Labor

What We Know Now

Twenty-five years later, the world has changed in crucial ways that factor into our thinking.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Victor Juhasz This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Celebrate our 25th Anniversary with us by clicking here for a free download of this special issue . I n 1990, when the two of us started this magazine with Robert Reich, we saw a need and an opportunity. The Democrats had lost three presidential elections in a row, national policy had moved sharply to the right, and liberalism was in dire need of new ideas about the direction of the country. Some of the publications that we once looked to (and wrote for) had grown ambivalent about liberal politics or uninterested in engaging practical choices and no longer provided intellectual leadership. But the Reagan era was waning, and a new generation of writers and intellectuals was ready to pick up the challenge to think through alternatives. We saw the Prospect as bridging the usual divides between journalism and the academic world, and between policy and politics—and as a way to...

Two Years After the Rana Plaza Disaster, Are Reforms Real?

A series of garment factory fires in Bangladesh spurred reforms in the industry. But will they bring meaningful change?

Rijans007/Flickr
Rijans007/Flickr T wo years ago, on the morning of April 24 th 2013, garment workers at Rana Plaza in Savar, Bangladesh, were afraid to enter the eight-story building that housed five factories. Cracks had appeared in supporting pillars the day before and the workers had been sent home. Bank and retail stores on the ground floor did not open that day. Industrial inspectors had urged the owner of the building to keep it closed. But its well-connected landlord, Sohel Rana, got another local official to say he could inform the factory owners that the building was safe. Supervisors standing at the entrance to the building threatened workers with the loss of their month’s overtime pay (as much as half of their total earnings) if they stayed away. In an account reported by an Australian journalist, one worker was quoted as saying, “The bosses came after us with beating sticks. In the end, we were forced to go in.” Shortly after the workday began, the building collapsed. More than 1,100...

Obama's Trade Agreements Are a Gift to Corporations

Trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are about dismantling critical regulations on health, safety, labor, and the environment. 

(Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images)
(Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images) Protesters gathered outside the Smith Center to speak out against the fast-track of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Portland, Oregon, on January 31, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Boston Globe . L ate last week, legislation moved forward that would give President Obama authority to negotiate two contentious trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). But for the most part, these aren’t trade agreements at all. They’re a gift to corporations, here and in partner countries that view purely domestic regulations as restraints of trade. If these deals pass, the pharmaceutical industry could get new leverage to undermine regulations requiring the use of generic drugs. The tobacco industry has used similar “trade” provisions to challenge package label warnings. A provision in both deals, known as Investor State Dispute Settlement, would allow...

Faculty Join Fast Food in the Fight for $15

On campuses across the country, adjunct professors are starting to organize against rock-bottom pay and tenuous job security. 

Faculty Forward USC
Faculty Forward USC Adjunct faculty march for better pay and working conditions at the University of Southern California on April 15, 2015. A s yesterday’s Fight for $15 protests wound to a close across the country, it’s become clear that this movement is not a fleeting effort—it’s here to stay. The focal point has primarily been on the most visible low-wage workers: fast food and retail workers whose pay perpetually hovers around minimum wage. And their employers seem to be taking a small, yet encouraging, step in the right direction as both McDonald’s and Wal-Mart recently announced increases to their respective minimum wages. However, another employment sector that’s not typically associated with low wages was prominent yesterday as well: the American professoriate. Higher education institutions in the United States employ more than a million adjunct professors. This new faculty majority, about 70 percent of the faculty workforce , is doing the heavy lifting of academic instruction...

Federal Contract Workers and the Fight For a Living Wage

How your tax dollars are creating millions of underpaid jobs—and how workers are fighting back. 

Tommy Wells/Flickr
Tommy Wells/Flickr Public employees at a 2013 Good Jobs Nation rally in Washington, D.C. T oday, workers in hundreds of cities across the United States will take to the streets to protest meager minimum wages that are keeping them in poverty. Fight For 15 organizers and activists are speaking out against low wages. McDonald’s, Walmart, and other mega-corporations employ a good number of those workers, but the biggest creator of low-wage jobs in the United States is none other than the federal government through federal contracting. In 2013, a coalition of labor groups started Good Jobs Nation (GJN) to fight to increase and recover wages for government contract employees. On April 9 of this year, GJN released a report, “ The Return of Federal Sweatshops? How America’s Broken Contract Wage Laws Fail Workers ,” which details how the federal government creates poverty-wage jobs and how workers on federal contract routinely don’t receive their fair amount of pay. Alongside the report, the...

Today's GOP: The Party of Jefferson Davis -- Not Lincoln

(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, as captured by photographer Mathew Brady in 1861. This essay originally appeared in The Washington Post . O ne hundred and fifty years ago Thursday, after Union infantry effectively encircled the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee sent a note to Ulysses S. Grant proposing a meeting to discuss terms of surrender. With that, the Civil War began to end. And at some point in the future, it may yet. The emancipation of the slaves that accompanied the North’s victory ushered in, as Abraham Lincoln had hoped, a new birth of freedom, but the old order also managed to adapt itself to the new circumstances. The subjugation of and violence against African Americans continued apace, particularly after U.S. Army troops withdrew from the South at the end of Reconstruction. Black voting was suppressed. The Southern labor system retained, in altered form, its most distinctive...

Our Corporate Saviors

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) In this March 31, 2015 file photo, people participate in rally in front of a McDonald's restaurant in New York. A pay bump for workers at some McDonald's restaurants, announced Wednesday, April 1, 2015, isn't likely to ease the pressures the chain is facing over labor issues. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . W hat are we to make of the fact that some big corporations are turning out to be the relative good guys, on issues as varied as same-sex marriage, the environment and even (to a limited extent) workers' wages? Last week, the governors of Indiana and Arkansas were forced to back down and dilute bogus "religious freedom" laws intended to shelter discrimination against gays and lesbians, in large part because their corporate bigwigs told them to stop embarrassing the state and scaring off business. In Indiana, these included the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, the Indiana Pacers, and even the Indy 500. In Arkansas, the pressure...

Raising Wages From the Bottom Up

(Photo courtesy of USW Local 675)
(Screenshot of video from International Brotherhood of Teamsters) A picket line of truckers in Long Beach, California, in 2014. This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . I n 1999, while he was working at a local immigrant service center in Los Angeles, Victor Narro began encountering a particularly aggrieved group of workers. They were the men who worked at carwashes, and their complaint was that they were paid solely in tips—the carwashes themselves paid them nothing at all. At first, the workers came by in a trickle, but soon enough, in a flood. Narro, whose soft voice and shy manner belie a keen strategic sensibility, consulted with legal services attorneys and discovered that while every now and then a carwash was penalized for cheating its workers, such instances were few and far between. “There were no regulations overseeing the industry,” Narro says. The state’s labor department conducted no sweeps of the carwashes to...

With New Protections Tied Up in the Courts, Home Health-Care Workers Aren't Waiting Around

From New York to California, domestic workers are fighting to make new rights a reality. 

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
(AP Photo/Richard Drew) Ai-Jen Poo, center, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, reads her statement at a Women for Paid Sick Days rally on the steps of New York's City Hall, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. A lmost two years after the Obama administration extended historic labor protections to the nation’s 1.79 million home health-care workers, those new rights remain in limbo. In September 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced plans to amend a longstanding regulation that has excluded them from earning the federal minimum wage, overtime pay, and compensation for travel on the job. For home healthcare workers in the United States—a group that is nearly 90 percent female —this move marked a significant step towards setting a floor of decent labor standards. But the rule-change, which was set to go into effect on January 1, now faces a challenge in federal court, and critics say state legislators are using the ongoing litigation as an excuse to avoid...

The Crisis of Black Unemployment: Still Higher Than Pre-Recession Levels

Despite increasing hires of black workers, the employment gap between African Americans and whites remains high.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
This report was produced by the Economic Policy Institute as part of the Full Employment Project of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. B y the end of 2014, the U.S. economy had experienced 58 consecutive months of job growth, and the unemployment rate had fallen to 5.6 percent from a high of 10 percent in October 2009. In fact, 2014 was by far the strongest year of the recovery, with job growth averaging over 246,000 per month, the highest monthly rate since before the recession. Economic growth also picked up, with gross domestic product rising at annual rates of 4.6 percent and 5 percent during the second and third quarters, respectively, following a first-quarter decline of 2.1 percent. Last year’s solid job growth proved to be especially beneficial to communities of color, whose unemployment rates rose well above 10 percent during the worst years of the recession. In particular, after reaching a high of 16.8 percent in March 2010, the African American unemployment rate...

Legions of Women Workers in U.S. Still Lack Minimum Wage and Labor Protections

The legacy of slavery and prescribed gender roles continues to rob millions of their fair share.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Billy Smith II In this Dec. 2014 photo, Eileen Merize, left, helps 93-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran Harold Utsler look through some of his paper work at her home in Katy, Texas near Houston. The Houston Chronicle reports Utsler is one of three veterans who live in Merize's home through the Medical Foster Program, which helps disabled elderly veterans live with "foster families" rather than in large nursing homes. I t’s Women’s History Month—what a nice idea to recognize that women actually make history and aren’t just along to make dinner for the history-makers! In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared seven days in March to be National Women's History Week, and President Ronald Reagan followed suit. In 1987, Congress expanded the commemoration on the calendar, giving women a whole month. We have come so far. Putting sarcasm aside, it is true that the 20th century included concrete advances for women in America. Starting with the New Deal, women workers...

Chart: The Way We Pay Tipped Workers Disproportionately Harms Women

They're the majority of the people who work primarily for tips, and they make even less than their male counterparts.

(Photo: iStockPhoto/ © powerofforever)
This article was originally published on the website of the Economic Policy Institute . U nder federal law, employers of tipped workers are only required to pay their tipped staff a base wage of $2.13 per hour—an amount that has not been raised since 1991—provided that the sum of an employee’s weekly tips plus their base wage equates to an hourly rate of at least the minimum wage. Consequently, tipped work is overwhelmingly low-paying, even after accounting for tips. In 2013, the median hourly wage for tipped workers, including their income from tips, was $10.22 per hour, compared with a median hourly wage of $16.48 for workers overall. Low-paying tipped work disproportionately harms women: as the figure below shows, 67 percent of tipped workers are women, yet they still make less than their male counterparts—$10.07 for women at the median versus $10.63 for men. (These data include tips.) Economic Policy Institute CLICK HERE TO VIEW LARGER IMAGE. This loophole for tipped employers is...

Students Declare Nationwide Boycott of Wendy's Over Farmworker Concerns

Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonalds, and Walmart are already party to the worker-protection contract the targeted fast-food chain refuses to sign.

© Coalition of Immokalee Workers
© Coalition of Immokalee Workers On March 22, students and activists from across the U.S. came together in St. Petersburg, Florida, for the Concert for Fair Food. There the group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), announced a nationwide student boycott of the Wendy's fast-food chain for its refusal to join in an agreement designed to protect the farmworkers who harvest the produce used by the chain. This article originally appeared at Facing South , the website published by the Institute for Southern Studies. S tudents from colleges and high schools across the U.S. declared a nationwide boycott of the Wendy's fast-food chain over its refusal to join the Fair Food Program created to help eliminate farmworker poverty and abuse. The announcement came at the Parade and Concert for Fair Food held on Saturday, March 21, in St. Petersburg, Florida, by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a Florida-based group that promotes human rights for farmworkers. The boycott is part of a...

5 Ways to Bring Fairness Into College Basketball

Icon Sportswire via AP Images
Icon Sportswire via AP Images Wisconsin Badgers forward Frank Kaminsky (44) puts up a shot during the Div I Men's Championship - Third Round - Wisconsin Badgers v Oregon Ducks at the Centurylink Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Wisconsin defeated Oregon 72-65 (Icon Sportswire via AP Images) This article originally appeared at Yes! magazine . D id you fill out your office bracket for this year’s NCAA basketball tournament? I did. Although, for a couple reasons, I don’t feel great about it. For one, I don’t know who’s going to win just about any game, so my chances of winning the pool are basically zero. And two, the event has lost most of its luster as the economic inequities of college sports have become exposed. March Madness is now a bigger cash cow than the Super Bowl, but it’s also college league, which means the only people not getting a piece of the billion-dollar pie are the players. There’s a word for that: exploitation. The entire economic foundation of college sports is built on...

7 Reasons Why the 99 Percent Keeps Losing

iStockPhoto/© porcorex
iStockPhoto/© porcorex This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post . O ur current political situation is unprecedented. The vast majority of Americans keep falling behind economically because of changes in society's ground rules, while the rich get even richer—yet this situation doesn't translate into a winning politics. If anything, the right keeps gaining and the wealthy keep pulling away. How can this possibly be? Let me suggest seven reasons: 1. The Discrediting of Politics Itself The Republican Party has devised a strategy of hamstringing government and making any remediation impossible. Instead of the voters punishing Republicans, the result is cynicism and passivity, so the Republican strategy is vindicated and rewarded. The media plays into this pattern by adopting a misleading narrative that makes the gridlock in Washington roughly the equal fault of both parties—with lazy phrases such as "Washington is broken," or "politics is broken," or "partisan bickering." (...

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