Rage. Probably political rage. Maybe just personal rage. Lots of sarcasm and cynicism. Also pretty pictures.

Why You Shouldn’t Shop at Walmart on Friday

robertreich:

A half century ago America’s largest private-sector employer was General Motors, whose full-time workers earned an average hourly wage of around $50, in today’s dollars, including health and pension benefits.

Today, America’s largest employer is Walmart, whose average employee earns $8.81 an hour. A third of Walmart’s employees work less than 28 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits.

There are many reasons for the difference – including globalization and technological changes that have shrunk employment in American manufacturing while enlarging it in sectors involving personal services, such as retail.

But one reason, closely related to this seismic shift, is the decline of labor unions in the United States. In the 1950s, over a third of private-sector workers belonged to a union. Today fewer than 7 percent do. As a result, the typical American worker no longer has the bargaining clout to get a sizeable share of corporate profits.

At the peak of its power and influence in the 1950s, the United Auto Workers could claim a significant portion of GM’s earnings for its members.

Walmart’s employees, by contrast, have no union to represent them. So they’ve had no means of getting much of the corporation’s earnings.

Walmart earned $16 billion last year (it just reported a 9 percent increase in earnings in the third quarter of 2012, to $3.6 billion), the lion’s share of which went instead to Walmart’s shareholders — including the family of its founder, Sam Walton, who earned on their Walmart stock more than the combined earnings of the bottom 40 percent of American workers.

Is this about to change? Despite decades of failed unionization attempts, Walmart workers are planning to strike or conduct some other form of protest outside at least 1,000 locations across the United States this Friday – so-called “Black Friday,” the biggest shopping day in America when the Christmas holiday buying season begins.

At the very least, the action gives Walmart employees a chance to air their grievances in public – not only lousy wages (as low at $8 an hour) but also unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, excessive hours, and sexual harassment. The result is bad publicity for the company exactly when it wants the public to think of it as Santa Claus. And the threatened strike, the first in 50 years, is gaining steam.

The company is fighting back. It has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board to preemptively ban the Black Friday strikes. The complaint alleges that the pickets are illegal “representational” picketing designed to win recognition for the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. Walmart’s workers say they’re protesting unfair labor practices rather than acting on behalf of the UFCW. If a court sides with Walmart, it could possibly issue an injunction blocking Black Friday’s pickets.

What happens at Walmart will have consequences extending far beyond the company. Other big box retailers are watching carefully. Walmart is their major competitor. Its pay scale and working conditions set the standard.

More broadly, the widening inequality reflected in the gap between the pay of Walmart workers and the returns to Walmart investors, including the Walton fammily, haunts the American economy.

Consumer spending is 70 percent of economic activity, but consumers are also workers. And as income and wealth continue to concentrate at the top, and the median wage continues to drop – it’s now 8 percent lower than it was in 2000 – a growing portion of the American workforce lacks the purchasing power to get the economy back to speed. Without a vibrant and growing middle class, Walmart itself won’t have the customers it needs.

Most new jobs in America are in personal services like retail, with low pay and bad hours. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average full-time retail worker earns between $18,000 and $21,000 per year.

But if retail workers got a raise, would consumers have to pay higher prices to make up for it? A new study by the think tank Demos reports that raising the salary of all full-time workers at large retailers to $25,000 per year would lift more than 700,000 people out of poverty, at a cost of only a 1 percent price increase for customers.

And, in the end, retailers would benefit. According to the study, the cost of the wage increases to major retailers would be $20.8 billion — about one percent of the sector’s $2.17 trillion in total annual sales. But the study also estimates the increased purchasing power of lower-wage workers as a result of the pay raises would generate $4 billion to $5 billion in additional retail sales.

This seems like a good deal all around.

PerSe1010:

Don’t turn your auto-cynic on immediately and I hope you read Rob Reich’s whole post because what he’s saying is accurate and bears recognition. It’s that time of year again when we’re going to see these blog entries regarding big box retailers and Walmart in general being evil. Boycott! Don’t shop there! Strike! Maybe those will help in achieving the goals these lower level employees are working toward. We as consumers have to play our parts as well. We have to help make their voices and ours hear. We have to vote and participate civic-ly in whatever way we can. Sure this is capitalism and capitalism is not a bad thing, but at a point, one Walmart seems close to reaching, where capitalism starts to work against you. Short term - maybe you’re okay with that. Maybe Walmart is okay with it. I’m not.

We have to end this trend of the companies’ profits going only to the top and shareholders, while hanging the employees - the employees who keep these business running and earning upwards of $Trillions annually - “out to dry” with less than a living wage and no benefits.

Investing in the employees of these companies is investing in the economy and in the communities, and will only strengthen your business in the long term. Sure you can treat you employees like shit and pay them shit and keep all the profits for yourself and cut costs by lowering the quality of production - but exactly how much longer do you think people, your employees and the consumers, will tolerate it? 10 more years? 20?

But if retail workers got a raise, would consumers have to pay higher prices to make up for it? A new study by the think tank Demos reports that raising the salary of all full-time workers at large retailers to $25,000 per year would lift more than 700,000 people out of poverty, at a cost of only a 1 percent price increase for customers.

And, in the end, retailers would benefit. According to the study, the cost of the wage increases to major retailers would be $20.8 billion — about one percent of the sector’s $2.17 trillion in total annual sales. But the study also estimates the increased purchasing power of lower-wage workers as a result of the pay raises would generate $4 billion to $5 billion in additional retail sales.

This seems like a good deal all around.

Yeah, it does. - Perse1010

“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” Chief Executive Gregory Rayburn said in a statement. “Hostess Brands will move promptly to lay off most of its 18,500-member workforce and focus on selling its assets to the highest bidders,” Rayburn added. Union President Frank Hurt said on Thursday that the crisis at the company was the “result of nearly a decade of financial and operational mismanagement” and that management was trying to make union workers the scapegoats for a plan by Wall Street investors to sell Hostess.

Twinkies Maker Hostess Plans to Go Out of Business - NYTimes.com

The closing of Hostess is union-busting, pure and simple. The company is already bankrupt (and never believe a company that tells you that it is bankrupt because it paid its workers too well), and its workers weren’t going to accept more race-to-the-bottom cuts. 

I wish I had time to dig into this more thoroughly, but for now, as someone said to me on Twitter, they’re going to sell off their assets, fire all those workers, and destroy another iconic American brand in pursuit of the bottom line. 

Imagine the good press if Hostess said “We want to stay open, and we want to pay American workers good wages and benefits, and we are struggling right now but we want to keep this brand alive.” 

Instead, they’ll go the way of so many other companies that have used bankruptcy to get out of taking care of the workers that made them run.

And don’t worry, folks, you’ll still get your Twinkies: someone will no doubt buy the rights to the name and the recipe for everlasting phallic snack cakes. It’s just that you won’t know they were made by well-paid union workers anymore. 

Not that most of you ever cared. 

(via differentclasswar)

PerSe1010:

jasencomstock:
Supposedly this is a compelling cartoon that shows how ‘crazy’ those public sector unions are.

So what, because some people working in the Private Sector (where, in my line of work, the pay is much higher than in the Public Sector) supposedly don’t have pensions or benefits, the people working in the Public Sector suddenly don’t deserve the benefits that they’ve worked for? Bullshit. How about corporations that are making record profits put some of that money back into their workforce and stop making decent hard-working public sector employees into the bad guy? Unions happened for a reason - workers were and once again are being mistreated and taken advantage of and in this recession where so many people are jobless, they are a dime-a-dozen. Are we seriously going to have to repeat the entire 20th century? (and not just Labor issues…)

PerSe1010:

jasencomstock:

Supposedly this is a compelling cartoon that shows how ‘crazy’ those public sector unions are.

So what, because some people working in the Private Sector (where, in my line of work, the pay is much higher than in the Public Sector) supposedly don’t have pensions or benefits, the people working in the Public Sector suddenly don’t deserve the benefits that they’ve worked for? Bullshit. How about corporations that are making record profits put some of that money back into their workforce and stop making decent hard-working public sector employees into the bad guy? Unions happened for a reason - workers were and once again are being mistreated and taken advantage of and in this recession where so many people are jobless, they are a dime-a-dozen. Are we seriously going to have to repeat the entire 20th century? (and not just Labor issues…)

It’s also laughable how very few people realize how beneficial recessions are for companies. We know for a fact that after a small loss, they always rebound to higher profits, record profits in many cases.

But it gives the company reasons to lay people off regularly, justifies taking things like health care benefits and retirement pensions, vacation days, sick days, etc.

Which, of course, in turn creates a work force that does 3 times as much work for half of the pay they deserve. Pay raise freezes, budget cuts, etc. Corporations don’t WANT the recession to be over. The work force has more options, they have to pay more for talented, hard working employees, they have to spend more in operating costs.

It’s funny that so few point out the truth about recessions in America and how much the corporations embrace them and use them to increase the bottom line and to cut its work force while the remaining employees generally have to take up the slack of those missing workers and do the job of 2 or 3 people.

THAT is what happens. It’s not, ‘Oh, Verizon just decided one day that they no longer need 1,7000 employees.’ This is opportunity for higher profits, folks. It’s depressing that so few people seem to get the very basics of corporation operations, opportunity and the recession.

Layoffs like these scare the remaining employees who are more than willing to take on the additional duties if it means they get to keep their job. So you work twice as hard, still make the same miserable pay and the company skips off into the sunset with (again) record profits for the quarter.

reddit user gloomdoom

Brittany and I were just talking about this one the phone earlier. You know how to keep labor cheap, how to get away with not paying your workers shit and cutting their benefits?

Keep them scared, make sure there aren’t many other options out there.

And hell, while we’re at it, diminish the power of unions and the workers and trick them into voting for politicians that make laws that make the above shit easier to pull off.

(via abaldwin360)

I read some of the other comments that gloomdoom has made, and a number of them are quite beyond cynical and I didn’t agree with all of them, however, a good point is made here. We keep seeing this over and over again with large corporations that are making high to record profits these past months, couple years - bonuses to the CEOs and top execs concurrent with extreme job cuts into the thousands. Rather than increasing the wages of the employees or offering better benefits, they are cutting them loose and increasing the workload of the remaining employees. The corporations lobby against unionization so they can’t speak out for themselves and be safely heard and responded to. The Republicans and even some Democrats pass the legislation that allows for this to happen. The corporations contribute to the campaigns to make sure the legislators do what they want. The talking heads and pundits, who are in other media corporations’ pockets, spin it to make it look like it’s the American way and we should be proud that we live in a country where something like this is possible. “Yes, even you could one day become the CEO of Verizon and make millions in a single quarterly bonus! You don’t want that to not be possible, do you? This could be you!” The economy as a whole divides itself more and more and there’s little to stop it. It becomes political. It becomes personal. It’s a cynical view, but how far off from the truth is it?  (via PerSe1010)

The Truth About the Economy (by karinmoveon)

thedeathofflorida:

If a state were a business, CEO Rick Scott would be shown the door.

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s ever present, camera-ready grin masks the strain of an embattled politician. His approval ratings rank at the bottom among the nation’s governors, and…

I teach AP Human Geography (& my students generally test better than the national average). One part of the course is Developmental Geography. Generally to promote development you must enhance education (the more skills, the more productivity), you increase infrastructure like roads, rail systems, & other types of connectivity (so you can get your goods\services both into & out of your business), & you increase regulation to attract good businesses (because good ones want a level playing field & don’t want to have to pay off legislators & other problems with kleptocracies). Note that the Florida Legislature & the Governor have done the opposite. After this legislative session we should now just wait for the 700,000 new jobs coming to Florida, but please do not hold your breath.

—Awesome post on Floridians Against Rick Scott from a public High School teacher