Labor

Wal-Mart: Always Low Wages

Employees are planning a walkout on Black Friday, and that's only the beginning.

(Elise Amendola/AP)
(AP Photo) I n the last few months, an unprecedented wave of labor unrest has shaken the retail giant Wal-Mart and its far-reaching supply chain. While the number of employees taking part in walkouts has been limited to the low hundreds , workers and labor activists are mounting pressure and threatening to stage a company-wide strike on Black Friday—the busiest shopping day of the year. The Black Friday walkout is being organized by the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Walmart), a group of Wal-Mart employees formed last year that works closely with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, or UFCW. OUR Walmart, which organized walkouts in October, is pushing for better working conditions, benefits, and an end to alleged retaliation by management. The Black Friday strike would add yet another chapter to a wave of worker protests across Wal-Mart’s supply chain. It all began in June when a group of immigrant guest workers at a Wal-Mart seafood supplier in Louisiana...

The Great Society's Next Frontier

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh) A copy of H.R. 3200, America Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, sits on the desk of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California. A s The Washington Post ’s Ezra Klein declared shortly after voters re-elected President Barack Obama, one of the major winners last week was health-care reform. With Democrats holding on to the Senate and the White House, Republicans will be unable to repeal the law before all of its provisions go into effect in 2014—after which, the theory goes, the public will come to accept that government has the responsibility to ensure health care is available for all. This is the end of a long battle for progressives: Health care has been the major missing piece of our welfare state for nearly a century, and for decades making it part of our system of social insurance has been a primary goal of politicians, think tanks, and activists. With this piece of the progressive puzzle in place, the natural...

Defending the Right to Treat Your Employees Like Dirt

Papa Johns? More like Papa Jerk's! Thank you, I'll be here all week. (Flickr/jumbledpile)
Getting tired of eating at Chick-Fil-A every day to express your hatred of liberals? Well, now you have a couple more options. You can chow down at Applebee's, where the CEO of their New York franchises went on TV to declare that he won't be doing more hiring because of the costs Obamacare would impose. Or you can head over to Papa John's, whose CEO, John Schnatter, has said that Obamacare could add as much as—brace yourself—10 cents to the cost of a pizza, and since obviously customers would never tolerate such price gouging, he'll just have to cut back employees' hours. In our new era of corporate political activism, we're goin to be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing. So let's make sure we all understand exactly what it is these chieftains are complaining about: They don't want to give their employees health insurance . That's it. They'd prefer to talk about "regulation" in some general sense, so you might get the impression that Obamacare is making them needlessly remodel...

Progressives: The Biggest Winners of State Ballot Measures

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Liberals had a lot to celebrate on election night, from the outcome of the presidential race to a number of major Senate wins. But less noticed on the whole was the stunning display of progressive power in ballot measures across the country. From gay marriage to marijuana legalization, from teachers unions to school funding, voters on the whole supported a progressive agenda in the 2012 election. State policy not only carries major implications for the lives of state residents, it also helps set the stage for national debates on issues . In a number of states, voters were deciding the direction of public education; in others, the fate of union power. Election night brought some big victories for liberals, albeit with a few defeats. Here are the most notable winners and losers. WINNERS Teachers Over the cries of teachers' groups, legislatures around the country have passed a number of reform laws, expanding the role of testing and decreasing educators' contract protections. But on...

Get Out the Union Vote

(Flickr/Wisconsin AFL-CIO/Justin Geiger)
Despite setbacks in several states, the American labor movement came out a clear winner in Tuesday’s elections. Most important, they played a key role in ensuring the re-election of President Obama, and contributed significantly to Democratic Senate victories in hotly contested races in Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia. How effective were the unions’ massive voter-education and mobilization programs in the swing states? This year, for the first time, the network exit polling didn’t ask whether respondents were union members, though it did ask if there was a union member in their household. Historically, while union-household voters are more pro-Democratic than voters with no union members at home, the gap is smaller than that between actual union members and non-members. Also historically, union membership doesn’t make much of a difference among, say, African-American women, who are going to vote Democratic at a 95-percent rate whether or not they belong to a union. Where...

Workers Won! An Election Fly-Around

(Flickr/uusc4all)
There’s no question that Tuesday’s elections brought some significant wins for working people. I’m not talking about the candidates—although national political reporters are busy acknowledging Obama’s reelection as a clear sign that “ labor ain’t dead ” and pondering the policy implications of victories for pro-worker politicians like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown—but rather thinking about the ballot initiatives, where in several votes across the country voters spoke out clearly in favor of raising workplace standards and preserving rights on the job. We can speculate about exactly what candidates will do once in office, but it seems certain that many working people will benefit from higher wages, improved benefits, and a right to a voice at work as a direct result of the following ballot measures: In Albuquerque, New Mexico, 40,000 low-wage workers in will get a pay boost as voters in the city overwhelmingly cast their ballots in favor of an increase in the municipal minimum wage. In...

The Future of the White Man's Party

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
(AP Photo/Nick Ut) Former California governor Pete Wilson with his wife Gayle in 1995. During his tenure, Wilson promoted Proposition 187, which would have denied all public services to undocumented immigrants—a move that is credited with turning Latinos in the state against the GOP. O ver the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any...

Follow the Money—Where?

During the past few hours in California, the new model of Republican/Big Money campaign finance has become clear. It’s the Russian Doll model—every time you think you’re about to identify the source of a major contribution, you open it up and lo! There’s another doll that you have to open up and lo! There’s another … To move from the metaphoric to the actual, the contribution in question here was an $11 million check that came in several weeks ago to a Sacramento-based right-wing business organization called the Small Business Action Committee that is running a campaign against Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which would raise taxes chiefly on wealthy Californians in order to keep school and public-university budgets from falling through the floor, and the campaign for Proposition 32, which would make it much harder for unions to access their members’ dues for their political activities. The Sacramento organization, required by California law to reveal the source of the...

Unions Fighting Two-Front War on California Ballots

Flickr/quinn.anya
This is the eighth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year. It’s been a bad year for California unions. Republicans have never been fans of the labor movement , and now state Democratic support is waning. In September, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a pension reform plan that will force union members to work longer for fewer benefits, and vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights , an AFL-CIO-backed bill that would have given labor rights to domestic workers. And earlier this month, Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed child care workers to unionize . In cities like San Jose and Los Angeles—both Democrat-leaning cities with Democratic mayors—unions are fighting more losing battles against pension reform. In this election, state unions were forced to open a new front—at the ballot box. California ballot Proposition 32 puts labor in even deeper trouble, and could leave the movement effectively silenced. And even if labor kills the...

Ohio's Brown Revolution

(Flickr/SEIU)
United States Senator Sherrod Brown is wearing Velcro strap sneakers. They are distinctly geriatric in flavor, black and sturdy-looking, the sort that might be found in the “Mall Walking” section of the shoe wall at FootLocker. Brown is wearing them with a suit. On stage. At a big Teamsters rally a couple of weeks before Election Day. Say what you will about Brown—and plenty has been said about the liberal bête noire of national conservatives during this election cycle—but the man certainly has his own distinct brand of business casual. And in his fierce race to maintain his Senate seat against Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel, it just might be Brown’s brand of who-gives-a-hoot sartorial schlump and off-the-cuff crankiness that is winning Ohio voters over. His opponent is a trim, smooth-faced 35-year-old Iraq War veteran who favors pin-neat suits and a crisp haircut reminiscent of a Marine buzz. Mandel stands in stark physical contrast to the 59-year-old Brown, who sports an...

Power and Privilege in the Workplace

Flickr/daysofthundr46
Today, Adele Stan uncovers another example of a big employer trying to bully their employees into voting for Mitt Romney. We've seen a number of these stories in the last few weeks, as one company after another sends out notices to their workers saying, Hey, we're not telling you whom to vote for or anything, but if that socialist Barack Obama gets elected, we might have to fire you. The twist in this case is that the company, home improvement retailer Menards, is using an online "civics" course as its means of persuasion. Employees who take the "voluntary" (which means you don't have to take it, but your bosses are keeping account of who did and who didn't) course are fed a bucket of anti-Obama propaganda. As this kind of thing becomes more common, there are a couple of things to remember. First, though the CEOs inevitably say they're just giving their employees the straight dope on business realities, this has absolutely nothing to do with business realities and much more to do with...

Central Florida's Corridor of Power

(Flickr/Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau/Express Monorail)
An aerial photograph of Disney World in Kissimmee, Florida I f you want to know what’s different about Florida, both in general and in this election cycle, just ask José López. The organizer and leader of a laundry workers’ union that’s part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), López has been walking precincts as part of SEIU’s campaign to re-elect President Obama since mid-summer. One day, as he was chatting with an elderly man on his doorstep, his canvassing partner interrupted and asked López, “How much do you know about snakes?” A rather large snake, it seems, had slithered between López’s legs. The elderly gentleman, who, like hundreds of thousands of new Florida voters, had migrated from Puerto Rico to the Orlando metropolitan area, excused himself, returned carrying a machete and proceeded to hack the snake not entirely to death. “The machete was too dull,” says López, shaking his head. “He ended up just beating that poor snake to death with that thing.” “Old...

In Michigan, a High-Stakes Game for Labor

(Flickr/CedarBendDrive)
Sixth in a series on the 174 ballot measures going before voters on November 6. There's no question these are tough times for the American labor movement. In the Rust Belt, where unions once reigned, we've watched as Wisconsin's anti-labor governor handily won a recall effort and as Indiana became the first Midwestern state to embrace so-called "right to work" laws, which cripple unions by prohibiting mandatory membership and automatic dues-collection from non-members who are benefitting from a unionized industry. To quote Harold Meyerson's blockbuster Prospect feature on labor's past and future, "In much of America, unions have already disappeared. In the rest of America, they’re battling for their lives." Now in Michigan, a state where unions once wielded tremendous power, the battle for labor's survival has moved to the ballot. Several measures could bolster unions' strength in the state—or weaken it. One measure provides more protections and bargaining rights for home health-care...

The Belle of the Electoral College Ball

(Clare Malone/The American Prospect)
Clare Malone This is part three of the Prospect ’s weeklong series on the swing districts that could determine the national outcome on November 6. S oren Norris is pretty sure he’s just been spouse-blocked. Norris, a canvasser for Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate, is walking away from a door that’s been slammed in his face by a rotund man in a polo shirt and khakis at the mention of Ohio’s incumbent Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown. He explains the phenomenon, common enough in this politically divided state to have been given a name by political professionals. “It’s when you want to talk to one, and the other one won’t let you talk to them. She might have been in the back. Who knows?” Norris shrugs off the encounter and is soon off to the next house on his list. He and his team of canvassers need to knock on 3,500 doors in Cuyahoga Falls, a city 45 minutes south of Cleveland, tonight—T-minus 25 days until Election Day in Ohio. It’s no secret that every four years,...

George McGovern: America's Critic and Champion

The former presidential candidate challenged the country he loved while firmly embracing its people.

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, Pool, File)
AP Photo George McGovern of South Dakota pays a visit with his wife to the floor of the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, August 25, 1968, where he will attempt to capture the Democratic presidential nomination in the National Convention starting on Monday. G eorge McGovern, the former Senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic candidate for president who died Sunday at the age of 90, was perhaps the greatest exponent of an alternative American patriotism of the end of the 20 th century. In this respect, McGovern’s predecessors were men and women like Jane Addams, W.E.B. Dubois, and William James. Historian Jonathan Hansen has described this critical patriotism well as the “claim that critical engagement with one’s country constitutes the highest form of love.” The critical patriot rejects the conventional patriot’s belief that loyalty to the state and, especially, to its military aims should be reflexive and unconditional. Critical patriotism fears that the patriotism of flag...

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