(This reposted Harold Meyerson blog originally appeared in slightly different form on American Prospect. )
In 1938, Congress passed, and FDR signed into law, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the first federal minimum wage and overtime protections. And that, to the extent that most Americans think about the minimum wage, was that. To be sure, Congress occasionally raises the minimum wage (though they’ve got a long way to go to make it a living wage), but the national law, covering all workers, has long since been established, right?
In fact, the 1938 law only passed when Roosevelt and congressional liberals agreed to exclude some categories of workers—categories that included many millions of people—from its coverage in order to win the votes of the Southern Democrats they needed to pass it. So agricultural workers (by which Southern Democrats meant,
At a time when legislators, consumer advocates and the Occupy movement batter big banks for their questionable business practices, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America have gone soft and fuzzy. The nation’s two largest banks are running saccharine television commercials that portray the massive multinationals as the Bailey Building and Loan Association.
Bank of America recently rolled out its “Opportunity” campaign to highlight the company’s nationwide bid to lend a hand—i.e., money— to small businesses. (Ironically, It’s A Wonderful Life director Frank Capra modeled the Bailey’s bank on BoA.)
In Brooklyn, tenants of a green affordable housing project partly funded by BoA gush over their sleek new apartments, replete with AC and electric keys. “No one can pick the lock,” notes a tenant in a web version of the ad.
As a resident of Lincoln Heights, I’ve always been able to use public transportation to get around. I live in what you could call a “low-income transit village.” Most of the major bus lines that connect our region are within walking distance of my home. Bus lines like the 45 and 81 provide me access to South L.A. to visit friends, while the 84 and 251 connect me to my family in East and Southeast L.A. This is on top of the Gold line and all the destinations it opens up for me.
Unfortunately, easy access to public transportation is not available to many Angelenos. This is far more than an inconvenience, because often the communities that lack bus and rail options also suffer from high poverty and unemployment rates. For those fortunate enough to have a job, driving in many cases is not an affordable means to get around,
Once again the holidays are upon us and, like everyone else, I’m running around, from one party to the next. It’s a chance to catch up with folks I haven’t seen in ages or have been meaning to see for ages. It’s also a time of numerous fundraisers. Which means I don’t have to shop.
Really? Aren’t we all supposed to be consuming to keep the economy humming? Or at least idling? So they say. I was supposed to go out and shop after 9-11 too. I didn’t take the capitalists’ advice then and I’m not taking it now. Not totally, that is. Because I do spend a ton of money during the holidays. But I spend most of my hard-earned cash on drinks and food, which I would argue feeds the local economy, and that’s more important to me in our current tough times.
Part Two of a two-part interview
I spoke with DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, before he and the association were given LAANE’s City of Justice Award at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on December 8. The first half of the interview ran yesterday in the Frying Pan.
Caroline O’Connor: Do you feel that the NFL owners had an agenda to bust the players’ union?
DeMaurice Smith: I made it perfectly clear to our players that the existence of our union was what was at stake. I believed that the day I took the job. It was important for our players to understand that this was not just a contract negotiation.
CO: It appears that there was a lot of real solidarity among the star players and all of the players. How was that achieved?
Black Friday may be a distant memory already, but as we head deeper into the holiday shopping season, there are some important lessons to be learned about the psychology of marketing and the real cost of bargain hunting.
Here’s a cautionary tale from my own life: One year on the day after Thanksgiving, my uncle, a tech geek, woke my brother and me up at an ungodly hour to get to Fry’s Electronics by 5 a.m. The doors opened at 7 a.m. Despite us ending dinner early, waking up before the crack of dawn and standing around in the dark for hours, most of the deals had already been whisked off the shelves by the time we got in the door. We wandered around a store so crowded it bordered on unsafe before finally buying some gadgets just to feel like we hadn’t wasted our time.
This year, as the recession continues,
Part One of a two-part interview
I stole DeMaurice Smith. That is, I grabbed 20 minutes with the executive director of the NFL Players Association, between poses in front of the step-and-repeat and shaking hands with enthusiastic dinner guests. Smith and the association were honorees at the December 8, LAANE City of Justice Awards Dinner, along with Culture Clash and the main guest of honor, Madeline Janis, at the Beverly Hilton. Later, Smith gave a rousing speech to a packed ballroom without looking at a single note. Just sayin’.
I wanted to know more about the guy I saw on TV during the first half of 2011 who brought all of the football players into a huddle — not to call out plays on the field, but to talk organizing strategy and give pep talks on contract negotiations.
Here’s an issue custom made for the Occupy movement: the billions of dollars spent every year by local and state government on tax breaks and subsidies meant to attract businesses. Occupiers outraged about bank bailouts should check out the new study, Money for Something, by Good Jobs First, which finds that government largesse often comes with no strings attached in terms of job creation or job quality.
The report seems to have struck a chord with a newly responsive press, which has been given license by the Occupy movement to, however belatedly, shine a spotlight on the myriad ways in which corporate America has rigged our political system to their advantage. Check out the excellent New York Times piece on this important expose.
T’is the season of the full mailbox. Every day when I pick up our mail, the box is stuffed with requests for donations. My wife Susan and I get them from everyone – from CARE to the Salvation Army to cancer research to the Red Cross. We get them just like you do because this is the time of year when people think about giving to others – and tax deductions only count if you make that donation before December 31.
Poring over some demographic materials a few years back, I realized that Susan and I are among the top three percent of givers in Southern California. I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could a low-paid Methodist minister give away enough money each year to be in the upper echelon of generosity? Especially with all the wealth in Los Angeles.
Turns out, it wasn’t hard at all. We practice the ancient religious tradition of tithing – we give away 10% of our income.
(Editor’s note: This letter first appeared on cleanandsafeports.org, coinciding with yesterday’s protests organized by the Occupy movement at ports up and down the West Coast.)
We are the front-line workers who haul container rigs full of imported and exported goods to and from the docks and warehouses every day.
We have been elected by committees of our co-workers at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York and New Jersey to tell our collective story. We have accepted the honor to speak up for our brothers and sisters about our working conditions despite the risk of retaliation we face. One of us is a mother, the rest of us fathers. Between the five of us we have 11children and one more baby on the way. We have a combined 46 years of experience driving cargo from our shores for America’s stores.
For some time Merle Haggard’s lyrics about vanishing jobs and workmanship have seemed more like a lament than the pep talk they were intended to be:
I wish a Ford and a Chevy
Would still last 10 years
Like they should . . .
When a man could still work, still would.
And are the good times really over for good?
Even with some signs that industry is making a timid return to America, organized labor is struggling to influence political events. The Frying Pan spoke about this on December 8 with UNITE HERE president John Wilhelm, shortly before he introduced honoree DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Association, at LAANE’s City of Justice Awards Dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Wilhelm, whose union represents hospitality workers across North America,
The Australian woman with the large framed glasses signaled me to come over to her table, where her husband and she were having a difficult time understanding the check. It’s a conversation I’ve had many times with our overseas guests at the RH restaurant inside the Andaz Hyatt Hotel on Sunset, where I work as a waiter.
“No, Ma’am, a server’s gratuity is not included in the check.” I told her.
She looked at her husband and blushed. They had been at the Andaz for a week. They had eaten in the restaurant at night a handful of times, but they hadn’t tipped their servers anything. They were embarrassed. I was embarrassed. It’s an odd thing to guide someone on how to pay you.
Of course as an employee, I’m never allowed to tell a customer what to tip. That is an offense that I would likely get fired or disciplined for,
Criticized for focusing more on what it is against than what it is for, the Occupy Wall Street movement has now found an organizing issue it can embrace. Perhaps because so many Occupiers have recently been evicted from their encampments in cities across the country, they have found common cause with the growing number of American families facing foreclosure. Last week, after the Los Angeles Police Department evicted Occupy LA from the park outside City Hall, Mario Brito, one of the group’s lead organizers, said that the movement’s activists would begin to set up occupations at the homes and country clubs of major bank executives reside and to work with other groups to protest the growing wave of foreclosures.
More and more homeowners facing wrongful foreclosure evictions are taking a bold stand by resisting banks’ unfair actions. They are deciding to stay in their homes and fight. When the banks or sheriffs come knocking on their doors,
(This post by the California Labor Federation’s Steve Smith first appeared at Labor’s Edge.)
A new report released today by the AFL-CIO shows that more than 305,000 Californians will lose their unemployment benefits on December 31 if Congress fails to act to extend unemployment insurance.
Electrician Alexander Stewart, who has been out of work since July 2010 and will lose benefits if Congress fails to act by the end of the year:
We elect Congress to look out for the interests of everyday people. It’s appalling that elected officials would let petty politics stand in the way of extending unemployment insurance, the only thing keeping my family and so many others afloat in these tough times.
In California as well as across the country, jobless workers and their communities will be holding actions Thursday to call attention to the ongoing jobs crisis and to urge Congress to take immediate action to extend unemployment benefits.
More than one million Americans work at Walmart. I am one of them. I started at the Mount Vernon, Wash., store in November of 1999 as a sales associate in sporting goods and worked my way up to an assistant manager. After a couple of years I no longer had any pride in my job. I felt like I was treating people like property instead of employees. Now I work as a sales floor associate and a front-end cashier.
Many of my co-workers became homeless because they had their hours cut. Many associates are living in poverty and are afraid to speak out and ask for more hours. They fear retaliation.
You’ve heard that story before. But here’s something new. I have joined the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, OUR Walmart for short. It is a new organization of former and current Walmart associates who are coming together to get respect at work from one of the nation’s largest employers.
What is the trucking industry response to claims that port drivers are actually employees who have been stripped of their basic rights by trucking companies? Robert Digges, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, tripped on his own tongue on a CBS national news segment when he tried protesting the idea that trucking companies are cheating workers – and it’s getting picked up on blogs like the Daily Kos.
“They (trucking companies) believe they get a more productive employee – excuse me a more effective worker – a worker who is efficient, who has some skin in the game.”
So, the industry that dismantled the Los Angeles Clean Truck Program finally lets the truth slip: port truck drivers are actually employees who have had their rights stripped from them by greedy port trucking companies seeking to pad their bottom line.
“As long as we are independent contractors (the company) doesn’t have to cover benefits,
As Janet Heinritz-Canterbury of the California Alliance for Retired Americans explains it, retirement in America has historically rested on a three-legged stool – the pension from your job, income from your own investments and assets, and Social Security.
But where are most Americans today in their ability to even contemplate retirement? Most of us no longer get pensions from our jobs; what investments we may have are losing money while home prices have declined; and now some members of Congress and possibly President Obama are out to substantially lower Social Security benefits.
According to the American Association of Retired People (AARP), a frightening 35 percent of Americans over 65 currently rely only on Social Security (an average person gets benefits of $14,000/year) to survive. On January First of this year and continuing for the next 19 years, an additional 10,000 people A DAY will be turning 65.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without basketball. So goes the thinking in the NBA, as the players and owners reached agreement over the holiday weekend on a new six-year deal that will give us a shortened, 66-game season and the all-important marquee games on Christmas Day.
For all the discussion of the issues the past few months, writers have been quick to move from analysis of Basketball Related Income to breaking down the 2011 (barely)-2012 season. In part, that’s because all the details aren’t in, but here are a few links for your reading pleasure.
First up is a memo from National Basketball Players Association head Billy Hunter explaining the deal. Take the cheerleading with a grain of salt, of course, since Hunter’s been under fire and needs to tell players what they won after giving up some paychecks. (This is what everyone says,
“It’s not brain surgery.”
My cousin’s husband, Keith, says this to me a lot. He says it whenever he’s giving me complicated instructions on how to tackle some grueling home-repair process, usually one involving multiple steps and materials and equipment I’ve never heard of. And at that point I always picture myself standing over some inert patient on a gurney, bone saw in hand, wondering if I should go ahead and cut into their skull or wait for a trained professional, because as far as I’m concerned what he’s describing might as well be brain surgery, it sounds that difficult.
But for Keith it’s really not difficult. He’s done this kind of thing for years. He worked in residential construction for more than a decade and has remodeled every house he’s ever owned, generally more than once. He takes his own expertise and know-how completely for granted,
Fun fact: L.A. leads the nation in jobs—just the kind that most people don’t think of as jobs. We’re the national leader in “nonemployers:” entities relying on independent contractors rather than employees. As economist Jack Kyser explained in 2006, “a lot of people want to have a business but don’t want the headaches of actually having to employ people.” The Times cited Kyser in explaining that “businesses become nonemployers to avoid the costs of workers’ compensation, paid leave, health insurance and state taxes.”
In many cases this sort of practice is, not to put too fine a word on it, illegal. Starting in just a few weeks, though, the state has a powerful new tool to deal with these lawbreakers. SB 459 goes into effect on January 1, 2012, and it levies large fines against employers who willfully misclassify workers as independent contractors to avoid their legal and tax responsibilities.