Labor

Labor Goes Community

AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin
“Community is the new density,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said yesterday, just moments before the labor federation’s quadrennial convention was gaveled to order in Los Angeles. For those who follow labor-speak, the remark was both an acknowledgement of American labor’s crisis, and a guide to the strategy with which it hopes to recover. For unions, and more fundamentally for workers, density is power. In a market with considerable union density, wages and benefits are high—or at least higher than they are in a nonunion market. In the three cities with the highest density of unionized hotel workers, for instance—New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas—housekeepers make upwards of $20 an hour. In a city where just half the big hotels are unionized—Los Angeles, say—their wage is close to $13 or $14 an hour. In a city in which no hotels are unionized, as in the case in most of the South and Southwest, housekeepers make barely more than the legal minimum. But more and more...

Your New Robot Colleague Has Been Programmed to Put You At Ease

Baxter, a friendly robot colleague who'd love to hang out with you after work. (Flickr/Steve Jurvetson)
As robots move into more and more workplaces in the coming decades—not just high-tech manufacturing but eventually everything from hospitals to supermarkets—one of the big challenges employers will face is making their carbon-based workforce comfortable with the new arrivals. That's the topic of an interesting story in The Economist (h/t Kevin Drum ) that focuses not just on the technology but on how the robots make us feel, and what must be done to keep people from freaking out when they find out their new partner is made of metal and plastic. It seems that the psychology of human-robot interaction is going to be a burgeoning field in the next few years: To keep human workers at ease, collaborative robots should also have an appropriate size and appearance. Takayuki Kanda of the ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories in Kyoto says that collaborative, humanoid robots should generally be no larger than a six-year-old, a size most adults reckon they could overpower if...

When Giving It the Old College Try Fails

Almost half of Americans drop out of college and are left with debt. Is it time for a bigger investment in vocational training for young people? 

AP Images/Jae C. Hong
AP Images/Jae C. Hong J esse Bonds graduated from high school in 2002 in Clinton, Arkansas, a town of 2,600 people on the southern edge of the Ozarks. He tried college for half a semester, but found the computer-programming courses he enrolled in too advanced. After that, he worked for the state’s power utility for about six months building substations, but his crew was laid off once the work was complete. He was looking for a new career when he was hired as an electrician at a new hospital being built in 2003, and when the work was done he realized he wanted to continue working as an electrician. He decided to enroll in ITT Technical Institute to get a two-year degree in electronics engineering. “I saw all the commercials and stuff,” he says. “And I got into the admissions office and they’re like, ‘Oh you scored the highest of anybody that’s come through here on this test in the last couple of years. You’ll be perfect for this program.’” In retrospect, Bonds realizes they were doing...

One Way to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Since the Great Recession began in 2007, no one’s had more trouble finding work than low-income Asian, black, and Hispanic male teenagers. That’s the main idea in two recent articles in The Wall Street Journal (available here and here ) that rely on research from Andrew Sum, a professor who produces a remarkable number of papers for Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS). As Ben Casselman, author of The Wall Street Journal articles, notes, working during the summer is not only a way for high schoolers to earn money. People who held jobs in their teens are more likely to graduate from high school, and to be employed and have higher earnings in their early 20s than people who didn’t find paid work during the summer, according to a CLMS paper titled “The Continued Crisis in Teen Employment in the U.S. and Massachusetts.” Also worth noting, in that and other CLMS papers, are connections between jobless teenagers and high-school graduation rates that should catch...

Fashioning Justice for Bangladesh

AP Images/Ismail Ferdous
AP Images/Ismail Ferdous O n April 24, the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,129 workers and injuring at least 1,500 more. Most were young women earning about $37 a month, or a bit more than a dollar a day. The collapse was the worst disaster in the history of the global garment industry, evoking the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City. The Rana Plaza factory made apparel for more than a dozen major international fashion brands, including Benetton, J.C. Penney, and Wal-Mart. This was the third major industrial accident in Bangladesh since November, when 112 people were killed in a fire at a garment factory producing mainly for Wal-Mart. At Rana Plaza, cracks appeared in the eight-story building the day before it collapsed. Police ordered an evacuation of the building. But survivors say they were told that their pay would be docked if they did not return to the factory floor, and most did. Bangladesh, a nation of more than 160 million, has...

Back in the Big Labor Fold

AP Images/Gene J. Puskar
AP Images/Gene J. Puskar AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka. L ast Thursday, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—the 1.3 million-member union of retail workers, chiefly supermarket employees—announced that it was leaving the breakaway mini-labor federation, Change To Win, and rejoining the AFL-CIO. Of the six unions that left the AFL-CIO in 2005 to form Change To Win—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters, the UFCW, UNITE HERE, the Laborers, and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—only SEIU, the Teamsters, and the Farm Workers (the last with probably fewer than 10,000 members) remain. Two-point-zero-something unions do not a federation make, but then, Change To Win, despite all its lofty ambitions, never amounted to a federation. At its outset, Change To Win proclaimed a distinct strategic purpose. Though its seven initial members (for a brief time, it included the Carpenters) represented diverse sectors of the workforce—truckers, nurses, janitors, hotel...

L.A. Story

The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy: a new model for American liberalism?

flickr/AlphaProject
AP Photo/E.J. Flynn T ake a left as you exit the Long Beach Airport, and you’ll pass three acres of greenery named “Rosie the Riveter Park.” The park stands at the southeast corner of what had once been the mammoth Douglas Aircraft factory, where DC-3s, -4s, -5s, all the way up to -10s, were once manufactured, and where, during World War II, 43,000 workers, half of them women, built the B-17 bombers and C-47 transports that flew missions over Europe and the Pacific. World War II and then the Cold War remade Long Beach. Federal dollars funded the Douglas factory, a new naval shipyard, and numerous defense firms. An entire city—the working-class community of Lakewood, which borders Long Beach on the north—was built to house the sudden influx of defense workers. Long Beach became and remains the second-largest city in Los Angeles County. The new jobs paid well; powerful unions represented the workers in the factories and on the docks. Military spending, though, began to decline after the...

False Concerns for the Poor

(Flickr/Mark Sedella)
Fast food workers have been organizing across the country for months now, and last week a series of spectacular coordinated strikes generated a deluge of media coverage . As you'd expect, the right-wing media and pundit class came out swinging against the workers with their usual mix of hateful trashing and concern trolling. The hateful trashing mantle was best carried by talking heads at FOX News who slammed fast food workers as mediocre ingrates who should be happy to have a job at all. Comments like these remind us that the right-wing does not merely hate welfare programs due to some anti-spending, anti-government ethos. They just hate the poor in general. Even poor people who, by their very description, are in jobs working hard and seeking to negotiate up their wages with their own employer receive the same vicious treatment the right-wing pretends to reserve only for "lazy welfare cheats." For those of us who don't think the working poor are subhuman garbage, this attack strategy...

Part-Time America

AP Images/Matt Slocum
Of the 963,000 jobs created in the past six months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Household Surveys, 936,000 of them are part-time. That doesn’t mean that just 27,000 of the people hired on to new jobs got full-time work. The total for part-time jobs includes both newly created jobs and formerly full-time gigs that were cut-back to part-time, and the BLS doesn’t pose the questions that would enable it to quantify these two kinds of new part-time jobs. But factoring in both kinds, we do know that the net number of full-time jobs in America has risen by just 27,000 since the end of January. One reason that the number of full-time jobs is so abysmally low is Obamacare’s employee mandate, which stipulated that employers with 50 or more workers either had to provide all such workers who put in at least 30 hours a week with health insurance, or pay a penalty that would help defray the government’s costs for providing subsidized benefits. The administration announced...

The Long Road to a Decent Economy

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
To underscore a weeklong initiative by President Obama on behalf of rebuilding the middle class, the latest figures on GDP growth, released Thursday, and on job growth, made public Friday, show just how far from a healthy middle class economy we are. Revised figures show that GDP growth fell to a rate of just 1.4 percent in the first six months of 2013, even less than last year’s dismal rate of 2.2 percent. These numbers are not enough to create an adequate supply of jobs, much less good jobs, much less wage growth. And sure enough, when the employment numbers for July were released on Friday, the grim trend was confirmed. Just 162,000 jobs were added in July, and most of them were relatively low-wage jobs. Average earnings actually fell. At this rate it will take another six years to get unemployment back to pre-2008 levels according to the Economic Policy Institute, and more than a decade according to the Hamilton Project. The official unemployment rate dropped slightly, from 7.6 to...

The Least We Could Pay

AP Photo/Jim Mone, File
AP Photo/John Minchillo I n his campaign to drum up public support for a post-recess budget deal with Congress, President Barack Obama has repeated a call he first made in his 2013 State of the Union speech: an increase in the federal minimum wage. This past January, he called for a $9 minimum wage, up from the $7.25 rate that has remained unchanged the past four years. This week, at an Amazon packaging facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he said : “[B]ecause no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I will keep making the case that we need to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. That means more money in consumers’ pockets, and more business for companies like Amazon.” A $9 federal minimum wage is higher than any current state’s minimum wage except Washington’s. When Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and other Republicans dismissed the President’s call to raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation...

Moral Mondays and the South’s New Liberal Gospel

Jenny Warburg
The American Prospect/Jenny Warburg B y the time the North Carolina General Assembly ended its six-month session last Friday, the state’s first Republican supermajority had done everything in its power to transform the South’s most moderate state into a right-wing dystopia. No state in recent American history has been pushed further to an ideological extreme by a single legislative session. Among many other measures, Republican lawmakers rejected Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. They ended federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 North Carolinians and slashed them for everyone else. They severely cut public school funding (while making room for a voucher program that will send public dollars to private schools). They drastically decreased access to abortion. They quashed the earned income tax credit for working, low-income families. In the last days of the session, they passed an astonishingly far-reaching bill that makes voting harder in just about every way—from cutting down on...

Subsidizing Poverty

AP Images/Rich Pedromcelli
Want to know the problem with enterprise zones? Then check out Sunday’s Riverside Press Enterprise , one of the best midsized newspapers in California. A story in it covers Governor Jerry Brown’s successful campaign to have the legislature put enterprise zones out of their misery. (Brown recently signed the bill abolishing the zones.) Conceived by the late Jack Kemp and other unusually well-meaning right-wingers to bring jobs to the inner-city, enterprise zones have provided subsidies to businesses for creating jobs they might have created in any case. Disproportionately, the jobs created were low-paying. Also at Brown’s prompting, the legislature replaced enterprise zones with a better-targeted subsidy. Under the new law, businesses in high-unemployment and high-poverty areas will be eligible for tax credits that come to 35 percent of a new hire’s wages—provided those wages are between $12 and $35 an hour. This drew a wondrous complain from Colin Strong, the head of the San...

What Tom Friedman Doesn’t Understand About the Economy, Part 72

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
“Average is over,” New York Times columnist Tom Friedman likes to proclaim, and in at least one particular, he’s right. Friedman no longer writes average columns. With each passing week, his efforts become steadily more moronic. His latest , in Sunday’s paper, is entitled “Welcome to the Sharing Economy,” and in it, Friedman mistakes economic marginality and desperation for innovation and opportunity. The subject of this particular essay is Airbnb, a website where travelers go to rent bedrooms in other people’s homes. “There’s an innkeeper residing in all of us!” Friedman effuses, as he recounts how Airbnb may have as many as 200,000 people per night this summer plopping down in some stranger’s kid’s bedroom. Enthralled by the sheer techno-innovation of it all, Friedman doesn’t pause to ponder just what would impel a parent to turn over junior’s room for a few bucks. Could it be that the factory closed? That Wal-Mart pays so little? No matter: “Ordinary people can now be micro-...

The Great Detroit Betrayal

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
AP Photo/Duane Burleson D etroit has filed for bankruptcy. Most of the spot-news coverage has focused on the immediate fiscal crisis of the city, but the immediate fiscal crisis really isn’t what got the city into such deep trouble. Certainly, Detroit’s contracts with its employees and its debts to its retirees don’t explain anything about how and why this once-great city has come to such grief. Those contracts and retirement benefits are par for the course for major American cities—certainly, no more generous than those in cities of comparable size. Any remotely accurate autopsy of the city will find the cancer that killed Detroit was the decline of the American auto industry. The failure of U.S. automakers in the '70s, '80s and '90s to make better cars at a time when foreign-made autos were beginning to enter the U.S. market was surely one factor. Another was the trade deals that made it easy for Detroit automakers to relocate to cheaper climes—most particularly, NAFTA, which...

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