Labor

The Flying News

AP Images/Daniel Reinhardt
I t was a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t contract that Boeing offered its workers last week, and its workers responded accordingly. Confronted with a contract that transformed their pensions into 401k’s, and with the company’s threat to relocate production of its new 777x to some other, lower-wage state unless its workers took the deal, the members of the International Association of Machinists Puget Sound/Boeing district approved the company’s offer by a suitably ambivalent 51-percent-to-49-percent margin. Two months earlier, the same members had rejected management’s offer by a two-to-one margin—whereupon Boeing invited other states to offer it relocation deals. Shortly before the second vote, the company announced that 22 states had responded with proposals—promising tax abatements, free land, anti-union public policies, and Lord only knows what else. If the company took one of those states up on its offer, as many as 10,000 of the 80,000 Boeing jobs in the Greater Seattle...

Dan Cantor's Machine

Timothy Devine
Timothy Devine E lection night, New York City, November 5, 2013. Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, the candidate for both the Democratic and Working Families parties, is racking up a huge victory after running on a platform that calls for raising taxes on the rich and raising wages for workers. Shunning the usual Manhattan-hotel bash, de Blasio has decided to celebrate in a Brooklyn armory, where his supporters have gathered to mark the end of the Michael Bloomberg era and, they hope, the birth of a national movement for a more egalitarian economy. In one corner of the packed armory, Dan Cantor is talking with old friends and young activists who either work for him or used to—two groups that, combined, probably include about half the people in the hall. Cantor, who is 58 years old and of medium height, is wearing a black suit and tie but exhibits a touch of the willful schlumpiness that comes naturally to certain New York Jewish males. His most prominent features are a white streak...

The Year in Preview: Labor's Outlook

AP Images/PAUL BEATY
L abor—unions and the broad working class of wage workers—hasn’t had a good year in a very long time. Union membership continues its long, slow decline, as does median family income. But if nothing else, 2014 should be a clarifying year in the life of several legal and organizing struggles that will either advance or retard the progress of labor. The Cold Hard Numbers The labor year begins in early January when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its union-membership numbers. Despite recent high-profile fights over public-sector unionism—teachers and government workers—union density among public employees has stayed remarkably steady, somewhere around 35-36 percent of the public-sector workforce. Private-sector unionism (the iconographic male union members of yore—autoworkers, steelworkers, truckers, coal miners) continues, year by year, to creep lower and lower—last year, density stood at 6.6 percent, probably the lowest since the beginning of the 20 th century. The members of...

The Hidden Indentured Class

Sex trafficking isn't our only problem—forced labor accounts for a significant number of the estimated 20,000 victims of human trafficking who enter the U.S. each year.

 

AP Images/New Mexico Attorney General's Office
AP Images/New Mexico Attorney General's Office A nna and her husband were supposed to be in the U.S. on their honeymoon. They arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in the spring of 2007 and found Daniel waiting for them with a sign bearing their names. Daniel was an acquaintance, someone Anna’s father-in-law—who lived in Houston—knew through church. He had offered to show them parts of Southern California before they continued on to Texas. It was an attractive detour for a Southeast Asian couple in the U.S. for the first time. From the airport, they drove to a restaurant for dinner and met some of Daniel’s family—a stop that felt warm and welcoming since they were all from the same country originally. “He was really nice and since we don’t know anybody—and we came from the same country,” Anna recalls, “that’s why we trusted to go with him.” But then, instead of playing tour guide, Daniel brought the couple to an elder-care facility he owned. He told them to work, care and cook...

Closing the Gender Gap in the Fed's Hallowed Halls

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
J anet Yellen, President Obama’s superb pick to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve, should have been a shoo-in all along. In fact, it was widely thought this past spring that, as vice chair of the Federal Reserve, she was the most likely candidate to replace Ben Bernanke when his term as chair was scheduled to end early in 2014. But in the months before October 9, when she stood beaming next to President Obama in the White House as he finally announced her as his pick to succeed Bernanke, a curious campaign had emerged to nominate Larry Summers, a close economic advisor to the president, for the position. The Summers push received copious media coverage, reportedly fueled by senior White House advisors. As summer reached its doldrums, journalists began reporting that high-level White House advisors worried that Yellen lacked “gravitas,” was too “soft-spoken,” or might not be good in a crisis. A few journalists pointed out that these coded words suggested sexism. (The gender...

Tom Friedman’s Worst Column Ever

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Sometimes, Tom Friedman writes a column that is such complete baloney it makes you want to retch. Rather than risking soiling my shoes, here is a point-by-point rebuttal to Friedman’s opus du jour, titled: “ Sorry, Kids. We Ate It All .” Friedman’s column swallows whole the budgetary malarkey of the corporate Fix-the-Debt lobby and its Wall Street sponsors. Namely, the reduced horizons of the next generation are the result of the gluttony of old folks—and of unions. But what makes this piece especially appalling (and emblematic) is that the hero of Friedman’s piece is one Stanley Druckenmiller, a hedge-fund billionaire who has appointed himself as the Paul Revere of deficit reduction to warn America’s college students that The Seniors Are Coming. In passing, Friedman discloses that Druckenmiller is also “a friend.” So on top of the absurd logic of the piece, Friedman is guilty of a conflict of interest—using the most valuable real estate in American journalism to do a favor for a chum...

The Robot Invasion

Jason Schneider
I f you want a sense of where the nation’s job market is headed, a good place to stand is inside the half-mile-long Skechers warehouse in Moreno Valley, California, where box after box of shoes is stacked upon row after row of shelving, which soars some 40 feet in the air. Physically, the place is a wonder—quiet, sleek, and environmentally friendly (at 1.8 million square feet, it’s the largest officially certified “LEED Gold” building in the country). But what’s most remarkable about the $250 million structure, which opened in 2011, is how few people work there. The day I visited, a clump of men and women toiled away near a series of conveyor belts, filling small specialty orders. But machines—not human beings—were handling the bulk of the chores. “As you can see, there are no more people doing the retrieving,” Iddo Benzeevi, the chief executive of Highland Fairview, the firm that developed the site, told me. “It’s the computer doing it all by itself.” A driverless crane swung into...

Mining for Victory

AP Images/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Stephanie S. Cordle
The story of the United Mine Workers of America is the story of the American labor movement as a whole. The Mine Workers were once the single most important union in the United States: the union that broke from a stodgy labor federation in 1935 to devote its resources to organizing the nation’s factories, the union that built such dynamos as the United Auto Workers and the Steelworkers; the union that sunk so much money into Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign that FDR didn’t raise a peep when striking auto workers occupied General Motors’ Flint, Michigan, factories and didn’t come out until GM had recognized their union; the union that had the strength and cojones to strike during World War II’s strike ban; the union that transformed industrial America. Today, with membership shrunk to perhaps just 10 percent of their peak strength numbers, the Mine Workers, like the labor movement generally, have a past that quite outshines their present. Their retirees outnumber their current...

The Task Rabbit Economy

T askRabbit.com markets itself as a Web service that matches clients seeking someone to do odd jobs with “college students, recent retirees, stay-at-home moms, [and] young professionals” looking for extra income. The company website calls it “a marketplace dedicated to empowering people to do what they love.” The name Task Rabbit doesn’t exactly suggest the dignity of work, and the love often takes humble forms. Customers hire Task Rabbits to clean garages, haul clothes to the laundry, paint apartments, assemble Ikea products, buy groceries, or do almost anything else that’s legal. The San Francisco–based company, which has raised $38 million in venture capital since it was founded in 2008, makes its money by tacking on a 20 percent surcharge to the fees paid by clients. The firm performs criminal background checks on aspiring Rabbits, who then get access to chore requests posted by customers. Using the familiar metrics of the Internet, the more than 10,000 approved Rabbits are rated...

The She-covery that Wasn't

Press Association via AP Images
AP Photo W hen the government shutdown ends and September’s jobs report is released (it was supposed to appear last Friday), careful readers will notice that women are holding a number of jobs either at or just above their all-time high (which came in early 2008), while men are still millions short of their own pre-crash milestone. Hailing a successful she-covery, however, obscures the fact that women still face an elevated unemployment rate and that the barriers that kept that them from earning as much as men before the recession are still in place. Women are millions of jobs short of where they would be if the economy was at its full potential. Many of the new jobs they have are low-paying. The main causes of the pay gap, like gender segregation in the labor market, have not gone away. That women are gaining jobs is a good thing, but policymakers should not be convinced their work is over. Quantity Even though women hold about as many jobs now as they did before the crash,...

Daddy's Home!

AP Images/Edmond Terakopian
AP Images/Edmond Terakopian M any mornings this year Matt Nuttall and his friend Ryan Faulkner met up in one of several neighborhood parks located between their houses in Pleasant Hill, California. While they changed diapers, dispensed snacks, and made sure their little ones didn’t fall off the playground equipment, the dads “talked to each other in adult,” as Nuttall puts it. Before too long, their children would begin to fade, and they’d head back to their respective houses to prepare lunch and oversee afternoon naps. “We didn’t do much, just sat around and kept the kids and ourselves from going crazy,” says Nuttall, who teaches ninth- and tenth-grade English at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco. After his wife returned to her job, Nuttall took 12 weeks off from his. For half of that time, he received $945 a week through California’s Paid Family Leave program. The program, which has been in existence since 2004, offers workers up to six weeks off with maximum pay...

Five Reasons Food Stamps Work Just Fine

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor L ast week, House Republicans passed a bill that would cut the food stamp program by about $40 billion over the next ten years. They’re drawing on headline numbers—the program serves about 47 million people each year and has the biggest price tag of any program in the farm bill, $80 billion—to drum up support. The aid, technically known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is still known as food stamps to nearly everyone who receives it. There’s little chance that the bill will be enacted, given the more moderate makeup of the Senate, although it’s likely that some cuts will end up on the president’s desk. (The Senate is cutting $4.4 billion from the program.) Still, food stamps are one of the most robust federal entitlements for the poor we have left, so it’s always going to be a target for cuts. It’s worth looking beyond those bold-face numbers in the news to see how the program is performing—and why it’s...

Immigration Reform's Make-or-Break Moment?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Activists for immigration reform block the intersection of Independence Avenue and New Jersey Avenue outside Capitol Hill last week. E arlier this week, top advocates of immigration reform met at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Democrat Network (NDN), a center-left think tank, to discuss the prospects of getting a bill through Congress by year's end. "The fundamentals are stronger than at any time during the last ten years," Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, told the audience. "[Immigration reform] is a plane on the runway ready to take off." Skeptics might counter that the jet has been sitting on the tarmac for months. In early June, House Speaker John Boehner said immigration reform was set to see the president’s desk by the end of the summer. The White House said the same thing. The Senate passed an omnibus bill in July , but August recess came and went without legislation getting through the House. Now, with the looming budget battle...

Obama Just Changed the Most Racist Law in the Country

(flickr/uncgspecia)
You may have missed it, but yesterday President Obama dramatically altered one of the most racially damaging laws in America when the Department of Labor announced that it would extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers. To say there's a backstory here would be a wild understatement. Seventy-five years ago, Franklin Roosevelt achieved a historic victory—but a morally compromised one—when he signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The law created the modern labor regulations that we're all familiar with today, including the minimum wage, overtime pay, and much more. Yet getting the FLSA passed entailed a major concession to southern Democrats, who successfully fought to exclude agricultural and domestic workers. Why? Because, as legal scholar Juan Perea has shown in his illuminating history of the law, that exclusion was seen as crucial to preserving a southern way of life that hinged on exploiting cheap African-American labor—both in the fields...

Time to Give America a Raise

AP Photo/Louie Balukoff
I t’s been a good week for the nation’s numerous poverty-wage workers. They’ve been way overdue for a good week. On Tuesday, the Labor Department issued a much anticipated and delayed extension of the federal minimum wage and overtime regulations to the nation’s 2 million homecare workers. Last Thursday, the California legislature passed (and Governor Jerry Brown pledged to sign) a bill that raised the mega-state’s minimum wage from $8-an-hour to $10. Taken together, these two measures limiting poverty-wage work underscore a host of significant changes to the political economy. The Labor Department’s extension of the minimum wage recognizes the growth of homecare as an industry increasingly like any other, with agencies big and small, many relying on partial government subsidies, employing millions of workers. It also signals the continuing extension of federal work standards beyond those that originally covered white men disproportionately. When the Fair Labor Standards Act (which...

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