How the Government Can Lead on Supporting Businesses that Lift Working Standards

How the Government Can Lead on Supporting Businesses that Lift Working Standards

Through our tax dollars used in government purchasing, U.S. taxpayers are collectively the largest buyer of goods in services in the world. Being that big gives us power. And it gives us responsibility to hold the government accountable for how it spends those dollars. However, our government does very little to ensure our tax dollars are spent responsibly, whether it’s through buying uniforms, electronics or food from businesses that support decent conditions in the thousands of workplaces in the United States and around the world. A new report by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) lays out some clear ideas to improve federal government purchasing and the capacity to protect and respect human rights of workers in its own supply chain. On Sept. 10, the AFL-CIO hosted a panel with ICAR human rights and corporate accountability experts, law and business professors from Georgetown University and a journalist from The New York Times to discuss how the U.S. government can obey labor laws and respect workers’ rights.

Labor and human rights activists have long known about this lack of accountability, and both the mainstream press and U.S. Congress have noted the staggering scale of the problem both at home and abroad. The ICAR report reviews the limits of the existing legal framework, explains how previous efforts to improve the rules failed and presents a menu of policy choices to finally take action to improve a system that often rewards unfair competition by contractors who cut costs by violating labor laws at home and abroad. Instead, the ICAR report shows how to build respect for labor rights into the government purchasing process and give incentives to contractors to take the high road.

Any viable plan to improve government purchasing practices requires a stronger mandate to eliminate unfair competition by establishing clear rules, transparency and sufficient staff, budgets and training at contracting agencies that do this important work. This past July, the Obama administration proposed actions to take such measures in awarding contracts for goods and services produced in the United States. Those improved policies will need support to be implemented. However, around the world our government relies on the same failed systems used by most companies to monitor their own working conditions and labor rights in their supply chains. We also must take measures that address our government’s global supply chain. The ICAR report analyzes the government purchasing process and pinpoints the many places in the process where government contractors can be held accountable. Some proposals borrow solutions that have beenimplemented by local and state governments and universities to clean up supply chains. There are innovative solutions to these problems such as the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which shows how major purchasers can use their power to improve conditions in supply chains. The U.S. government should draw lessons from the accord’s commitment to accountability.

It is possible to improve working conditions in supply chains that depend on our tax dollars, if we use our power to demand better practices. The ICAR report provides detail about how to do that effectively in the complex process of government purchasing.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Give Responsible Student Loan Borrowers a Chance

Student loan borrowers are trying to do the responsible thing by paying off their loans but are being punished with high interest rates.

When you take out a mortgage or car loan, you can refinance the loan to get a better interest rate. With student loans, however, you’re stuck with the interest rate set by Congress, even though that rate is high enough to produce massive profit beyond the costs of operating the student loan program. And that’s just not fair.

The student loan refinance bill, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), would allow 25 million student loan borrowers to refinance the interest rates of their student loans, and those extra savings will go a long way in this economy where unemployment is still too high and wages aren’t rising fast enough.

The Senate this week is poised to take a vote on Warren’s student loan bill (S. 2432). Unfortunately, the last time the bill came up for a vote, Senate Republicans chose to stand with their wealthy campaign contributors over tens of millions of students and their families.

Thankfully, Senate Republicans will have one more chance to change their minds.

Call your senators today at 1-855-712-9375 and tell them to pass S. 2432 so student loan borrowers will no longer be punished with high interest rates. 

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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I’m a Koch Sister, Too!

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler with Joyce and Karen Koch

You’ve heard of the Koch Brothers, the ultra-rich, corporate extremists whose deep pockets are flooding election-season airwaves. Too often, their goals are part of a political playbook to drive down wages, cut Social Security and Medicare and secure more corporate tax breaks at the expense of our environment. Their money may dominate America’s politics and lawmaking, but their values and ideals sure don’t.

We have a better alternative. Meet the Koch Sisters, Karen and Joyce, who share the same last name but not the same values as the infamous Koch Brothers. They’re not related to David and Charles Koch or to each other. But they’re sisters where it counts—in spirit, in solidarity and in their shared values. The Koch Sisters are bringing to the forefront of political debate the issues most Americans care about—from fair wages to protecting Social Security.

They’ll tell you themselves in this video.

Karen Koch is a teacher and mother of two. As a college business professor at Mott Community College in Michigan, she has spent her career preparing students for internships and their first jobs. She is also a member of the Michigan Education Association and comes from a UAW family. Joyce Koch, also a mother of two, is a grandmother and is married to a retired AFT teacher. She spent most of her career as a social worker and an administrator for an anti-poverty organization in New York.

Like so many of us, Karen and Joyce have worked hard all of their lives and want to ensure their children and grandchildren have the same opportunities they did. They share the belief that the working families of this country should have every opportunity to get ahead. Unlike the Koch Brothers, the Koch Sisters don’t have billions of dollars and they certainly aren’t trying to buy our democracy. But they care about our country and what money in politics is doing to it. And they believe their voice, and the voices of millions more people like them—like you and me—are as important as the special interests who use their vast wealth to influence politics and policy.

Perhaps the Koch Sisters are so very different from the Koch Brothers because for Karen and Joyce it’s about people, not profits.

The Koch Sisters stand for the right things that matter most at the right time. I admire Joyce and Karen’s courage for making their voices heard in AFL-CIO television and online ads to get the word out. In fact, I’m a Koch Sister, too! Let’s all join them and become a nation of Koch Sisters! Sign up today at kochsisters.org.

This post originally appeared on the MomsRising blog

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What Happened In San Diego Serves As A Powerful Reminder That Local Elections Matter

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On July 14, the San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to raise San Diego’s minimum wage to $11.50 by 2017.

On August 8, Mayor Kevin Faulconer vetoed the bill.

That’s the part of the script you’ve seen before. But this time, the ending was different.

On Tuesday, six members of the City Council overturned Mayor Faulconer’s veto. The city’s business establishment, lead by the Chamber of Commerce, is seeking to gather 34,000 signatures in 30 days to put the issue to voters in November, which would delay its implementation. But otherwise, the measure is on its way to becoming law.

Faulconer, a Republican, was elected in a close special election in February following the resignation of Democrat Bob Filner. Because of his conservative leanings and close business ties, his victory was seen as a loss for working people.

But the minimum wage fight is another example of why you should never count out your local elections. Instead of an utter defeat at the hands of Mayor Faulconer, the Council’s one-vote-margin super-majority has given the bill another shot.

With no federal action on wages expected anytime soon (Thanks archaic Senate rules! Thanks Mitch McConnell! Thanks gerrymandered, unresponsive Congress!), the action is all in states and cities. Ten states have raise the minimum wage this year alone, and Seattle has a plan to raise their wage to $15 over the next few years. It’s no coincidence that ALEC has formed a new offshoot to focus on city and county issues.

In the country’s eighth-largest city, one city council member had the power to keep a bill raising wages for an estimated 172,000 people from dying.

That’s why you have to vote, and not just for President. For Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senator, and State Representative. Vote for County Commissioners. Vote for Mayor and City Council. Vote for municipal positions like Clerk and Auditor. Vote for hyper-local positions if you have them, because they might be City Councilors someday.

Our opposition isn’t taking any chances. ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce take a great interest in current (and future) city officials to make sure they will be on their side when things like minimum wage reach their desks.

One local election made the difference for 172,000 weekly paychecks. Replicate that in every city and town? That’s what change looks like–not just one victory or defeat at the top of the ticket.

Photo via Raise Up San Diego on Facebook

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Let’s Call ‘Corporate Inversion’ for What It Is: A Gaping, Unpatriotic Tax Loophole

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post

In 2004, Congress enacted a law to prevent “corporate inversions” in which corporations reincorporate in a foreign country to avoid paying U.S. taxes, but a gaping loophole allows corporations to get around this law by merging with a foreign company.

Simply put, it allows corporations to avoid paying taxes when they “renounce their U.S. citizenship” and change their corporate address to a foreign country.

In recent months, several large corporations have announced plans to exploit this loophole, with minimal change in their business operations, to avoid paying taxes. This wave of “corporate inversions” threatens to hollow out the U.S. corporate income tax base.

One striking example is Walgreens, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, which may use an upcoming acquisition to become a foreign company in order to dodge more than $4 billion in taxes over five years. Walgreens is talking about abandoning America despite its reliance on the U.S. government — and U.S. taxpayers — for a quarter of its revenue paid for by the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

It’s time for Congress to close the loophole and end this outrageous practice.

Last week, I was encouraged to see Congress finally begin to hold hearings and to hear President Barack Obama double down on his support. Under the president’s leadership, the administration is taking the right approach and has proposed solutions to the problem.

This week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in the Washington Post was right to suggest Congress make this legislation retroactive to May 2014, so corporations have notice that any transactions taking place after that date will not allow them to dodge taxes.

“This inversion loophole must be plugged,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) recently said, and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) have both proposed legislation to plug it.

This is exactly the momentum we need to close the loophole once and for all.

The real problem is that many of these so-called “U.S.” corporations want to keep dictating our economic policies and dominating our politics, yet they have less and less loyalty to the people who actually live and work in America. They want to keep benefiting from all the things our government does for them so they can make profits — our legal system to protect their investments and patents, our education and training system to train their workers, our transportation system to get their products to market, our federally sponsored research, our military — but they want the rest of us to front their share of the bill.
Sixty years ago corporations paid one-third of federal revenues, but today they pay only one-tenth. Now they say even that’s too much. Corporate profits are at their highest ever and wage growth is near its lowest in half a century, but still these corporations are not satisfied. They want more. They want Congress to cut their income tax rate, even though many of the largest corporations get away with paying little or no taxes for years. They want Congress to eliminate taxes on the factories they ship overseas, even though an existing loophole already allows them to lower their tax bill when they outsource jobs. And if we don’t give these corporations what they want, they threaten to renounce their citizenship and stop paying U.S. taxes altogether.
We need to start demanding a little more patriotism from these corporations. If they want to keep benefiting from everything our great country has to offer, they need to start showing a little more loyalty to the people who live and work in America. And they need to stop threatening to desert the United States and stop paying their taxes altogether unless America gives in to their demands.

Follow Richard Trumka on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RichardTrumka

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What The Today Show Totally Missed With Its Coverage of Michael Moore’s Wealth

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Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, the director of films like Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine, and his wife Kathleen Glynn are separating after 22 years. The proceedings have revealed to the public the extent of Michael Moore’s finances, including a large mansion in Michigan.

This morning, The Today Show seized on this news to portray Moore as a hypocrite: how could someone with a “blue collar” image, they ask, have this much money?

Let’s be absolutely clear: that question is ridiculous.

First of all, someone with a blue collar upbringing can most certainly attain great wealth over the course of their life and still maintain the composure, sensibility, and ideals they were raised with. That’s common sense. It’s called economic mobility, and it is something that Americans have felt great pride in throughout our history.

But let’s make something else abundantly clear: Michael Moore and other critics of our economic system do not oppose wealth.

Seriously. This has been a libel against all economic progressives, displayed prominently during the 2012 election when Mitt Romney and others accused President Obama of opposing the very idea of wealth and success (thus the obsession with taking “you didn’t build that” out of context). It’s the insult hurled at anyone who criticizes big money in politics: we are told that we are “jealous” of the Koch Brothers’ massive wealth, because why else would we say mean things about them?

And The Today Show bought completely into this frame, calling Moore’s politics “contradictory” with his big house and his full bank account.

But it’s not contradictory, because Michael Moore doesn’t oppose wealth. Senator Elizabeth Warren, another target of these claims, doesn’t oppose wealth. The millions of Working America members who take action to address income inequality don’t oppose wealth, pursuing wealth, or accruing wealth.

What we oppose, and will continue to fight against, is the following:

The use of massive wealth to rig our democracy in your favor. We respect the right of Charles and David Koch to grow their business, to hire workers and put out a product. But in addition to running a business, they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists, think tanks, and a constellation of political organizations to insure their company’s success at the expense of others.

For instance, there’s nothing “free market” about the Kochs’ efforts to tax consumers of solar energy in an effort to keep them addicted to the petroleum they produce. If Apple lobbied for a law that would add extra taxes for Android users, there would be an enormous outcry. This isn’t different.

The use of massive wealth to destroy the ladder of economic mobility that helped create that wealth in the first place. Anyone who runs a business has the right to manage their workforce as they see fit, within the bounds of the law. But businessmen like the Koch Brothers, Art Pope, Rex Sinquefield, and Dick DeVos don’t stop there. Through campaign donations, TV advertisements, lobbyists, and other tactics, they have tried (and often succeeded) in changing laws that protect workers’ rights, wages, and retirement. The DeVos family’s near single-handed funding of the “right to work” effort in Michigan is exhibit A.

Knocking rungs off of the ladder of economic mobility doesn’t create wealth, it destroys it.

The use of massive wealth to deceive consumers. Elizabeth Warren didn’t set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) because of a hate of Wall Street and the people who work there. Yet, Wall Street banks spent a fortune lobbying against the creation of the CFPB, and they continue to make weakening the agency and broader Wall Street reform a key priority.

Warren understood that when information was presented clearly to consumers–without tricks, traps, and hidden fees–they would be better able to select the products that worked for them. That understanding would allow Wall Street companies to compete on a level playing field, with the best plans and products winning. If that’s not capitalism, what is?

So can Michael Moore criticize inequality while enjoying economic success? Absolutely. Moore just happens to be one of those wealthy people who doesn’t feel the need to use his wealth to destroy others’ ability to become wealthy as well.

That’s not being contradictory, that’s being decent.

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s fight for fair wages and corporate accountability.

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Under Pressure, Chicago Task Force Recommends $13 Minimum Wage

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The task force assembled by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to study raising the city’s minimum wage reached a final recommendation Monday: $13 an hour by 2018. Chicago’s minimum wage is currently $8.25.

The group also recommended raising raising the tipped minimum wage to $5.95 over two years, and pegging both wages to inflation. More importantly, they suggested the Chicago City Council not take any action before November, when Illinois voters will consider an advisory referendum raising the wage statewide to $10.

The Minimum Wage Working Group passed the plan 13-3, with representatives from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Chicago Retail Merchants Association, and the Illinois Restaurant Association dissenting.

The broad Fight for 15 coalition has been pushing Chicago elected officials to establish a $15 an hour living wage and right to organize without retaliation. “[Mayor Emanuel says] America is due for a pay raise” they tweeted, “absolutely. We need $15 now, not $13 in 2018.”

Photo by Fightfor15 on Instagram

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These Two Studies Turn Wall Street’s Economic Argument On Its Head

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Two studies released in the past few weeks are busting long-held myths about what makes our economy grow.

The first came in June from three professors: Michael J. Cooper of the University of Utah, Huseyin Gulen of Purdue, and P. Raghavendra Rau of the University of Cambridge. They looked at the long-term performance of 1,500 businesses and found that higher CEO pay has a negative effect on a company’s performance.

Using data from 1994 to 2013, the professors saw that companies in the top 10 percent of CEO pay produced “negative abnormal returns” (lower shareholder returns than other firms in their industry) or around -8 percent over three years. The higher the pay got, the more pronounced the effect: the top 5 percent of highest paid CEOs steered their companies to a 15 percent worse performance.

Why were these companies doing worse?

In a word, overconfidenceCEOs who get paid huge amounts tend to think less critically about their decisions. “They ignore dis-confirming information and just think that they’re right,” says Cooper. That tends to result in over-investing—investing too much and investing in bad projects that don’t yield positive returns for investors.”

The second came this week from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which compared employment growth between states and found that those states that raised their minimum wage levels experienced higher growth than those that didn’t.

Of the 13 states where the minimum wage went up on January 1, 2014 (either because of legislative action, referendum, or cost-of-living adjustments), all but one had positive employment growth, and nine of them had growth higher than the median. “The average change in employment for the 13 states that increased their minimum wage is +0.99% while the remaining states have an average employment change of +0.68%,” wrote CEPR.

“While this kind of simple exercise can’t establish causality, it does provide evidence against theoretical negative employment effects of minimum-wage increases,” writes Ben Wolcott of CEPR.

In other words, it doesn’t prove raising the minimum wage always creates a certain number of jobs within 6 months, but it does add to the pile of evidence showing that raising the minimum wage doesn’t negatively affect employment.

And CEPR isn’t the only group that reached these conclusions. An analysis by banking giant Goldman Sachs (!) also found the states that raised their minimum wages doing better than those that didn’t.

Taken together, these studies back up what working people already know:  higher wages add to a virtuous cycle that benefits both workers and businesses, and that exorbitant CEO pay does nothing for the broader economy other than line the pockets of an increasingly small and powerful group of uber-wealthy individuals.

Text RAISE to 30644 to join Working America’s fight for fair wages.

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We Make A Big Deal Out of the Koch Brothers. Find Out Why In 3 Minutes.

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We get it. It’s often uncomfortable to think about condemning private citizens in the public sphere. But when we talk about Charles and David Koch, it’s important to keep our eyes on the ball, and to wrap our heads around the sheer magnitude of the damage they have caused to wages, workers’ rights, and the integrity of our democracy.

The problem, as Robert Reich points out in this video, is not that the Koch Brothers are rich, and it’s not that they hold such strong beliefs. It’s that they have utilized that mass wealth to impose their views on the rest of us–undermining our democracy and enriching themselves in the process.

The Koch Brothers’ primary political organization, Americans for Prosperity, plans to spend $125 million on the 2014 midterm elections. As of May, they had already spend $35 million, primarily on misleading ads about the Affordable Care Act.

That $125 million doesn’t include the money spent by other Koch-affiliated groups like the 60 Plus Association and Generation Opportunity, the “supporting research” done by the dozens of Koch-funded think tanks of the State Policy Network, or the many other ways the Koch network influences public policy.

Learn more about the Koch Brothers’ political network. 

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Students Call on The North Face and REI to Protect the Workers It Profits From

Members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and interns from Union Summer took action at a Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) store in Rockville, Md., last weekend to protest the retailer’s association with The North Face, a company that uses sweatshop labor in Bangladesh to produce its products. Nearly 2,000 workers in the factories in Bangladesh that North Face and other companies use have died in recent years because of unsafe workplace conditions. Watch the video to see the students in action.

Of particular note is an exchange in the middle of the video between one of the students and an REI employee who asks what the protests are about. She responds eloquently: “When you do business with people that disenfranchise people worldwide, then what does that say about your brand?”

UnionSummer2014InternsREIAction

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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