Thomas M. Conway

President’s Perspective

Tom Conway USW International President

American Democracy Is Not A Charity Case

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, America’s fourth-richest person, finally admitted that no one deserves to accumulate as much wealth as he has.

But hey, he says, at least he plans to give a lot of his $69.6 billion net worth to charity.

That’s nice. But it’s not enough considering the threat of concentrated wealth to the American ideal.

America’s very democracy is dying because billionaires like Zuckerberg amass ever more wealth—and thus ever more political power—while everyone else struggles with less. Less money. But, just as importantly, less clout in government.

Philanthropy is fine. But to preserve a functioning democracy, everyone, including billionaires, must pay a fair share of taxes so that America has the money it desperately needs to address shared priorities, reinvigorate the middle class and repair the social fabric torn by income inequality. And we need real limits on campaign contributions to stop the nation’s slide from democracy, where many have a voice, to oligarchy, where only the rich are heard.

The rich don’t pay anything like their proportionate share of taxes right now. Not even close.

In fact, a new study shows that the super-rich pay a lower rate than working Americans thanks to the Republicans’ 2017 tax giveaway.

Last year, the nation’s 400 richest families paid an average effective tax rate of 23 percent, compared to the 24.2 percent paid by the bottom half of U.S. households. It turns out hotel queen Leona Helmsley was right all those years ago when she said only the little people pay taxes.

More ...

Twin Cities home health care workers win unpaid overtime

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

It took almost five years to wend its way through state agencies and courts, but home health care workers who toil for the Twin Cities-based Baywood Home Care agency will share $350,000 from the firm for unpaid overtime.

The win came from the Minnesota Supreme Court on Sept. 18, in a case brought on the workers’ behalf by the state Department of Labor, the St. Paul Union Advocate reported.

The department investigated a complaint, filed in 2014, that the agency was violating the state Fair Labor Standards Act, which  mandates time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked over 48 per week.

The federal FLSA mandates overtime pay for all hours worked over 40 per week, but it doesn’t cover home health care workers. Minnesota’s does. Responding to evidence presented by the Service Employees, the Obama-era federal Labor Department brought home health care workers nationwide under the federal FLSA, for one year, until home health care interests got federal courts to toss that rule out.

Baywood broke the state law, the state agency told the state court, by working its employees for 24 hours at a time, but not every day. They were paid set daily rates regardless of how long they worked each week.

The state court said the daily rates are no substitute for overtime pay. When the home health care workers toiled more than 48 hours a week each, the workers were entitled to time-and-half pay “regardless of how the worker was compensated” before hitting that weekly limit.

Not paying the workers overtime is a form of wage theft, which costs Minnesota workers alone $22 million statewide every year, estimates show.

“All Minnesotans deserve to be paid every dollar they are owed for the work they perform,” state Labor Commissioner Nancy Leppink said in a statement after the court’s decision. The court also ordered the firm to pay the state agency $350,000 in damages.

“Too many workers are not being paid their full wages. With this decision, these employees are now one step closer to being correctly compensated for their work and for the harm they experienced,” she added.

***

Black and Hispanic men could face disproportionate job loss due to transportation automation

Carl Romer Intern, EPI

On August 12, 2019, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted, “I’ve done the MATH, it’s not immigrants taking our jobs, it’s automation. Instead of blaming immigrants, let’s give our citizens the means to thrive through the fourth industrial revolution.” This, like much of Yang’s and others’ current discourse regarding automation, is focused on an exaggerated fear that automation can and soon will replace workers’ roles in production, resulting in widespread job loss. But for hundreds of years, technological progress has continually reshaped the way work is done—and yet this progress has never resulted in a long-term decline in the labor force. Focusing on overstated risks of job loss from automation distracts from efforts to advocate for higher wages, better benefits, and increased bargaining power—issues that have been, and will continue to be, essential to the well-being of workers and their families.

However, while there is no reason to believe that automation will lead to widespread, sustained decline in the overall number of jobs, there will be specific jobs, industries, and workers for whom the impact of automation will come with real costs, at least in the short term. One industry in which concerns about automation may be warranted in the near term is transportation. Ford and Volvo have both announced plans to put fully autonomous vehicles on the road as early as 2021; Honda has announced a partnership with GM to begin developing autonomous vehicles; and Nissan recently introduced “no-hands driving” on highways in its ProPilot 2.0. While consumer skepticism may slow down the industry’s timelines, many advances have already been made: Most new cars have computerized driver assistance options; Tesla’s Autosteer has logged at least one billion miles of supervised autonomous driving; and Caterpillar is already producing autonomous vehicles for hauling mining materials.

The automation of transportation could have particular implications for truck drivers. Although truck drivers represent a small share of all workers, that share has grown since the early 1980s: Truck drivers have gone from being 0.7% to just under 1% of the total workforce. More than one-third of these truck drivers are black and Hispanic men. According to EPI analysis of 2016–2018 Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group (CPS-ORG) microdata, among full-time workers, “Driver/Sales Workers and Truck Drivers” is currently the number one occupation for black men and the number two occupation for Hispanic men. For the sake of this analysis, my definition of “Truck Drivers” includes this occupational category as well as the category “Industrial Truck and Tractor Operators” and is limited to the detailed industry categories “Trucking Services” or “Truck Transportation.” In order to have a large enough sample to examine employment by race, ethnicity, and gender, I combine data from the CPS-ORG into five-year intervals.

More ...

The Key to Distributing Wealth More Equitably

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

CEO compensation in the United States may have finally crossed the line — from outrageously unfair to intolerably obscene. In 2018, a new Institute for Policy Studies report details, 50 major U.S. corporations paid their top execs over 1,000 times the pay that went to their most typical workers.

What can we do about obscenity this raw? Plenty. We can start by placing consequences on the CEO-worker pay ratios that publicly traded U.S. corporations must now annually disclose.

In Oregon, the city of Portland already has. Since 2017, major companies that do business in Portland have had to pay the city’s business tax at a higher rate if they compensate their top execs at over 100 times what they pay their median — most typical — workers.

State lawmakers have introduced similar legislation in seven states, and, earlier this week, White House hopeful Bernie Sanders announced a plan to hike the U.S. corporate income tax rate on all large firms that pay their top execs over 50 times their worker pay. Some context: A half-century ago, few U.S. corporations paid their chief execs over 25 times what their workers earned.

The new Sanders plan has drawn predictable scorn from the usual suspects. One analyst from the right-wing Manhattan Institute, for instance, told the Washington Post that a pay-ratio tax “could dramatically affect industries such as fast food and retail that naturally pay lower wages.”

Corporations pay “what the market demands,” added Adam Michel from the equally conservative Heritage Foundation, “and levying new taxes on high pay will just make U.S. businesses less able to compete globally, expand their workforces, or raise wages of rank and file workers.”

More ...

No Such Thing as Good Greed

No Such Thing as Good Greed

Union Matters

America’s Wealthy: Ever Eager to Pay Their Taxes!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Why do many of the wealthiest people in America oppose a “wealth tax,” an annual levy on grand fortune? Could their distaste reflect a simple reluctance to pay their fair tax share? Oh no, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon recently told the Business Roundtable: “I know a lot of wealthy people who would be happy to pay more in taxes; they just think it’ll be wasted and be given to interest groups and stuff like that.” Could Dimon have in mind the interest group he knows best, Wall Street? In the 2008 financial crisis, federal bailouts kept the banking industry from imploding. JPMorgan alone, notes the ProPublica Bailout Tracker, collected $25 billion worth of federal largesse, an act of generosity that’s helped Dimon lock down a $1.5-billion personal fortune. Under the Elizabeth Warren wealth tax plan, Dimon would pay an annual 3 percent tax on that much net worth. Fortunes between $1 billion and $2.5 billion would face a 5 percent annual tax under the Bernie Sanders plan.

***

More ...