Monthly Archives: March 2015

Who Needs a Boss?

by Shaila Deman, published March 25, 2015

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Illustration by Kelsey Dake

If you happen to be looking for your morning coffee near Golden Gate Park and the bright red storefront of the Arizmendi Bakery attracts your attention, congratulations. You have found what the readers of The San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local alt-weekly, deem the city’s best bakery. But it has another, less obvious, distinction. Of the $3.50 you hand over for a latte (plus $2.75 for the signature sourdough croissant), not one penny ends up in the hands of a faraway investor. Nothing goes to anyone who might be tempted to sell out to a larger bakery chain or shutter the business if its quarterly sales lag.

Instead, your money will go more or less directly to its 20-odd bakers, who each make $24 an hour — more than double the national median wage for bakers. On top of that, they get health insurance, paid vacation and a share of the profits. “It’s not luxury, but I can sort of afford living in San Francisco,” says Edhi Rotandi, a baker at Arizmendi. He works four days a week and spends the other days with his 2-year-old son.

Arizmendi and its five sister bakeries in the Bay Area are worker-owned cooperatives, an age-old business model that has lately attracted renewed interest as a possible antidote to some of our most persistent economic ills. Most co-ops in the U.S. are smaller than Arizmendi, with around a dozen employees, but the largest, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, has about 2,000. That’s hardly the organizational structure’s upper limit. In fact, Arizmendi was named for a Spanish priest and labor organizer in Basque country, José María Arizmendiarrieta. He founded what eventually became the Mondragon Corporation, now one of the region’s biggest employers, with more than 60,000 members and 14 billion euro in revenue. And it’s still a co-op.

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The Robots are Coming! The Robots are Coming!

by Bud Meyers, published March 20, 2015

I don’t believe that (in my lifetime at least) a robot will displace the bartenders at our local bars. But that’s not to say that one day (soon after I’m gone) it couldn’t happen. They say the Apollo computers that got our first man to the moon in 1969 had less computing power than our cell phones do today. But since that time, technology has incrementally been displacing a lot of middle-wage workers, and leaving a lot of low-paying jobs in their wake.

Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor, makes an interesting analogy: “Imagine a small box – let’s call it an iEverything – capable of producing everything you could possibly desire, a modern day Aladdin’s lamp. You simply tell it what you want, and – presto! – the object of your desire arrives at your feet. The iEverything also does whatever you want. It gives you a massage, fetches you your slippers, does your laundry and folds and irons it. The iEverything will be the best machine ever invented. The only problem is, no one will be able to buy it. That’s because no one will have any means of earning money, since the iEverything will do it all.”

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Funky Media Hucksters: How does one “Re-enter” the Work Force?

by Bud Meyers, published March 19, 2015

[* Editors note: This could be considered “Part Two” or an “update” to a previous post I did on this subject.]

Bill Anderson, chief economist of Nevada’s Department of Employment says: “We are starting to see more people re-enter the labor force” — and that’s the reason why the Las Vegas unemployment rate jumped UP from 7.0 to 7.5 percent.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval also said the increase in the unemployment rate was “a reflection of more Nevadans re-entering the workforce and seeking suitable employment” — and that employers are “regaining confidence, and are steadily adding jobs to the economy”.

How does one determine that more people “re-entered” the labor market — either nationally, or on the state or city level? How does the government (or anyone) know that tomorrow, after being unemployed for the last 6 years, someone will wake up and start looking for a job — thereby, re-entering the labor market?

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Who owns the Postal Service?

by Mark Jamison, published March 18, 2015 at Save The Post Office

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(Image source: B. Free Franklin post office in Philadelphia)

Who owns the post office?  Who is the post office designed to serve?  What is the system’s ultimate function?

These questions are fundamental to the future and the fate of the post office, the postal network, and postal services in this country. How we answer them will have a significant impact on businesses, workers, and communities.

We know the Constitution instructs — or more accurately, permits — Congress to make arrangements for post offices and post roads.  That is a good indication that the Founders saw postal services and the infrastructure that supported them as broadly essential to the nation — nation in their reckoning being the sum of the people.

But Congress has abdicated its responsibilities.  It no longer functions as a deliberative body and has become increasingly ineffective as a legislative body.  The Postal Service’s Board of Governors has proven to be equally ineffective and has left postal managers to run operations as they see fit.  The regulatory system is relatively limited and not really able to represent the interests of the public as a whole.

All in all, the Postal Service is simply not accountable to the American people in the way it should be — or the way it must be if it is to survive as a vibrant public postal system, as envisioned by the Founders

In the debates about the Postal Service, the public interest is too often forgotten.  It’s worth quoting yet again the stirring words of Title 39:

“The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. The costs of establishing and maintaining the Postal Service shall not be apportioned to impair the overall value of such service to the people.”

If these words are to mean anything, the leaders of the Postal Service, Congress, and the Executive branch must be reminded that the Postal Service is there to serve not some narrow economic interests but the people of the United States.

The vision of the Founders

There are only a couple of mentions of the post office in the Federalist Papers, the set of writings by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay which offered the explanation and underlying reasoning that supported the new Constitution.  In Federalist 42, Madison wrote:

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New study outlines trillions handed out in U.S. corporate welfare bonanza

by Tax Justice Network,, published March 17, 2015

GoodjobsdetectiveFrom Good Jobs First in the U.S., a new study looking at the many and varied grants, tax credits and subsidies harvested by large companies. The press release for the report, entitled Uncle Sam’s Favourite Corporations, begins:

Federal “Corporate Welfare” Database Now Online

Study: Large Corporations Dominate Federal Subsidy Awards; Banks, Foreign-Owned Energy Firms and Federal Contractors Among the Biggest Recipients

Two-thirds of the $68 billion in business grants and special tax credits awarded by the federal government over the past 15 years have gone to large corporations. During the same period, federal agencies have given the private sector hundreds of billions of dollars in loans, loan guarantees and bailout assistance, with the largest share going to major U.S. and foreign banks.

These are key findings of Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations, a study with accompanying database released today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit and non-partisan research center on economic development accountability based in Washington, DC. They derive from the first comprehensive compilation of company-specific federal subsidy data. The study and database are available at www.goodjobsfirst.org.

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Spanish company tops list of US corporate welfare hogs

by David Cay Johnston, published at Al Jazeera on March 17, 2015

New report represents first effort to measure flow of taxpayer money flowing into company coffers

How much welfare Uncle Sam provides companies has long been one of the great mysteries of taxpayer spending. Like a secret underground river, boodles have flowed out of the Treasury and into corporate bank accounts without notice.

Now we finally have a first look at the size of that river and where the cash goes.

The federal government has quietly doled out $68 billion through 137 government giveaway programs since 2000, according to a new database built by a nonprofit research organization, Good Jobs First. It identified more than 164,000 gifts of taxpayer money to companies. You can look up company names, subsidy programs and other freebies at the Subsidy Tracker 3.0 website.

A report the organization released today, “Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations,” shows that big businesses raked in two-thirds of the welfare.

The most surprising and tantalizing finding is the identity of the biggest known recipient of federal welfare. That dubious honor belongs to Iberdrola, a Spanish energy company with a reputation for awful service and admissions of incompetence. It collected $2.1 billion of welfare on a $5.4 billion investment in U.S. wind farms from coast to coast.

In fact, 10 of the 50 biggest recipients of federal welfare are foreign-owned firms. Try to imagine Congress debating a bill giving welfare payments to poor Canadians, Mexicans and Europeans and you’ll see the absurdity of U.S. taxpayers providing welfare to the owners of foreign corporations.

New tool

Phil Mattera, Good Jobs’ research director, created a software tool that matches subsidiaries to parent companies, enabling him to identify the 1,800 parent companies that received welfare. Its database does not cover many known subsidies, such as Agriculture Department payments to corporate farms, and instead focuses on stealth subsidies on which little or no data have been available without digging through mountains of paperwork.

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Four Numbers that Show the Beating Down of Middle America

by Paul Buchheit, mirrored from Common Dreams

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(Photo: Chris Devers/flickr/cc)

 

There’s something perversely wrong with a society that creates $30 trillion in new wealth while putting six million more children on food stamps.

The mainstream media rarely publishes facts like this. The super-rich keep building up their own numbers, as quietly as possible. And our leading members of Congress have little need for numbers, except for budget cuts and the strings of zeros at the end of their campaign contributions.

But numbers have the power to reveal the dramatic fall of the middle class over the past 35 years.

1. 138,000 Kids Were Homeless while 115,000 Households Were Each Making $10 Million Per Year 

Recent data has shown that the richest .1% (115,000 households) have each increased their wealth by an astonishing $10 million per year. As they counted their money on a frigid night in January, 138,000 children, according to the U.S. Department of Housing, were without a place to call home.

2. The Average U.S. Household Pays $400 to Feed and Clothe Walmart, McDonalds, and Other Low-Wage Workers

The Economic Policy Institute reports that $45 billion per year in federal, state, and other safety net support is paid to workers earning less than $10.10 an hour. Thus the average U.S. household is paying about $400 to employees in low-wage industries such as food service, retail, and personal care.

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Can One Union Save the Beleaguered U.S. Postal Service?

by Yves Smith, published March 15, 2015

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its initiative on The Public Good. He is the author of “New City States” and four other non-fiction books. Originally  published at Alternet

Let’s begin with the bad news. The U.S. Post Office, the oldest, most respected and ubiquitous of all public institutions is fast disappearing. In recent years management has shuttered half the nation’s mail processing plants and put 10 percent of all local post offices up for sale. A third of all post offices, most of them in rural areas, have had their hours slashed. Hundreds of full time, highly experienced postmasters knowledgeable about the people and the communities they serve have been dumped unceremoniously, often replaced by part timers. Ever larger portions of traditional post office operations— trucking, mail processing and mail handling– have been privatized. Close to 200,000 middle class jobs have disappeared.

Since 2012 the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has lowered service standards three times, most recently in January when in preparation for closing an additional 82 mail processing plants it announced the end of one day delivery of local first class mail and an additional 1-2 days for all mail. Subscribers to Netflix’s DVD delivery service may soon discover the cost effectiveness of a monthly subscription has been cut in half because the number of DVD’s they receive in a month has been cut in half.

The Postal Service, we are told, has fallen so deeply into debt (more on this in a moment) that it has exhausted its borrowing capacity. There’s no cash left. It’s been challenging to invest in capital projects. Post offices are in disrepair. Trucks are out of date.

Now for the good news. On November 12, 2013 a slate of insurgents won seven of nine national offices at the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). What? Can the election of new officers in a single union, even one with over 200,000 members possibly save the post office? Certainly not if they try to do it singlehandedly but there’s a chance, just a chance they could turn the tide if they build an effective national movement. And that’s what they’re trying to do.

The APWU Strategy

The APWU’s new officers are unusually experienced and talented organizers. After leading the Greater Greensboro Area Local for 12 years and co-founding the Greensboro Chapter of Jobs with Justice, President Mark Dimondstein was appointed APWU’s National Lead Field Organizer in 2000 in a new campaign to organize workers in privatized mail trucking and processing operations. That afforded him important experience in the rough and tumble world of the private sector where workers have the legal right to strike (post office workers can’t) and corporations have the legal right to do almost anything they want to thwart union organizers. The campaign had many successes but prolonged strikes against several companies eventually exhausted the union’s strike fund and its national leadership refused repeated requests by Dimondstein and others to replenish it,

Other new officers include Political Director John Marcotte who organized a local coalition that stopped the consolidation of his Michigan plant and Executive Vice President Debby Szeredy who led her Mid-Hudson local in fighting their plant closure. Both she and the new Clerk Craft Director Clint Burelson also participated in a hunger strike in 2012.

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“We Deliver for Amazon”: The Postal Service’s New Priority

by Save the Post Office, published March 15, 2015

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A former postal worker in Greensboro, North Carolina, named Paul Barbot has written two excellent articles for Alternet about his experiences dealing with Amazon deliveries as a City Carrier Assistant (CCA).  The first of them — “The Horrific New Marriage Between Your Post Office and Amazon Sunday” — was published in February, when Barbot still worked for the Postal Service.  The second, “The Real Cost of ‘Amazon Sunday,’” came out a few days ago, not long after Barbot left the post office.

Barbot describes what it’s like serving as an overworked, underpaid non-career employee and how the deal to deliver Amazon packages on Sundays is causing all sorts of problems.  The problems got so bad, in fact, that Barbot had to quit.

Apparently, the high turnover of CCAs is becoming a serious issue.

In its 2014 Annual Report to Congress, the Postal Service noted that while the target for Deliveries per Hour in in FY2014 was 42.9, the actual result was 42.0. The Postal Service offered several explanations for why the target was not met, including the overrun of an aggressive work hour plan and additional hours used to avoid delaying mail during the Christmas season.

The Postal Service also pointed to three other explanations, all of which have to do with delivering for Amazon: the additional workload from Sunday package delivery, the hiring and training of many new non-career employees, and a high turnover rate — in excess of 40 percent — for CCAs.

As part of the Annual Compliance review being conducted by the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Postal Service was asked about the turnover rate in a Chairman’s Information Request.

The PRC noted that in FY 2014 the Postal Service extended the Voice of the Employee Survey to all employees. “Based on the Voice of the Employee Survey results,” asked the Chairman, “what insights were gained about the high turnover rate for city carrier assistants?”

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What Anti-Union Workers Should Know

by Bud Meyers, published March 15, 2015

anti-unionFor decades the top 0.01% (and their political allies) have been winning the war on working-class Americans (meaning, about 92.2% of the labor force). One particular political party always wants to cut government agencies and programs that protect workers’ health, safety and welfare — such as workers’ wages, workers’ pensions, workers’ voting rights and workers’ labor unions (like they do with their so-called “Right to Work” laws).

They would like to defund or eliminate government agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and even the Department of Labor — so that the “job creators” can misclassify workers as “independent contractors”, engage in wage theft, dodge payroll taxes, skirt environmental and safety laws, and cut worker compensation benefits when workers are injured on the job.

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