Saturday, November 24, 2018

Janesville: An American Story

Amy Goldstein, Janesville: An American Story (NY: Simon & Shuster, 2017), 297 pages, $27.00

In Janesville, Wisconsin December 23, 2008 the General Motors Plant closed right after the last Chevy Tahoe rolled off the assembly line. The closing left everyone in fear in a town of 63,000 about three fourths of the way between Chicago and Madison. In Janesville, the book, author Amy Goldstein writes a narrative account of the personal losses resulting from a strictly economic decision made by absentee managers.

The book begins earlier in June 2008 when the announcement comes for the plant to be closed. Narrative continues with year by year events through 2013 followed by a brief epilogue. Material includes personal interviews of people and families affected by the shut down. Goldstein lists these people at the beginning as a “Cast of Characters” that she followed and interviewed over five years. The cast of characters has 14 family members from three families and eleven other people.

Goldstein divides the material into fifty-five generally short chapters with six yearly breaks – 2008, 2009, and so on - to help readers keep track of time. All three families relied on jobs in manufacturing from GM and from Lear Corporation, an auto parts supplier making car seats for GM. The Lear plant would close shortly, April of 2009. One family, the Vaughns, had both spouses lose jobs at Lear. The other families, the Whiteakers and the Wopats, had one spouse lose a job at GM, which provided their primary support.

Two of the eleven other people in the story, Kristi Beyer and Sue Olmstead, lost manufacturing jobs from plant closures; Beyer worked at Lear, Olmstead lost a job at another Janesville auto parts supplier. The remaining nine people Goldstein followed include their Congressman Paul Ryan, a state senator, three educators, two business women, the director of Rock County job center and a journalist now doing a radio show.

The unemployed Vaughns go back to school at Blackhawk Technical College. Mike studies HR and Barb studies law enforcement. They find jobs in their new fields at lower pay.

The unemployed Jerald Whiteaker takes a $4,000 buyout rather than continue in layoff since he knows he does not want to leave Janesville. He takes a succession of low paid jobs that prevent him from supporting his family. His two daughters get jobs and his wife works part time. They get by, barely.

The unemployed Matt Wopat takes unemployment and SUB benefits for a while before deciding to return to school in a Blackhawk degree program. He does not plan to leave Janesville but retains his UAW negotiated option to work at his Janesville wage of $28 an hour at another GM plant. After a short stint in school he does not see much return from his Blackhawk efforts and so decides to leave for a job at GM’s Fort Wayne, Indiana plant. He commutes back to Janesville on weekends.

The unemployed Kristi Beyer attends classes in law enforcement at Blackhawk with Barb Vaughn. After two years they finish and both take jobs at the county jail at much lower wages of $16.47 an hour.

The stories of coping by the laid off move along interspersed with stories of Janesville and Wisconsin politics and efforts by others to provide charitable services or otherwise cope with the dulling effect of a regional recession and 13.4 percent local unemployment.

Goldstein describes efforts to cope with details of charity efforts, describing a new food bank called ECHO (Everyone Cooperating to Help Others) and an enterprising high school teacher who stockpiles food in a closet to donate to needy students not too embarrassed to ask for it. A charity health clinic operated before the GM shutdown, but now overwhelmed, it has to turn away patients.

A social worker at the Janesville Schools, Ann Forbeck, works as a homeless student liaison with a mission to help homeless students in a system with four hundred homeless kids. Homeless shelters, it turns out, do not admit teenagers and no one over 15 is eligible for foster care. Goldstein follows Forbeck through her extensive fund raising efforts to provide for teenagers, her many refusals, and an incident of a brother and sister dumped out of car abandoned by a mother who shouts “I can’t keep these kids” before driving off. Finally after several years delay we learn she co-founds a group that provides temporary shelter for homeless teens.

The Rock County supervisors devised an incentive package to keep GM in Janesville with $152 million of state and local incentives, additional UAW give backs of $213 million and some private incentives. Goldstein reported it as the largest incentive subsidy offered in Wisconsin history; it was barely half of Michigan giveaways.

A local banker, Mary Willmer, and a wealthy local women, Diane Hendricks, also promote luring business investment with tax breaks. They approached the Janesville City Council to help bring a start up tech company with a $25 million government grant and 125 jobs. There is opposition but only 1 vote against $9 million of incentives from the declining coffers of Janesville. There would be many delays.

These were the years of Governor Scott Walker’s cuts in school budgets and attacks on unions. Goldstein reviews the protest that included some from Janesville that join the throngs on the Wisconsin capital steps. A later chapter covers the Walker recall vote. Janesville Local 95 of UAW works for the governors recall, but mostly with help by those older and retired since only 438 remain as UAW members out of more than 7,000 from a decade before. Mary Willmer and Diane Hendricks support Walker with $510,000 in contributions in the winning campaign, but Janesville votes for recall, although only 53 to 46 percent.

Goldstein gives periodic reports on Paul Ryan, but these reports only add depressing details to a disheartening story; Ryan has no help for Janesville. He offers his personal “American Idea” for an approach to poverty: people who need help should not look to government like the case of FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society. Instead they should turn to the generosity of their own community, which he thinks the dedicated people of Janesville are doing so well. He sounded like Herbert Hoover in the great depression, but there are few signs of anger from the victims in her stories. She also reports on repeated efforts of the director of the Rock Country Job Center, Bob Borremans, to get Congressman Ryan to visit the Center, but he never came.

The book reads easily in a direct journalistic style and readers can follow along and wonder what they might do in the same situation. For the most part, Goldstein does not offer judgments and refrains from moralizing opinions or conclusions. Readers will have to do that. There are detailed source notes and a bibliography that lists 15 related books that take a look at other disruptions brought by corporate America’s unilateral decisions. Two of them, George Packer’s book, The Unwinding, and Steven Greenhouse’s book, The Big Squeeze, are reviewed on this site.

I wish though she had asked more questions. Could the Wopats admit the $28 dollar wage and the option to move to Fort Wayne be appreciated as part of an UAW negotiated contract? It would have been worse without the UAW. What happened to house and real estate values? When a primary employer picks up and leaves house prices take a tumble. Did Matt Wopat commute to Fort Wayne because he could not afford to move, or was it just a choice? Would they continue to vote for Paul Ryan, and why?

No one in the book questioned what continues in the United States as the absolute right of corporations to move and destroy local job and housing markets, or to demand tax subsidies and special favors to stay, or to come, to a place like Janesville. If companies move and the CEO, its management, board of directors, and stockholders make profitable gains, while wage earners confront even bigger losses, no one compares gains and losses. Everyone accepts the glorious workings of the free market, even the victims; just ask Paul Ryan.

Friday, November 9, 2018

My Plan for Infrastructure Spending

My Plan for Infrastructure Spending

Politicians have returned to talking infrastructure spending to boast the economy and create jobs. The press actually suggests it could be something bipartisan. Trouble is titanic budget deficits make new infrastructure hard to pay for especially when Congress keeps cutting taxes for the rich who do not agree they should have to pay taxes.

Two years ago Trump discussed ways to make it profitable for his friends in business to take over infrastructure expansion, but they couldn’t figure out how to make it profitable for business to bother without turning over parks, waterways, airports and highways to corporate America and letting them charge monopoly prices.

I have a good plan though because I notice the credits at the beginning and end of PBS television news and views has a longer and longer list of foundations and trusts that give away money. The rich hope to get us to feel good about them so they can feel good about themselves.

The growth of foundation portfolios goes with tax cuts for the rich and corporate America, and with income inequality. It should also help Americans realize the United States has an idle rich so bloated with income and assets they can’t possibly spend on themselves they put it in tax free foundations. That way they can direct national resources by personal preference without need to respond to representative government, or those pesky voters.

For the last three decades, at least, America’s productivity gains have been converted to profits not wages. These profits to the rich and foundation assets amount to lost wages for the working class. But the rich can show their public spirit by contributing 25 percent of their required annual foundation giveaways to pay for infrastructure spending. Here is a plan that requires nothing from Trump or a do-nothing Congress.

It’s a perfect, fast action plan, but I’m not holding my breath! Chairitee! Chairitee!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Grown Up Anger

Daniel Wolff, Grown Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and the Calumet Massacre of 1913, (NY: Harper-Collins, 2017), $26.99

In Grown Up Anger author Daniel Wolff connects a labor history narrative with the evolution of mid 20th century protest music. As the title suggests, the labor history emphasizes the 1913 copper strike in Keweenaw County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the protest music discussion emphasizes the work of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Woody Guthrie was born in 1912 while Bob Dylan was born in 1941, and so the music covers the depression era in the 1930’s into the modern era. There are 14 chapters with 259 pages.

It was not obvious to me how the title, Grown Up Anger, relates to labor history and protest music but Wolff uses the opening pages to explain his choice. “History happens in a classroom. I didn’t (voluntarily) approach the world that way.” Instead he connected through anger, “Specifically, the voice of Bob Dylan.” Wolff explains his feeling that Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” was the sound of unresolved anger, which “didn’t seem to need to justify itself.”

Since it was July 1965 and Wolff was thirteen years old, he felt adolescent anger that could not be discussed with dismissive adults; “If you did, you got a look that meant, ‘Oh, yes, you’re a child.’’ By now, 52 years later, looking back generates Grown Up Anger, which can be written down in articulate prose.

The remainder of Chapter One provides a reminiscence for 1960’s music and the Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie place in it. Wolff introduces the Guthrie song “1913 Massacre” that makes an early connection to the Keweenaw copper strike, a song I did not previously know about. Chapter 2 introduces more Bob Dylan biography; chapter 3 introduces more Woody Guthrie biography. Both chapters relate their early interest in music.

Chapter 4 narrates the early history of Keweenaw County, Michigan copper mining and union organizing, which picks up again and continues in chapters 7, 9, and 12. The history moves along to the December 24, 1913 Christmas party and the infamous “Massacre” that took place at Italian Hall in Calumet. I reviewed a book length account of the 1913 Keweenaw strike by Steve Lehto, Death’s Door on this blog. Death's Door Death's Door Lehto, Ella Reeve Bloor and Arthur Thurner are also important sources used in Wolff’s account.

The other chapters - 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, and 13 - return to narrate and analyze the music and careers of Guthrie and Dylan. We find out “both Guthrie and Dylan spent their childhoods in relatively prosperous, supportive, Middle American families.” Woody Guthrie and his cousin Jack Guthrie left Oklahoma for California looking for music careers. They succeeded getting a radio show and confronted the great “Okie” migration in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and In Dubious Battle in the process.

Dylan was 14 in 1955 when Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi and was already trying to express himself through music. He graduated from Hibbing High in 1959 and recalled “I just turned my back on it. It couldn’t give me anything.” He went to the University of Minnesota and then to New York to pursue music as a career.

While Dylan and Guthrie remain the central theme of the music narrative it wanders and weaves its way into a variety of related historical events and musical figures. There are composer-musicians, Earl Robinson, Paul Robeson, Lead Belly, Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez; music groups, the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Weavers; agitators and activists, Upton Sinclair, Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.; one composer-musician-activist Joe Hill. There are music titles and discussion of lyrics for many songs, especially Dylan and Guthrie songs and the songs of others that influenced them and of their influence on each other.

As the discussion moves along it mixes more with politics and political events; the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Communist purges of the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Suddenly lyrics were subversive and folk singers like Guthrie and the Weavers were denounced as Communists. Wolff describes the post 1955 folk revival and the Guthrie and Dylan part in it. The Dylan song “Like a Rolling Stone” has a suspicious connection to a doggerel poem composed by Joe Hill on the eve of his execution, or assassination as I would see it. The first stanza in his twelve line poem reads “My will is easy to decide. For there is nothing to divide. My kind don’t need to fuss and moan. Moss don’t grow to a rolling stone.”

A final chapter takes a driving tour through present day Keweenaw where copper mining ceased in 1968, fifty years ago. Wolff gives inequality data from 1913 and today and finds nothing has changed. The book ends with a brief allegory where the landscape beneath the surface in the world’s shell remains a molten core in a “kind of rage.” Enough said.

I cannot think of a comparable book, but that’s not a criticism. The narrative reads easily and chapter titles and divisions help move the story along. There are footnotes although they are not numbered but appear by the page rather than by number, which I don’t like. A bibliography includes some standard labor history books like Philip Foner, Jeremy Brecher, Melvin Dubofsky and Foster Rhea Dulles. I wonder about the audience that reads the book since I am guessing people interested in Guthrie and Dylan would not know much about strikes like the Keweenaw strike. In that way people interested in the music could get a first introduction to labor history. America would be better off if it knows more of its labor history. I predict it would create more Grown Up Anger.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Harley-Davidson Motor Cycles, Trade Wars and our Obsolete Constitution

Harley-Davidson Motor Cycles, Trade Wars and our Obsolete Constitution

Harley-Davidson Motor Cycles recently announced it will be moving some production to Europe to avoid new tariffs made in retaliation to unilateral increases in United States tariffs. Harley officials reported a $2,200 price penalty from the Trump tariff war. In spite of the abuse and ridicule from Trump, Harley-Davidson Motor Cycles did what any business has to do week in and week out; they adjusted to a change in economic circumstance. In this case Trump made a significant change in their market condition imposing tariffs with a guaranteed retaliation.

For at least 50 years the United States sent representatives to repeated meetings of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade(GATT) with instructions to negotiate lower tariffs and trade barriers. The world economy and companies like Harley-Davidson have adjusted completely to the lower tariffs. The Trump tariffs make American companies especially vulnerable because retaliation only affects American products made in America; every other company from every other country now has a price advantage over American companies like Harley-Davidson.

More companies will have to do what Harley-Davidson does, which will accelerate job loss in the United States. Trump remains immune to economic forecasts and market conditions while his conduct continues to be so erratic no one can predict how bad things might get.


Congress granted Presidents the dictatorial power to impose tariffs for national security reasons, but has allowed Trump to define national security as anything he wants. Congress can take the power back anytime it wants. As Trump threats and bluster translate into retaliation by other countries a weak and plaintive protest of corporate America has appeared in the media, but nothing happens about the tariffs. Corporate America appears powerless to challenge Trump, a Republican no less.

Congress can be obnoxious and threatening and make life a misery for administrators; it can stall and obstruct, but it can’t make a simple decision to stop an idiotic policy that guarantees economic loss as Harley-Davidson officials so clearly understand.

The current Trump tariff abuses highlight the workings of an obsolete constitution. The founding fathers designed a Congress with machinery designed for obstruction; very small numbers can obstruct majorities in a bicameral Congress filled with rules to block decisions. No balance of power remains among the three branches of government we all learned about in high school. The initiative and power have all passed to the President and his executive branch machinery. Anyone who doubts that should ask why corporate America with all its money bags looks at economic loss as a spectator in a brewing trade war?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

DC Initiative 77 and the Tip wars

On June 19, 2018 District of Columbia voters had a chance to vote on Initiative 77 to do away with the sub minimum wage and the tip credit for tipped employees like waiters, waitresses, and bartenders. They did so by a 55 percent to 44 percent margin. [D.C. voters approve initiative to raise minimum wage for tipped workers to $15, Washington Post, June 20, 2018]

The minimum wage in Washington, DC is $12.50 an hour in 2018, but as with the Federal minimum wage the District of Columbia has a sub minimum wage for businesses with employees who customarily receive tips. The sub minimum wage in DC is $3.33 an hour. Under rules governing the sub minimum wage those restaurants that pay a sub minimum wage must verify the additional amount from tips are enough to bring an employee up to at least the minimum wage, a practice known as taking the tip credit. If tips are not enough to equal the minimum wage then the employer is expected to keep track of the short fall and make up the difference. Notice that means all tips paid above $3.33 an hour up to $9.17 an hour, or $12.50 minus $3.33, are in lieu of normal wage obligations and become a subsidy to the restaurant.

Initiative 77 eliminates the sub minimum wage gradually by raising the current $3.33 cash wage plus tips to be a $15.00 an hour cash wage by 2025. After 2025 any tips will be the property of servers in addition to their cash wage; the business subsidy will gradually disappear.

The subsidy from the sub minimum wage dates from 1942 and a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to ratify a private scheme to use tips as wages. The wage data reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its Occupational Employment Survey suggest the restaurant subsidy scheme in the sub minimum wage does not ensure employees are paid the minimum wage. In DC the median wage reported for waiters and waitresses in 2017 was only $11.86, not $12.50, which means something over half of waiters and waitresses earn less than the minimum wage including tips.

California, Oregon and Washington are three states that abandoned the sub minimum wage for tipped employees. California and Oregon have a minimum wage of $10.5 an hour and Washington $11.50 an hour for all industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports all 31 of California metropolitan areas and 5 sub state non-metropolitan regions have a median wage for waiters and waitresses above their minimum wage; and for Oregon’s 8 metropolitan areas and 4 sub state non-metropolitan regions; and for Washington’s 13 metropolitan areas and 4 sub state non-metropolitan regions.

The effect in these three states suggests it pays for the working class waiter and waitress to get rid of the sub minimum wage subsidy for restaurants. If, or when, restaurants confront much higher food prices they have to experiment with a combination of cost cutting and price increases. They might serve smaller portions, or change the menu to save costs while experimenting with higher prices. I’m hard pressed to understand why they expect to avoid doing that when wage costs rise. They have had this favor since 1942 and judging from their publicity campaign against changing it they think it as their inalienable right.

The Washington Post article mentioned above goes on to discuss the grimy politics of DC voter initiatives because apparently the city council and always the U.S. Congress can overrule a voter initiative. To justify throwing out a District wide election opponents of the working class debase democracy by complaining only 18 percent voted in the election as an excuse to ignore voters. They act as though they know the other 82 percent would have defeated the measure, and we all should respect the lethargy of no shows. If it was Trump talking I could understand it, but the DC city Council?

Strike! Strike?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

GOP Repeals Michigan Wage Law

In Michigan the Republican controlled legislature repealed the prevailing wage law that applied to public construction projects. Supporters cited by the Detroit Free Press [Det. FP, June 7, 2018] claim repeal will save taxpayers money as projects paying prevailing wages “cost 10-15 percent more than if it was built by the private sector.” State representative Gary Glenn called prevailing wages a “discriminatory relic of the past.” He claims it will save “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

No one quoted in the Free Press mentions a dollar wage when speaking of a prevailing wage, but if repeal will save money then wages must fall and for wages to fall there must be a big surplus of labor. Since business keeps whining about labor shortages, they contradict themselves.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median wage for 50 construction and extraction occupations, which in Michigan is $22.67 an hour, or $47,167 a year. That puts Michigan 19th among the fifty states and the District of Columbia. A 10 percent cut would be $4,717 and leave $42,438 a year.

If, as seems likely, business contractors bid on public projects then there can be no guarantee the contractors will bid lower in response to repeal of a prevailing wage law. Unless there is vigorous competition among many contractors they maybe able to bid as usual and pocket the wage savings themselves. It appears quite likely taxpayers will get nothing from this repeal.

The Free Press reported that all Democrats in the House voted against the measure and therefore Republicans take the entire responsibility for repeal, which makes the whole episode another in string of examples of politics in a divided society. Saving taxpayers was just the excuse. Democrats will have to figure out why so many in the working class vote for Republican pickpockets who lower their standard of living.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Birth of a New American Aristocracy - Review

Matthew Stewart, “The Birth of a New American Aristocracy: The gilded future of the top 10 percent – and the end of opportunity for everyone else” Atlantic Monthly, June 2018, 48-63

In his ten part cover story for the June 2018 Atlantic author Matthew Stewart begins dividing United States wealth into three classes: the top .1 percent, the next 9.9 percent and the 90 percent at the bottom. He defines the 9.9 percent as the new aristocracy in order to argue their self-deception makes them a cause of our growing inequality, destabilizing politics and eroding democracy.

Readers get financial information to help define the groups. The .1 percent have 160,000 households and 22 percent of American wealth in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1963. Assets of $1.2 million in 2016 puts a household in the 9.9 percent and the assets of the 9.9 percent exceed the combined assets of the top .1 percent and the lower 90 percent.

In the mass media mobility justifies inequality, but Stewart reports several research efforts that show the average income of children correlates significantly with the average income of parents. In other words, the wealth of the current generation depends very much on having wealthy parents. Comparisons with other countries show the correlation of wealth between generations gets higher in countries with higher inequality. Since the United States has the highest inequality, a parent’s wealth does a better job predicting their children’s wealth than other developed countries. Mobility today requires winning the mega-millions jackpot.

That finishes part 2, part 3 through part 6 describes some ways the 9.9 percent game the system. Those in the 9.9 percent tend to be people of “good family, good health, good schools, good neighborhoods and good jobs.” They meet and marry in process of “assortative mating.”

Part 4 outlines the game in education. Matthews reports 2.2 percent of America’s high school students graduate from private high schools and make up 26 percent of Harvard students. Education for the “sake of society” has given way to a private benefit measured by higher salary, which helps the financial benefit of the college premium correlate with a decrease in social mobility. Part 5 takes up tax subsides that favor the 9.9 percent and the .1 percent who then fill the media whining about food stamps and welfare cheats. In part 6 readers learn the returns to real estate in the “right places” may account for essentially all of the increase in the concentration of wealth over the last 50 years and coincidentally much of the isolation of the 9.9 percent from the 90 percent.

These first six parts establish a platform to discuss the politics of resentment. Part 7 confronts and scoffs at the 9.9 percent’s delusions of a meritocracy, which Stewart argues has evolved into a class of aristocracy over only a few decades. In part 8 – the Politics of Resentment – inequality provokes a chain of consequences: resentment, political division, instability. Here Stewart lets Trump make his case by citing examples of Trump stoking the fires of resentment for political gain. Stewart concedes the .1 percent delight in their manipulations, but blames the 9.9 percent for taking “our cut of the spoils” while looking “on with smug disdain” and taking it all for granted. Stewart reminds readers that resentment breeds an increase in inequality as every change made by Trump so well demonstrates: the new tax law to wit. At the end of part 8 Stewart warns the 9.9 percent they will soon find themselves the target of economic attack.

Part 9 provides a sobering reminder: reform seldom relieves inequality. History suggests it takes depression, violence, or warfare to bring change and Stewart gives the American Civil War as one example. Remember slavery is a system of cheap labor that guarantees inequality. Lincoln in his famous house divided speech addressed that issue before the civil war: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. . . . It will become all one thing, or all the other.” Free labor in competition with slave labor generated poverty, inequality and a violent political instability. Our high school textbooks emphasize the stance of the abolitionists and their ethical and moral objections to slavery. They were a factor, but the civil war started much more for economic reasons: inequality and the depressing effects of a dual wage system.

Part 10 offers a tiny bit of optimism by suggesting the 9.9 percent could get hold of themselves and offer the country some leadership. Leaders should support the larger social order and help direct resources to causes in the common good like health care. Many people of my acquaintance have wondered why so many of the 90 percent keep voting for people like Trump and the Republican pickpockets. I thought of that when Stewart mentioned the poor, southern white boys in butternut and gray that died by the tens of thousands to save the wealth and life of the southern planter class that so crudely exploited them. The United States has had one civil war and I get the feeling Stewart believes the Trump base could bring another. We can hope not, but if it comes to pass the Trump base will join the .1 percent on the one side, and the 9.9 percent will be the other; the resentful always join the authoritarians. Mr. Stewart has warned you.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Jobs and Telework

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) changed telework rules for thousands of its employees. The Washington Post [March 18, 2018] quoted a USDA spokesperson that “USDA’s telework policy is designed to be responsible to the taxpayers and responsive to the customers who depend on our services. It is also respectful of our fellow employees who come to work each day.” The change in policy promotes “USDA as one family working together as a single team to serve the American people.” House Representative Gerald Connolly from a nearby Virginia House District co-sponsored the telecommuting rules back in 2010; he called the changes a retrograde move.

The Office of Personnel Management reported a steady increase in the share of Federal Workers who telecommute, which now stands at 20 to 22 percent. Telecommuting helps relieve serious traffic congestion for commuters. I-95 into the District has an average of 23 traffic jams a day. Based on telecommuting data from USDA around Washington the new rules will add 42,000 trips a week to area commuters.

The March 18 article in the Washington Post spawned several letters to the editor. One claimed “Teleworking is a scam” because employees on site are far more productive working together and there should be no special privileges allowing employees to make the same income as those who show up everyday. Another person wrote in that working at home increased his productivity because office distractions made it hard to work. He wore head phones with piped in music to minimize “working together.”

Weary commuters spending hours a day sitting on a cement slab lookin’ up some guy’s tail pipe will recognize a subplot here. Work could be about getting work done, accomplishing necessary tasks, rather than how and where the work gets done. For authoritarian bosses work should be suffering and so they want to see all their underlings dutifully sitting in their office warming up a chair. The authoritarian boss always thinks other people cheat; no one can be trusted to do what they’re supposed to do. They have rules: no reading newspapers, no personal emails, no breaks. Anyone not in their plasterboard cubicle must be malingering, or possibly having fun.

Somehow it fits right in for the Trump people where authority and form counts and substance does not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Tip Rules – A History of All You Need to Know

Tip Rules – A History of All You Need to Know

The Trump people proposed to rescind the 2011 Obama Administration Fair Labor Standards Act regulations that regulate tip-pooling arrangements. The Obama rules allowed the restaurant owner to pool tips but only among employees who customarily receive at least $30 a month in tips. Angry American Restaurant Association and other groups representing restaurant owners filed suit challenging the rules. While the litigation continued the Trump people proposed new regulations that help restaurant owners take tips from dining room help that normally receive tips to pay the wages of kitchen help that do not. In the process of working out a budget for 2018 Congress inserted new language as Title XII, Section 1201 into the budget resolution that changes the Fair Labor Standards Act. The new language intends to block the Trump proposal and appears to resolve the dispute over tips, but the matter is not entirely resolved as of now, April 2018.

The new language reads in part “An employer may not keep tips received by its employees for any purposes, including allowing managers or supervisors to keep any portion of employees’ tips, regardless of whether or not the employer takes a tip credit.”

To understand why restaurant owners favor the Trump tip pooling rule requires knowing procedures under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which excluded restaurant workers from employer minimum wage obligations until 1966. In 1966 they were finally included, but only at 50 percent of the minimum wage. Some of the restaurant owners complained they shouldn’t have to pay any wages because their waiters and waitresses earned plenty from their tips.

From 1966 to 1996 the tipped wage went up when Congress raised the minimum wage, but in 1996 and again in 2007 the restaurant industry lobbied Congress to leave the tipped minimum at $2.13 an hour. The Federal tipped minimum has remained at $2.13 an hour since 1991, which makes it only 29 percent of the present $7.25 an hour minimum wage.

First, recognize that the monthly minimum wage at $7.25 an hour is $1,160 a month at 40 hours a week and 4 weeks per month. However, the $2.13 an hour sub minimum wage for tipped employees is just $340.80 a month, which means a tipped employee needs an additional amount of $819.20 a month in tips to get up to the minimum wage, or $7.25 - $2.13 = $5.12 an hour.

Under federal rules governing the Fair Labor Standards Act employers who pay a sub minimum wage must verify the additional amount from tips are enough to bring an employee up to at least the minimum wage, a practice defined as taking the tip credit. If tips are not enough to equal the minimum wage then the employer is expected to make up the difference.

Notice though the additional amount in tips received up to $819.20 per month are in lieu of normal obligations to pay wages to employees. Even if tipped employees receive tips at or above $819.20 a month, wage costs drop from at least $7.25 an hour to as low as $2.13 an hour. Even when tips are less than $819.20 a month all of the tips recorded become a cost saving tip credit for their restaurant owners. The tip credit actually has its origin in a legal case from 1942 known as Williams v. Jacksonville Terminal Pickett.

Tips and the Courts - Williams v. Jacksonville Terminal Pickett

In the case Williams v. Jacksonville Terminal Pickett decided March 6, 1942 two Red Caps, Williams and Pickett, brought suit over minimum wage requirements under the new Fair Labor Standars Act(FLSA) against two railroad terminals, Jacksonville Terminal and Union Terminal in Dallas, Texas. In response to the Fair Labor Standards Act terminal managers insisted, in writing, that beginning on October 24, 1938 all red caps must report their tips, which management would offset against their minimum wage obligations. If tips were less than the minimum wage, then management would make up the difference, otherwise not. This arrangement was a new invention of railroad management, no where in the law.

Both Williams and Pickett protested on behalf of red caps that their tips could not be used in lieu of minimum wage obligations. The management demand that tips be reported in lieu of wages in what the court called an “accounting and guarantee system” but their system ended by July 1, 1940; instead both terminals instituted a fee for service charge on passenger luggage and then paid the minimum wage in cash. Since red caps believed FLSA required payment of the minimum wage without deduction of tips, they continued to work and filed suit in United States District Court for the recovery of unpaid minimum wages between October 24, 1938, and July 1, 1940. Both disputes went to the Supreme Court combined as the case of Williams v. Jacksonville Terminal Pickett, (315 U.S. 386) discussed here.

The Supreme Court wrote “We deal here only with the petitioners' [Red Caps] assertion that the wages Act [Fair Labor Standards Act of October 24, 1938] requires railroads to pay the red caps the minimum wage without regard to their earnings from tips.”

In making their decision the Supreme Court Justices decided the terminal management letters of written notice to the red caps and their willingness to continue working provided agreement for management to treat tips as wages. The court wrote “This employment of the red caps was at will and subject to the employers' conclusions as to the desirability of continuing their employment.” Since the red caps did not quit work after receiving written notice of the “accounting and guarantee system” the justices declared they accepted the agreement.

Then the court wrote “In businesses where tipping is customary, the tips, in the absence of an explicit contrary understanding, belong to the recipient. Where, however, an arrangement is made by which the employee agrees to turn over the tips to the employer, in the absence of statutory interference, no reason is perceived for its invalidity.” Notice here the false use of “employee agrees.” The court referenced letters dictated the terms of payment and were imposed by unilateral decision of management. As such the red caps did not and could not disagree or they would be fired.
In the next paragraph of the Jacksonville Terminal opinion, the majority justices wrote “The employer furnishes the facilities, supervises the work and may take the compensation paid by travelers for the service, whether paid as a fixed charge or as a tip.” Therefore, tips are the property and revenue of the employer.

The Justices decided the Jacksonville Terminal case by a vote of five to three with one abstention. Justice Black wrote a dissent in concurrence with the other two in the minority, Justice Douglas and Justice Murphy. Justice Black wrote in part
“I am unable to agree that tips given to red caps by travellers are 'wages' paid to the red caps by the railroad. … The tip paying public is entitled to know whom it tips, the red cap or the railroad. A plan like that before us, which covertly diverts tips from employees for whom the giver intended them to employers for whom the giver did not intend them and to whom any kind of tip doubtless would not have been voluntarily given, seems to me to contain an element of deception. And I think that an interpretation of the F.L.S.A. which permits employers to benefit from such a plan does not accord with the meaning of the language used by Congress.”

Go to 1966 when the restaurant association managed to use their influence and the Jacksonville Terminal Case to get Congress to agree to the sub-minimum wage for tipped employees devised by the railroads in 1938, but now giving it the official term: tip credit. Business devised the tip credit and five justices did business a favor back in 1942 by making tips the property of business, but there is more.

The restaurant association argued the tip credit rule could result in some waiters and waitresses having tips much higher than the minimum difference while other waiters and waitresses might have tips below the minimum difference. Suppose Alice and Anne earn $15.00 an hour with tips, while Bettie and Bonnie earn only $4.00. To meet minimum wage obligations the restaurant owner will need to pay all four people $7.25 an hour or a total of $29, but the four of them earn $38 dollars. Without tip pooling management would owe $3.25 an hour of tip credit to Bettie and Bonnie, or a total of $6.50. With a pooling system the management has $15.50 of extra tip money to take from Alice and Anne to make up the $6.50 of shortfall to Bettie and Bonnie. The disparity in tips could require the restaurant owner to incur a tip credit for some of their help while the total of tips could be big enough to pay the entire tip credit obligation. Tip pooling might reduce the tip credit to zero allowing the restaurant owner to save more on wage costs by forcing employees with high tips to pay the tip credit of employees with low tips.

Pooling for those who receive tips was the rule under FLSA and the practice until Aaron Woo, a Portland, Oregon owner of Woody Woo Café decided to ignore the practice in 2009. He reasoned that the FLSA rule 203(m) only applied to those restaurants that take the tip credit and so pay the sub minimum wage. Since he paid the full minimum wage, he took it upon himself to save wage costs by pooling tips from those who receive them to those who do not; like the kitchen help. A lawsuit followed known as Cumbie versus Woody Woo Inc; Cumbie is Misty Cumbie, one of the disgruntled employees.

The District Court in Oregon dismissed the case by summary judgement and appeal was taken to the Ninth Circuit Court in Oregon. On Appeal, Cumbie argued sharing tips with the kitchen help who are not “customarily and regularly tipped employees was invalid under 29 US Code section 203(m) and the Code of Federal Regulations 29 CFR 531.52-54 written for it. Woody Woo argued that since they did not take a tip credit and paid the full minimum wage, they could devise any tip pooling arrangement that suited them.

The court read the last sentence of the statute 29 US Code 203(m), which stated that tip credit rules “shall not apply with respect to any tipped employee unless such employee has been informed by the employer of the provisions of this subsection, and all tips received by such employee have been retained by the employee, except that this subsection shall not be construed to prohibit the pooling of tips among employees who customarily and regularly receive tips.”

The majority ruled the Woody Woo tip credit claims irrelevant, but ruled in their favor for a different reason. They found the statute language too vague to define any specific tip pooling arrangement. Specifically they wrote “for an employer that meets its minimum wage obligation without taking a tip credit, section 203(m) is silent; therefore, there is no statutory interference.” In other words Mr. Woo could make any tip pooling arrangement he wanted and the Williams v. Jacksonville ruling remained.

The Woody Woo ruling came in 2009. In 2011, the Obama Administration revised the Code of Federal Regulations 29 CFR 351.52 to make it clear that tips are the property of the employee and that tip pools can only be made among employees who “customarily and regularly receive tips.”

Again restaurant owners were incensed and filed suit in the case Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association versus Perez [Sec’y of Labor]. The Oregon District Court held that Cumbie left "no room" for the Department of Labor to make its 2011 rule and so granted Oregon Restaurant & Lodging's motion for summary judgment. Appeal was taken but now the same 9th Circuit Court disagreed with the District Court’s use of the Cumbie ruling.

In the new ruling the justices explained they did not hold the Fair Labor Standards Act unambiguously and categorically protects Mr. Woos tip pooling arrangement. Rather, they held that "nothing in the text purports to restrict" the practice in question.

In the new Oregon Restaurant case a majority of the justices relied on the wording of the 1974 FLSA amendments. In the 1974 amendments “Congress expressly delegated to the Department of Labor the broad authority 'to prescribe necessary rules, regulations, and orders' to implement the FLSA amendments of 1974.”

The minority justices argued “This case is nothing more than Cumbie II.” They insisted the court must follow precedent. The majority countered “We have no quarrel with Cumbie v. Woody Woo Inc. Our conclusion with respect to Cumbie is only that its holding was grounded in statutory silence.” Therefore “we find that Cumbie does not foreclose the DOL's ability to regulate tip pooling practices of employers who do not take a tip credit.” ... “In exercising its discretion to regulate, the DOL promulgated a rule that is consistent with the FLSA's language, legislative history, and purpose.”

Justice O’Scannlain wrote a dissent for the minority, which was used as the basis for a Writ of Certiorari to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case. The Writ was filed January 19, 2017. Looking at the Proceedings and Orders on the U.S. Supreme Court website shows the case National Restaurant Association, et al., v. Department of Labor, et al. Has many motions to extend the time to file a response, which have been granted repeatedly and last time I checked on April 16, 2018 the time was extended until May 9, 2018, but might well be extended again.

However, to complicate matters Congress intervened with new language as mentioned above, which makes employees the owners of their tips. The Congressional action in this long dreary episode of tips does not really resolve the matter for tipped employees, especially restaurant employees. As long as U.S. employees work “at will” and can be fired at any time for any reason, or no reason, tipped employees can be pressured to give up tips to their employer. Few restaurant employees have the wherewithal to pursue legal enforcement and Republican administrations are famous for not enforcing labor law.

Tip rules give a good illustration how courts will interpret legislation to favor and subsidize business. The tip rules that remain in force, and the tip credit that still remains, originated 76 years ago when the five Supreme Court justices seized on the Red Cap’s decision to continue working while claims in dispute worked through the courts. When some members of Congress tried to get restaurant employees included in the minimum wage requirements of FSLA in 1966 the Restaurant Association was right there demanding to codify their subsidy.

After successfully keeping the sub minimum wage for tipped employees fixed at $2.13 an hour for 27 years, restaurants and the Restaurant Association realized it was so low that they often had to pay $7.25 an hour just to get dining room help. That made the tip credit useless and their subsidy ended. That’s why Mr. Woo became a test case to demand expanding tip pooling to non tipped employees and restore their subsidy.

Once more Trump showed us who he is by joining corporate America to help them cheat tipped employees.

I will keep an eye on future legal developments and update them here. Or you can do it yourself. Docket files at the Supreme Court are No. 16-920, the Writ was docketed on January 24, 2017 No. 16A529

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Teacher Strike in Oklahoma

The Teacher Strike in Oklahoma

Public school teachers have left the classroom and taken to the streets, finally. It should be obvious to all in West Virginia and now Oklahoma the legislatures there and around the country will do nothing without a strike. Several newspapers including the Washington Post have reported the wages for Oklahoma Teachers rank 49 among the 50 states. I expect the rankings they quote come from published pay schedules with ranks and steps. Usually ranks differ for BA degree holders and for MA and ED.D degree holders, while steps differ by years of service with satisfactory or better performance reviews.

However the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes an annual Occupational Employment Survey with the latest wage data just released this March 30. In their survey they take a large sample of wages for people employed doing one occupation among more than 800 occupational titles defined in their Standard Occupational Classification (SOC). For example, Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education have a reported median wage in Oklahoma of $40,090. The median figure means half of Oklahoma secondary school teachers earn less than $40,090; half more.

From year to year the median could go up because the state legislature approves money for an increase in the pay scale, both rank and steps. Or, it could go down because older people at higher ranks and steps leave teaching and their replacements are younger and newer teachers who enter at step 1. In Oklahoma the total of elementary, middle and high school teachers dropped by 440 from 2016 to 2017. Whatever the cause the $40,090 median wage reported for 2017 puts Oklahoma secondary teachers dead last in pay among the fifty states plus DC and Puerto Rico.

The wage for Secondary teachers in Oklahoma has been dead last since 2015 when the median wage was $41,280. Notice the wage went down from 2015 to 2017, which tells us the experienced, older teachers are leaving teaching while younger less experienced and therefore lower paid replacements are taking over.

The inflation adjusted loss of buying power for secondary teachers comes to 6.04 percent from 2015 to 2017. If we compute the inflation adjusted buying power from 2008 to 2017 the loss is 11.03 percent. The $40,090 looks especially low when 39 states have median wages for secondary teachers above $50,000, 18 above $60,000 and 6 above $70,000.

Moving on to elementary teachers finds much the same thing. The median wage for elementary teachers in 2015 was $39,270. It dropped in 2016 and again in 2017 to $38,420, a loss of inflation adjusted buying power of 5.35 percent in just two years and a 12.6 percent drop since 2008. There are 32 states that pay their 2017 elementary school teachers a median wage above $50,000

The wage for middle school teachers in Oklahoma in 2015 was $40,720. It dropped in 2016 and again in 2017 to $40,080, a loss of buying power of 4.77 percent in just two years and a 7.69 percent drop since 2008. There are 36 states that pay their 2017 middle school teachers a median wage above $50,000

On April 3, 2018 the Washington Post reported “Educators, students have seen some of the deepest reductions in the nation.” Picketing teachers had more to complain about than low salaries. Four day school weeks; old, out of date and battered textbooks; ten year old and out of date computers; leaky roofs, drafty windows, balky heating. The next day’s Washington Post quoted Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin taunting teachers with “Teachers want more but it’s kind of like having a teenage kid that wants a better car.” Apparently red baiting protesting picketers as communists is out of date. She told CBS correspondent Omar Villafranca she doubted the teacher walkout could be a homegrown movement; their must be fascists she decided.

The strike says lots about labor relations. Private sector employees can strike if their no strike contract has expired, but even then they can be immediately and legally replace with scabs. Public sector employees seldom, if ever, have the legal right to strike. We can expect that union hating and union baiting governor Fallin would have them in court seeking an injunction and hefty fines for their union if she could break the strike.

Few strikes could be more visible and disruptive than a statewide teacher strike. Oklahoma had 48,820 employed as preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers in 2017. California has 422,200. Texas has 415.920. Even little Maine has 19,150. Rarely do strikes have such a large block of professionals where those on strike have BA or MA degree skills and statewide certification. Rarely would it be necessary for management to pay much higher salaries to find strike replacements, and have to find them out of state. Rarely can strikes shut down operations for weeks or months if necessary.

The rich and the well to do are so determined to get themselves property tax vouchers to pay their private school tuition they work hard to ruin the public schools they ridicule as low class failures. Oklahoma teachers have the economic power to fight back and win their strike; lets hope they have the solidarity to do it.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Immigration and Right Wingers like Laura Ingraham

Immigration and Right Wingers like Laura Ingraham

In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post [April 5, 2018] Elizabeth Bruenig, comments on Fox News and Laura Ingraham: who gets an economics lesson. Ms. Ingraham taunted and ridiculed David Hogg of Parkland High School. He responded by calling for Ingraham’s advertisers to boycott her show. Bayer, Wayfair, Nestle, Hulu, Johnson & Johnson and others did so. The right wingers suddenly worry that boycotts are unfair and threaten their free speech. They also sound surprised as though their doctrine must be the same as corporate America.

Bruenig calls the advertising boycott a capital strike with a reminder that capital does what brings profits, not what’s right wing, left wing or ethically defensible. She cautions “There are no regulations or laws preventing or even restricting capital strikes.”

It is important to remember that profit, or just greed, drive corporate America and the Ingraham example does a good job illustrating the division of capital from the right wingers, but there is a better example, immigration.

Corporate America wants cheap labor and that means every immigrant they can get, skilled or unskilled, documented or undocumented. I don’t believe any other issue better illustrates the divide between capital and right wing politics. Except for the H1-B program, capital keep their immigration demands out of the news and public view and lets Fox News and Trump lead the dehumanizing bigotry parade.

Trump and the Republican Party need people like Ingraham and Fox News to keep the hate vote, now the Trump base, voting while knowing they will vote for the Republican that most reflects their hatred for immigrants. To keep the Democrats out of office and away from labor reform and income inequality, capital wants Republicans, while ignoring the divide over immigration. They remain non-committal or silent and take no responsibility for civility in the larger society. For some of us leadership comes from people who have the wealth and political power to do the right thing for the largest possible social order. Trump and the Republicans will never do that. Corporate America could do the right thing, but like Ms. Bruenig says “Capital is capital: it is not your friend.”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Debt Crisis at our Doorstep

The Debt Crisis at our Doorstep

In an op-ed piece of March 28, 2018 [The Debt Crisis at our Doorstep] the Washington Post published an opinion signed by five senior fellows and economists from the Hoover Institution. The worry, correctly, that 2018 federal spending will be billions and billions more than the taxes that can be collected now that the Republican Congress made steep cuts to corporate and personal income taxes. The need to borrow to make up the losses will certainly raise interest rates as they predict. Sharply higher interest rates will bring us a recession.

Then they tell us “Congress must reform and restrain the growth of entitlement programs and adopt further pro-growth tax and regulatory policies.” They ignore that Obama, and Clinton before him, delivered well performing, stable economies to the Republicans that included a responsible balance of taxing and spending in both 2001 and 2017. They ignore that America has deficits because the rich won’t pay taxes or take responsibility for the larger society. They ignore that Republicans conducted a two-year 2008-2010 depression when their gamble on Collateralized Debt Obligations failed. Now they’re poised to do it again.

Appropriate taxation can solve America’s deficit problems; piling on policies promoting yet more income inequality will not. I remind the five Hooverites - Michael J Boskin, John F. Cogan, George P. Shultz and John B Taylor – millions of households live exclusively on the Social Security benefits and millions of others get by with low interest credit cards and help from government programs that supplement their life on low wages and long hours. No such “entitlements” were in place during the great depression of the 1930’s. Maybe they’d like to do that again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Trump and his Foolish Tariffs

Trump and his Foolish Tariffs

The United States economy has fully adjusted to forty plus years of continuous negotiations to decrease tariffs. To announce a draconian increase in steel tariffs and a slightly less draconian increase in aluminum tariffs on a Thursday afternoon will do nothing good for jobs or the economy. Corporate America supported lower tariffs all these years, and NAFTA trade agreements, knowing higher tariffs bring retaliation and a decrease in production and trade for everyone.

That’s a generic conclusion, but to see how foolish it really is for jobs compare establishment jobs at Iron and Steel Mills and Aluminum Production to jobs making finished or semi finished steel and aluminum products from purchased steel and aluminum. Iron and steel mills had an average monthly employment of 82.5 thousand jobs in 2017, down from 134.6 thousand jobs in 2000. Aluminum Production establishments had an average monthly employment of 57.5 thousand jobs in 2017, down from 99.9 thousand in 2000.

Fabricated metal product manufacturing companies that use steel in their production had an average monthly job total of 1.431 million in 2017. These are jobs making cutlery, hand tools, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, fabricated structural products like steel joists, ornamental and architectural products like metal window and doors, boiler, tank and shipping containers, steel and aluminum cans, hardware manufacturing, spring and wire product manufacturing, screw, nut and bolt manufacturing and on and on.

Add another 1.079 million machinery manufacturing jobs where companies buy steel to make finished products. These are jobs producing agriculture, construction, mining machinery, industrial, commercial and service industry machinery, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, engine, turbine and power transmission equipment and on and on.

So far we are protecting 140 thousand jobs (82.5+57.5) with tariffs while steeply raising prices for steel inputs to companies that have 2.51 million jobs (1.431+1.079). And I have not mentioned jobs in automobile manufacturing or transportation equipment. Eliminating foreign competition in basic steel and aluminum will raise prices, cut production and sales and jeopardize jobs producing products with 18 times more jobs than steel and aluminum (2.51/.140).

Since the end of the recession in 2010 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a modest recovery of manufacturing jobs, although the current total remains a million jobs below the pre-recession high of 13.4 million in 2008. Since the recession ended 8 years ago in 2010 manufacturing jobs are up a monthly average of 916.2 thousand. However, the increase disguises an unbalanced manufacturing recovery because some sub sectors like textile production, apparel, paper and printing have lost jobs. However, the increase in fabricated metal products and machinery manufacturing is up 233.5 thousand of the 916.2 thousand jobs, or 25.5 percent of the total increase. If I add just the automobile manufacturing from transportation equipment manufacturing, an increase of 274 thousand jobs, then 55.4 percent of the manufacturing total increase comes in products dependent on steel as a major input in production.

The U.S. economy desperately needs manufacturing employment. Foolish might be too nice a term for the latest Trumpism. How about idiotic? Moronic?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Delivering Groceries

Delivering Groceries – Another low wage job

Most of us drive a mile or two for our weekly trip to the grocery store, but more and more stores have started offering pick-up and delivery services. In a recent piece in the Washington Post [“Amazon offers free Whole Foods delivery to Prime Members in 4 U.S. Cities” WP, February 9, 2018] author Abha Bhattarai quotes a supermarket analyst David Livingston: “Nearly every chain that plans on being in business in five years is moving to delivery.”

Bhattarai cites some of the challenges. “Grocery stores aren’t warehouses, so it often takes reconfiguring to efficiently find and package fresh food for delivery. And then there’s the issue of keeping cold items cold and frozen foods frozen.” The where and how of a delivery system continues to be a subject for experimenting, but everyone agrees delivery is a pricey business.

The growing use of grocery delivery services reflects the growing disparity of profits and wages. The well to do already support services that suggest growth of discretionary income as part of a growing suburban affluence. Jobs at golf and country clubs have a growth rate more than double the national rate as do recreational sports centers, nail salons, pet care services and landscaping services; perhaps jobs as delivery drivers at grocery stores will be provide some more replacement jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 426.3 thousand jobs as delivery drivers in 2016, their latest occupational total. The total is up from the year 2000 when 373.7 thousand worked as delivery drivers, an average increase of 3,291 a year at an annual rate of growth of .83 percent. A little over 41 percent of delivery drivers work in wholesale or retail trade, although more work at pharmacies than grocery stores.

The median wage for delivery drivers in 2016 was $10.98 an hour or $22,830 a year. Like so many jobs though the wage has not kept up with inflation. To keep up with rising prices the 2000 median wage of $20,360 would need to be $28,377.61 in 2016 just to have the same buying power. Instead it was $22,830, a 19.55 percent loss of real wages.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the 2016 median wage for delivery drivers of $10.98 is only $.05 cents an hour higher than it was in 2009 when it was $10.93 an hour even though employment is going up. To keep up with rising prices the 2009 median wage would need to be $25,451.56 in 2016 just to maintain buying power. Instead $22,740 is a 10.3 percent loss of real wages over the eight years.

If the median wage for delivery drivers kept up with inflation for the last nine years it would hardly a living wage. Grocery delivery reflects opportunities in a country like the United States with extreme income and wealth inequality that creates low wage and low skill jobs providing personal services to the rich. It’s not the working of free markets; it’s a deliberate policy of Trump and Congress.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Labor Under Fire

Timothy J. Minchin, Labor Under Fire: A History of the AFL-CIO Since 1979, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 314 pages

In his new book Labor Under Fire author Timothy Minchin tells readers he intends to provide “the first general history of the AFL-CIO in the turbulent era after Meany’s retirement, a time when the Federation operated in a hostile political and economic climate.” George Meany retired in 1979 after 24 years as the first and only President of the AFL-CIO; Lane Kirkland took over as president in November 1979.

After an introductory section, ten chapters and a brief epilogue follow. The opening chapter provides a review of the 1955-1979 Meany era, which readers will find stands in stark contrast to the nine chapters that cover the years after 1979.

The Meany era review recounts the details of the 1955 merger, the Meany feud with Walter Reuther, his stand on corruption and the Teamsters, his anti-Communist views and support for the Vietnam war. Those around him called him “tough as nails” except as Minchin notes he served as political schmoozer and chief lobbyist for the “People’s Lobby.” He showed little interest in organizing.

Lane Kirkland took over as AFL-CIO president a little over half way into the Carter administration. The Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, which made the Carter years, years of opportunity. Carter remained friendly and accessible to labor but did next to nothing to help. Meany and then Kirkland pushed to correct the serious defects in the National Labor Relations Act, but it was a lost opportunity that Carter did not care about or perhaps understand.

Minchin does not dwell on Carter, but moves on to the Reagan election and the expected difficulties of a Reagan administration. The second chapter gives details of the decision and planning for Labor Solidarity Day on the National Mall, September 19, 1981. Chapter 3 goes through the details of the day and assessment of its significance with commentary by many of those who planned and took part in it. These chapters include the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike and its significance in the 1980’s decline in labor relations. Minchin mentions all of the major strikes of the era – Phelps-Dodge, Hormel, Pittston Coal, International Paper.

The next two chapters continue with the Reagan years and Kirkland’s efforts to unify the labor movement in constructive resistance to the Reagan onslaught. Minchin narrates Executive Council meetings and such topics as the need to involve more women and minorities in top level positions, and the early debate over organizing effort.

In the fifth chapter Minchin writes “Throughout Reagan’s second term, there was little good news for labor.” Actually the Reagan first term did not go too well either. He appointed people hostile to labor such as important posts on the National Labor Relations Board and the Secretary of Labor.

George H. W. Bush won the 1988 presidential election. By now a majority of the labor vote returned to the Democratic Party but not enough to get Michael Dukakis in office. Kirkland found the Bush Administration “a little more civilized than Reagan’s.” He made Elizabeth Dole Secretary of Labor and she intervened to mediate the Pittston Coal strike, but Bush could not bring himself to support an increase in the minimum wage and he started the ball rolling on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Business in the 1980’s more fully exploited their ability to fire and replace strikers and so Kirkland and the Executive Council pushed an “Anti-Striker Replacement Act, but it did not pass.

Democrat Bill Clinton entered the White House in January 1993. The next three chapters narrate organized labor in the eight Clinton years, years of hope and Democratic fumbling. Clinton had majority control of Congress with 57 Democrats in the Senate to start his presidency and like Carter before him failed to help labor in significant ways, which Minchin narrates in considerable detail. Clinton did not get a complicated hard to sell Health Care Bill passed; took the business side to pass George Bush’s NAFTA law over strong labor objections; failed another try to pass a Striker Replacement Bill. I have always thought of Bill Clinton as a smart, well educated and well meaning politician, except he wanted to be accepted in the social circles of the rich and privileged people he desperately needed to regulate.

The Democrats lost the House of Representatives to the Newt Gingrich Republicans in 1994, which brought internal incrimination and fighting into AFL-CIO politics. Minchin devotes most of Chapter 8 to the pressures on Lane Kirkland and contentious debate over organizing and the need for change. John Sweeney was the leader of the opposition who won a divisive election to be AFL-CIO president October 25, 1995. Minchin narrates the twists and turns of a hard fought and divisive campaign.

Sweeney brought optimism to the last years of the Clinton Administration and worked to use AFL-CIO resources in the interests of the working class. A big increase in organizing efforts in service industries helped stem the tide of loss in manufacturing, but business fought unions as hard as ever. George W. Bush took the 2000 election, even though AFL-CIO efforts turned out a large labor vote. The Supreme Court interference and failure to count the Florida vote made the loss tougher. Minchin quotes chief of staff Bob Welsh “We never met with Bush. I mean he was on another planet.”

Bush got a political boost of popularity from the events of 9/11 and like the Reagan administration made important appointments of people hostile to labor who showed little respect for law much less labor. The disappointments brought more divisions in the labor movement. In 2005 Andy Stern formed an opposition group “Change to Win” that diverted Sweeney efforts, which are covered in detail.

Sweeney retired in 2009 and former United Mine Workers president and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer, Richard Trumka, took over without a challenger. Minchin compiles and narrates many insider opinions to evaluate the Sweeney era before going into the early years of Trumka as AFL-CIO president.

The final pages of the book narrate Trumka changes and the first Obama election where the AFL-CIO played a major role in his election to over racial hesitations. Trumka provided AFL-CIO support to the “Occupy Wall Street” protest and pressed for labor law reform and national health care. Obama had two years with both houses of Congress, enough to get health care reform through the Congress, but not much else. The relentless attack on labor continues without relief. The book ends in Obama’s second term and with Richard Trumka fighting for the labor agenda.

Early in the book Minchin quotes a retired AFL-CIO staff. “The AFL-CIO has always had to fight. We’ve always had to defend.” Labor Under Fire captures that sad dilemma. The book keeps a tight focus on the AFL-CIO as promised. It is well organized, the writing flows easily in narrative fashion and without “academize.” One clear advantage comes by using many quotations from news commentary, AFL-CIO proceedings and notes, and from interviews. Minchin lets the actions, impressions and opinions of participants carry the story, a decided advantage in my view. Readers get a good feel for the skills and character - advantages - disadvantages - of the major figures from organized labor in the era: Lane Kirkland, Tom Donahue, John Sweeney, Andy Stern, Richard Trumka. Numbered footnotes document sources followed by a thorough bibliography.

Minchin effects a gently positive tone for an era with troubling years of labor decline. I did not feel much optimism, but there is respect for labor and labor leaders and the troubles they are forced to confront. Inequality continues to get worse as labor continues to flounder, but in Labor Under Fire there is still hope.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Immigration or Stagnation

Immigration or Stagnation

In a recent Washington Post editorial [Immigration or Stagnation, Washington Post, 1-29-18] Fred Hiatt asserts Republicans can be pro-growth or anti-immigration, but not both. Growth, then, needs immigrants, which is why he thinks “we should remain open to immigration.”

In his discussion Hiatt offers four “big, complicated” rhetorical questions about immigration. One is “How much effort should be devoted to tracking down the undocumented, and how much to punishing companies that hire them?” However, I do not believe those millions of undocumented immigrants came to the U.S. for the beautiful view. They came here for a job and so I would like for Mr. Hiatt to cite one case of a U.S. employer charged, prosecuted and convicted of hiring an undocumented alien. May be there are two, or ten or a hundred stacked up against 11 million undocumented immigrants? Does ICE investigate Corporate America?

While I happen to agree with Mr. Hiatt that immigrants have contributed to economic growth, favoring growth would not normally be an immigration issue. Business demands cheap immigrant labor that works for a pittance, and they do not mind them having no legal or voting rights.

Corporate America also knows the Republican Party needs the votes of the hate peddling bigots who want to deport them all. Well, if Republicans cannot be pro-growth and anti-immigration, neither can they be anti--immigration and ethical citizens favoring equality of rights while remaining silent. Corporate America could be pro-immigration and be ethical citizens but so far they let their toadies in Congress and Trump feed the bigotry and look the other way.

Friday, January 26, 2018

America had nothing for me

America had nothing for me

Mexico City, January 26, 2018 --- Ariel Rodriguez tells the Washington Post that he and his family are now home in Mexico City. He finished a B.A. Degree after 10 years working and studying in the United States. He spoke of Trump and his “negative rhetoric about undocumented people” and enforcement agents, sometimes separating children who were full US citizens from parents.” … “I was reminded daily that I did not belong – reminded by the news, reminded by Trump supporters chanting about the wall, reminded by the president himself. … “The way I see it, this loss is mutual: I lost the chance to have a life in America. America has lost the chance to have me.”

Lawrence, Massachusetts, February 17, 1912 --- Italian textile mill worker Arturo Massavi told a reporter today he is leaving the United States to return home to Italy. “We were urged to come here by posters spread throughout Italy by the American Woolen Company, describing how mill owners will treat us like their own children. … We were treated like dogs. Our Italy is bad but your country’s textile mills are worse.”

You figure it out!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Fight the Gas Tax

Fight the Gas Tax

The Chamber of Commerce announced last week that it wants to have an additional $.25 a gallon gas tax to fund “infra structure” projects. This comes almost immediately after the same Chamber of Commerce and its corporate members and promoters engineered giant multi-billion dollar corporate tax cuts and more multi-billion dollar personal income tax cuts. Both changes deliberately intend to transfer billions of dollars to the rich who earn their income with dividends and capital gains rather than wages.

A $.25 a gallon tax is steeply regressive and guarantees those with modest wage income will pay a higher percentage of their income in gas tax than the rich with their bloated incomes and new lower tax rates. It punishes and penalizes the working class who get to work driving and rarely have alternatives in public transportation. It further lines the pockets of contractors to pour cement with profits from cost plus work awarded by an indulgent Congress.

It is especially depressing coming as it does immediately after billions of dollars of favors already bestowed on the rich in a lopsided economy already burdened with a crude income inequality. It suggests there is no limit to how far, or how often, the privileged rich will to push the working class into a lower economic status.

I think of Republicans as no more than a band of pickpockets.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Fast-food and the Risk to Jobs

Fast-food and the Risk to Jobs

A recent Washington Post article [Caitlin Dewey, “For fast-food franchises, price cuts hard to digest” WP 12-29-17] describes the problems corporate franchisers like Subway and McDonalds cause their franchise holders by declaring promotional discounts on key parts of their menu. Discounts please the board of directors who want more revenue but squeeze the profits out of franchisees that face rising costs.

From 2015 to 2016 jobs at food services and drinking places increased by 367.9 thousand jobs as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Full service restaurants and fast food restaurants had a combined 309 thousand new jobs, which were split almost evenly between them. Except for a slight pause during the 2008-2010 recession these jobs have increased every year since 1990. Full service restaurants have 5.4 million jobs; limited service fast food 4.3 million jobs. That would be consistent with the article’s citation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture data reporting 18 thousand new fast food restaurants between 2009 and 2014.

There was no mention of the risk to the economy if restaurant and fast food expansion comes to a halt. Those 367.9 thousand new jobs I mentioned above make up just under 15 percent of the country’s new jobs for the year.

The fast-food industry fusses about wage costs going up over the last ten years, 2006-2016, and higher minimum wages in 29 states, but occupational employment survey data shows modest increases. The hourly median wage for fast food cooks (#35-2011) over the same 10 year period increased from $7.41 to $9.55 and hour. If the 2006 wage of $7.41 increased at exactly the rate of inflation until 2016 it would be $8.82 an hour instead of $9.55. Fast food cooks got an annual average of 2.57 percent increase in wages when the inflation rate was 1.76 percent a year. The modest increase in buying power from 2006 to 2016 applies to the median wage, which may not be the starting wage in an industry with a high turnover rate.

Looking at the state files I find only one state, Washington, with a median wage for fast food cooks more than $12 an hour, which represents 1 percent of national employment of fast food cooks.

Three states Hawaii, Massachusetts and North Dakota have a median wage for fast food cooks more than $11 an hour and less than $12 and hour, which represents 2.1 percent of fast food cooks.

Five states with Alaska, California, DC, Oregon and Vermont have a median wage for fast food cooks more than $10 an hour and less than $11. California has 19.8 percent of nationwide fast food cooks with a median wage of $10.54 an hour.

Twenty-five states pay more than $9 and less than $10, which is 40.8 percent of nationwide jobs for fast food cooks; the remaining 17 states pay less than $9 an hour, which is 31.4 percent of the national jobs for fast food cooks.

The WP article reports that year over year sales at fast food restaurants and fast-casual chains have fallen dramatically over the past two years, suggesting saturation levels of new chains and franchisees. Rather than have price cutting promotions they might consider raising prices. Remember price cuts can only increase revenue if sales increase by a larger percentage than the price decrease, no guarantee in market filled with new competition.

During the ten years from 2006 to 2016 the number of fast food cooks declined from 612 thousand to 513 thousand in 2016, helping to increase the surplus of labor for low wage jobs. The news media likes to report on job growth and lately about a shortage of jobs without mention that so many new jobs have low wages, especially in fast food. The fast food industry could change that given those higher wages franchisees now have to pay. Instead of helping to contribute new jobs in low wage occupations, the fast food industry may not generate new jobs at all.