Labor

Bottom Up

In 1938, Congress passed, and FDR signed into law, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the first federal minimum wage and overtime protections. And that, to the extent that most Americans think about the minimum wage, was that. To be sure, Congress occasionally raises the minimum wage (though they’ve got a long way to go to make it a living wage), but the national law, covering all workers, has long since been established, right? Not quite. In fact, the 1938 law only passed when Roosevelt and congressional liberals agreed to exclude some categories of workers—categories that included many millions of people—from its coverage in order to win the votes of the Southern Democrats they needed to pass it. So agricultural workers (by which Southern Democrats meant, African American sharecroppers) were excluded from its terms. They’ve since been included, but many migrant and immigrant workers are frequently and illegally short-changed. Retail workers only came under the act’s...

Made in America — Again

Leaders discuss returning manufacturing to the U.S. in a Prospect roundtable.

AP Photo/Madalyn Ruggiero
Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. In an article last year, Grove proposed levying tariffs on goods produced offshore and dedicating the funds to help companies scale up production in the United States. Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. There are three distinct causes for the jobs we’ve lost. First, the declining demand for products. So everybody focused on the stimulus—they assumed that the demand cycle and the employment cycle are related like they used to be. But they’re not. I don’t understand pure Keynesianism at a time of global flows like we have now. If we turn on a spigot to increase demand for consumer products, we need to have some factor that measures the portion that goes to a domestically made product. That portion in the last ten years must have changed in a very major way. You want a measure? How about asking for the...

GOP vs. Job Creators

In the ongoing battle over extending the payroll tax cuts that currently save the median American household about $1,000 a year, one salient point is commonly overlooked: The proposal that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are championing also cuts in half the payroll tax for employers. Currently, employers are subjected to a payroll tax of 6.2 percent on every paycheck they write. The Democratic proposal would reduce that to 3.1 percent on the first $5 million in taxable payroll—that is, it would chiefly benefit small and middle-sized businesses. Yet every Senate Republican but one (Maine’s Susan Collins) voted against this proposal when it came to a vote on Thursday, complaining that it taxed job creators by proposing to off set the tax cut by raising taxes on individuals and couples for that portion of their annual income in excess of $1 million. Never mind that that the Treasury Department has concluded that only 1 percent of those taxpayers are small businesses...

Game Plan

With a labor agreement tentatively in place, the NBA's next challenge will be bringing the fans back.

AP Photo/Mike Segar
With its labor dispute nearly behind it, the NBA is facing another mammoth problem: winning fans back. In a time when the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high and the economy won’t grow, many basketball fans viewed the NBA strike as an ugly and petty fight of rich players against wealthy owners over a few more million. “It’s the most ridiculous thing I saw in my life,” one longtime fan ranted to the New York Post. “They make so much money. It’s childish.” Childish or not, as the National Basketball Association welcomes back its players after reaching a tentative deal last Saturday, it has to figure out a way to bring back fans who were stung not only by the lockout, but by years of expensive ticket prices, the LeBron James-decision fiasco, and players throwing tantrums. The five-month labor crisis and resulting lockout, which came after the players’ association and NBA owners’ inability to reach an agreement over a variety of issues from players’ salaries to revenue sharing after...

NBA, Final

A league labor agreement includes a surprising caveat to protect owners from ... themselves.

AP Photo/Hans Deryk
After spending almost half the year in a pitched labor dispute that shutdown league operations, the NBA owners and players union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement last weekend. The reformed players union—which had disbanded last month to file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners as a negotiating tactic—and league representatives are set to meet again Friday afternoon to come to official terms on the ten-year contract. As long as the final details (such as drug testing and player age restrictions) are worked out over the next week, a shortened 66-game season will kickoff on Christmas Day. The general consensus on the deal is that the owners came out ahead at the players' expense. The old contract had stipulated that 57 percent of basketball-related income go toward players' salaries, while the new deal reduces that number to 51 percent next season, and possibly even lower in years to come. But the fight wasn't just about the overall divide of money, and for the other...

Back from China?

A s in hundreds of cities and towns in the once-industrial Midwest, a ghost not only haunts but dominates North Canton, Ohio. It’s a ghost of brick and mortar, glass and steel, of a smokestack that rises directly across the street from the City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce. The ghost’s name is still painted on the smokestack, four years after the factory beneath it clanged to a halt. “Hoover,” it says—as in Hoover Vacuum Cleaner, a company founded in North Canton in 1908 that was the town’s largest employer, and leading citizen, for one year short of a century. At its height, Hoover’s North Canton empire spread over 17 factories and buildings, one of them a private hospital for local Hoover workers (as many as 7,000 during the company’s flush decades) who took sick or were injured on the job. “This was Hooverville—our own version, not Herbert-Hooverville—a company town,” says Doug Lane, a former city councilor who now heads the Chamber of Commerce. “If the city needed a fire truck...

God Help Us

Will Rick Perry’s blend of Christian-right, small-government, and pro-corporate fervor land him in the White House?

I n April, Rick Perry traveled to North Texas for a taping of televangelist James Robison’s TV show, Life Today . For six months, starting as soon as he was re-elected Texas governor in November 2010, Perry had been crisscrossing the country to promote his second book, Fed Up! , while testing the presidential waters with potential donors and conservative activists. His visit with Robison, a hellfire-breathing pastor known as “God’s hit man” (for “giving ’em so much hell nobody will ever want to go there”), had the potential to pay serious dividends. Robison had led the Christian-right campaign that helped lift Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980, and he was re-emerging as the chief instigator of a national effort to mobilize evangelicals to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. With former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee—who left divinity school in 1976 to work for Robison—having forgone the race, the pastor was searching for a candidate the resurgent evangelical right could anoint. Perry...

A More Perfect Union

E mily Dopper and her boyfriend, Willem van Leeuwen, tourists from the Netherlands, were on their way to lunch at the Boathouse restaurant in New York’s Central Park when they encountered the picket line. Clay Skaggs, a striking waiter, intercepted them. “We’re asking you not to eat here,” he said in a tone of polite explanation. “They practice sexual harassment, and they stole $3 million in wages over two years. They also got a C-rating on their health inspection.” Dopper looked dejected and unconvinced. “We came here to Central Park all the way from Europe,” she said. “There are lots of other great places nearby,” Skaggs continued. He handed them a foldout flyer. One side featured a detailed map of the park and its myriad paths and attractions, displaying locations and write-ups of other restaurants and a big red circle with a slash around the Boathouse. On the other side was an explanation of the issues in the strike, with summaries in 19 languages. Adopting his best waiter’s...

Republicans Deep-Six the NLRB

Doing filibustering Senate Republicans one better, the one Republican member on the (currently) three-member National Labor Relations Board appears to have decided to bring the board to a screeching halt by refusing to vote and thus denying it a quorum. In a letter made public yesterday, Republican Brian Hayes wrote fellow GOP-er John Kline, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, that he might well not participate in the Board’s scheduled November 30 vote on changing the rules for union certification elections. The proposed rule change essentially would shorten the period between the time that workers file for a union-representation election and the election itself from the current time period, which is as long as management can delay a vote (sometimes, for years) to roughly three or four weeks. In his letter, Kline complained that he was not privy to some of the deliberations of the board (that is, of the two Democratic members) and thus might fail to show up for...

Thanks, But No Thanksgiving

Employees and consumers fight back against "Black Friday," which increasingly starts on the holiday itself.

It may feel as traditional as leftover turkey, but it’s only been since the 1960s that retailers have named the day after Thanksgiving, when bargain shoppers hunt for discount goods like big game, "Black Friday." But this year, black could just refer to the pall cast on store employees’ holidays, which have been increasingly cut short in an effort to start the sales earlier and earlier. In Nebraska, rumors of a Thanksgiving midnight opening at the Omaha North Target store where Anthony Hardwick has worked for the past three years first circulated on Facebook. By the time store managers confirmed that employees were scheduled to start their shifts at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, the part-time parking attendant had taken matters into his own hands. “There was a sense of inevitability about the whole thing,” Hardwick said. “Initially, I thought I’d like to start a petition to give to corporate to show how many team members and customers are against this.” Hardwick argued that all hourly and...

Wisconsin Dems off to a Fast Start

Opposition to labor restrictions has galvanized Wisconsin Democrats over the past year, but they face a tough haul with their recall campaign against Republican Governor Scott Walker. A recall will only be triggered if the campaign manages to collect signatures totaling 25 percent of the ballots cast in the 2010 election. That equals more than 540,000 signatures, though they'll need to gather more than that to guard against any challenges. All the forms must be submitted to the state's election board within 60 days of the first day of the campaign last week. It's no easy task, but Wisconsin Democrats are already well on their way to gathering the required number less than a week into the campaign. Over the course of the first four days, United Wisconsin (as the recall group is known) secured 105,000 supporters. From a pure logistical viewpoint, that's an impressive haul, yet I'm not so sure it guarantees their success. They have been organizing this campaign since the summer and used...

Busted in 'Bama

Last Wednesday night, a cop in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, pulled over a rental car that didn’t have the right tag on it. He asked the driver for his license, and the driver instead produced his German identification card. Before Alabama’s new immigration law took effect this fall, the driver would have been ticketed, but under the terms of the new law, the cop arrested the driver and hauled him off to the police station for the crime of lacking proper identification. In fairly short order, a colleague of the arrestee showed up with the driver’s passport, visa, and German driver’s license. At that point, the driver was released—but the story had just begun. Turns out the driver was a Mercedes executive in town to visit a Mercedes SUV plant about 20 miles outside Tuscaloosa, which employs roughly 2,800 Alabamians. And his arrest drew the immediate attention of Robert Bentley, the state’s Republican governor, who had signed the immigration bill into law. Bentley called his homeland security...

The Establishment Strikes Back

Protesters in front of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday.
Occupy Weekly: The Establishment Strikes Back. This was the week that Occupy Wall Street faced its greatest pushback and pulled off its largest action yet. Sunday’s surprise police raid on Occupy Portland turned out to be one of several around the country, as mayors sent cops to clear occupations in cities including Chapel Hill, Salt Lake City, and New York. Some raids were marked by violence against protesters and press (including reporters from the right-wing New York Post and Daily Caller ). Occupy Boston has secured a preemptive restraining order in hopes of warding off a similar eviction, and Occupy Los Angeles is seeking one as well. Post-raid occupations face new choices and challenges going forward. But the crackdown seems to have swelled the numbers for Thursday’s Day of Action , which opened in New York with protesters and police surrounding the New York Stock Exchange. By day’s end, New York occupiers had staged a student walk-out, shared personal stories in subway cars,...

Now What?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
E arly Tuesday morning, surprised by a violent police raid on Zuccotti Park, dozens of Occupy Wall Street activists stayed and accepted arrest, a few chained themselves to a tree (which was cut down by police), and others fled, though not all fast enough to escape tear gas. Later that morning, protesters returned expecting the city would yield to a temporary restraining order allowing their camp, but police ignored the order. Tuesday evening, defeated in court, occupiers returned to Liberty Plaza, filing in one or two at a time past watchful police. There were new signs (“Curfew 10 PM”), new rules (no lying down), and a newly urgent question: What’s next? For the two months since its birth, Occupy Wall Street -- and the international movement it’s inspired -- has been defined and driven forward through confrontations. Just as earlier threats to its existence helped make “Liberty Plaza” a teeming village and a household name, the latest attack could galvanize and inspire –- and keep...

Bending the Rules

Congress keeps finding new ways to attack farm-bill reform.

Yesterday, the House and Senate released their final appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. Like the House bill passed in June , the bill, which provides funding to the Department of Agriculture, cuts a number of programs. The National Sustainable Agriculture coalition discusses the programs most hurt in a detailed blog post. One of the areas most hurt is conservation: On the whole, programs that help preserve land were cut by almost $1 billion. But the most senseless provisions were, perhaps, the ones that prevent the USDA from finishing revisions to the rules that govern how meat markets work. The rules, which are enforced by a division of the USDA known as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, regulate the markets through which chicken, hog, and cattle farmers interact with meatpacking companies. Food advocates have long described the ways in which power has consolidated among meatpackers so that a handful of companies control the...

Pages