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Tue May 19, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

Daily Kos Labor digest

by Laura Clawson

Signs at a rally. Solidarity in foreground, stop the war on workers in background.
  • Five ways to help nail salon workers. Better than swearing off manicures now while the subject is on your mind, then slinking back later and tipping a little extra out of guilt.
  • An oil refinery strike continues in Texas, where:
    The stoppage at the Galveston Bay Refinery has become especially bitter as the union said the company was pushing proposals that would eliminate job security and roll back safety policies put in place after an explosion that killed 15 workers in 2005, when the plant was owned by BP Plc.
  • This is creative! A union representation vote at a Detroit charter school chain is left unresolved in part because school officials insist that Teach for America teachers shouldn't be included in the vote. They can teach there, but they don't count as teachers for the purposes of organizing, according to administrators.
  • Pearson has lost most of its testing contract with Texas, but Diane Ravitch has some questions about the whole situation.
  • Workers Independent News report for May 19, 2015:

Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles, California May 15, 2014. The march was held as part of an international protest by fast-food workers who planned to go on strikes in 150 c
Los Angeles is becoming the third major American city to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, with the city council approving the increase by a 14 to one vote. Seattle and San Francisco have already passed increases that will raise the wage to $15 over time, but:
The impact is likely to be particularly strong in Los Angeles, where, according to some estimates, more than 40 percent of the city’s work force earns less than $15 an hour. [...]

Tuesday’s vote could set off a wave of minimum wage increases across Southern California, and the groups pressing for the increases say the new pay scales would change the way of life for the region’s vast low-wage work force.

Indeed, much of the debate here has centered on the potential regional impact. Many of the low-wage workers who form the backbone of Southern California’s economy live in the suburban cities of Los Angeles. Proponents of the wage increase say they expect that several nearby cities, including Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Pasadena, would follow Los Angeles’ lead and pass ordinances for higher wages in the coming months.

The minimum wage will go up slowly in Los Angeles, not hitting $15 until 2020 for larger businesses, with businesses employing 25 or fewer people having until 2021 to reach $15. It's ridiculously slow, but it's something to build on.

Slow or not, the fact that the second-largest city in the U.S. is moving toward $15 an hour is another sign of the power of worker organizing. And $15 an hour is not a number that comes from politicians, it's a number that comes from worker organizing, from demands that were seen as outlandishly high when fast food workers first hit the streets in November 2012. But now it's becoming a reality, and Tuesday's city council vote in Los Angeles will help apply pressure to other city and state governments to raise their minimum wage targets.

The DuPont chemical plant is seen in LaPorte, Texas, 26 miles (42 km) from downtown Houston, November 17, 2014.   Medical personnel had to wait hours to retrieve four dead bodies after a hazardous chemical leak at a unit of a DuPont and Co plant in LaPorte because they were not trained to use the proper safety equipment, the company said on Monday.   REUTERS/Erwin Seba  (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS DISASTER INDUSTRIAL) - RTR4EHJI
Last fall, four workers were killed by a gas leak in a Texas DuPont plant. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has investigated and concluded that:
Those workers “would be alive today had their employer, DuPont, taken steps to protect them,” according to the release announcing the end of the investigation. “Four people lost their lives and their families lost loved ones because DuPont did not have proper safety procedures in place,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. “Had the company assessed the dangers involved, or trained their employees on what to do if the ventilation system stopped working, they might have had a chance.”
What's the penalty for four lives lost and 11 safety violations, nine of them serious? A whopping $99,000—plus the "scores of safety upgrades the company must undertake to prevent future accidents." But with penalties like that and a plant that had last been inspected in 2007 before these deaths, DuPont doesn't have enormous incentives to follow through. Why would we expect companies to invest in safety when they know the penalties for killing workers will be so low?
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker addresses his supporters at a rally on election night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin November 4, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Stathas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) - RTR4CVJ0
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)
Scott Walker got a little bit of side-eye from CBS's Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation Sunday over Walker's insistence that the most important foreign policy decision of his lifetime was Ronald Reagan firing striking air traffic controllers. But Walker showed what he must think is presidential firmness in sticking with his original ludicrous position.

Schieffer asked:

Don't you think there may have been a few things while I agree that that was a significant development, a few things maybe a little more important like the Nixon's opening to China, for example, the decision to go after Osama bin Laden. Do you really think that was the most significant foreign policy statement of your lifetime?
Acknowledging that "those were all important things," Walker nonetheless went on to insist that:
“I came of age during the Reagan administration. I was I think I believe just turned 13 two days before his election in 1980. And for me, looking at that kind of leadership, he set the tone, not just domestically with that action; he sent a message around the world as – as you just read off, I think not only to our allies, this is – was someone who was serious that that could be trusted. But in combination with our adversaries, they sent a clear message, not to mess with him.”
Of course it's in Walker's interest to have domestic union-busting be seen as The Single Most Important Policy Possible, since it's his signature policy. But ... really? Steve Benen highlights a few other things he might have chosen:
Walker was born in 1967, which means his “lifetime” includes a wide variety of foreign policy decisions from U.S. officials: two wars in Iraq, a series of START treaties, Nixon going to China, the end of the war in Vietnam, the Camp David Accords, the war in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iran/Contra, the U.S. role in negotiating the Northern Ireland peace process, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, the Iranian hostage crisis, etc.
But nothing shows resolve like hurting American workers, apparently. It's quite a promise for a Walker presidency.
Graph showing unemployment and underemployment rates of recent college graduates over time, spiking as a result of the recession and still remaining elevated despite improvement since then.
The good news is that recent high school and college graduates looking for work aren't as screwed as they were a few years ago. The bad news is that they're still kinda screwed.
... the unemployment rate is 7.2 percent for young college graduates and 19.5 percent for young high school graduates. Although these rates have come down from the peaks after the Great Recession, they are still elevated above their 2007 levels (5.5 percent for college grads and 15.9 percent for high school grads), which were already high compared to the more favorable rates seen in 1995-2000. The Class of 2015 joins a sizable backlog of unemployed college graduates from the last six graduating classes (the classes of 2009–2014) in a difficult job market. [...]

The underemployment rate is 14.9 percent for young college graduates and 37.0 percent for young high school graduates. These numbers are elevated compared to their 2007 levels (9.6 percent for college grads and 26.8 percent for high school grads), which is a sign that many young graduates either want a job but have simply given up looking for work, or have a job that does not provide the hours they need. Underemployment remains particularly high compared to its pre-recession levels. The ratio of the underemployment to unemployment is near the highest it’s ever been for young high school graduates and college graduates, (1.9 and 2.1, respectively).

Congratulations! You've got your diploma, the future is yours, and all those other commencement platitudes. Now go climb over your peers and un- or under-employed graduates of the past five years in the chase for the shrinking number of good jobs out there.

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

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Thu May 14, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

Daily Kos Labor digest

by Laura Clawson

  • How can you get an ethical manicure? Support worker organizing.
  • The fight for a $15 minimum wage changes another major company. Facebook has announced that:
    ... contractors and vendors in U.S. will have to adhere to new standards, including a $15 minimum wage, at least 15 days paid leave for vacation, sick days and holidays, and $a 4,000 new child benefit for parents who don’t get paid parental leave.

    Effective May 1, the new benefits will cover contract employees who work as cooks, janitors, security guards and other support staff at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. The company plans to extend the benefits to third-party vendors with more than 25 employees at its other 16 campuses in the U.S. over the next year.

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's back-door school voucher effort has a lot of support from billionaires.
  • Workers Independent News report for May 14, 2015:

Six Waltons have more wealth than 43% of US families combined.
The AFL-CIO has released its executive paywatch, with a section looking at inequality, Walmart style. And boy, Walmart's inequality is extremely unequal. A Walmart worker would need to work 1,036 hours at the company's new starting wage of $9 an hour to be paid what CEO Doug McMillon is paid for just one hour.

But McMillon isn't even where the real money is. That's with the Walton family. Last fall, the Economic Policy Institute compared:

...  the family wealth of six of the wealthiest members of the Walton family (reported at just under $145 billion in 2013) with the number of American families that you could add together and still have their net worth come in less than the 6 Walton heirs: 52.5 million, or 42.9 percent of American families.

Some have objected to this statistic on the grounds that the negative net worth families (11.5 percent of all American families) somehow shouldn’t count in this calculation. So, try another statistic: how many families that held the median wealth would you need to add together to equal the holdings of the six Walton heirs: more than 1.7 million. The median wealthholder in the United States, remember, has more wealth than half of all American families and less wealth than half (around $81,200 in 2013).

If you add in racial inequality, the picture is even more unequal:
... arranging non-white families by ascending order of net worth, one would need to aggregate the net worth of the bottom 67.4 percent of non-white families to match the net worth of the Waltons. And it would take 7.9 million families that had the median net worth of non-white families to match the Waltons’ wealth.
We're talking about six people here, and a fortune made on low wages in the United States and throughout a global supply chain. This isn't an accident of inequality, it's a sustained campaign to produce inequality.

Tue May 12, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

Daily Kos Labor digest

by Laura Clawson

Signs at a rally. Solidarity in foreground, stop the war on workers in background.
  • Ugly, ugly union-busting in Bangladesh.
  • Public assistance programs may look like they don't have much effect in the short term, but turn out to do a lot of good in the long term:
    Consider Moving to Opportunity, an experiment in the 1990s that gave families housing assistance, in some cases contingent on their moving to less poor neighborhoods. Initial evidence from the randomized trial was disappointing, finding little or no improvements in test scores for children or earnings for adults. A new paper by the Harvard economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence F. Katz, however, followed the children for another decade. It found that traditional rental vouchers had increased their earnings as adults by 15 percent, and experimental vouchers, which required people to move to less poor neighborhoods, by 31 percent. The additional tax revenue from these higher earnings was enough to repay the program’s cost.
  • Pros and cons of standardized testing, Onion-style. My favorite con: "There are easier ways to measure parents’ income."
  • Two things jump out at me in this piece about a law firm offering 22 weeks of paid family leave. The first is familiar: it's a WOW! story in the American context, but wouldn't seem generous in the international context. The second is that the 22 weeks of paid leave applies to attorneys. Other staff only get 14 weeks—still generous, but hi there, class difference!
  • Stand with postal workers this Thursday in a national day of action.
  • Ned Resnikoff is in the middle of a seven-part series on the tech boom and the working class. Part four is Unions make strides among Silicon Valley workforce.
  • New York nurses are protesting staffing shortages. You want to know who besides nurses needs to be worried about staffing shortages? Patients. Anyone who has a loved one who's a patient. Anyone who may become a patient.
  • When will we stop exploiting home-care workers?
  • Workers Independent News report for May 12, 2015:

U.S. President Barack Obama pokes fun at the media with comedian Keegan-Michael Key playing
Hear that, Mr. President? It's good to be bold.
We don't yet know how high President Obama will raise the salary threshold for workers to get overtime pay. A new poll finds significant public support for him to raise it to the very highest end of what had been discussed. Public Policy Polling conducted a survey for Americans United for Change and found 73 percent support for an increase in the overtime threshold, but what's most striking is this:
65% of voters think workers making up to $75,000 a year should be allowed to receive overtime pay when working more than 40 hours in a week regardless of job classification, compared to only 23% opposed to a change to that level. This is a pocketbook issue that creates little division across party lines- 68% of Democrats, 66% of Republicans, and 58% of independents favor moving the overtime pay threshold to that level.
That's if people are just asked "Would you support or oppose allowing people to receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week if they make $75,000 a year or less regardless of their job classification?" Given a choice of different salary levels for overtime to kick in, 44 percent still chose $75,000 a year, while an additional nine percent chose $60,000 and 10 percent chose $50,000.

Even a modest increase like the $42,000 rumored to be the level the Obama administration was considering would mean that an additional 3.5 million workers would be eligible for overtime pay.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker talks with other governors before the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama to address the National Governors Association at the White House in Washington February 23, 2015. .REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: P
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)
Scott Walker is (unofficially so far) running for president on the basis of the budget miracles he has supposedly wrought as governor of Wisconsin. But it increasingly looks like his only miracle is union-busting—a winner on the far right, to be sure, but not really something that stands on its own. Busting unions was supposed to be Walker's answer to Wisconsin's budget problems, but:
The promised revenues from Walker’s previous budget moves have not fully materialized, leading Walker and GOP lawmakers to propose another round of reductions — including cuts in funding for public schools, the university system, health-care programs and a slew of other programs. The Republican-controlled legislature says it won’t be raising taxes no matter what, though it might increase fees for registering a car or visiting a state park. [...]

GOP lawmakers have reversed many of Walker’s cuts, ranging from funding for the removal of roadkill from the side of highways to money for groups that interview children who have been sexually abused.

Meanwhile, Democrats are hitting Walker for wanting to offer $220 million in bonds for a new basketball arena while simultaneously cutting $300 million from public higher education. And Wisconsin's middle class is shrinking faster than that of any other state and job growth continues to suck. Now that he's been in office for more than a full term during which he's had his way with the budget, Walker may have trouble passing the buck on his failures. And he'll have no shortage of opponents to point that out during the course of a presidential election.
Talk about journalism with an immediate impact. Last week's New York Times investigation of labor law violations and unhealthy working conditions for manicurists in the city's nail salons has spurred Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take sweeping emergency action:
Nail salons that do not comply with orders to pay workers back wages, or are unlicensed, will be shut down. [...]

Salons will be required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights, including the fact that it is illegal to work without wages or to pay money for a job — a common practice in the nail salon industry, according to workers and owners. The signs will be in half a dozen languages, including those most spoken in the industry — Korean, Chinese and Spanish. [...]

Salons will now be required to be bonded — which is intended to ensure, through a contract with a bonding agency, that workers can eventually be paid if salon owners are found to have underpaid the workers. The move is an attempt to counteract the phenomenon of salon owners’ hiding assets when they are found guilty of wage theft.

Additionally, health and safety measures will be put in place, like requiring manicurists to wear gloves and masks and salons to be ventilated, while the Health Department will investigate the most effective health protections to incorporate into what will eventually be permanent policies replacing the short-term emergency measures.

Some of the abuses Sarah Maslin Nir's investigation into New York City nail salons exposed may be especially prevalent in New York, where there are more nail salons per capita than in any other American city and where manicures cost below the national average. That might, for instance, make wage theft more common and more aggressive than in other locations—but that doesn't mean it's not happening in California and Illinois and Massachusetts, too, and states should take this as a spur to inspect their own nail salons. And the health hazards manicurists face similarly deserve a good hard look by state regulators. Customers might end up paying a couple dollars more for a mani-pedi, but we're talking about workers' lives here, and their ability to collect the pay they've legally earned.

Graph showing the minimum wage as a percent of median wage in various countries. US would be 11th if it raised to $12 by 2020, but is now at 27th.
You see that first red bar for the U.S. and you think "that's not so bad," and then you realize that's only if the minimum wage is raised to $12. And you keep looking down down down the graph. The Economic Policy Institute's David Cooper explains how these numbers were reached.
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