Labor

Can Robots Offer Amazon Moral Redemption?

An Amazon fulfillment center in Scotland. (Flickr/Chris Watt/Scottish Government)
If you're like many liberals, you probably feel conflicted about Amazon. On one hand, they seem to carry every mass-produced product in universe, and they usually have the lowest price, or nearly so. Shopping with them is incredibly convenient. On the other hand, the " fulfilment centers " at which people toil to pick and pack all the products people buy are basically the 21st century sweatshops, where workers endure horribly demanding work and demeaning treatment for low pay (Amazon isn't the only company that uses them, but they're the biggest). A few years ago, we learned that in the summer at some fulfilment centers they would park ambulances outside to cart off the workers who got heat stroke, because it was cheaper than installing air conditioning (which they eventually did in the face of a bunch of bad publicity). And the Supreme Court just heard a case involving Amazon workers who want to be paid for the time they are required to stand in line waiting to be searched like...

More Trade Agreements Won't Fix the Mess Made by Austerity

Even T-TIP's supporters know it will have little more than a trivial effect on growth.

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) A demonstrator holds a banner in Parliament Square in London, Saturday, October 11, 2014. The demonstration was one of many across Europe against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post. T he U.S. economy is growing slowly and Europe's hardly at all. The stock market lurch last week is a belated acknowledgement that our two economies share a common affliction, and Europe suffers more seriously. The affliction is austerity. And yet the main remedy being promoted by the U.S. government and its European allies is a trade and investment deal known as T-TIP, which stands for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to the deal's sponsors, T-TIP would help stimulate recovery by removing barriers to trade and promoting regulatory convergence and hence investment. The proposed deal is not popular in the U.S. Congress, which has to approve negotiating authority...

Unpredictable Schedules Inflicted on Workers are Wrecking People's Lives

This nationwide trend goes virtually undetected when we take the economy’s temperature each month.

(iStockPhoto/4774344sean)
(iStockPhoto/4774344sean) Nurses are among the many workers who suffer from unpredictable schedules that often lead to working double shifts. T he unemployment drop in the September jobs report, to 5.9 percent, was welcome news. But as many have noted, wages remain flat and 7.1 million Americans worked part-time but wanted to work full-time. Furthermore, the monthly snapshot, which focuses on limited questions and simplified distinctions, altogether misses a key indicator of the job market’s health. Our recent book, Unequal Time , suggests that for the millions of Americans fortunate enough to be working, scheduling has become chronically unpredictable. Most discussions of employment fail to capture the widespread variability in work hours, or what some employers now like to call “flexibility.” While recent media reports have focused on the unwieldy lives of young people working at Starbucks and clothing stores—working with a day’s notice or splitting shifts—the issue is far more...

It’s Not a Skills Gap That’s Holding Wages Down: It's the Weak Economy, Among Other Things

Workers’ ability to handle technological advances doesn’t explain what’s happened to American wages.

(Photo by: Hendrik Schmidt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)
(Photo by: Hendrik Schmidt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images) A robotic welding system for Volkswagon car body shells is featured at the Industrial Museum in Chemnitz, Germany. T he inadequate quantity and quality of American jobs is one of the most fundamental economic challenges we face. It’s not the only challenge: Poverty, inequality, and stagnant mobility loom large, as well. But in a nation like ours, where wages and salaries are key to the living standards of working-age households, all these challenges flow from the labor market problem. OK, but this is a supposed to be an article about technology. What’s the linkage between technology and this fundamental problem? As a D.C.-based economist who’s been working on the issue of jobs and earnings for almost 25 years, trust me when I tell you that most policy makers believe the following: “Yes, there’s a problem of job quantity and quality, but it’s largely a skills problem. Because of recent technological advances, most notably...

Tragedy, Privation and Hope: Joy Boothe's Inspiring Journey to Moral Monday

Horrifically orphaned and raised with prejudice, she built a house and a new life with her own hands. Now hers are among many building a movement for justice.

©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Joy Boothe (in black pants) at a sit-in outside the office North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger in June 2014, protesting Republican education cuts. W hen Joy Boothe showed up at last week’s Moral Monday rally in her hometown of Burnsville, North Carolina, she was fighting both sleep- and sun-deprivation. Boothe had just driven in from Asheville, 35 miles away, where her husband was recovering from a double knee replacement. “Despite my fears of leaving my husband’s hospital room for the first time in four days,” she told the small crowd gathered in the town square, “I’ve come to stand with you today. It’s that important. It’s that important. ” Boothe, a vice president of the local NAACP branch, was referring to the ongoing political upheaval in Raleigh, the state capital, four hours east of this small mountain town. There, an emboldened Republican legislative majority had cut unemployment benefits, turned away federal Medicaid funds, slashed education...

In Political System Disconnected From Society's Ills, Remedies Pushed to Fringes of Public Debate

(Kike Calvo via AP Images)
(Kike Calvo via AP Images) More than 100,000 people march through midtown Manhattan on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 as part of the People's Climate March, a worldwide mobilization calling on world leaders meeting at the UN to commit to urgent action on climate change. F or half a century beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, there was a direct connection between the problems that afflicted American society and the remedies on offer from our democratic system. High unemployment? The New Deal, the World War II mobilization, and the postwar boom took care of that. Stagnant wages? With unions, growing productivity, minimum wage laws, and other regulation of labor standards, American real wages tripled. Education? The G.I. bill, massive investment in public universities, community colleges, and later in public elementary and secondary education produced a better educated and more productive population. And until the 1980s, public higher education was practically free. The exclusion of blacks from...

The Politics of Pre-K: How A Program Known to Help Poor Mothers Could Doom Your Candidacy

When the emphasis is kept on how it's good for business, early-childhood education is popular. Just don't call it childcare. 

(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez)
(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez) I n Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, education has emerged as one of the most heated issues. A Quinnipiac University poll released this month found education ranked as the most important issue for voters, after jobs and the economy. Despite contentious politics surrounding reform of public education from kindergarten through twelfth grade, Republican incumbent Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf have discovered that plugging expansion of pre-kindergarten programs wins them political points without treading into treacherous waters. That is, as long as they don't mention the mothers who will inevitably benefit, too. The governor’s record is haunted by his 2011 budget, from which he cut nearly $900 million in public education funds—a decrease of more than 10 percent. The severe cuts have garnered national attention , particularly for Philadelphia—the state’s largest school district—which wrestled with a $304 million cut this past school...

A Book for the People of Ferguson -- And Oppressed People Everywhere

Fred Ross's change-making Axioms for Organizers is updated for the Internet age, and for a new generation battling discrimination and police brutality.

fredrosssr.com
M ost residents of Ferguson, Missouri, have probably never heard of Fred Ross, Sr., but they could use his help now. Ferguson's population is two-thirds African American, but the mayor, almost all members of the city council and school board, and 95 percent of the police department is white, and in last year's municipal election only 7 percent of blacks came to the polls. Ross—perhaps the most influential (but little-known) community organizer in American history—had a successful career mobilizing people to challenge police brutality, fight segregation, and organize voter registration and voter turnout campaigns. Ross taught people how to channel their anger and frustrations into building powerful grassroots organizations that can win concrete victories that change institutions and improve people's lives. He understood that while sporadic protests can draw attentions to long-neglected problems, it requires the hard day-to-day intentional work of organizing to build power and give...

Want to Fix the Jobs Crisis? Build a Federally Funded Worker Education Infrastructure

Critics are wrong when they say that, as one solution to underemployment, job training is a failure. Successful programs are plentiful, but they are small and scattered.

Photo: Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI)
Photo: Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) Job training in cooperation with the NewCourtland Network in Pennsylvania. W ith unemployment still high, and millions discouraged from even looking for work, there is considerable interest in ways to connect people to jobs. Certainly stimulating the economy is essential to creating more opportunity. But what can we do to help people make the connections to employers who are looking for workers? Job training programs would seem to be a logical answer, a key step in moving someone from unemployment, or underemployment due to obsolete skills, into well-paying work. But there is much skepticism that training programs perform well. Reports of scandals surrounding proprietary schools with low placement and high debt feed this doubt. But focusing on these failures misses the larger point. Best-practice models exist, and are slowly diffusing. The challenge lies not in ignorance about what works, but how to reach scale in delivering quality...

What Happens When the Person Taking Care of Your Mom Can’t Earn a Living Wage?

When the Supreme Court ruled that unions could not collect dues from the home-care workers they represent, the justices set workers and their clients on a course that could harm them both.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman) Tanya Melin of Chicago, right, Service Employees International Union members, home care consumers, workers, and allies rally in support of home care funding at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 in Springfield, Illinois. O n June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that a key strategy used by unions to raise the earnings and professionalism of home-care workers was illegal. Since the 1990s, the labor movement has worked with states and countries to get laws or executive orders to allow home-care workers to be treated as employees of public authorities rather than as individual contractors. The result has been to allow these workers to form unions and to bargain collectively with government for better wages and working standards. In the Harris v. Quinn case, however, the Court held that workers could still unionize, but that they were not true public employees. Unions thus could not collect dues from workers who choose to remain outside the bargaining...

Labor's New Groove: Taking the Struggle From Streets to Legislatures

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty) Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Demonstrations planned in 100 cities are part of push by labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. L abor Day, 2014, comes at a time when Americans have concluded—correctly—that their country is downwardly mobile. In a Rutgers University poll released last week, 71 percent of Americans said they believed the changes to the economy caused by the Great Recession are permanent. (Asked the same question in November 2009, just 49 percent chose the “permanent” option.) Only 14 percent agreed with the description of American workers as “happy at work,” while 68 percent said American workers were “highly stressed” and 70 percent agreed they were “not secure in their jobs.” The economic data released last week confirm Americans’ pessimism. In a study for the Economic Policy Institute, economist Elise Gould reported...

The Snake in the Market Basket: Can the Company Recover From Employee Revolt Without Loading Up With Debt?

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo) Market Basket assistant managers Mike Forsyth, left, and John Surprenant, second from left, hold signs while posing with employees in Haverhill, Mass., Thursday, July 24, 2014, in a show of support for "Artie T." Arthur T. Demoulas, the chief executive of the Market Basket supermarket chain whose ouster has led to employee protests, customer boycotts and empty shelves. Aurthur T. Demoulas has since been restored as the CEO. W ednesday night, the long-running Market Basket drama ended and the good guys ostensibly won. Or did they? When we last tuned in, the employees of the $4 billion family-owned New England supermarket chain were rallying behind a beloved boss, Arthur T. Demoulas, who had been ousted by a greedy board of directors. In the family feud, the board was led by a Demoulas cousin, also named Arthur, who controlled 50.5 percent of company shares. The good Arthur was beloved for paying above-average wages, sponsoring a profit-sharing plan, and pumping earnings back...

Expert: U.S. Police Training in Use of Deadly Force Woefully Inadequate

Connecticut state police recruits practice with their new .45-caliber Sig Sauer pistols during a "dry fire" exercise on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, at the state police firing range in Simsbury, Conn. (AP Photo/Dave Collins)
(AP Photo/Dave Collins) M aria Haberfeld is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. A veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who also served in the Israel National Police, she has conducted research on police forces in multiple countries, and has also written many books on terrorism and policing, including Critical Issues in Police Training . We spoke on Friday about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the shooting of Kajieme Powell by St. Louis police, which was caught on video . Powell, brandishing a steak knife, approached officers, saying “Shoot me!.” As reported by the Post-Dispatch , St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said lethal force was permitted under department rules if a knife-wielding attacker is within 21 feet of police. Paul Waldman: Did you think what the officers did [in Powell's shooting] was appropriate? It seems pretty clear that that's standard operating procedure. Maria Haberfeld: Yes it is, absolutely. PW: Are those procedures...

T-TIPping Point: Rise of Corporate Right Greater Menace than Rise of Far Right

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew T he latest reports from Europe indicate that the continent is slipping back into recession. The U.S. is doing only slightly better, with positive economic growth but scant progress on the jobs front, and no growth in the earnings of the vast majority of Americans. Meanwhile, global climate change continues to worsen, producing unprecedented policy conundrums of how to reconcile the very survival of the planet with improved living standards for the world's impoverished billions, and for most Americans, whose real incomes have declined since the year 2000. Amid all of these serious challenges, what common strategies are top U.S. and European leaders pursuing? Why, a new trade and investment deal modeled on NAFTA, to make it harder for governments to regulate capitalism. The proposed deal, known as T-TIP (for Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) would define well-established domestic policies as illegitimate restraints of "trade," including protections...

François Hollande’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

When the Socialist president of France threw in with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her austerity agenda, his own government was thrown into turmoil. The backstory involves ambitious rivals.

(Chris Jackson/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images)
Chris Jackson/PA Wire (Press Association via AP Images) German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets President Francois Hollande of France during an International Ceremony with Heads of State at Sword Beach in Normandy to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings on Friday, June 6, 2014. I t began last Wednesday, when French President François Hollande gave Le Monde an interview in which he insisted he would stay the course with an economic policy that has seen his approval rating plummet from 60 percent, just after his election in 2012, to 17 percent this week. Hollande’s domestic strategy is part of his close and somewhat baffling alliance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the enforcer of European austerity. At the center of Hollande’s domestic policy is the so-called Responsibility Pact , which proposes shifting employer-paid payroll taxes to individual taxpayers, coupled with unspecified cuts in government spending. The measure is deeply unpopular, especially on the Left, so...

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