Workers at Walmart are mounting a new initiative not only to get their stories of how Walmart’s low wages, disrespect and intimidation are trapping them in a Walmart economy, but how millions of other workers and their families are caught in that same economy.
A Walmart economy is an economy of inequality manipulated by corporations like the $16 billion-a-year-in-profits retail behemoth and other corporations and 1 percenters like the Walton family, the richest in America.
To workers at Walmart, a Walmart economy means “having to decide between paying my bills and being able to take a day off work to stay with my sick daughter,” says LaShanda Myric, a Walmart worker in Denver.
For Richard Wilson who works at a Chicago Walmart, it means “….Working full-time, but not being able to pay back my student loans.”
What does the Walmart economy of inequality mean to you? Is it struggling to pay your bills or drowning in debt? Is it forgoing health care because you can’t afford health insurance or being unable to retire?
The tax structure in Ohio is grossly unfair: the richest 1% pay a state tax rate of about 6.3%. The rest of us pay about 10% to 12%.
There’s a silver lining here: it means that there’s untapped potential revenue to pay for great schools, infrastructure, local government services, health care and more. To fund aggressive job creation improve quality of life, we could simply rearrange the tax code so that the richest Ohioans are paying a bottom-line rate that is closer to the rates that the rest of us are already paying. This would directly create good jobs providing vital services—and it would create private sector jobs by putting money directly into the pockets of the people providing these services. That money would be spent in businesses, who would hire more employees to meet the demand. That’s how economics works when the economy is depressed, like it is right now.
That’s the vision behind Working America’s listening tour and educational campaign around the state budget this year. We reached out to 10,000 members to see how they responded. Members were overwhelmingly supportive of the campaign: more than 3,000 took the time to write personal, handwritten letters about how fair taxes would help their communities. Most of our members are moderates and conservatives, but it doesn’t matter where you stand in terms of political ideology. Hardly anyone thinks that it makes sense, or is fair, for the richest people to pay a far lower tax rate than the rest of us.
Unfortunately, we have a Governor and a legislature whose views on this issue are directly opposed to the views of most working Ohioans. Before he was first elected, the Governor expressed his hope that the income tax would be phased out completely. The income tax is the main tax that richer Ohioans have to pay, but a relatively small share of the taxes paid by the rest of us. Sure enough, Kasich is doing everything he can to make taxes even more unfair. Hi proposed budget would have given the richest 1% of households a hand-out of more than $10,000 per year–but raise taxes on most Ohioans even further. I’m not kidding.
That hand-out was to be paid for by increasing sales taxes, which hit the rest of us much harder than the rich, and in cuts to education and local governments, including public safety. Public pressure from Working America members helped scale back the Governor’s original obscene requests, but he still ended up giving the richest 1% about $6,000 per year. This was paid for by a sales tax hike, and changes that will either hurt schools or increase local levy costs. The Governor’s budget takes money and resources from the rest of us and gives it to the richest 1%. It just doesn’t make economic sense.
The Governor’s theory seems to be that taking money from the rest of us, and giving it to the rich, will create jobs. Administrations since Governor Taft have been testing this theory for a while now. Starting in 2005, we’ve had continual tax cuts for the rich that helped make our taxes less fair. Since then, we have been 47th in the nation in job creation, just like basic economics would predict. The Governor continued with that failed approach in his first budget, and doubled down on it in the last budget. It should surprise no one that, over the last year, Ohio was once again 47th in the nation in job creation…and the jobs that have been created haven’t been very good. Undeterred by the continued failure of the theory, the Governor has continued to double down on his approach.
Working America members were frustrated by Kasich’s determination to make an unfair and destructive situation even worse. So on August 20th, Working America members, along with allies like the Alliance for Retired Americans, held a press event at the Ohio State House. We brought with us more than 3,000 letters to Governor Kasich.
Unfortunately, when members spoke to the governor’s staff about this important question, we were told that the rich already pay plenty, and were briskly sent on our way.
We aren’t deterred by this response. It is often hard to get political elites to understand how disconnected they are from their constituents, but we are strengthened and encouraged by the results of our listening tour. We’re hopeful, because we know that Ohioans across the political spectrum share our perspective, even if some of our politicians do not.
If you’re feeling like we can’t make a difference, I encourage you to join us as we reach out to communities across Ohio. Ask a few people with different political views if they think it is fair that the rich pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us. You’ll discover that you can find common ground with people you would have never suspected.
In the beautiful small city of Las Vegas, New Mexico, Reel Working America members are ready to improve the local film industry.
When Reel Working America members in Las Vegas first started meeting as a Community Action Team back in May, they had a lot of unanswered questions about the film industry. Nancy Upthegrove-Jaramillo wondered if there was a local film directory and if it was up-to-date. “Where can we look for this film directory? Can we create our own?” asked Jaramillo, a long-time educator and background performer.
Another member, Diego Romero, an independent filmmaker and actor, wondered where independent filmmakers could seek resources to make low-budget films in his hometown.
Kerry Loewen, currently a professor at New Mexico Highlands University, said he’d like to get the word out about Las Vegas as a reliable workforce of background performers and crew members to attract more films and TV series.
Collectively, they decided they needed answers to these questions. This past Tuesday, Reel Working America members and the Las Vegas Film Commission met to discuss current projects and priorities. During this meet-and-greet, our members prepared a set of questions they wanted to ask the commission, including how Reel Working America can support the commission’s work. This question sparked a dialogue about potential projects like the creation of a local film directory, background etiquette workshops, film opportunities and training.
“One of our priorities is to get the community more involved in helping film grow in Las Vegas,” said film liaison Lindsey Hill. Reel Working America members in Las Vegas embrace this invitation enthusiastically. They are eager, talented, and ready to make Las Vegas the best place for film and TV productions.
If you are currently in New Mexico and you are interested in learning more about Reel Working America, contact Member Coordinator Brenda Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amid a flurry of last minute activity in the North Carolina General Assembly, including a truly awful voter-suppression bill, our members are thinking ahead to the August recess. We’re looking forward to the return of the folks who represent us in the U.S. House of Representatives, so we can tell them, face-to-face, that now is the time to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Christin, a Working America member from Greensboro, NC, is all too familiar with the urgency of immigration reform. Her parents were immigrants to the US Virgin Islands from St. Lucia decades ago. She and her five siblings were in their teens by the time their parents had finally completed the United States’ lengthy immigration process—one that had begun more than two decades earlier. “The process to get legal status in the US or become an American citizen should not take decades. We need to allow those who are here to get their documents sooner, so that they can start paying taxes and contributing towards building a better economy,” said Christin.
By most estimates, North Carolina has roughly 300,000 undocumented workers. Large corporations take advantage of the status of these workers and pay them under the table, often in very poor conditions and for desperately low pay. As a result, they have little incentive to hire more workers or pay much above minimum wage. Christin has friends who have applied for work only to be told they would be hired at $7.25 per hour. She and so many others know that’s not nearly enough on which to raise a family. Clearly the only winners here are these corporations, which continue to make record profits and hold record power while we suffer the effects of record unemployment.
Christin says her parents came to the US because they wanted to make sure their kids had better opportunities in life than they themselves had. Passing comprehensive immigration reform in Congress is one thing we can do to make sure all workers are able to provide that same opportunity for their children, and we know the only way this will work is if we stand together and let our elected officials know with a unified voice, “The time is now.”
Lobby meetings, petitions, phone calls, and letters are just some of the ways you can get involved with pressuring our politicians to support a pathway to citizenship. If you’re in North Carolina, email me at email@example.com to find out how you can help.
Yesterday, a group of volunteers including my father (Alvaro Rodriguez Sr.) and I got together at the Harris County AFL-CIO for a phone bank party. We called fellow Working America members to invite them to a rally to raise the minimum wage this week and tell them about what Working America is working on in Texas.
This morning, some of us are heading to Houston City Hall to speak in support of an ordinance that would punish those that commit wage theft. Workers deserve their hard-earned wages. We’ve been collecting letters of support from Houstonians like me who support the ordinance. It feels great to get work with others on these important issues.
After calling through our lists, we agreed to meet monthly for phone bank parties. Next time, we’re going to turn it into a potluck with everyone bringing a dish. If you’re in the Lone Star State anytime soon, join us!
Across the country, it’s been a tough road out of recession, but North Carolina has had a tougher time than most: its unemployment rate is still nearly 9%, the fifth-highest in the country. Now the state is about to cripple its own economy further.
A new set of changes to unemployment benefits in North Carolina have just taken effect. With these deep cuts, the state legislature has also disqualified North Carolinians from extended federal benefits. So people who are facing long-term unemployment in North Carolina have just lost their entire income, without any corresponding increase in the number of jobs available. Indeed, cutting off benefits for so many people so abruptly is likely to slow down the state’s economy even more, as people will find it harder to buy the things they need, stay in their homes and support North Carolina businesses.
North Carolina’s state legislative majority was swept into the office in 2010 and 2012, thanks in part to clever redistricting and the investment of millions by Republican megadonor Art Pope. Now, Pope has been appointed to a key state economic office and the legislators he helped empower are going on a tear through public education, health care, voting rights and tax rates. These legislators’ attack on unemployment benefits is perhaps the clearest expression of a national agenda aimed at dismantling the safety net.
The silver lining is that people in North Carolina aren’t letting these attacks go unanswered. Weekly “Moral Monday” protests are drawing crowds of hundreds to the state capitol in Raleigh. Last week, 1,500 people came out to make their voices heard.
The changes to unemployment insurance, however, are taking place now, and that means families facing unemployment are losing hundreds of dollars every month—at a cost of millions to the state economy. It’s morally repugnant, but it’s also just stupid economics.
Among the thousands of people we talk to in their neighborhoods every week, jobs are the biggest concern by far. Today’s job report is incredibly disappointing, but people like our members don’t need a figure on a chart to understand what’s going on—they live it every day. People are worried about whether they’ll be able to find a job or keep the job they have.
Even as millions are still out of work, though, corporate profits are at an all-time high—and the ever-increasing power of corporations in our politics makes it hard to do what needs to be done to create jobs.
At every level of government, we need to be doing more. That means supporting schools, not shedding tens of thousands of education jobs like we’ve had over the past year. It means doing more to keep people in their homes, not letting foreclosures ravage our neighborhoods. And it means giving companies an incentive to keep jobs here, not giving them tax breaks for moving jobs overseas.
We’ll keep fighting for action that will help working people. This isn’t about a monthly report or the next election—this is about what kind of economy we’re building for the future.
The people of Wisconsin may not see eye-to-eye on many recent political issues but one issue that most people can agree on is outsourcing. In a state like ours where manufacturing has been a major part of the economy throughout history, shipping jobs overseas has been a blow to nearly every Wisconsin community.
But here’s what you may not know: Current tax loopholes actually incentivize moving overseas for companies, while doing nothing to support companies that move back to the United States from abroad. Those tax incentives encouraged and rewarded 47 companies in Southeastern Wisconsin alone to move operations overseas – while doing very little for a company like Master Lock as it moved 100 jobs back to Milwaukee.
With such a large manufacturing base and a steady loss of jobs in the state the impact of outsourcing reaches just about everyone. Our organizers hear daily from members who either lost their job to outsourcing or know someone who did. The effects are so enormous that between 1994 and 2011 Wisconsin lost over 81,000 manufacturing jobs. A majority of those workers were certified as having lost jobs due to imports and offshoring.
Members from across the state have voiced their support for the Bring Jobs Home Act, a bill that would eliminate the tax loopholes for companies moving out of the country and reward them for bringing jobs back.
Vivian, a Working America member from Oshkosh, said, “We all want the American Dream: job, family, home and a good life. You cannot have this without a good job.”
As corporate greed increases, the American dream is disappearing. The current generation faces higher unemployment and lower wages even though they are better educated than those before them. This is first generation that will not be better off than their parents.
As Working America member Chris from Brown Deer put it, “Until we eliminate the incentives that corporations have to send high-paying, full-time jobs overseas, we will continue to suffer as a nation.”
Even now, corporate profits continue to soar and wages continue to decline; corporate CEO’s are more concerned about their bank accounts than they are about the people whose livelihoods depend on earning a decent wage. We need to reward companies that do the right thing instead of paying them to move jobs overseas. The Bring Jobs Home Act helps us move away from the “profits before people” mentality to make sure that the people of this country have the ability to buy the goods we are selling.
The thing is, many of these corporations that we pay to ship jobs away were made in America. They began here, found success here and they should be proud to attach “Made in America” to their products.
The first step, of course, is admitting we have a problem. For years, the economy has been re-engineered in ways that benefited a tiny minority of the wealthy and powerful, rather than sharing prosperity broadly. Bank deregulation, outsourcing-friendly trade policy, shifts in the tax burden and the abandonment of the right to collectively bargain all had an impact on an increasingly unequal, and increasingly unstable, economy. Instead of wages that reflected their growing productivity, America’s working people relied on credit bubbles and mortgage debt to get by—and the financial sector grew ever further out of control as a result.
What’s worse is that, instead of changing gears and trying to build a stronger, fairer economy, many politicians are pushing to repeat the same old mistakes. This is true of some politicians in both parties, but it’s especially prevalent among the Republicans who won control of the U.S. House and many governors’ offices in 2010 and among the frontrunners for the Republican nomination for president. They explicitly look to arrest what progress has been made in reining in Wall Street, and to cut taxes even further for the very wealthiest, even as they look to erode the programs working-class families and retirees depend on. They’re pushing for cuts that would hurt health care, our schools and our infrastructure. The AFL-CIO statement says there’s a better path for our economy.
The statement offers these principles for what fixing our economy will look like:
• Public investment in infrastructure, energy, job training and education
• Tackling inequality by restoring the right to collectively bargain, increasing the minimum wage and making full employment the center of our economic agenda
• Restoring U.S. manufacturing and fixing unfair trade laws
• Reining in the financial sector so it supports the economy rather than risking another financial collapse
• Improving standards and wages for workers around the world to end the “race to the bottom”
There’s a bigger question at play here than who wins the prettier headline on a Beltway paper tomorrow, and it’s a question we’re sure to keep fighting about all year. It’s “what is the economy for, anyway?”
It’s a good question, because how you measure the answer says a lot about what you think we need to do to fix it. Do we measure the economy purely by whether a line on a chart is pointing up or down? Do we measure it by whether the very wealthiest people are able to make themselves endlessly wealthier? Or is the health of “the economy” measured by something a little more tangible, a little broader?
You don’t have to pretend President Obama has been perfect on every issue facing working people to notice that there’s a difference in how he and Republican candidate Mitt Romney talk about the auto rescue program—a program that, largely, has worked to keep the industry alive and make it profitable again. While Romney used his time in Michigan to bash the auto rescue as a “bailout” for unions and push an economic agenda that would shift money away from Medicaid into upper-class tax cuts, Obama defended the auto rescue as part of an economy where we all have a stake in each other’s success.
You know why the “bailout for unions” storyline completely collapses under examination? Because union members—the people who, after all, built these companies—gave up a lot to save them. They made concessions on wages, benefits and retiree pensions. They offered to lose things that they had fought and bargained for because they wanted to protect the industry not just for them but for workers after them. It will not be easy to win back the things that were promised them, things they let go at personal cost. As the president said, that’s actual sacrifice. That’s not the action of a greedy special interest looking to loot the taxpayer, that’s the action of a group of people who understand what “the economy” really means.
If you think “the economy” is purely about the bank accounts of the 1%, maybe a program like the auto rescue doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if—like our members do—you think of the “the economy” as meaning how we’re all doing, then saving those jobs, for the past three years and for the future, is vital.
When the people we talk to talk about the economy, they mean something simple. Can I get a job? Can I stay out of debt, feed my family, and not go bankrupt if I get sick? Will I and my neighbors be able to stay in our homes? Will my kids be able to get a decent education and build a life for themselves? After a lifetime of hard work, will I be able to retire? Candidates of both parties need to look at what they’re saying about “the economy” and figure out how it answers those questions.