Nel's New Day

November 24, 2012

Conservatives Don’t Get It, Don’t Quit!

One of my wonderful friends lives in Wisconsin, the anti-union state of the nation. She’s even a school librarian who has lost almost 10 percent of her salary since Scott Walker became governor through wage cuts and increases in her payments for health insurance and pension. Her following story clearly points out the class warfare between workers and the elite, sometimes called business owners.

“While I was waiting for my friend for dinner, I met a woman at the bar. Something about Obama came on the television, and she revealed to me that she was very sad that Mittens lost. I told her that I was on the other side of the aisle, and we had a moderately civil conversation. She said she was for Mittens because she owned a business and couldn’t afford Obama.

“As she was leaving, we got to talking about her boots that made her look much taller. She said, ‘Look at this,’ and she lifted her foot to show me the red bottoms of her boots, expecting me to be impressed. She did comment that the cost of the boots was equal to a mortgage payment. She asked about my footwear, and I held up my foot clad in my ancient but very sturdy Ecco sandals. She laughed.

“Later I Googled “red soles” and discovered the boots were Louboutin boots. I realized that our conversation was the race in a nutshell: Louboutin boots being afraid that the Ecco sandals were going to cost her too much money. It was an enlightening conversation.”

To save you the time of price comparison, Louboutin boots run about $2000; Ecco sandals can be purchased for under $50. The discussion shows the values of the wealthy in the United States who consider themselves to be far superior to the people who are educating their children.

Another story about insensitive superiority comes from Linda McMahon who poured $100 million into her two failed political campaigns for Connecticut senator. According to New Haven (CT) News 8, election campaign workers were not paid during the two days following Election Day. After they complained, they received checks that bounced. Twaine Don Gomes, who reported the problem, said his bounced check was accompanied by a little extra in the envelope. “Basically he handed me a check with a condom in it, told me I was screwed,” Gomes said. Maybe this means McMahon won’t be running a third time.

Stupidity meets superiority when Fox News pundit Andrea Tantaros dismissed the plight of hungry Americans, claiming that she would “look fabulous” if she were forced to live on a food stamp diet. Tantaros ignores the fact that the average Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) household has a monthly income of $731, and 76 percent include a child, elderly or disabled person. Without SNAP, even more Americans would go hungry.

Twinkies will be gone—at least temporarily—after U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain gave Hostess permission to wind down and sell off its assets. The decision means the closure of 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, approximately 5,500 delivery routes, and 570 bakery outlet stores along with the loss of 18,500 jobs. Hostess said about 3,200 workers are needed for a year to help with the liquidation. The sale of $2.4 billion would equal about one year in sales.

As might be expected, the company blamed union members for its failure. Yet earlier this year, the CEO received a 300-percent raise (from $750,000 to $2,550,000), and other executives almost doubled their exorbitant wages. Unions had already cut thousands of jobs and transferred or totally cut benefits while the company raided the retirement fund for easy funds. Flowers Foods (Georgia) and Sun Capital (Florida) appear to be interested in buying Hostess, putting the Twinkies back on the market. (Sun Capital CEO Marc Leder threw the party where Romney talked about the 47-percent moochers last May.)

So all the people who worked for Hostess lose their jobs and probably most of their pensions, the CEOs make out like bandits, and the company is reincarnated in a “right-to-work” state where the new workers will be paid minimum wage and get no pension. It’s another failure of the American Dream and another blow against the middle-class workers.

According to Josh Eidelson at The Nation, “For about twenty-four hours, Walmart workers, union members and a slew of other activists pulled off the largest-ever US strike against the largest employer in the world. According to organizers, strikes hit a hundred US cities, with hundreds of retail workers walking off the job (last month‘s strikes drew 160). Organizers say they also hit their goal of a thousand total protests, with all but four states holding at least one.” Walmart’s communicator, Dave Tovar, disagreed. “We are aware of a few dozen protests at our stores today.” Addicting Information has a sampling of photos and videos showing the protests.

Several other company CEOs are supporting poverty for the majority of people in the United States so that the highly-paid executives can pay less in taxes. Toward this end, they are lobbying Congress to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits.

Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren is part of a coalition with the campaign called “Fix the Debt” that spreads the myth that the country’s biggest problems are long-term debt and deficits rather than long-term high unemployment. The latter problem is actually appealing to company CEOs because it keeps the employees in line. Other members of the coalition are from Goldman, Sachs & Co.; Morgan Stanley; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; General Electric; Bank of America Corporation; Bain Capital; Delta Air Lines; JetBlue Airways; United Parcel Service; Marriott; and Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Fix the Debt’s website had more information.

The election honeymoon is over: it’s time to get back to work because the conservatives haven’t stopped.

November 20, 2012

Boycott Walmart This Weekend

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:02 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Thanksgiving Day is just a few days away, complete with the variety of emotional responses that it brings every year. Some people are depressed because they have lost loved ones; others try to figure out how they can eat non-stop. I have a wonderful vegan friend who mourns the turkey holocaust at Thanksgiving.

To many people, however, Thanksgiving means a shopping glut. Black Friday, named for the day that takes businesses out of the red, has now moved into Thursday, as early as 8:00 am that day for some retailers. This year, however, it might mean a continuing strike for thousands of Walmart employees who are fed up with low wages, erratic hours, lack of health benefits, and disrespect in the workplace while the multi-billionaire Walton Family enjoys tax breaks and praise for “job creation.”

Walmart workers in factories and warehouses and retail stores plan a massive walkout on Friday, November 23, hoping to affect at least 1000 retail stores.   Beginning with just 70 people walking out, protests earlier this fall from Florida to California showcased the mistreatment of the majority of the over 2 million Walmart workers in more than 5000 stores across the nation. Demonstrators are asking for better wages, stable and improved working conditions, and less retaliation from management when speaking out. Not only are wages stagnant, but Walmart often refuses to honor overtime pay. With its massive presence in the country’s retail world, Walmart comprises 2 percent of the U.S. GDP.

Shoppers looking for the cheap prices at these stores are unaware of how much the Walton family costs them personally: employees in each store receive an annual average of $420,000 for food stamps and other taxpayer help just to survive. That’s $2.66 billion a year that Walmart costs the taxpayers, not counting the hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll tax deductions for federal, state, and local taxes because of the low wages. Walmart’s low wages cost taxpayers $1.02 billion a year in healthcare costs because of the low wages; they cost taxpayers at least $225 million in free and reduced-price school lunches for children.

Walmart CEO Michael Duke’s $18.1 million compensation makes him the second highest paid executive in the Fortune 500.  The protesters are asking for a minimum hourly wage of $13, more full time positions, and affordable health care. Currently the average employee gets $22,100 a year, just below the federal poverty level for a family of four ($23,050). The increase would take them up to $27,000, less than 18 percent above poverty level. The raise that they want would still keep them at a level allowing them to get Medicaid in many states.

In the coming year, Walmart employees’ portion of health care premiums is expected to go up to 36 percent, yet they will have  no increase in wages. Although Walmart indicated that the increase would be only 4.4 percent, the company plans to increase the cost of high-premium plans. Deductible for the health plans is $1,750 before employees receive the 80 percent for doctor visits, test, and some other services. Making $10 per hour, employees work 175 hours for that deductible, an entire month’s salary each year if they are lucky enough to work full time.

Prevented from unionizing, Walmart employees have formed grassroots coalitions such as Making Change at Walmart and Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart).  But even joining these has caused some employees to be fired or had their hours drastically reduced.

Walmart Stores has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, asking the National Labor Relations Board to halt what the retailer says are unlawful efforts to disrupt its business. “Walmart is grasping at straws,” said the union’s communications director, Jill Cashen. “There’s nothing in the law that gives an employer the right to silence workers and citizens.”

In the meantime, Walmart is working hard to minimize the protests. David Tovar called the protests just “a few people” speaking out. “It’s smoke and mirrors,” said Tovar. “The vast majority of our associates like working at Walmart.” [Below are some of Tovar’s “few people.”]

CNN anchor Carol Costella not only questioned why Walmart refused to negotiate with worker but also asked Tovar, “Is it Walmart’s responsibility to make sure that its employees can support a strong middle-class lifestyle?” Tovar answered, “We’re working hard every day to provide more opportunities for associates.” His answer didn’t explain how full-time Walmart workers can have a comfortable life on $15,000 a year, but Tovar said that their employees get a 10 percent discount card.

Although Walmart has not had a strike in its 50-year history, threats at 700 stores a few years ago led to better conditions. High-level leadership say that they are not concerned, but they have released a seven-page memo telling how to handle the situation in very benign but covertly-threatening language. Allegations include harassment, cut hours, and other discipline when workers joined a protest group.

A new study, Retail’s Hidden Potential: How Raising Wages Would Benefit Workers, finds that increasing wages to $25,000 a year for a full-time worker would raise prices by no more than 1 percent and perhaps not at all. Such an action would lift 1.5 million retail workers out of poverty or near-poverty, create 100,000 or more jobs, and generate over $4 billion in additional retail sales. It could be its own stimulus. The study also notes that major retailers spend billions more on repurchasing their own stock than it would cost them to implement the proposed wage floor. A wage increase would pay Walmart dividends in terms of greater consumer demand, increased productivity, and better worker retention.

Owners of Walmart, the Waltons, are the wealthiest family in the United States. They have amassed a fortune equivalent to that of the bottom 41.5 percent of the country in 2010, nearly 49.5 million families. That percentage is up 10 percent from 30.5 percentage just three years earlier. Six members of the Walton family appear on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans with a collective value of $102.7 billion.

No. 6:   Christy Walton (widow of John Walton), $25.3 billion

No. 9:   Jim Walton, $23.7 billion

No. 10: Alice Walton, $23.3 billion

No. 11:  S. Robson Walton, oldest son of Sam Walton, $23.1 billion

No. 103: Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion

No. 139: Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion

A common contrast to Walmart is Costco, a business that pays its workers at least 50 percent more than Walmart does. Higher wages for workers benefit everyone in the country. A 2011 study by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank found that consumer spending increases $2,800 a year for for every dollar increase to that worker’s wages. Another study in 2009 that examined minimum wage showed  that raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour would increase $30 billion in spending during just one year.

Higher wages also decrease employee turnover and improve productivity. Costco has less than half the employee turnover rate of Walmart, the lowest employee theft figures in the industry, and greater productivity among its employees. One of the most successful businessmen in the 20th century understood this principal. In 1914, a time of deep recession, Henry Ford doubled his employees’ hourly wages. He said, “If you cut wages, you just cut the number of your own customers. If an employer does not share prosperity with those who make him prosperous, then pretty soon there will be no prosperity to share. That is why we think it is good business always to raise wages and never to lower them. We like to have plenty of customers.”

The growth of Walmart has played a large part in shrinking the middle class in the United States and destroyed large numbers of small businesses, particularly in small towns. I can identify at least 32 businesses that disappeared after Walmart invaded my small town almost 20 years go. Politicians have inundated the airwaves with the term “small business” for the past election cycle while refusing to admit that the middle class, the foundation for a solid economy, comes from wages. Walmart workers, and others like them, can’t afford to purchase what their employees sell.

I wish the Walmart workers good fortune in their courageous endeavors and hope you will join me in not shopping at Walmart this Thanksgiving weekend.

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