Harold Meyerson

Ending Minority Rule

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
The first test vote that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is scheduled to bring before the Senate this morning is that of Richard Cordray, President Obama’s pick to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Reid decided to lead off with Cordray for a very good reason: The Republicans’ insistence on filibustering him makes clear their real intent is to throttle the Bureau. They are using a filibuster of an appointment to effectively repeal legislation they don’t otherwise have the votes to repeal. Nothing could better make Reid’s case that the filibuster has been twisted into a vehicle for minority rule. Republicans have openly acknowledged that their opposition to Cordray isn’t to Cordray himself. Rather, they say, they oppose giving the bureau’s director the power to direct the bureau. Instead, they’d like a bipartisan board to run the bureau. Their reasoning is straightforward: A single director might just advocate for consumers. If there were a bipartisan board, however, it...

The State of the Unions

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Gallup and Pew concur: Just over one-half of Americans approve of labor unions. In late June, the Pew Research Center released the results of its biennial poll on unions and corporations , and reported that 51 percent of Americans had a favorable view of unions—up from just 41 percent in 2011, the last time Pew popped the question. Pew’s new number is almost identical to Gallup’s, which found that 52 percent of Americans approved of unions when it last asked that question in August of 2012. Gallup polls on union approval every year and has reported a 52 percent approval rating each of the past three years. Before then, union approval had hit an all-time low for Gallup surveys, with just 48 percent in 2009. So unions are modestly, sorta, kinda back, in the public’s estimation. Back, that is, from the trough into which they fell during the first year of the recession, when their approval ratings toppled from the high-50s (Gallup) and the mid-50s (Pew) by ten points in each poll. The...

The Part-Timer Problem

The Obama Administration’s decision to delay for a year the penalty that employers (in firms of 50 or more employees) must pay if they don’t provide health insurance to their workers shines a light on a problem that may be even more profound than getting health coverage for every American: that is, the decline of the American job. The employer mandate was designed for an economy in which American workers were employed in what had been normal jobs. In firms of 50 or more, all workers who put in at least 30 hours a week were either to receive coverage from the firm or else the firm would have to pay the government a $2,000 yearly penalty. Problem is, fewer and fewer workers are putting in 30 hours a week. To begin with, labor-force participation is at its lowest level since women increased their work-force participation in the 1970s. It has declined even during the past four years of so-called recovery. The past four years have also seen a rise in the percentage of workers who are part-...

A Good Day For Hotel Workers

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UNITE HERE, the union of U.S. and Canadian hotel workers, and the Hyatt chain announced a wide-reaching agreement on Monday afternoon that will give Hyatt employees in currently non-union hotels across the nation the right to choose a union without having to face management opposition. In return, UNITE HERE announced it is lifting its global boycott of Hyatt hotels. The agreement will go into effect when new union contracts for current members are ratified by UNITE HERE locals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Honolulu. The terms of those contracts were also agreed to in today’s settlement. Over the past quarter-century, UNITE HERE has significantly raised living standards for its members in cities where most major hotels have union contracts. In New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas, hotel workers make more than $20-an-hour with employer-provided health benefit plans that have won national acclaim. The union is also known for its innovative contracts: In Las Vegas, the...

Chris Christie's Unnecessary Special

Another red-letter day in the annals of Republican fiscal prudence. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced this afternoon that he has scheduled the special election to pick a succeessor for the late Senator Frank Lautenberg for October 16—despite the fact that the regular election for New Jersey state government, very much including the governor’s job, for which Christie is seeking re-election, will be held on November 5th . The cost of holding a special election, rather than consolidating it with the regular election three weeks later, has been estimated by the state’s office of legislative services at $24 million. But holding the special early means that Democrats won’t be mounting a huge get-out-the-vote drive for Lautenberg’s likely successor, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, during the election in which Republican Christie appears on the ballot. “I don’t dawdle,” Christie said in announcing his decision. And, he hardly needed to add, he doesn’t do anything that might jeopardize...

The Ugly Side of D.C.'s Corporate Bipartisanship

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AP Images/Ashraful Alam Tito Over the past month, an oceanic divide has opened between European and American retailers on the question of how to respond to the manmade epidemic of deadly disasters in the garment industry of Bangladesh, the world’s second largest clothing exporter. In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza fire on April 24, which killed at least 1,127 workers, a group of roughly 40 European retailers—including H&M, Carrefour, Bennetton, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer— signed on to a plan binding them to fund both a regimen of independent factory inspections and the improvements required to make those factories safe. But only three U.S.-based fashion companies and retailers —Abercrombie & Fitch, PVH (which includes the Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Izod labels), and Sean John (Sean Combs’s company)—have become party to the compact, despite the repeated urgings of anti-sweatshop and workers' rights organizations. Wal-Mart, Gap, Target, Sears, JCPenney, and other...

The New New Haven

Jesse Lenz
Major Ruth became a civic leader because he made a promise to his neighbor, Brian Wingate. Both had moved to the Beaver Hills section of New Haven, Connecticut, in 2003. A neighborhood of aging single--family homes that had seen better days, Beaver Hills had been targeted by the city for a housing--rehabilitation program, and, with the zeal of new arrivals, Ruth, a manager at the local utility company, and Wingate, a custodian and union steward at nearby Yale University, sought to involve themselves in neighborhood--improvement ventures. That proved harder than they had anticipated. Although New Haven aldermanic districts are tiny, encompassing no more than 4,300 residents, Ruth and Wingate couldn’t find anyone who could identify, much less locate, their alderman. “We joked that one of us would run for alderman and the other would have to run his campaign,” Ruth says. In 2010, Wingate told Ruth he was running and a deal was a deal. “It started out as a simple promise,” Ruth says, “but...

Dimon Forever

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The main item of business before JP Morgan Chase’s annual shareholder meeting, which will convene today in Tampa, is whether JPM CEO Jamie Dimon will be stripped of his additional post as chairman of JPM’s board of directors. A range of institutional investors concerned about the over-concentration of power atop the nation’s most powerful institutions, and upset by the $6 billion loss JPM took last year at its London trading desk, won roughly 40 percent shareholder support last year to separate the two positions. This year, they hope to do better, even though the bank’s public-relations offensive on Dimon’s behalf has made the prospect of winning a majority more difficult. Dimon —the closest thing America has to a celebrity banker— was the one major financier whose reputation came through unscathed in the 2008 financial meltdown. JPM had steered clear of the worst of the mortgage market, and had managed its risks well enough so that, alone among the nation’s leading banks, it was...

A Devil of a Problem for Labor in the City of Angels

AP Photo/Reed Saxon
AP Photo,File T omorrow, Angelenos go to the polls to select a new mayor. Well, some Angelenos—actually, not a hell of a lot. Indeed, turnout is projected to be so low that the winner may get fewer votes than Fletcher Bowron did in winning the election of 1938 , when Los Angeles was less than half as populous as it is today. The reason for the low turnout is straightforward: Not all that much differentiates the two candidates. Both City Controller Wendy Greuel and Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti are mainstream Democrats. Unlike the election, say, of 1993, which pitted Republican businessman Richard Riordan against liberal Democratic Councilman Mike Woo—two candidates with widely divergent views on how to fix the L.A. police in the wake of the Rodney King riots—no great issues separate the two candidates this year. Unlike the election of 2005, in which former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa ousted incumbent Mayor Jim Hahn, this year’s election won’t be a...

No More Playing With Money

AP Images/Peter Dejong
If you’re looking for the personification of the Washington economic establishment, you could do a lot worse than Fred Bergsten. National Security Council economics deputy under Henry Kissinger (at age 27), then head of the international desk and the monetary portfolio in Jimmy Carter’s Treasury Department, and from 1981 through last year the founding director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Bergsten has been a forceful advocate for what used to be called the Washington Consensus: an unflagging belief in the virtues of free trade and fiscal discipline. This Thursday, he delivers what looks to be at least a semi-valedictory at the Peterson Institute, the annual Stavros Niarchos lecture. Rather than celebrate the virtues of free trade—a topic he says (in an advanced text of his speech) that he considered and then rejected—he devotes his talk instead to an analysis of the devastating effect that currency manipulation has had on the American and other economies, and...

The Upside Down Economy

AP Images/Scott Sady
AP Photo/Richard Drew O ne aspect that defines our current economy is that things are happening that shouldn’t be happening. I don’t mean that things are happening that are illegal or immoral. (Well, some of them are immoral, but that’s not what I mean.) Rather, things are happening that defy economic logic—a slippery term that really means, the economic patterns of roughly the past half-century. The first such logic-defying thing is that corporate profits are soaring even as corporate revenues limp along. The quarterly reports of S&P 500 corporations for the first three months of 2013 are almost entirely in now, and they show profits rising by more than 5 percent even while revenues have risen by less than 1 percent. Seventy percent of these companies—the largest publicly traded U.S. firms—exceeded the analysts’ profit projections. On the other hand, 60 percent came in under the projections for their sales. Were this disjuncture just a one-time epiphenomenon, we could pass it off...

Fast Food, Slow to Change

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The strikes of fed-up fast-food workers move westward with the sun. On Wednesday evening, fast-food employees in St. Louis, like their peers in New York and Chicago earlier this spring, staged a one-day strike to dramatize the low wages they, and millions of American workers in the restaurant and food sectors, take home. The job action is one of a series of short strikes that the Service Employees International Union, in conjunction with a range of local community groups, is helping to organize. Similar actions in other cities are slated in coming weeks. The goal of these actions is to catalyze a broader movement of workers in the sector—not with the intent of winning contracts from corporations like McDonald (that’s far beyond the labor movement’s capacity, alas), but in hopes that such a movement could spur city councils and state legislatures to enact higher minimum wages or living wage provisions for workers in specified sectors. At Tuesday’s night annual Hillman Prize...

Schneiderman Strikes Back

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who headed a group of state attorneys general that won homeowners and former homeowners a $26 billion settlement from five mega-banks over their foreclosure abuses, announced yesterday that he’d sue two of the banks—Wells Fargo and Bank of America—for allegedly violating the terms of the settlement. The February 2012 settlement with those two banks, as well as JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC), had required the banks to adhere to a set of standards that would end the kind of abuses that had led to wholesale foreclosures of homes when they could have worked out alternative arrangements with the homeowners. Some of those standards—such as requiring the banks to notify struggling homeowners within five days that they had received the documents required to modify mortgages—sound so obvious they shouldn’t have needed to be codified, yet it was precisely such practices that the banks had repeatedly shunned. Homeowner...

How Low Can Part-Timers' Hours Go?

AP Images/Adam Richard
flick/ Carol Green S ay you’re an employer with an employee who works 30 hours a week. If you have 50 employees or more come next year, you’ll be required either to provide her with health-care coverage, which the Affordable Care Act will by then mandate for all employees who work at least 30 hours a week, or you’ll have to pay a $2,000 penalty for failing to cover her. Or, you could just cut her weekly hours to 29. That way, you won’t have to pay a dime, in either insurance costs or penalties. This thought, not surprisingly, has crossed the minds of quite a number of employers. Right now, the average number of hours an employee in a retail establishment works each week is 31.4 . And a whole lot of Americans work in retail—just slightly over 15 million, according to the latest employment report , out Friday, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Not all of them work hours that hover just over 30, of course, but the UC Berkeley Labor Center has calculated that 10.6 percent of...

How Unions Are Getting Their Groove Back

flickr/ Chris Dilts
Yesterday—April 24th — was a red-letter day in the annals of worker mobilization in post-collective-bargaining America. In Chicago, hundreds of fast-food and retail employees who work in the Loop and along the Magnificent Mile called a one-day strike and demonstrated for a raise to $15-an-hour and the right to form a union. At more than 150 Wal-Mart stores across the nation, workers and community activists called on the chain to regularize employees’ work schedules. And under pressure from an AFL-CIO-backed campaign of working-class voters who primarily aren’t union members, the county supervisors of New Mexico’s Bernalillo County voted to raise the local minimum wage. The Chicago demonstration, which began in the dawn’s early light of 5:30 a.m., included workers at McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Subway, as well as Macy’s, Sears, and Victoria’s Secret, all of whom make the state minimum wage ($8.25) or just slightly more. Roughly one-third of the jobs in Chicago are low-wage, and...

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