Economy

To Check Power of Greedy Bosses, Workers Need to Bargain in New Ways

When workers' power is diminished and people’s voices are shut out of the workplace, job quality and job standards suffer.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman) Tanya Melin of Chicago, right, Service Employees International Union members, home care consumers, workers, and allies rally in support of home care funding at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 in Springfield, Illinois. W ork looks a lot different today than it did 100, 50, or even 10 years ago: It’s faster, it’s automated, and it’s complex. We used to pin these shifts on globalization; now we’re tying everything to the rise of an on-demand sharing economy. And while it may seem like progress in terms of how quickly and cheaply we can get things, we can’t forget that it’s happening at the expense of regular people and their ability to work full time and earn a decent living. That’s because, for far too long, greedy CEOs have held all of the power, giving those of us doing the work very little room to make our voices heard. Corporate interests have been on a decades-long bender to depress wages, benefits and job standards, trapping you and me and...

Here's How to Achieve Full Employment

If we don't get there, then many communities—particularly those of color—will be left out of the recovery.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
iStockPhoto The following is the testimony of Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing on “Expanding Opportunity in America’s Schools and Workplaces” on February 4, 2014. It originally appeared at the EPI website , where you can also find the source material . I t is encouraging that there is now widespread agreement across the political spectrum that the key economic challenge is middle-class income stagnation. To address this stagnation we must confront two underlying trends. The first is to address the ongoing but incomplete jobs recovery from the financial crisis that Wall Street inflicted on the global economy. The second trend is the stagnation of wages for the vast majority of workers since the late 1970s, an era of “wage suppression.” That wage trends lay at the heart of income stagnation is just common sense. After all, middle-class families rely almost completely on what they earn from their...

We're Jailing the Wrong People. We Need to Jail More of the Right Ones: Corporate Criminals

iStockPhoto/© pkline
(Photo illustration @pkline/iStockPhoto) This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post under the title, "We Should Send More People to Jail." Y ou know the statistic. We incarcerate a higher proportion of the population than any other country does. Russia and South Africa rank respectively second and third. Hundreds of thousands of young, now aging, men, are doing hard time for possession of small amounts of drugs. More and more people find themselves in jail because they got caught with bench warrants for their arrest for exorbitant fines they could not afford to pay. More than a century after debtors prisons were abolished, thousands are again behind bars because of debts. But one category of felon is free on the street. I refer, of course, to corporate criminals. Consider the case of a checkout clerk at Walmart who puts her hands in the till and walks off with a couple of hundred bucks of the company's money. That clerk could expect to face prosecution and jail. Now...

One Big Reason for Voter Turnout Decline and Income Inequality: Smaller Unions

The decline of labor unions has shifted the balance of power not only in the country at large, but within the Democratic Party. Hello Wall Street; bye-bye voters...

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
T wo of the most commonly cited reasons for the lack of more liberal policymaking in the United States are the decline in unions and the rising class bias in voter turnout . In the 2014 midterm congressional elections, the Democrats’ rout was largely attributed to a failure of their coalition to turn out at the polls. What is rarely examined, however, is the relationship between a decline in voter turnout and the dwindling number of union members. And as that turnout has declined, the control of the financial class over the entire political system—Republican and Democrat—has taken hold. Over the last several decades, union membership in the United States has declined precipitously , from 24 percent of all wage and salary workers in 1973 to 11.1 percent today . At the same time, our economy has increasingly begun to favor the wealthiest members of society. The labor share of income has reached the lowest level it’s been since 1929, and that diminished income is distributed incredibly...

Exporting Financial Instability

Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could set back the gains made by emerging and developing countries after the financial crisis.

(AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
(AP Photo/Vincent Thian) Activists wave Malaysian flags during a protest against Trans-Pacific Partnership ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's Malaysia visit, outside the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, April 25, 2014. T he late Dr. Martin Luther King is praised for saying “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Along the same lines, if we learned anything from the global financial crisis it is that financial instability anywhere is a threat to financial stability everywhere. The Obama administration appears not to have learned that lesson. The trade treaty agenda announced at the State of the Union address is an injustice that will rob our trading partners of the ability to prevent and mitigate a financial crisis. That could not only spell instability for our trading partners, but for the U.S. economy as well. At the State of the Union, Obama asked the Congress to grant him the authority to finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade and...

Are the Elites Catching Up with the People?

(Rex Features via AP Images)
I nequality has at last arrived as the issue that mainstream politicians can’t ignore. You see it in Obama’s better-late-than-never embrace of “middle-class economics” as the signature theme in his State of the Union address; and in a surprisingly leftish report of a commission co-chaired by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. The new report by the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity , convened by the Center for American Progress, is frank in its acknowledgment of the inequality crisis. “Today, the ability of free-market democracies to deliver widely shared increases in prosperity is in question as never before,” the report declares. It calls for several measures of the sort that the labor movement, the Economic Policy Institute, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and others on the left edge of Democratic politics have been urging for years. What’s surprising is not what’s being said but who’s saying it. For instance, the commission offers a frank statement of what’s wrong with...

Labor at a Crossroads: How Unions Can Thrive in the 21st Century

First, stop the self-flagellation: The labor movement lives, and is getting stronger.

(AP Photo/Long Beach Press-Telegram, Stephen Carr)
This article was commissioned as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our "Labor at a Crossroads" series here . (AP Photo/Long Beach Press-Telegram, Stephen Carr) Local 63 ILWU members form a picket line in the Port of Long Beach, California, on Friday July 9, 2010. Striking clerical workers at the nation's busiest port complex expanded their walkout to a fifth terminal Friday, temporarily shutting down loading and unloading operations when dockworkers at the facility refused to cross the picket line. L abor advocates and scholars often feel like we won’t be taken seriously unless we say how awful things are. The more dire our analysis, the more listeners will nod and say it must be right, with labor insiders so self-critical. But our critical thinking shouldn’t...

'Housing First' Policy for Addressing Homelessness Hamstrung By Funding Issues

The new approach may spring from good intentions, but is undermined by a lack of affordable housing stock.

(AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Mark Lambie)
(AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Mark Lambie) Andre Stokes, who is homeless, tries to stay warm in a shelter he built in downtown El Paso Tuesday, January 13, 2015. Temperatures were in the 30s, which is unusual for the El Paso area. I n an era of shrinking financial resources, policymakers, providers, and activists who work on homelessness prevention and care in the United States have been forced to develop new strategies. There was a time when officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) saw it as their responsibility to provide both housing and supportive services for homeless individuals, but now HUD now is refocusing its budget predominately on rent and housing—with the hope that other local, state, and federal agencies will play a greater role in providing supportive care. However, whether other organizations will actually be able to pick up those costs and responsibilities remains unclear. The first major federal legislative response to homelessness was the...

A Break In the Greek Tragedy

(Tsipras at podium: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File) (Tsipras on Election Day: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File) Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza left-wing party, speaks to his supporters outside Athens University Headquarters on Sunday, January 25, 2015. A triumphant Tsipras told Greeks that his party's win in Sunday's early general election meant an end to austerity and humiliation, and that the country's regular and often fraught debt inspections were a thing of the past. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope should count itself lucky that a left-wing anti-austerity party won the Greek elections, swept into office by citizens who've had enough. Elsewhere in Europe, seven years of stupid, punitive, and self-defeating austerity policies have led to gains by the far right. If a radical left party is now in power in Athens and sending tremors through Europe's financial markets, the E.U.'s smug leaders and their banker allies in Frankfurt, Brussels and Berlin have only themselves to blame. Alexis Tsipras, leader of the...

Labor at a Crossroads: The Case for Union Organizing

The labor movement has been growing while shrinking—growing through organizing.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
T he union movement is 3.5 million members smaller than 40 years ago, and the forces that brought that about are as energetically engaged and powerful as they have ever been. From that undeniable fact, it has been wrongly concluded: Union organizing is impossible, futile, or a thing of the past The labor movement is dead, or dying The best hope for workers is through something different from trade unions and collective bargaining. These conclusions are very disconcerting to this organizer. I am upset that there’s so little acknowledgement of the millions of workers who have risked much to try to unionize. Thousands are doing it today. And so little acknowledgement of those who have done it and succeeded. They number a million and a half. How do I know that? I know it from my own experience; it’s the work with which I have been immersed for those 40 years. And I know it by virtue of simple arithmetic. The 3.5 million members by which labor has shrunk is net. I simply added the net...

The Politics of Gesture

(AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
(AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool) President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Janunary 20, 2015, in Washington. A version of this article first appeared at The Huffington Post . I f Tuesday's State of the Union address told us anything, it's this: We are seeing a somewhat bolder Barack Obama. In his speech, the president unveiled a litany of what he calls "fourth-quarter initiatives." Some of these can be accomplished by executive order; most will require legislation. The measures that can be achieved by presidential order include reducing the down-payment or interest on federally insured mortgages to stimulate home ownership. Obama has already used his executive power to suspend deportation of some 5 million undocumented Dreamers and in some cases their parents. He has required federal contractors to pay something closer to a living wage. He recently ordered federal agencies to give new parents up to six weeks...

What Obama Should -- and Shouldn't -- Say in State of the Union Address

While he's taken steps to improve Americans' wages, there's still more the president can do. 

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama delivering his 2011 State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. This article originally appeared at the website of the Economic Policy Institute . T onight President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address, which gives him an opportunity to lay out his priorities and set an agenda for the year ahead. At the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), we have argued that raising wages is the central economic challenge . It is terrific news that the president will address wage stagnation in his speech. After a year of strong job creation but continued stagnant wage growth, many economists and commentators—not to mention the American people—are beginning to focus on wages. Even the new GOP-controlled Congress is paying lip service to the middle class squeeze (but is offering no program to address these challenges). So we are now entering into a great debate about what can be done...

Labor at a Crossroads: In Defense of Members-Only Unionism

Allowing members-only unions would protect the rights of those who wish to bargain collectively even if they fail to surmount all the legal hurdles necessary to establish the union as the representative of all employees in the workplace.

(AP Photo/Times Free Press, Danielle Moore)
(AP Photo/Times Free Press, Danielle Moore) In a March 31, 2010, photo, Christian Iosif, an equipment installer with Leoni, programs a welding robot on the underbody dash panel line at Volkswagon of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . S urveys of employee support for unions show a majority want collective representation. Yet, as illustrated by the close vote on union representation at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, union organizing efforts often fail—either before employees have a chance to vote, or at the ballot box, or in subsequent litigation. For decades, scholars and union-side lawyers explained the gap between employee desire for unionization and...

Labor at a Crossroads: How We Know We Haven't Yet Found the Right Model for the Worker Organizations

If we had already found the right model for a powerful, scalable, sustainable organization uniting low-wage workers, then organizers would learn about problems at particular worksites from the workers themselves, not Reddit.

© Phillip Pessar via Flickr
© Phillip Pessar via Flickr The retail chain Wet Seal kept employees in the dark about plans to close 338 stores, such as this one in Miami's Dadeland Mall, even assuring workers that their jobs were not in peril. Employees responded by posting signs in store windows detailing the company's mistreatment of workers, and by creating a #forgetwetseal hashtag campaign that rocketed to the top of Reddit . This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . O n the first Friday in January, the executives of mall retailer Wet Seal held a conference call to inform hundreds of store managers that their stores were closing—effective just days later. Many workers had noticed extremely low inventories and extremely high...

Obama's State of the Union Preview Serves Up Pretty Weak Brew

whitehouse.gov/video screenshot
whitehouse.gov screenshot President Obama delivers remarks about his new community college proposal at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, January 9, 2015. "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized." —Daniel Burnham I recently got an email invitation from a Democratic congressional office to come to a "watch party" to view President Obama's State of the Union address. His "fourth-quarter priorities," according to the White House-inspired talking points of the message, are "home ownership, free community college, and high-paying jobs." That sounds pretty good. But if you unpack the specifics, the president is offering pretty weak tea. Free community college sounds terrific. Community college is the great American institution of the second chance. Obama proposes to have the federal government cover 75 percent of the cost, if states will participate. This could save students an average of over $3,...

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