Nel's New Day

September 13, 2017

DDT: Week Thirty-three – Natural Disasters Mixed with GOP Disappointment

Disaster—that is the word for 33rd week that Dictator Donald Trump spent as the White House resident. Houston suffered from Hurricane Harvey as Hurricane Irma, considered five times worse than Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago, ploughed through islands south of Florida and moved across the mainline to devastate large parts of southern states. Hackers into Equifax, one of the principal credit score providers in the nation, collected records, including Social Security numbers and birthdates allowing identity theft, from 143 million people. They also got credit card numbers from over 200,000 people and dispute documents with personal information for another 182,000 customers.

Between Harvey and Irma came the 8.1 earthquake on the southern coast of Mexico, the worst in 100 years, that killed at least 95 people. The death rate was much lower than the estimated 2,000 to 40,000 deaths with the 8.0 earthquake in Mexico because of better building codes and less populated areas for the earthquake’s site. A similar earthquake possible for southwestern California could kill thousands of people and be worsened if the proposed 2018 budget cuts funds for a seismic warning system as proposed. DDT ignored both the earthquake and the loss of at least three people after Hurricane Katia hit Mexico. Three weeks ago, DDT also refused to send any fire-fighting aid to Oregon although its 500,000 burning acres comprise one-third of the fires in the nation.

Congressional GOP members were devastated when (DDT) turned on them and made “Chuck and Nancy”—Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) (left) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), his new friends. DDT’s old friends “Paul” Ryan (R-WI), House Speaker, and “Mitch” McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority Leader, got left in the dust at a meeting where DDT gave Democrats three-month extensions on the budget and the debt ceiling as well as the $15 billion disaster aid with no cuts in other areas. An hour earlier, Ryan had called the three-month debt-ceiling extension “ridiculous,” “disgraceful,” and “unworkable, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also disliked the deal. The GOP will face another fight for the budget and debt ceiling before the December 8, 2017 deadline.

Pundits’ theories on why DDT agreed to the deal: he got bored, he thought conservatives wanted it, he thought it would clear the way for progress as in tax “cuts,” or he’s just hostile toward congressional GOP leadership. DDT’s support of North Dakota’s Democratic senators up for re-election this year at his rally last week supports the last idea. A question is how much longer the GOP will protect DDT.

DDT’s deal with Schumer and Pelosi moved so fast that he signed the bill into law within three days. Seventeen GOP senators and 90 GOP representative Republicans voted against it, including four House members from storm-ravaged Texas. Another 17 GOP representatives refused to vote. With GOP support, however, hurricane aid passed 88 days faster than it did for Superstorm Sandy.

Billionaire Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney were booed when they advocated for the bill; Mulvaney had led opposition to raising the debt ceiling when he was in the House. The booing continued after he wouldn’t promise Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) that DDT would not commit to reducing the debt ceiling in the December negotiations. Mnuchin left early after he said that people should support the bill for him personally and not for the policy. Ryan forgot he hated the bill and supported the legislation.

DDT rescinded DACA (the executive order allowing people illegally brought into the country involuntarily as children to get job permits) but made AG Jeff Sessions make the announcement. Sessions claimed that his job is to “enforce the law” and then defended DDT’s pardon of Arizona’s past sheriff, Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt after he willfully violating a federal judge’s order to stop racial profiling. Unable to cope with his unpopularity after his anti-DACA ruling, DDT blamed Congress and said that he was just waiting for them to fix his own firing of 800,000 people so that they will take the hit from conservative voters.

Congress is willing to use millions of lives as extortion. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) wants to trade legal permanent dreamers’ residence for cutting immigration levels in half. Others want to trade the dreamers’ rights for DDT’s wall. Over 400 executives, many of them from the biggest companies such as AT&T and Microsoft, have signed a petition to protect the “dreamers.”  These CEOs know that purchases from Dreamers create more jobs and more profits for these companies that are the strongest base for GOP donations. Even members of DDT’s evangelical advisory board, who supported his racism, think that DDT’s DACA decision is wrong. Sixty-four percent of people in the U.S. back this program, including 41 percent of Republicans. And workers are needed to rebuild after massive losses from the nation’s disasters. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia are suing DDT for his DACA decision. An earlier lawsuit supporting DACA has a court hearing tomorrow. DDT has one fewer DACA recipient to throw out of the country: Alonso Guillen, 31, died rescuing people from Hurricane Harvey.

Special investigator Robert Mueller’s juggernaut about Russian involvement keeps moving forward as six current and former DDT aides, including Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, may be interviewed. DDT tortured Spicer as much as, or more than, Saturday Night Live, as the press secretary was constantly forced to lie—beginning with the size of the inauguration crowd on DDT’s first day. The firing of former FBI director James Comey was a huge fiasco as Spicer passed along the party line of a DOJ recommendation for the act just before DDT told Lester Holt that he had long planned to fire Comey with “Russia” on his mind. DDT also tormented Priebus up to the time that he resigned. Both can use the Fifth Amendment not to testify, but there are always memos. Even the White House lawyer needs a lawyer.

DDT’s statement that he will give $1 million to relief aid for Hurricane Harvey as brought back the question of the donations to his inauguration fund that he said would be given to charities. The committee raised $107 million with no caps on individual contributions and selling “exclusive access” for over $1 million, but low attendance kept costs down. Charities were supposed to know who gets the money in April, but now Tom Barrack, head of the committee said that he will release details in November. Maybe the $1 million of DDT’s “personal money” will come from that source—or maybe it will go for Donald Trump, Jr.’s legal fees like DDT’s campaign funds. [$1 million sounds generous, but if DDT is worth $9 billion, it’s like a person with $1 million in net assets giving $90. Millionaires comprise less than ten percent of people in the U.S.]

Donald Jr. needs the legal assistance he’s getting from DDT’s campaign funds. This past week, he was interviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee about his meeting over a year ago with Russians to “get dirt” on Hillary Clinton before the presidential election. He said that he was just checking into her “fitness” for the office. This was after a number of various excuses earlier.

Another DDT problem is the NAFTA negotiations. DDT has said that Canada and Mexico are being “difficult”; Canada is demanding that the U.S. eliminate anti-union “right-to-work” laws and pressuring both Mexico and the U.S. “to offer a year of paid family leave, as Canada does.” In the U.S., 29 states have passed laws eliminating rights of unions, and congressional Republicans have sponsored bills to make “right to work” in all states that will suppress wages, employment, and economic growth. DDT has already cut pay increases for federal employees, overturned overtime pay and worker safety rules, and put union-busters on the National Labor Relations Board which is supposed to protect workers. Trade agreements typically favor corporations over workers; Canada is trying to change that dynamic.

Pushed to the bottom of immediate concerns from the media is North Korea’s claim that it has a hydrogen bomb that can be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile. Experts think that the bomb is actually a “boosted” atomic bomb with less power than a hydrogen bomb, but the U.S. is still goading North Korea with its summer “games.” The U.S. has joined Japan and South Korea in large-scale military drills with over 3,500 troops to simulate an invasion of North Korea and destroy the current regime. Last week’s North Korean missile tests were in response to South Korea’s three week-long military drills with over 75,000 combat troops accompanied by hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, landing craft, heavy artillery, a full naval flotilla and flyovers by squadrons of state of the art fighters and strategic bombers.

DDT expects help from South Korea to protect the U.S. from North Korea after he lied about sending military resources to help them, ignored history by saying that they were part of China, told them that they had to pay for the U.S. missile-defense system, threatened to eliminate the trade agreement with South Korea, and failed to nominate an ambassador to South Korea.  After alienating Europe, DDT is also going to them for help. DDT’s following through on his threat to stop trade with countries doing business with North Korea would be “an economic tsunami beyond description,” according to NPR’s Ron Elving, and former George W. Bush staffer Taylor Griffin called the economic impact “apocalyptic.” The value of trade between China and the U.S. alone is $663 billion—and DDT’s purchases are part of that amount.

Chief of Staff John Kelly seems to be quieting DDT for the past weeks, but he got his cellphone back tonight when he railed against “Crooked Clinton” about her new book. We’ll wait to see if it’s the recurring trend.

 

September 7, 2015

Good News, Bad News from Labor Day, 2015

Republicans love to blame the Democrats for destroying the coal industry, but conservatives are the people who decimated the economy in the South through their eradication of the unions. For a century, union organizers were shot, beaten, and stabbed in their fight to get reasonable pay and safe conditions underground, but now the last union mine in Kentucky has been closed. Younger workers took their wages for granted, and now not one working miner belongs to a union, the only protection that mine workers have had.

Conservatives curse the unions but fail to realize that they are responsible for the rise of the middle class.

union_density_middleclass 2

union_density_inequality 1

High income inequality has correlated with low union membership for over 100 years in the U.S. As union membership shrinks, money and power shift upwards. Data from 2010 show that all workers make more money in a pro-union state.

workers do better

Today is Labor Day, established as a federal holiday 121 years ago to celebrate labor. Oregon declared it a holiday 17 years earlier. If you have today off, thank unions. If you are working today, thank unions for other benefits such as shorter work weeks, weekends off, expanded health care through employer-provided health insurance, and the end of child labor except within religious groups. Unions also brought paid vacation, breaks, sick leave, Social Security, overtime pay, worker’s compensation, and more. If you don’t have these benefits, thank the Republicans.

In some states, union attacks brought “right-to-work” laws, which block collective bargaining for higher wages, better benefits, and protections. The “freedom” created by these laws gives corporations and the wealthy the “right-to-underpay” and “right-to-cheat” employees. In Wisconsin, the latest state to adopt this law, “right-to-work” will cause workers and families to annually lose between $3.89 billion and $4.82 billion. Workers in “right-to-work” states make $1,560 less per year than in states without the law. Women in union jobs earn $212 per week—30.9 percent—more than women in non-union jobs. The gender wage gap is also smaller for women in unions, 88.7 cents for every dollar a man makes compared to 78 cents for all workers. Men in union jobs make $173 more per week than non-union workers.

President Obama celebrated this year’s Labor Day by mandating all 300,000 government contractor employees be granted seven paid sick days per year starting in 2017. That leaves another 44 million workers without paid sick leave because the United States is the only developed nation without a paid sick leave policy. The president’s executive order adds to other orders that move toward higher minimum wage and equal pay for men and women.

Other good news comes from the job market. Republicans swore to bring jobs back when they were elected in masses, but they’ve done nothing to help workers. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he would reduce the unemployment rate to 6 percent by 2016 if he were elected in 2012. Right now, it’s 5.1 percent after 66 consecutive months of private sector job growth—13 million jobs—during President Obama’s six and a half years in office. Many of these jobs came from the health care job growth after Republicans called the ACA the “job killing health care law.”

The bad news comes from the loss of wages for everyone except the top echelon. Oregon is an example of this: in the past 35 years, the bottom income bracket has lost 30 percent of income in the state while the top 1 percent gained 88 percent of the income. Republicans refuse to increase the federal minimum wage, one-third lower when adjusted for inflation than in the 1960s. They also consider the Keystone Pipeline bill a “jobs bill” although it employs only 4,200 people for one year while wiping out other permanent jobs by taking over and destroying land. The GOP’s “Hire More Heroes Act” to employ veterans doesn’t count veterans as employees so that companies with more than 50 employees can avoid the ACA mandate to provide health care. Up to one million workers would lose health insurance with the redefinition of “full-time employment” as 40 hours a week in the GOP’s “Save American Workers Act.”

Another piece of bad news is the growing divergence between salary and productivity. During the 25 years prior to 1973, wages and productivity grew together, but between 1973 and 2014, hourly wages went up 8.7, adjusted for inflation, and productivity increased by 72.2 percent. The change is a major reason for the rapidly growing income inequality during the past 40 years as payment for employees went to owners of capital. Workers generate the income but don’t get an increase in hourly pay. The last four years has been worse as worker productivity increased by 21 percent while wages rose only 2 percent.

wages by bracket

Republicans claim to support a “trickle-down” economy but instead push an economy that is “gush-up.” Unregulated free-market capitalism is a “winner-take-all” wealth over the common good, and billionaires buy politicians and design education and health systems to control the bottom 99 percent of people in the United States. The average CEO earns 204 times what average workers earn, and two-thirds of the poor in the United States—68 percent—have jobs.

Hedge fund billionaires are not required to pay their fair share of taxes receive awards yet are praised. For example, John Paulson, noted for “Outstanding Contributions to Society,” got $3.7 billion by conspiring with Goldman Sachs to create risky subprime mortgages. He used other people’s money to bet against his sure-to-fail financial instruments. As U.S. wealth grew from $52 trillion to over $83 trillion between 2007 and 2014, six million more children were forced onto food stamps. Forty percent of households are food-insecure while 40 percent of the food in the United States is wasted.

Despite the decreasing unemployment rate, taxpayers fund the movement of many jobs overseas while technology eliminates others. Kodak once employed 145,000 people to do the same photo processing that Instagram does with 15 workers. Three-fourths of faculty at colleges and universities are now “adjunct” instructors, paid a pittance for part-time work. One-fourth of these teachers, almost 20 percent of college and university faculty, are forced into food stamp or other public assistance programs to survive.

Republicans claim that they want to return to the 1950s, and economically this would benefit almost everyone. In 1956, the GOP platform supported an increase in the minimum wage, an expansion of Social security, adequate coverage for the unemployed, better housing, and health care for all. “Government must have a heart as well as a head” and “America does not prosper unless all Americans prosper” were included in the GOP belief system. According to the GOP platform, “President Eisenhower’s administration brought the highest employment, highest wages, and the highest standard of living ever experience in any country.”

Today’s GOP portrays people on unemployment as leeches, but the GOP of 1956 called for “providing assistance to improve the economic conditions of areas faced with persistent and substantial unemployment.” Republicans in the 1950s also wanted to strengthen “the rights of labor unions” and protect “the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively.”

In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower looked forward to today’s GOP when he wrote:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are…a few…Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

He may have been right.

March 11, 2015

Walker Supports ‘Takers’ in Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker has created a new category of “takers” in his state of Wisconsin. Opposed to people getting something for free, he has signed the misnamed “right to work” law that allows people not to join the unions at their places of employment. To some people, this is “freedom,” but unions are not free to protect and negotiate for only their members. They must do this for all workers in places that unions cover. That means employees who don’t join unions but still benefit from the hard work of the organization are actually taking something free from the people who do pay for these services.

The law makes Wisconsin the 25th “right-to-work state” and the first state since Michigan and Indiana in 2012. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provided wording, also used by Wisconsin, for this bill and those being pushed through legislatures in other states. The takers of Wisconsin are funded by ALEC backers such as the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and Exxon Mobile. This law follows Walker’s stripping collective-bargaining rights from many state workers in Wisconsin.

Although the ALEC-worded RTW bill may succeed in Missouri, it has run into problems in Montana, Colorado, West Virginia, New Mexico, Kentucky, and New Hampshire—at least for now. Michigan has introduced a RTW extension for police, fire, and public safety unions. Kentucky is passing RTW on the local level, and billionaire GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued an executive order for RTW in Illinois public unions. On the federal level, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a “National Right-to-Work Act,” and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced its companion act in the House.

Walker said, “This [law] sends a powerful message across the country and across the world.” His message is his move to the right as he prepares for a presidential campaign. His email message immediately after he signed the bill is that he wanted money for his campaign when he asked for donations of $10, $100 and $1,000.

Walker consistently reneges on his statements. Until a few weeks ago, he denied that he would make Wisconsin a RTW state and claimed throughout his reelection campaign, “Private-sector unions are my partner in economic development.” Before his 2010 election, he told newspapers that he would negotiate with public sector unions; his anti-collective bargaining bill was introduced immediately after he took office in 2011. Two years ago, he was in favor of giving undocumented workers a chance at citizenship if they obeyed the law. Now he reversed that opinion to join another possible presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The governor’s position on abortion has also reversed. Before last fall’s election, he told voters, “I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options.” He claimed he supported a bill that “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” Now he plans to sign a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks in constitutional violation of Roe v.Wade and removing the decision from a woman and her doctor.

Wooing Iowa, he switched his opposition to mandating ethanol and other renewable fuels. Now he wants to continue the Renewable Fuel Standard. Iowans might want to use caution in believing him. Walker will no doubt flip his promises for any personal gain.

ALEC has been helped by the 60-year-old National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC), led by fundamentalist Christian Greg Mourad, that also receives huge donations from the Koch brothers. The organization was co-founded by right-winger Fred A. Hartley, who co-sponsored the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act restricting unions and also co-founded the John Birch Society. The NRTWC has been behind the skyrocketing income inequality in the United States. CEOs who earned 20 times a worker’s pay 50 years ago, now receive at least 300 times the worker’s pay. Between 1973 and 2014, public-sector union membership dropped by 78 percent. Unionization and minimum wages helped equalize the distribution of wages. That’s why the Koch brothers are determined to get rid of both.

In a comparison of the share of income going to the middle 60 percent of population, the workers in the ten states with the lowest rates of union membership brought home 46.8 percent of total income, and the ten states with the highest rates of union membership brought home 47.4 percent of total income. It may sound like a small percentage, but the difference is equivalent to billions of dollars.

Abdur Chowdhury, professor of economics at Marquette University in Milwaukee, explained why Walker’s legislation could annually cost Wisconsin $4.5 billion in lost income and revenue: “If our income goes down, we spend less money on groceries.” Walker also loses money for his state: less income means less tax revenue, at least $234 million. The state won’t get this back from the wealthy and corporations because of the massive tax cuts that Walker gave them.

Despite claims from ALEC “economists” that RTW laws boost per capita personal income, average wages for all occupations in RTW states were about $4 an hour lower compared to non-RTW states in 2013. In RTW states, workers have $5,971 lower wages and fewer employers offering pension benefits or health care. Employers looking for skilled workers or a well-developed infrastructure will most likely not go to RTW states because these are less likely to have these advantages. That’s a reason that 400 businesses formed a coalition to oppose the law.

Oklahoma, the first state to pass a RTW law in 2001 for 25 years, was also the first state to do so in the post-NAFTA era of globalization. There has been no positive impact on employment in Oklahoma in the last 14 years. In addition, the number of companies relocating to the state and the number of manufacturing jobs both fell by a third in the first decade after the law was enacted.

Walker is not finished with trying to lower wages for workers. He’s trying to restrict the role of administrative law judges in workers comp disputes and take authority for the system away from the state Department of Workforce Development, a move that has been found unconstitutional in Florida. Also, Wisconsin is one of 32 states with a wage law to “prevent lowball bids from depressing wages,” something that Walker wants to repeal. The third reduction of wages would come from prohibiting “project labor agreements” that bars non-union contractors from working on publicly-funded projects.

Unions in Wisconsin are fighting Walker in creating his new category of takers. The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO with chapters from the International Association of Machinists, and United Steelworkers unions have filed a suit on the basis that the law “deprives the unions of their property without just compensation by prohibiting the unions from charging non-members who refuse to pay for representative services which unions continue to be obligated to provide.” In other words, Walker’s permission for employees to free-load off the unions is unconstitutional.

When Walker was elected, he promised a massive increase in jobs in his state. He failed. Since Walker became governor, job growth, GDP, and decline of unemployment have all lagged behind neighboring states and the nation as a whole. He may fail again with his new RTW law. Seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are RTW. After stopping RTW laws in 2012, Minnesota’s average weekly wage is $877.81, almost ten percent higher than its RTW neighbor Michigan that has a 6.3 percent unemployment rate compared to Minnesota’s 3.6 percent. Indiana, another RTW state, has an average weekly wage of $788.70 and a 5.8 percent unemployment state. Minnesota is one of the five fastest-growing states in the nation since 2012.

RTW Michigan also has a huge budget deficit and no industry coming into the state. Gov. Rick Snyder has had to lower the number of jobs that businesses need to create in order to receive massive tax credits. The worst is yet to come because workers are still operating on contracts made before the 2012 law, something that won’t happen in Wisconsin because the law goes into effect immediately.

Quality of life in RTW states is measurably worse with eight of the worst states in the nation having RTW laws, and eight of the best being non-RTW. RTW states have poorer life expectancy and infant mortality, higher homicide rates, worse pollution, lower voter turnout, less broadband access, lower educational levels, and poorer housing. The 24 RTW states have 34 percent higher rate of deaths on the job in the construction industry. During the 20th century, the middle class grew as unions grew; it began to shrink when unions were weakened through the so-called “right-to-work” laws.

Walker’s legacy will be the bodies that he leaves strewn along his path toward the White House.

September 9, 2013

Samuelson Turns Left, Odell Keeps Far Right

While eating out at my favorite breakfast place this morning and looking out at the sun over the ocean, I started, as usual, to read the newspaper. Frequently, I skip Robert Samuelson’s column because it tends to be such far-right twaddle. The headline, however, was intriguing: “What’s Stunting a Slow Recovery.” Curious about what myths the conservatives want to perpetrate, I checked out the first paragraph:

“In the struggle between capital and labor, capital is winning — and that’s hurting the feeble economic recovery. To simplify slightly: Labor (wage-earners and consumers) can’t spend; and capital (businesses and shareholders) won’t spend. Without a powerful growth engine, the economy advances haltingly. I wrote about this last week from labor’s perspective, but the subject deserves deeper treatment.”

Stunned by such a reasonable answer, I continued reading. He actually said that he had reported last week (missed that column!) that “labor’s share has plunged in the past decade. In 2013, it’s 57 percent. This shifts about $750 billion annually from labor to capital.”

And he kept on in a mildly progressive tone: “The shift worsens economic inequality, because capital income — dominated by profits — is skewed toward the wealthy. But the explanation is not a simple story of unbridled greed and undue influence.” Samuelson said that he didn’t know why. I could explain the reason, but he’s already come a long way.

According to Samuelson, the loss in labor’s share is global: “in 22 other advance countries … labor’s share fell from 73 percent in 1980 to 65 percent in 2011. The trend also occurs in poorer countries, including China, Turkey and Mexico, reports Timothy Taylor, managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives.”

Samuelson’s rationale is pure progressive:

“Labor’s shrinking share curbs consumer spending. The economy will then falter if the recipients of capital income don’t offset the weakness with increased spending on buildings, equipment, research and new products. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Corporate America is husbanding its profits. It invests mainly in the safest projects…. A well-functioning economy is a circular process by which one person’s spending becomes another person’s income, which is then spent again. Today, there’s a damaging disconnect between capital’s rising share and its subsequent spending. So the economy sputters.”

His answer is the same as real economists:

“What would improve the odds is more exuberance from the custodians of capital. CEOs seem content to sit on their profits and invest only when the needs and the returns are indisputable. Careless capital, which fostered the financial crisis, has given way to ultracautious capital, which is making a lackluster economy self-fulfilling.”

On the same page of the newspaper was a guest column from Oregon attorney Jill Gibson Odell, part of the Gibson Law Firm in conservative Washington County (OR), in support of a proposed “right to work” petition. Oregon has a system of initiatives: enough signatures can put anything on the ballot. In this case it’s temporarily called Public Employee Choice Act and would give public workers the right to not join a union if they wish. Odell touts “freedom,” becoming incensed when Gov. John Kitzhaber said, “A right-to-work state means you have a right to be exploited and ripped off and work at unsafe jobs and low wages and no benefits.”

Odell thinks that people should have the right to choose membership in a union in the same way that they want to choose abortions, assisted suicide, and marriage equality. She failed to point out whether she agreed with all these choices. According to Odell, “being pro-choice means that you believe in a person’s right to make his or her own life decisions, even if you don’t agree with those decisions.”

What Odell ignores about the “choice” to join a union is that unions are obligated under federal law to represent workers in their bargaining units, whether they are dues-paying members or not. Therefore all people get the same benefits even if they don’t pay for them, and the paying members have to pay for these non-paying users. They can be compared to people who think that they deserve all government benefits even if they “choose” to not pay any taxes although their level of income requires it.

States with “right to work for less” laws typically have worse economies. Because salaries are lower in those states, people pay less taxes. Even libertarians oppose right to work laws as shown by an editorial in Reason magazine late last year about the new law in Michigan:

“I consider the restrictions right-to-work laws impose on bargaining between unions and businesses to violate freedom of contract and association….  I’m disappointed that the state has, once again, inserted itself into the marketplace to place its thumb on the scale in the never-ending game of playing business and labor off against one another.”

Census data revealed that a 10-percent increase in union membership would boost the average annual income for middle-class households by $1,501 a year. In 2011 the five states with the lowest unionization rates—North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, and Louisiana—all had middle classes with below-average strength, defined as the share of income going to the middle 60 percent of households. Four out of the five states with the highest unionization rates—Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, and Michigan—all had middle classes with above-average strength.

Without unions, people would not have weekends, employee-provided health coverage (such as it is), and the Family and Medical Leave Act,   Without unions, the country would have child labor. In the prosperous 1950s, almost one in three workers in the United States belonged to a union; now we have no unions and no prosperity—except for the very top few percent of people. The following chart shows the correlation between middle class income and union membership.

unionincomeWisconsin is an excellent example of what can happen with the “right to work” law that Odell wants in Oregon. Gov. Scott Walker claimed that he would save the state by creating 250,000 jobs. Instead, this past June the state came in 49th in a monthly state-by-state index of leading economic growth indicators. Only four other states in the nation are in contraction—Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Wyoming—projected to decrease growth. Wisconsin is second from the bottom; all five states have GOP governors who are associated with lower rates of growth.

Two months earlier, Wisconsin came in as the fifth worst in terms of the erosion in private-sector wages. Forbes named Wisconsin one of the “worst states” for business in December of 2012. The governor led the state to the bottom of short term job growth from September 2010 and November 2012. That’s where Odell wants to take Oregon.

Wisconsin’s economic recovery started this summer, but, as blogger John Peterson pointed out, it’s not difficult to improve when you’re at the bottom. Even with the growth in average wage, it’s still 12 percent lower than the national norm, and income is 5.1 percent lower than the U.S. average.  The GOP pledged never to raise taxes, meaning that their only choice to fund transportation projects is through borrowing. Studies show that the states’ roads are rapidly worsening. Wisconsin companies received $34.23 per worker in venture capital, a five-year increase of 6.5 percent but far below the national average of $200.94.

I’m grateful to a conservative columnist like Samuelson who understands the serious issue of economic inequality in the United States and the importance of labor. Those of us who live in Oregon can only hope that we won’t follow Wisconsin because of people like Jill Gibson Odell.

February 5, 2012

‘Right-to-Work’ Law a Loss for States

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:22 PM
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Indiana enacted a “right-to-work” law last week, the first state in a decade to do so. Under the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), states are permitted to pass legislation stating that workers are not required to join unions in their place of employment. Business owners want these right-to-work laws because the workers’ rights are weakened: the owners can fail to provide rights that unions may demand. (Think the textile mills a century ago that could hire and fire at will if employees objected to the hours or wages.)

The 23 right-to-work states are all in the Rocky Mountain, Plains, and Southern states with Indiana the first Midwest state unless Iowa fits into that area. There are no right-to-work states on the West Coast or in the East, but Steve Buckstein of the Cascade Policy Institute wants to change that.

In an op-ed piece for The Oregonian (Portland, OR), Buckstein extolled the virtues of a right-to-work law for the state. He joined that conservatives party line that such a law would provide faster employment and income growth with speedier recovery from recession. His crystal ball showed the increase in number of employed people and the additional billions of dollars that they would be making while more people move to Oregon from other states.

In collecting and reporting statistics, Buckstein missed a few:

  • During the past four quarters, seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rate are right-to-work states.
  • In right-to-work states, 21 percent more people lack health insurance than in free-bargaining states.
  • Employer-sponsored health insurance is 2.6 percent less in right-to-work states compared with non-right-to-work states.
  • Employer-sponsored pensions are 4.8 percent less in right-to-work states.
  • Infant mortality rate in right-to-work states is as much as 16 per cent or higher than states without these laws.
  • The rate of people dying from workplace-related problems is 51% higher in a right-to-work state than in a non-right-to-work state. Weakened unions lose their ability to fight for tougher safety rules
  • Twelve of the 15 states with the lowest average hourly wage for production workers are right-to-work states.
  • The average worker in a right-to-work state makes about $5,333 a year less than workers in other states ($35,500 compared with $30,167). Weekly wages are $72 greater in free-bargaining states than in right-to-work states ($621 versus $549).
  • Women and minorities have higher income inequities with white men in right-to-work states than in other states: union women earn $149 more each week than nonunion women; the pay gap between all men and union women is only 5 percent, compared to a national gap of 32 percent; Latino union members earn 45 percent ($180) more each week than nonunion Latinos; Blacks earn 30 percent ($180) more each week than nonunion Blacks; in two occupations with high representation of African Americans—protective services and machine operators—union members earn 56 percent and 39 percent more, respectively, than their nonunion counterparts.
  • The poverty rate in right-to-work states is 12.5 percent compared to 10.2 percent in other states.
  • Seven of the 10 states with the highest percentage of their citizens in poverty are right-to-work states.
  • Eleven of the 15 states with the highest poverty level are right-to-work states, while 11 of the states with the lowest level are not.
  • Eleven of the 15 states with the highest household income are non-right-to-work states, while 11 of the 15 lowest are right to work.
  • Although 10 of 15 states with the lowest unemployment levels are right-to-work states, right-to-work states also have half of the highest 16 unemployment rates.
  • Eight of the 10 states with the highest GDP per capita are non-right-to-work states. Of the 10 states with the largest percentage increase, seven were non-right-to-work states. Conversely, seven of the 10 states with the lowest percentage increase (or with a loss) were right-to-work states.

People who choose not to join unions in right-to-work states benefit from union protection. For example, when a non-union person is illegally fired, the union is required to use its resources, even in a costly legal process, to protect that person. If non-union employees think that the union is not adequately serving them, they can then sue the union. Unless the business owners have frightened all their employees from joining unions with the threat of being fired. Then no one working at that business has any rights.

Buckstein also tried to show that a right-to-work law would return “freedom” to the workers by allowing them to refuse to join a union. According to Buckstein, “basic principles of liberty and justice demand that we defend everyone’s right to work without third-party interference. The right to work is therefore a moral as well as an economic imperative.” Federal law protects workers who don’t want to join a union to get or keep their jobs as well as protecting nonmembers from paying for union activities that violate their religious or political beliefs.

I always find the conservative’s use of the term “freedom” ironic because they are so intent on getting into U.S. citizens’  bedrooms with their desire to control women’s reproductive rights and prevent LGBT rights. I consider the rights of people to make a living wage and live their lives without religious interference to be a “moral as well as an economic imperative.”

If a non-right-to-work state, like Oregon, were to change their laws like Indiana, it would have lower paid workers who would require more government assistance, pay more workers’ comp for worker injuries, have fewer low-income people with health insurance again requiring more government assistance, receive less taxes because of lower salaries, have a higher unemployment rate, and lose part of its GDP. Mr. Buckstein, I think that passing a right-to-work law in Oregon is a losing proposition for the state and its people.

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