Along Came a Snyder: Clocking Out

As Michigan’s fair-share contract ban takes effect, union members worry about their local–and about the future of labor.

AFL-CIO President Trumka: “We’re going to open up our arms to people who want to join our movement. Instead of saying…‘That’s your issue and this is my issue,’ they’re going to be our issues, and we’re going to work together.”

Surprise! Our economy is extremely good at generating corporate profits, not much good at helping the rest of us.

New Hampshire state House defeats an effort to block Medicaid expansion–and the radical former Speaker behind the effort is planning to run for U.S. Congress.

If all the states intending to reject Medicaid expansion do so, it could cost 284,000 veterans their coverage.

Right-wing thinks tanks making their mark on state policy–to our detriment.

Mississippi woman fired for being homeless.

Walmart suffering from its relentless effort to keep employee payrolls down.

Kasich’s budget cuts could put more than 300 Cincinnati city employees–including police officers and firefighters–out of work.

President Obama creates commission to reform elections.

It’s the perfect time to upgrade our infrastructure.

Study: State Tax Cuts Don’t Spur Economic Growth

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) shows states that cut tax rates do worse in terms of economic growth than other states.  Numerous Republican governors have pushed for tax cuts under the premise that lower tax rates lead to greater economic growth, but the CBPP study concludes that this premise is wrong.

The five states that implemented deep tax cuts during the 1990s experienced slower job growth over the next economic cycle than states that did not, and none of those states experienced income growth that exceeded inflation, CBPP found.

The five states that cut taxes the most in the mid- and late-1990s saw job growth of less than 0.3% from 2000-2007, while the remaining states averaged 1.0% growth. Similarly, the states with the biggest tax cuts saw slower income growth than the other states, on average.

At least seven Republican-led states are currently pursuing massive tax cuts.

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Dear David: No Raise for the Weary?


I have worked at the same company for almost 10 years. During this time I have gotten one raise. I’m at a point where I’m getting burnt out. I’m not sure what to do.

— Weary, MO


This is a serious problem—after all, the price of everything you buy has gone up over the past 10 years, so if your pay hasn’t, you can feel like you’re falling behind. If you’ve been working hard for 10 years, you absolutely deserve to see more than one small raise.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as rare as you’d hope. In recent decades, employees like you have been working harder and harder, generating more value, but their wages aren’t keeping up with productivity. Where has all the money gone? Corporate profits are at the highest levels ever as a share of the economy, and executive pay has skyrocketed—the average CEO is making more than 200 times as much as the typical employee. The fact that your employer hasn’t given you a raise isn’t your fault—it’s part of a much bigger trend.

I’m not sure what kind of place you work for, but I’m assuming you don’t have a contract that can help clear up this problem. A standard collective bargaining agreement that unions get for their members usually includes a cost-of-living increase, regular step increases or a clear process for how you can receive a raise. Indeed, making sure employees get their fair share is one of the biggest reasons people organize. Here’s how the collective bargaining process works; a contract might include language like this:

Effective DATE, all employees shall receive a 4 percent increase in their weekly pay; no such increase shall be less than $25 or exceed $50 per week.

Going 10 years without a raise isn’t the way it has to be. This is part of the problem of leaving employees at the mercy of their boss—even a boss you like personally may just not make regular raises a priority, and that’s not fair to the people he or she supervises.

Don’t lose heart—get fired up! You obviously care about your career if you’ve been at this job for 10 years, and you can take steps to make it better. Seek out a trusted co-worker to talk to, and chart out a plan to get standardized, fair raises on your boss’s agenda. With every step you take, you’ll be closer to that goal. If what you are facing is an industry-wide problem, you may want to broaden your outreach to others who are doing what you do; this is already happening with restaurant workers and retail workers.

We’re keeping track of some of the biggest problems people face on the job at If you take the survey there, it’ll help us better understand what’s happening in workplaces like yours. We’ll be adding tools and resources to help you build a plan to change your workplace for the better.

One raise in a decade of work is insulting. By joining together with others and making a concrete plan, you’ll have a better shot of getting the higher pay you’ve waited so long for.


Time Waits for No Man, Especially Not Mayor Nutter

At the time of this writing, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has 6 days 23 hours, 5 minutes, and 17 seconds to sign the earned paid sick days bill passed two weeks ago by the City Council.

The Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces has set up a “NutterWatch” clock on their website, counting down the days until Mayor Nutter signs or vetoes the measure that would allow over 182,000 Philadelphians to earn sick days.

Every day Mayor Nutter takes no action, workers across the city are faced with the impossible choice of working through a sickness, losing a day’s pay, or potentially losing their job.

Some of them are parents who want to stay home and take care of a sick child, but can’t lose the day’s paycheck that allows them to buy groceries.

Some of them are retail workers who are afraid of getting fired if they switch shifts, so they skip doctor’s appointments that could speed up their recovery.

One of them is Michael Cockrell, as cook and dishwasher who has worked at a Philadelphia restaurant for 13 years. Because Philadelphia doesn’t have a sick leave policy, he has worked in the kitchen preparing food while sick with the flu. He has worked when his son had an asthma attack and had to be hospitalized. He once cut himself so badly that he had to get stitches – but he had to wait until his shift was over.

Every day, the lack of a sick leave policy for Philadelphia causes needless, preventable harm and strife to workers, consumers, patients, and businesses. While some big corporations like Comcast have spent big on lobbying against the sick leave bill, many business owners realize that allowing workers to earn sick days increases productivity, reduces turnover, minimizes absenteeism, and is ultimately good for the bottom line.

Nutter has 6 days, 22 hours, 52 minutes, and 53 seconds to come to the same conclusion. If you haven’t yet, tell him to sign the earned sick days bill.

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Marshmallow Peeps Make the News Easier to Read: Punching In

Missouri public workers pay a friendly visit to the politicians who want to strip their rights.

ALEC and other well-funded forces behind the denial of Medicaid expansion.

Progressive Ohio Sen. Nina Turner could run for Secretary of State.

Democracy under attack in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.

Teamsters go on strike at Republic Waste (Bill Gates owns 26 percent of the company).

Federal lawsuit filed against Detroit’s new emergency manager law.

Sad Day: Michigan officially becomes a so-called “right to work” state today.

How Wal-Mart’s control of our groceries is bad for your health.

Finally: How to have a delicious union-made Easter this weekend.

An Inch or Five Miles: Clocking Out

Striking facts about inequality: the bottom 90% saw their income grow by just $59 over the past few decades.

Meanwhile, the biggest corporations have seen a huge fall in their tax burden–including 26 of the 30 companies on the Dow.

Wall Street lobbyists are worried–and we’re excited–about the potential for Sen. Sherrod Brown to chair the Banking Committee.

Sen. Jeff Merkley passes amendment in opposition to “too big to jail” banks.

Could we make banking safer by making it simpler?

Why Democrats and Republicans won’t agree on health care.

Rep. Pelosi calls for a national earned sick days law.

Sequestration anxiety: the closing of a small airport makes congressional Republicans realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.

The very wealthy want different things from our politics than the rest of us–and they’re more likely to get their way.

What happened in Cyprus?

The Weeklies”: a must-read on poverty in the suburbs of Denver.


Getting by on $7.25 an Hour, Beans and Oatmeal

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

After President Obama called for raising the nation’s minimum wage to $9 an hour and protecting it against inflation, the struggle that millions of low-wage workers face trying to survive on the current $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage is back on the nation’s radar screen.

Recently NBC News took a look at “the workers who answer your customer service calls, deliver your pizzas, take care of your children, bag your groceries and serve your food,” including Crystal Dupont, 25, who takes customer service calls in the Houston apartment she shares with her mother who has disabilities. Writes NBC’s Allison Linn:

Dupont has no health insurance, so she hasn’t seen a doctor in two years. She’s behind on her car payments and has taken out pawn shop and payday loans to cover other monthly expenses. She eats beans and oatmeal when her food budget gets low.

When she got her tax refund recently, she used the money to get ahead on her light bill.

“I try to live within my means, but sometimes you just can’t,” said Dupont.

Thanks to Portside—where you can read the full story—for passing this along.

In other minimum wage news, San Jose, Calif., recently increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour; Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have introduced legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour; and a new report reveals the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is engaged in a widespread campaign to weaken or repeal state minimum wage laws and other low-wage worker protections.

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Don’t Tell Josh Mandel About the Last One: Punching In

9 disturbing facts about the economics of spring break.

Missouri Republicans again block Medicaid expansion, because who needs 24,000 jobs, right?

Tax cuts don’t magically create growth, according to facts.

Los Angeles has more homeless veterans than any other city.

Scott Walker: The man who wants you to know that he wants to be President.

President Obama signed a bill avoiding a government shutdown, so that’s nice.

Finally: Monthly auto sales hit 5-year high in March 2013.

Shelf Life: Clocking Out

Walmart is learning the hard way that treating people like the most disposable input has bad consequences.

No, the federal budget is not really anything like a household budget.

How blocking presidential nominees became commonplace.

In Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett starting to shift on Medicaid?

Virginia’s Gov. McDonnell signs a voter-restriction bill.

Sorry, soaking the poor isn’t the magic prescription for fast growth.

Emergency unemployment insurance is set to expire at the end of this year.

In 2013 and 2014, a number of state Attorneys General are up for election.

The real health care cost problem, in 21 graphs.

For geography nerds: the search for the ever-shifting center of population in the U.S.

Til The Windmills Fall or I Do

“That sounds rather quixotic, don’t you think?”

I had just finished explaining our plan to garner support for the Bring Jobs Home Act, a bill that would eliminate tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and instead invest that money in tax breaks that create jobs here at home. The man at the door continued his response.

“I mean, it sounds like you’re tilting at windmills.”

I smile. I can certainly understand where he is coming from. But the smile has more to do with the particular reference he chose.

“Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? Do you know what quixotic means?”

Yes. Yes I do. Do you?

The term “quixotic” is a reference to the literary character of Don Quixote, the title character in the famous novel by Miguel de Cervantes. I was first introduced to the character via the movie version of the modern musical “Man of La Mancha.” Anyone who watches The Newsroom on HBO may also recall the character and the plot being referenced in that show’s first season finale.

So who is Don Quixote? Cervantes’ book tells the tale of a middle-aged lesser noble in Spain who is obsessed with tales of chivalry and romance that were popular at the time of the book’s writing in 1605. The age of knights and chivalry is long over, but Don Quixote finds some rusty old armor, an aged donkey and an unlikely squire to accompany him on an attempt to sally forth into the world to right all the wrongs and remedy all the injustices around him. He imagines himself a knight of old, his donkey a fabulous steed, the local inn a castle, and its serving girl the famed Lady Dulcinea to whom he will dedicate his heroic (mis)adventures.

The phrase “tilting at windmills” refers to one of his most (in)famous adventures. As he and his loyal squire Sancho come to the top of a hill they are faced with some massive windmills in the distance. Instead of windmills, Don Quixote sees giants that are terrorizing the land and must be slain. He straps on his helmet, raises his lance and charges (as fast as a donkey can charge) the giants he imagines in the distance. When his lance finally strikes, it runs through one of the blades of the windmill and Don Quixote is ignominiously caught up in its turning, going round and round. Sancho asks him if he now realizes they were windmills all along, to which Don Quixote replies that a sorcerer must have surely transformed the giants into windmills at the last second to rob him of his victory and glory.

That’s a long, roundabout way of saying that when someone tells you that your given task is “quixotic” and that you are “tilting at windmills” he isn’t usually giving you a compliment. He is saying, according to the English World Dictionary, that you are “preoccupied with an unrealistically optimistic or chivalrous approach to life” and that you are “impractically idealistic.”

The man continued.

“Outsourcing has been going on for years. Since before you were born, probably. Everyone knows about it. No one likes it, but those big companies aren’t going to let you pass this. Nothing passes the Senate. Toomey won’t vote yes no matter how many people sign up for this. I agree with you but you’re wasting your time.”

I listen patiently. I nod. But unlike Don Quixote I’m not an unrealistic optimist, even if I might occasionally be guilty of impractical idealism. “Maybe you’re right,” I tell him. “Maybe we can’t win on this one. Maybe all my walking up and down these hills going from door to door tonight won’t be enough to win this time. But if you agree with us and you think this is a bill that SHOULD pass, then it’s only a waste of a few seconds of your time to show that support even if we lose. What can it hurt?”

He laughs slightly, and sighs as an acknowledgment that I’m right. He becomes a member of Working America and signs a petition telling Senator Pat Toomey to Bring Jobs Home, as hundreds of others have before him.

Not long after, we knight-errants that make up the field teams across the country at Working America faced our own Knight of Mirrors, the enemy that ultimately vanquishes Don Quixote by forcing him to confront the reality of just how quixotic his whole enterprise is. Toomey voted against allowing the Bring Jobs Home Act to come to a vote in the Senate. It never even came to the floor of the House. The Bring Jobs Home Act failed to pass. The giants and windmills had won the day, just as the man I spoke with that night had predicted.

Defeats hurt, whether they consist of being tossed from your donkey by a windmill blade or whether they consist of watching a disappointing vote count come across C-Span. There are times when even the most passionate and idealistic of activists questions whether all the hard work is worth it. That night in August I had walked up and down steep hills all night and had been left with not only aching feet and sore legs but a desperate need for a shower after all that walking under a hot summer sun. And all for what?

But the story doesn’t end there. As Don Quixote says of knight-errants in the musical version, “each time he falls he shall rise again. And woe to the wicked!” Practical, realistic idealism acknowledges that we can’t win every battle. The war is never over. We lose some of the battles we fight, but we lose ALL of the battles when we stay home. When I left that man’s door that night, I had one parting thought to leave him:

“You know, I might be tilting at windmills. Maybe you’re right. But I’ll keep keep right on tilting til the windmills fall or I do.”

A few weeks later, I got a call from our office in Washington, D.C. Working America was opening up offices in Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren was challenging Scott Brown for the Senate. And they wanted me to go.

Talk about a knight-errant– Elizabeth Warren had charged after the giants on Wall Street after the economic meltdown demanding more protection for consumers and tighter regulations on the misdeeds that had caused the mess. Wall Street had kindly thanked her by blocking her for an appointment to the commission that would oversee the implementation of some of her ideas. And all those giant windmills were lined up against her because they did not want an idealistic knight-errant like Elizabeth Warren to have subpoena power in the United States Senate.

When I got that call, Scott Brown was a popular incumbent senator with the backing of the big money financial sector. He was up in the polls. Elizabeth Warren seemed a long shot. Scott Brown seemed like just the kind of windmill I’d like to take a tilt at. Elizabeth Warren never stopped fighting and neither did we.

I spent nearly a month in Massachusetts, knocking on doors and talking to voters and passing out information on the records of the candidates. We trekked on despite the rain from Hurricane Sandy and my first ever experience of a nor’easter. We showed people, one door at a time why Elizabeth Warren would fight for ordinary working families to bring good jobs home, to improve education and to reign in the corporate greed on Wall Street.

And on election night, we won.

And we’re still winning. Every week I see a new story about how Elizabeth Warren is acting as a champion of ordinary people in the Senate. Currently, she is taking to task those who are charged with regulating the misdoings of Wall Street for their assertion that some firms are just “too big to jail.” Senator Warren had some very powerful words for those regulators that had allowed financial giant HSBC off without a single criminal prosecution, despite that company’s laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for drug cartels:

“If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night — every single individual associated with this — and I just think that’s fundamentally wrong.”

Yes. Yes, it is. But now we have one more knight-errant in the Senate to keep tilting at those giants until we fall or they do.

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