wage Act would ultimately link the minimum wage to the rate of inflation so that wages would rise even if Republicans controlled Congress, and it would finally raise the tipped worker minimum wage from $2.13 an hour, where it's been for two decades.

Raising the minimum wage is extremely popular. It would mean fewer working families needing public assistance to get by. Including tipped workers in a raise would mean they'd face less sexual harassment and would change the current situation in which one in six restaurant workers live below the poverty line. And, contrary to what Republicans claim, raising the minimum wage isn't bad for job growth.

But it's never going to happen as long as Republicans are in a position to block it.

Rally with
Despite the hundreds of community members who turned out Monday to protest and testify against a state takeover of schools in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to take over the schools on Tuesday. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the vote:
Three members - Ed Doherty, Mary Ann Stewart and Donald Willyard - voted against receivership. Doherty cited labor concerns regarding the vote and Stewart and Willyard said they were convinced to vote no following a visit to Holyoke Public Schools. They were the only two members to visit the schools.
Only two people visited the schools they were passing judgment on. Eight board members voted for a hostile takeover without having visited the schools. That's all kinds of messed up.

One parent speaking against receivership said:

"Living in Holyoke comes with a stigma," she said. "Don't add to the stigma. Don't give our critics more reason to judge our community."

Burke added, "A state takeover would be a slap in the face of those that educate our children."

And more:
Can of Bumble Bee chunk light tuna.
Here's something you may find less than appetizing after reading this story.
What does it take for criminal charges to be filed in a workplace death? A horrific story like this:
Jose Melena was performing maintenance in a 35-foot-long oven at [Bumble Bee Foods'] Santa Fe Springs plant before dawn Oct. 11, 2012, when a co-worker, who mistakenly believed Melena was in the bathroom, filled the pressure cooker with 12,000 pounds of canned tuna and it was turned on.

When a supervisor noticed Melena, 62, was missing, an announcement was made on the intercom and employees searched for him in the facility and parking lot, according to a report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. His body was found two hours later after the pressure cooker, which reached a temperature of 270 degrees, was turned off and opened.

Bumble Bee says it was all a "tragic accident" and charges aren't called for, but:
The San Diego-based company, former safety manager Saul Florez, and Angel Rodriguez, the director of plant operations, were each charged with three felony counts of committing an occupational safety and health violation that caused a death, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. [...]

If convicted, Rodriguez and Florez each face up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The company could be fined up to $1.5 million.

I'm sure it was an accident, in the sense that Melena's coworker did not intend to cook him to death. But companies have to be held responsible for safety procedures that make sure things like that don't happen. Kind of like car companies manufacture cars with seat belts and crumple zones.

Appropriately enough, the charges came on Monday, the day before Workers Memorial Day, a day for remembering people killed on the job.

Striking federal contract workers, April 22, 2015.
Days after Senate janitors and cafeteria workers walked out to protest low wages, and after one janitor's homelessness made news, Democratic senators wrote to the committee in charge of congressional buildings and services:
... we urge you to provide a preference in the contracting process to contractors that provide a living wage, fair healthcare and other benefits, and that give employees a voice in their workplace. Employees working full time on taxpayer-funded contracts should not have to rely on federal benefits like food assistance and medical care to provide for their families.

President Obama’s Executive Order requires government contractors to pay employees $10.10 per hour.  Assuming a full-time schedule with no earned vacation or sick days, a worker could earn about $21,000 annually.

With the cost of living in the Washington DC metropolitan area among the highest in the United States, the Rules Committee should build on this minimum wage by requiring contractors doing business with the U.S. Senate to be model employers who treat their employees fairly.  People who work full time should be able to support themselves and their families.

Contractors should not be allowed to keep food and restaurant services prices low for Senators, Senate staff and visitors to the Senate while failing to pay their workers a living wage.

Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (IL), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sherrod Brown (OH), Barbara Boxer (CA), Bob Casey (PA), Ed Markey (MA), Cory Booker (NJ), and Mark Warner (VA) signed the letter, joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka speaks at a 2010 rally against Arizona's anti-immigrant SB 1070.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka
The union movement is beginning its traditional campaign season dance with Democrats, in which union leaders push Democratic candidates to make working people's issues a priority and pledge to fight inequality, but ultimately are left with the non-choice between Democrats and Republicans. Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, gave a speech Tuesday morning outlining a set of values that unions expect to see from candidates they'll support. "The field remains open," Trumka said, and "the labor movement's doors are open to any candidate who is serious about transforming our economy with high and rising wages."

Outlining an agenda including raised wages, paid sick leave, expanded overtime eligibility, funding for infrastructure and education, and support for collective bargaining, Trumka asked:

The question is, will our candidates listen? Will they seize this opportunity? I wonder, and so do the vast majority of working Americans. The truth is we’re skeptical.

Are we wrong to be skeptical? I don’t think so. A surging army of workers, activists and families are tired of taking “maybe” for an answer. We’re tired of scared politicians who won’t stand up for what’s right. Listen to this: About one-third—30%—of working class voters after the last election said they couldn’t see any significant difference between the two parties. [...]

Of the working class voters we surveyed, 80% of Democrats and Republicans, 80%, say both parties do far too much for Wall Street and not nearly enough to help average folks.

That said, Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti and Brian Mahoney are not wrong when they write:
The reality? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and labor will probably have little choice but to get on board the Clinton bandwagon.
But, Debenedetti and Mahoney report, Clinton's campaign is actively reaching out to unions to discuss policy. If she's taking their support for granted, she's not making it obvious at this stage of the campaign—and remember, in the 2008 primary, Clinton had substantial labor support.

In the end, there's getting on board and getting on board—an endorsement and some pro forma support vs. an all-out effort—and different unions will have different approaches to 2016. But when it comes down to it, unions face the same experience so many of us do, trying to push Democrats to the left, but then looking at Republican candidates and wanting to do anything possible to stop them, even if it means an imperfect Democrat.


There are 61,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States, and this is what congressional Republicans want to do to transportation funding:

Graph showing transportation funding now and planned cuts of the House and Senate budgets.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' Robert Greenstein has more:
The House and Senate budgets cut highway and mass transit funding by an average of about 28 and 22 percent, respectively, over the next decade.[4] To be sure, gas tax revenues for the Highway Trust Fund have fallen as fuel efficiency has risen, leaving a shortfall in the financing of highways and mass transit. But rather than finding new financing to avoid cuts in this funding -- as Congress has routinely done over the past decade -- the House and Senate budgets both chose to reduce needed investment in transportation infrastructure. Notably the House proposes to cut funding dramatically in 2016, by roughly 90 percent, as a way to address the shortfall in the trust fund. While the House funding reductions would be less severe in future years, funding would still remain significantly below the current level for the entire decade.
That means weakened infrastructure—roads, bridges, and trains that people rely on to get to work and businesses rely on to ship goods—and lost jobs. But hey, it also means rich people not paying taxes, so Republicans are all for it.

Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's labor and education news.

Continue Reading
Grade school student focusing on work with paper and pencil.
A New York teacher has written a remarkable letter to Diane Ravitch explaining how the focus on standardized testing is hurting her students. Her first-grade students. Even though these kids won't be taking Common Core tests for two years, she writes, those tests taken recently by older students had a direct effect on the first-graders:
You see, these tests have a ripple effect. The immediate effect is that my students who receive services such as reading and resource will not receive these services for the next TWO WEEKS since the teachers who provide these services are proctoring the state tests. They will also lose services when some of these same teachers are pulled out to score the tests in the subsequent weeks.
But it's not just Common Core, though that's the latest in the long string of hot new standardized tests. It's about the overall focus on testing as the center of how and what students are taught, which has changed education dramatically:
When I started teaching oh so many years ago, we focused on thematic instruction and integrating all subject areas so that our students had opportunities to make connections. We taught in ways that honored many learning styles, student’s individual differences and developmental stages, along with their individual needs. We understood (and still do) that each child has different intelligences and learning styles. My walls and windows of my classroom were covered with songs and poems, student artwork and artifacts of student learning. My little ones sang and read and played. We taught using literature with rich language and focused on building background knowledge. Children were encouraged to synthesize knowledge and draw conclusions using what they knew and what they were learning. We used a tremendous amount of glitter and paper and encouraged children to express themselves in ways that played to their strengths. We did projects and had lots of hands-on learning with manipulatives. I assessed through observation and working directly with students. [...]

My walls are no longer covered with songs and poems and artwork. That has been replaced with “anchor charts”, “I can statements” and “Learning targets”. We barely use construction paper and I have not purchased glitter in 3 years. There is no time for art projects or creative expression. Children can no longer choose their learning. They write to prompts and must write different genres at certain times. Math is done on paper and manipulatives are few and far between (except when I pull out the old stuff). Reading is “close reading” and answers to questions are to be solely based on the text, without synthesis of prior knowledge.

Assessment is daily and must be documented along with being scripted (because Big Brother is watching). Modules are scripted, teacher led and boring for little ones. We have to have 50% of text presented as informational text. Students have to write essays before they even have automaticity of letter formation. ALL THIS IS DONE SO THEY CAN PREP FOR THE TESTS. My students will take keyboarding in 3rd grade so they can take the tests online…BEFORE SOME OF THEM EVEN HAVE THE PHYSICAL HAND SPAN TO USE A KEYBOARD.

Does this sound like the kind of education that's going to teach anyone to love learning? To value thinking and reasoning and drawing their own conclusions? But this is what the push for more high-stakes testing is doing to American schools.
Convenience store cashier at work.
It probably won't come as a surprise that less-educated American workers have been struggling to make a living in recent years, but the numbers might still shock you: Working men aged 30 to 45 with no high school diploma saw their median earnings fall by 20 percent between 1990 and 2013. That means that this group saw a drop (measured in 2013 dollars) from $31,900 in 1990 to just $25,500 in 2013. Why would that be?

Well, globalization and technology—which are often cited to prove that such wage drops are inevitable—are part of it, but they're not the whole story. It's true that:

... there really is a shift away from the sectors where less-educated workers can earn a decent living. In 1990, 40 percent of the prime-age male workers without a high school degree worked as operators and laborers, a number that declined to 34 percent in 2013. Jobs in food service, cleaning and groundskeeping nearly doubled in the same span, to 21 percent from 11 percent. But it wasn’t an even trade: Pay for operators and labors was $25,500 in 2013, compared with $20,400 for the food, cleaning and groundskeeping category.
But that's just a small part of what's going on. The corporate race to the bottom is a much bigger reason for declining wages for workers with a high school diploma or less:
A bigger effect is downward pressure on pay in jobs held by low-education workers across the board.

So not only did people shift from higher-paying fields to lower-paying ones, but inflation-adjusted pay also fell in all of those jobs. For example, production work — manufacturing, largely — was the highest-paying category for men without a high school diploma in 2013, paying them $28,000. But that sector was both smaller (29 percent of such workers, down from 31 percent) and paid less (down from $33,600) than it did in 1990.

Numbers like these point to two big economic changes we need to win in the United States. First, workers need to join together and fight back. Part of the declining working- and middle-class share of income can be directly linked to declining union density. Class war from above is working, and disarming is not the way to fix that. Second, this is another data point in the argument for free public higher education: a college degree is coming to be as much of a necessity to make a living as a high school diploma was a generation or two ago. Just as public high school became free and widely available when that level of education became necessary to employment, it's time for college to be free now, so that being able to afford college to begin with doesn't become even more of a driver of economic inequality than it already is.
You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.


Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site