Poverty & Wealth

Labor at a Crossroads: How We Know We Haven't Yet Found the Right Model for the Worker Organizations

If we had already found the right model for a powerful, scalable, sustainable organization uniting low-wage workers, then organizers would learn about problems at particular worksites from the workers themselves, not Reddit.

© Phillip Pessar via Flickr
© Phillip Pessar via Flickr The retail chain Wet Seal kept employees in the dark about plans to close 338 stores, such as this one in Miami's Dadeland Mall, even assuring workers that their jobs were not in peril. Employees responded by posting signs in store windows detailing the company's mistreatment of workers, and by creating a #forgetwetseal hashtag campaign that rocketed to the top of Reddit . This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . O n the first Friday in January, the executives of mall retailer Wet Seal held a conference call to inform hundreds of store managers that their stores were closing—effective just days later. Many workers had noticed extremely low inventories and extremely high...

Obama's State of the Union Preview Serves Up Pretty Weak Brew

whitehouse.gov/video screenshot
whitehouse.gov screenshot President Obama delivers remarks about his new community college proposal at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, January 9, 2015. "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized." —Daniel Burnham I recently got an email invitation from a Democratic congressional office to come to a "watch party" to view President Obama's State of the Union address. His "fourth-quarter priorities," according to the White House-inspired talking points of the message, are "home ownership, free community college, and high-paying jobs." That sounds pretty good. But if you unpack the specifics, the president is offering pretty weak tea. Free community college sounds terrific. Community college is the great American institution of the second chance. Obama proposes to have the federal government cover 75 percent of the cost, if states will participate. This could save students an average of over $3,...

Labor at a Crossroads: Can Broadened Civil Rights Law Offer Workers a True Right to Organize?

It's one way to allow victims of anti-union discrimination to sue in federal court for compensatory and punitive damages.

(AP Photo/Alex Sanz)
(AP Photo/Alex Sanz) U.S. Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, is co-sponsoring, with Rep. Keith Elison of Minnesota, legislation that would broaden the Civil Rights Act to include workers who are discriminated against for wanting to join a union. Lewis, shown here on December 22, 2014, discusses the historical film Selma and civil rights in the United States during an interview in Atlanta. Forty-nine years after Lewis and other marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, memories of "Bloody Sunday" are still vivid in his mind. It was one of the defining moments of the civil rights era. This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . O rganized labor, which represents only 1...

Why Your Wages Are Idling in Neutral

Low-wage Americans are not the only workers affected by stagnant wages and rising inequality.

(Photo: © WillSelarep/iStock)
This article was originally published by the Economic Policy Institute as part of its " Raising America's Pay " initative. O ver the last 35 years (with the exception of the late 1990s), hourly wages of the vast majority have lagged far behind economy-wide productivity. This failure of wages to grow and rising wage inequality is the primary explanation for the rise of family income stagnation and income inequality over the past generation. Additionally, progress in closing gender and racial wage gaps throughout this period has been either nonexistent (for racial gaps) or disappointingly slow (for gender gaps). Low-wage Americans are not the only workers affected by stagnant wages and rising inequality. The middle class has also experienced stagnating hourly wages over the last generation, and even those with college degrees have seen no pay growth over the last 10 years. Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009...

Meet Austerity's Kissing Cousin: A Terrible Trade Deal

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP Photo/Martin Meissner) People protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) at the final election party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) prior E.U. Parliament elections in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday, May 23, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope is right on the edge of another downward lurch into prolonged deflation. GDP growth is hovering right around zero. Germany, as an export powerhouse, continues to thrive, but at the expense of the rest of the continent—victims of German-imposed budget austerity demands. The euro, which keeps sinking against the U.S. dollar, is now trading at just $1.20, its lowest level in four and a half years. Unemployment outside prosperous Germany remains stuck at over 12 percent. All of this weakens the political center that supports the E.U., and increases the appeal of far-right parties. (You wonder if Europe's leaders bother to read their own history. When there is protracted...

The True Cost of Teach For America's Impact on Urban Schools

Why are school districts paying millions in "finder's fees" to an organization that places people without education degrees to teach in urban schools—even where applications from veteran teachers abound?

(AP Photo/Andy King)
(AP Photo/Andy King) In a February 4, 2011 photo, Erin Gavin, a Teach for America teacher, listens to students during a group discussion with seventh-graders at a Brooklyn Center School in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. In 2013, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a line item that would have granted $1.5 million to TFA. In debates over education policy in urban school districts, few topics are more contentious than the role played by Teach For America, the national organization that recruits elite college graduates to teach in low-income urban and rural schools for two years. It is not uncommon to hear veteran teachers, who majored in education and often have advanced degrees, complain that their profession is diminished by what they see as a preference for TFA recruits who did not study education. Parents are heard to question the qualifications and commitment of TFA’s novice educators, given the assumption that their sign-up for a two-year stint suggests only a fleeting interest in...

Intrigue: Doth Chuck Schumer Protest Too Much When Called 'Enabler' of Bad Budget Deal?

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, talks on a phone as he walks from the Senate subway on Capitol in Washington, Friday, December 12, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . L ast week, I wrote a piece lamenting the fact that so many Democrats had voted for a budget package that gutted a key provision of the Dodd-Frank Act. The so called swaps push-out provision, now repealed, required banks to separate their speculative business in derivatives from depository banking covered by government insurance and further protected by the Federal Reserve. The broader budget deal, technically a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through next September, also cut a lot of needed public spending and added several odious riders, including one that raises the ceiling on individual campaign contributions to party committees about tenfold. Had Democrats resolutely opposed the deal, I argued, it would have revealed Republicans...

The 10 Most Important Econ Charts of 2014 Show Ongoing Looting By the Top 1 Percent

CEO pay soars and productivity far outpaces any wage gains for regular people. Then there's the inequality tax, which is epic.

Economic Policy Institute
This article was originally published by the Economic Policy Institute at their website, epi.org , under the title "The Top 10 Charts of 2014." T his last year saw the pace of job growth pick up, a welcome development. Yet the economy remains far from healthy. In 2014 the twin issues of income inequality and stagnant wage growth for the vast majority of Americans took center stage. Better late than never. The top charts of 2014 created and compiled by the staff of the Economic Policy Institute show why addressing inequality and spurring wage growth is so necessary–and so doable. Policy choices led to these trends, and different policy choices can reverse them. The first policy choice should be based on the “do no harm” principle: the Federal Reserve should not try to slow recovery in the name of fighting inflationary pressures until wage growth is much, much stronger. After this, policymakers should support those labor standards that can restore some bargaining power to low- and...

How Much Did Black-White Wealth Gap Widen During the Great Recession?

A lot, says a new study from the Pew Research Center.

© Steve Debenport/iStock.
This article originally appeared at BillMoyers.com . T he average African-American household takes home around 40 percent less income than a similar white family. The gap between non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics (who can belong to any race) is just over 30 percent ( Excel file ). But racial income inequality pales in comparison to the racial gap in net worth —in household wealth accumulated through one’s lifetime and passed from generation to generation—especially between whites and blacks. It’s the living legacy of hundreds of years of structural racism. And, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center , that wealth gap has grown significantly since Wall Street crashed the economy… The study’s authors note that while accumulated wealth dropped across the board during the crash, there has been “a stark divide in the experiences of white, black and Hispanic households during the economic recovery.” From 2010 to 2013, the median wealth of non-Hispanic white households increased...

The Great Budget Sellout of 2014: Do We Even Have a Second Party?

The Democrats not only lost this vote on issues they allegedly care about; they lost their role as a credible opposition.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) For in the great budget sellout of December 2014, fully 57 House Democrats voted with the Republicans to narrowly pass this deal. Key Senate Democrats close to Wall Street, such as Chuck Schumer of New York, shown here, were its enablers. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . I n principle, Saturday's vote to keep the government open should be the perfect curtain-raiser for the political debates between now and the 2016 election. As their price for averting a government shutdown, Republicans demanded and got a gutting of one of the most important provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, preventing banks from speculating with government insured money. Agencies hated by Republicans such as the Environmental Protection Agency took big cuts, and a rider was inserted permitting "mountaintop removal" coal mining once again. Another extraneous provision demanded by conservatives permits massive increase in individual campaign contributions. The IRS...

Movements for Racial Justice and Economic Justice Could Converge to Form a Powerhouse for Change

(Photo by Rachel M. Cohen for The American Prospect)
What happens to a dream deferred? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode? T hat was the poet Langston Hughes, in 1951. In that year, more than half a century ago, the most basic dreams of African Americans were deferred. Segregation was mandatory in the old South. Discrimination was legal everywhere in America, whether in housing, education, or employment. Blacks were not just separated, but isolated, marginalized, restricted to the worst jobs and most dilapidated neighborhoods, the most dismal schools. For many, the racism just sagged, like a heavy load. It destroyed hope that hard work would be rewarded. The deferred dreams of that era seldom produced explosions, because the state had a very efficient system of terror. Blacks who resisted were likely to be lynched, jailed, or otherwise destroyed. It is a testament to sheer grit, tenacity and courage that large numbers of blacks managed to get educations, raise families, start businesses, and enter professions at...

We Can't Forget: Black Women Are Targeted, Too

"It’s not just the brothers dying; I’m at risk too," Joanne says. "I could be the next person.”

(Photo/Kristen Doerer)
(Photo/Kristen Doerer) After talking with a protester who came to commemorate the lives of black women killed and beaten by police and the justice system, the author ponders a new hashtag: #BlackWomensLivesMatter. Here, a scene from the Washington, D.C., protests set off by a Staten Island jury's failure to indict white New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man. We’ve been walking for about two hours now. We’re following the protests, Nathalie Baptiste and I, and we’ve finally made it to 14 th Street Bridge—Well not quite, we’re right before the bridge, at one of the busiest intersections. A black man has been leading the way, microphone in hand, shouting chants like “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these killer cops have got to go.” We circle around the intersection. Protesters raise their hands, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” they yell. Police cars surround us, their lights flashing. Horns blare as...

A Modest Proposal: The Universal Christmas Bonus

Wikimedia Commons/Square87
L ast year, Paul Ryan passed along this made up story: This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my buddy Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. Insofar as the point of this story is to push against free lunches in school, it's obviously a rather craven sentiment. The opponents and critics of free school lunch are an odd bunch. They seem to think it's basically alright to send over 90 percent of children to these big welfare programs called public schools, but that feeding them while they are at these welfare schools is over the line. It's not hard to see what's going on: public school is so commonplace and nearly...

Walmart Workers Stage Black Friday Protests at Stores Throughout the Country

Workers walked off the job in 10 states, employees in Los Angeles staged a fast, and workers in D.C. orchestrated a sit-in.

(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) Colorado Walmart employees and supporters join nationwide protests, in front of a Walmart store in Lakewood, Colorado, Friday, November 29, 2013. This article was originally published by ThinkProgress . A s Americans rushed to take advantage of jaw dropping deals this Black Friday, thousands of Walmart employees and labor union members protested at 1,000 stores across the country for higher wages and consistent full-time work. At least 11 Walmart workers and supporters were arrested for blocking traffic outside a Walmart in Chicago. The strikes, organized for the third year in a row by the labor group OUR Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, come after a week of actions in which workers walked off the job in 10 states, employees in Los Angeles staged a fast, and workers in D.C. orchestrated a sit-in. The associates wore masking tape over their mouths to protest of Walmart “silencing of employees who complain about working...

To Save the Right to Choose Nationwide, Reproductive Justice Advocates Need a Southern Strategy

A new amendment to Tennessee's Constitution lays a framework for ending abortion rights. If allowed to stand, women and girls in poor communities will suffer the most. 

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Signs outside a polling place support different opinions on an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, in Nashville, Tennessee. The amendment would expand the power of legislators to pass more abortion regulations. T his past Election Day, the people of Tennessee awoke to a state in which the right to an abortion is no longer secure. Amendment 1 to the state constitution could mean that politicians soon vote to take away the right within the state. The passage of Amendment 1 gives politicians far-reaching power to restrict many forms of birth control and abortion. Most ominously, if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, the passage of Amendment 1 lays the groundwork to eliminate all abortion access in Tennessee. In the run-up to the election, anti-choice politicians in the state masked their strategy to eliminate abortion access by framing their position as an issue of free speech, saying the voters had been silenced by a decision by...

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