Category Archives: Employment

The Damage From Free Trade Helped Elect Donald Trump

    America's industrial heartland has been dying a slow death and Washington seems to have not made it a priority.America’s industrial heartland has been dying a slow death and Washington seems to have not made it a priority.

The morning after Trump won the presidency my first Lyft passenger of the day was a middle-aged woman from a well-to-do northern Chicago suburb going to O’Hare airport. 

She got in and heaved a heavy sigh as she stared off into the distance. 

It was a long ride and we had time to talk. She was upset about Trump’s win. We went back and forth about the possible reasons and then she told me something that stuck with me.

It turns out she volunteers to go to the dying coal mining towns in West Virginia on missions to provide food and whatever comfort her group can provide in an area where people find themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances. Coal is dying, which is as it should be. But they hold onto hope that it could come back, even if only for a while.

She helps people who are 2nd and 3rd generation or more of coal miner families. It’s all they know. It was the thing that once helped them to build lives and have families in what was a rough existence already.

She told me that when Donald Trump promised to deal with jobs leaving America, they were desperate to believe him because he was filling a void that Washington and the two parties have yet to address meaningfully.

Hillary Clinton made more from one Wall Street speech than entire groups of West Virginia coal mining families make in a year.

And when Trump promised to bring back coal?

“They know he might be bullshitting them. But there’s also a chance he is not,” she told me. “And when the life you thought you would have is disintegrating before your eyes, when you cannot feed and clothe your family, when you have no other job skills, that is a chance you are willing to take. It’s not one of the things they have to hold onto. It was the only thing for many of them in this election.”

This is a very well done piece by the Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive group, regarding free trade and how it has decimated an entire swath of the American population while Washington –Democrats and Republicans — pushed it on those same people, many of them Trump voters on the lower rungs of society:

In the late 70s the country was told that “protectionism” is bad for the economy and was sold “free trade” as a way to bring prosperity and jobs. “Trade” in this usage meant one and only thing: close a factory here and lay off the workers. Open a factory “there” to make the same goods, bring those goods back here to sell in the same stores to the same customers. It’s called “trade” because now those goods cross a border. The “sell” was that all those laid-off workers would be “freed up” to get better jobs.

Well, they never got better jobs — those were also outsourced or privatized or relabeled as low-wage “contractors” with no protections or benefits. So instead they had their homes foreclosed, their local stores forced out of business and their downtowns boarded up. Local and state tax bases dwindled so schools became terrible, infrastructure crumbled, public services cut and cut and cut. Meanwhile the investor class that pushed this and executive class that managed it pocket the wages these regions used to generate for themselves. (They also got huge tax cuts.)

Many of the national-level Democrats have been distressingly silent or ineffective on the issue, taking the same campaign cash that Republicans have taken from companies which move jobs overseas in countries where those corporations can often skirt environmental and labor laws.

You need only witness Barack Obama’s full-throated support of the TPP to know how tone deaf the Dems have been on these issues.

Yes, many of Trump supporters are not from the lower classes. But enough of them were so as to have likely put Trump over the top in places like Ohio which have been particularly hard hit by jobs moving to poorer, less regulated countries.

Obama has used the now discredited excuses cited in the passage above. But he has also said, as have many free trade defenders, that it is good for national security in that it stabilizes unstable economies in the so-called Third World.

But what good does it do to stabilize other countries when our own is so unstable that much of our own population withers economically and Donald Trump is now President?

It was one of the things on which Bernie Sanders was way ahead of everyone else.  Let us hope the Dems (and now the GOP) start to pay attention, as well.

Read the entire piece at the link below. It’s very good.

Source: The Damage From Free Trade Helped Elect Trump

What a single gay man does: truth vs. reality

What Single Gay Man Does

So many of my friends think my life is one big nightclub party here in Chicago.

There are dozens of gay bars and nightclubs in the Chicago area.

I’ve been to three of them in two years.

Not that there is anything wrong with going to bars and nightclubs a great deal. I used to do it a great deal. In my 20s and 30s. It was fun. And expensive. And meant most of us couldn’t afford to do much else.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of going out to a bar or nightclub. It sounds fun. In the middle of the week I see some event that catches my eye at a nightclub and I think, “Oh, that could be fun. I really do need to get out more.”

Friday rolls around I’m on the fence. The frozen pizza in my freezer looks delicious and I’ve got a movie I’ve wanted to watch all week.

I eat just half the frozen pizza — OK, the entire pizza — lie down to watch the movie, and rest up for my big night out.  

People still go out at the same late hours. Except now that is way past my normal bedtime.

Next time I’m conscious it’s midnight and I think, “I’ve missed the best part of the evening. The bars will all be there next week.”

Lights out. Stumble to bed.

So for all you straight dudes out there who think gay life at any age is always a non-stop party compared to straight life, relax. 

Most of us are just as boring as you are. 

Man, I wonder how exhausted I would be with kids. How you parent people — gay or straight — do all that and stay awake at work is a mystery to me.

Tired at work
This would be me if my ambitions for going out on weekends ever met reality.


Tianjin: globalization’s cost in ruined and lost lives


The New York Times has a sobering piece looking at the corruption, greed and cheapness of human life that leads in a meandering line to the Tianjin tragedy, including an examination of the well-connected company Rui Hai at the root of an explosion so massive it makes the Oklahoma City bombing look like a firecracker in comparison.

Ladies and gentlemen (and everything in-between), behold that which globalization has wrought:

In interviews with more than a dozen of Rui Hai’s former clients and associates — and unusually critical reports in China’s state­controlled news media — a picture has emerged of a company that exploited weak governance in one of the party’s showcase economic districts and used political connections to shield its operations from scrutiny.

Rui Hai began handling hazardous chemicals before it obtained a permit to do so, and it secured licenses and approvals from at least five local agencies that conducted questionable reviews of its operations. Local authorities outsourced one safety review required for a storage permit to a private contractor that Rui Hai selected and paid.

As much as 3,000 tons of hazardous chemicals were stored at Rui Hai on the night of the explosions, including 700 tons of sodium cyanide, deadly in a dose of less than a tablespoon, and 1,300 tons of fertilizer nitrates, more than 500 times the amount used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Rui Hai’s shipping yard covered more than 11 acres, but clients said it routinely packed huge volumes of different volatile chemicals together in haphazard fashion instead of storing them separately, at safe distances and in smaller quantities as recommended in the industry.

“Nobody wanted to stand in their way,” said one chemicals exporter in Tianjin, who asked not to be named to protect his business from reprisal, when asked why regulators took no action.

The catastrophe in Tianjin has stunned a nation inured to living with one of the worst industrial safety records in the world. By the government’s own count, more than 68,000 people were killed in such accidents last year — nearly 200 every day, most of them poor, powerless and far from China’s boom towns.

This encapsulates what globalization is all about.

Its proponents sell it by touting its rewards in bringing prosperity to previously poverty-stricken nations. But as with America before the labor movement took hold, that prosperity goes into the hands of a relatively precious few at the top while low-wage workers toil in dangerous conditions that jeopardize them on and off the job.

Entire geographic areas are helpless in the face of industries that flout or outright ignore local safety regulations, if they exist at all. Caught up in all this are the safety and health of people living and working in surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Globalization is, at its core, about exporting jobs from countries with strong labor, infrastructure, safety and environmental laws and regulations to countries that have weak or no protections so companies can add to the bottom line. End of story.

It’s as if the American robber barons of the 1800s were somehow able to magically teletransport their business models — profit at all costs, human beings be damned — to leaders of companies such as the one highlighted in the Times article.

Only instead of the obscene profits going to a few well-connected upper crust families in America with names like Vanderbilt and Carnegie, the money is now shoveled into multi-national corporations and the relatively small  local companies overseas which do their bidding (and insulate the multinationals partially from wrongdoing) supplying cheap labor and dangerous conditions.

Why financially struggling right-wing tea partiers whose jobs have been shipped overseas — or whose wages are stagnant or dropping  — continue to side with the Republicans on these issues is a mystery for which I can only guess at an answer.

Source: Behind Deadly Tianjin Blast, Shortcuts and Lax Rules – NY Times




It’s not only Amazon which overworks and underappreciates


The Nation looks at the somewhat dubious claim that work is what makes us feel most fulfilled:

By now many of us have read The New York Times’s insider account of the brutal workplace culture at Amazon’s corporate offices. We already knew about what it’s like to work in Amazon’s warehouse centers: boiling heat, impossible production demands, and frequent firings of the temporary workforce.

For the white-collar workers, demands are also high, if of a different nature: staff regularly cry at their desks, are shamed for taking time off for cancer treatments, and so often work during weekends and vacations that they develop ulcers. Failure to respond to a late-night e-mail comes with a reprimand. One employee recounts that her fiancee had to come to headquarters every night at 10 pm and call her repeatedly to get her to leave.

The Times article also includes stories from employees who profess to simply love working at that grueling pace. They are motivated by “thinking big and knowing we haven’t scratched the surface on what’s out there to invent,” as one retail executive put it. “This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy,” the company’s top recruiter said.

Our culture of work has so infiltrated our collective psyche that we like to think that we’re putting in long hours and responding to e-mails on the weekends because we’re devoted and ambitious. This is what journalist Miya Tokumitsu has skewered repeatedly in her writing: the “do what you love” ethos—the idea that we should all seek work that we’re emotionally devoted to, not sticking with just for a paycheck—that demands unending passion and therefore unending work, even if those long hours don’t actually mean we’re getting more done.

But while some employees call it a choice to put in long hours, it’s hard to see how that can really be true—for anyone. 

For a more realistic view of things from a first-hand perspective, read this piece by a woman who found out that the team spirit at Amazon, already weak to begin with, essentially evaporates when you get sick or have a baby.

Source: Longer Hours, More Stress, No Extra Pay: It’s Not Just Amazon, It’s the Modern Workplace

Source: I Had a Baby and Cancer When I Worked at Amazon. This Is My Story

Source:’s Workers Are Low-Paid, Overworked And Unhappy; Is This The New Employee Model For The Internet Age?

Source: Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace – The New York Times


Unions win big in NLRB ruling


This is good news for all unions and all workers being left behind by the so-called sharing economy in which employees share in the low-paid, part-time drudge work but not in the massive profits going to Wall Street:

A federal labor board voted Thursday to redefine the employee-employer relationship granting new bargaining powers to workers caught up in an economy increasingly reliant on subcontractors, franchisees and temporary staffing agencies.

The decision by the National Labor Relations Board could upend the traditional arms-length relationship that has prevailed between corporate titans such as McDonald’s and its neighborhood fast-food franchises. And it comes as concerns are growing about a generation of new Internet-fueled business such as Uber and Lyft that depend heavily on independent contractors.

In a case that drew intense lobbying by both business and union groups, Democratic appointees on the panel split 3-2 with Republicans to adopt a more expansive definition of what it means to be an “joint employer,” making it more difficult for companies to avoid responsibility through various forms of outsourcing.

In doing so, the panel sided with labor advocates and academics who have described an increasingly “fissured” economy, in which whole industries have been built on business models that offer workers few of the protections of a traditional employer relationship.

“With more than 2.87 million of the nation’s workers employed through temporary agencies in August 2014, the Board held that its previous joint employer standard has failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances,” the Board said in a release accompanying its decision.

As the New York Times notes in this article, this is a particularly big win for fast food workers who wish to organize.

Source: In landmark case, labor board will let more workers bargain with their employer’s employer – The Washington Post


Taking aim at the sharing economy on Real Time

Talk show host and comedian Bill Maher doesn’t think highly of our new sharing economy in which people work long hours for low wages with no benefits and everyone shares in everything but the boatloads of money being shoveled into Wall Street pockets:

New Rule: if the Olsen Twins can charge $55 thousand for this handbag, they can’t make their interns work for free.

Thats right, the Olsens, whose company is worth a billion dollars, sell this bag, made from the hides of other, less successful, child stars, for 55 grand while they are being sued by 40 unpaid interns who are just trying to get minimum wage.

He continues:

Of course, the Olsens are just a reflection of our post-greed-is-good world where outrageous income inequality is accepted, even by most of the people getting fucked by it. People who should be in the streets. Or in unions. Or at least in the voting booth.

And that’s how we got what economists now call the “sharing economy.” … Isn’t the sharing economy really the desperate economy? 

AirBnB? Do you really think anybody really wants total strangers living in their apartment for a week? OlsenTwins

“Oh, look! Someone else’s pubes on my soap!”

It goes on. He  is masterful as usual. 

As writer Alexandra Le Tellier observes in her Aug. 22 piece in the LA Times:

The problem with the sharing economy, as Medium’s Susie Cagle explains in her “Case Against Sharing,” is that it’s “disaster capitalism.”

“The sharing economy’s success is inextricably tied to the economic recession, making new American poverty palatable,” Cagle writes. Sure, she says, it’s “largely heralded as a ‘return to the village,’ an ahistoric utopia where we were friends with all of our trusted neighbors, lived in harmony with nature, and wanted not to consume, but to share.”

But, she reminds us, “sharing and homesteading are things poor people have been doing forever out of necessity.”

There are things I like about Uber.

They have the service set up where it’s easy to call cars, pay for your ride and you can give immediate feedback on drivers — a system that probably accounts for most of the oft-mentioned differential between taxi driver rudeness or cavalier attitudes toward their jobs, and the helpfulness of Uber drivers.

Cab companies would do well to figure out a system where they can weed out rude or inefficient drivers because it is on this metric alone that most people I know switch to Uber.

If someone in management is keeping tabs on your behavior toward customers — and you need your Uber job because nothing else is available — you’d be naive not to expect that their drivers are on the surface nicer than taxi drivers.

But if all the people I know who are Uber-ing and Airbnb-ing were middle class people with full-time jobs who were simply doing it for extra money, I would agree with those who say that the sharing economy is providing worthwhile opportunities. 

What many people I know do not seem to understand is that the sharing economy is, at its core, about corporations not having to pay for full-time jobs with benefits so employment can sink to those levels where these jobs are not ways to make extra money, but ways to keep from being put out on the street. It’s about a narrowing of choices. Too many of us will end up as part of the sharing economy whether we like it or not.

Every new company in the sharing economy is one more company that has discovered ways to get around the hard-earned labor rights that strong unions once guaranteed. 

My guess is that all the under-employed young people who now see the benefits of being able to work part-time and set their own hours — assuming they ever make enough money to own cars or condos they can rent out — will be singing a different tune when time comes to get married and have a family and send kids to college. 

Source: The sharing economy isn’t ‘collaborative consumption,’ it’s ‘disaster capitalism’ | LA Times

Source: Real Time with Bill Maher channel | YouTube

sharing economy

EEOC takes a giant step for LGBT equality in the workplace

This is huge. It’s not ENDA, but it’s huge nonetheless because of the deference many courts give EEOC rulings:

On Thursday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission unanimously ruled that sexual orientation discrimination is already illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner reports, the EEOC’s groundbreaking decision effectively declares that employment discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers is unlawful in all 50 states. The commission already found that Title VII bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity, protecting trans employees.

President Obama appointed a majority of the EEOC commissioners who supported the decision.

As I’ve explained before, the EEOC’s theory here is really quite straightforward. Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including, the Supreme Court has ruled, irrational sex stereotyping. The EEOC has already found that when an employer discriminates a gay employee for being effeminate—or a lesbian employee for being butch—that qualifies as illegal sex stereotyping. Now the commission has taken that logic one step farther. When an employer disapproves of a lesbian employee’s orientation, he’s really objecting to the fact that a woman is romantically attracted to another woman. This objection is based on irrational, stereotyped views of femininity and womanhood. Thus, when the employer discriminates against his lesbian employee, that discrimination is based in large part on her sex, and on his anger that she does not fit into her gender role.

The EEOC also presents a simpler secondary theory: Sexual orientation discrimination is “associational discrimination on the basis of sex.” When a homophobic employer mistreats a gay male employee, he does so because he dislikes the fact that his employee dates [another] man. In other words, the employer took that employee’s sex into account while making the decision to treat him unequally. Such discrimination is obviously sex-based—and therefore forbidden by Title VII.

Another thing for which we can be thankful to President Obama. This will all end up before the Supreme Court, of course. But it’s a start.

You can read the entire decision here.

Source: Sexual orientation discrimination at work: EEOC says it’s illegal under federal law.

Click here for more info.


Why do so many videos of police mistreatment of black citizens include officers who are themselves black or latino?

If we are to believe some complaints coming from officers in New York City and elsewhere, it’s because departmental leaders push patrol officers through quotas on ticketing, etc. — while being careful not to call them quotas — in precincts with  high levels of poverty and street crime:

The problem, the plaintiffs say, is that police commanders will often try to appease the department’s top brass by pushing their officers to make more arrests in poorer, minority neighborhoods. While there are often higher rates of serious crime in these areas, a quantitative approach means that police face pressure to respond to such crimes by arresting people for trivial reasons—or for no reason at all. If the cops don’t fulfill their quotas, according to the plaintiffs, their superiors penalize them, denying their vacation requests, assigning them to midnight shifts, or limiting their hopes of getting promoted.

The plaintiffs, all of them minorities themselves, have been arguing that it’s tough to make a decent living and advance in their jobs without engaging in this aggressive, numbers-based style of policing. They complain that this means-to-an-end, results-based mentality can put them in a bind. Sandy Gonzalez, an officer in the Bronx and the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, described the dynamic to me by imagining what he’d say to a hypothetical offender: “When it comes to the end of the month, and I need that number … dude, it’s your neck or mine.”

Just as in New York, trials around the country have uncovered evidence of quota systems, even as local police departments deny their existence. Recently, a Sacramento jury awarded $125,000 to a 78-year-old man who had sued a pair of highway cops for wrongfully arresting him during a traffic stop after one of the officers punched him and knocked him to the ground. Documents produced at the trial showed that the cop who pulled the man over had previously been reprimanded by the California Highway Patrol for being too soft on drivers. The cop’s average of five “enforcement contacts” per day was “not acceptable,” an evaluation introduced as evidence declared—in other words, he needed to pull more people over.

That would explain a lot when it comes to questions about why cops stop so many people doing things that would likely get ignored if they were white  — or sometimes when they are just doing nothing at all.

Source: How Aggressive Policing Affects Police Officers Themselves – The Atlantic

Americans, get ready for your 7-day workweek

If it seems as if the right-wing echo chamber on the web, television and radio seems to have a sudden interest in Americans working more hours and longer work weeks, you might consider that that interest may not be so sudden as it is calculated. 

Thousands gather in 2011 inside Wisconsin's capitol rotunda to protest a bill by GOP Gov. Scott Governor Walker that would weaken unions in the state. Photo: Joe Rowley
Thousands gather in 2011 inside Wisconsin’s capitol rotunda to protest a bill by GOP Gov. Scott Governor Walker that would weaken unions in the state. Photo: Joe Rowley

These issues are often interconnected thanks to the behind-the-scenes work from shadowy groups like ALEC — described by the group ALEC Exposed:

“Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called ‘model bills’ reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.”

What this means is that time and again these issues that seem to percolate up from the state and local level might be part of a coordinated plan.

Take Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who takes his marching orders directly from ALEC, has through numerous small and large legislative and executive actions, weakened the state’s labor movement to the point where he and the state’s corporations are now moving to make it so the five-day work week is a thing of the past:

This week, presidential candidate Jeb Bush was harshly criticized for saying that the solution to some of America’s economic woes could be solved if Americans worked more hours. Republican politicians in Wisconsin are trying to make this theory reality, with a proposal to allow seven-day work-weeks.

Wisconsin’s GOP is trying to nix an existing law that requires employers in the manufacturing and retail sectors to give employees at least 24 hours off during each consecutive seven-day period. Currently, for an employee to skip his or her weekly day off, an employer has to get approval from the state’s Department of Workforce Development. The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce association—a staunch advocate of the bill—suggests that the step is onerous and unnecessary, since the department has approved 733 such requests over the past five years, a number they imply means that the department is rubber-stamping the requests.

Supporters also suggest that the plan ultimately helps employees who want to work more hours.

But there are many who are skeptical. “I think it’s been portrayed as an effort to try to help workers; it’s clearly designed to benefit employers,” says Donald F. Kettl, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and the former director of the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin. “Many people like extra hours, but the idea of being in a position where you’re asked to work seven days [raises the question] of how much of a choice it really is.” In response, advocates of the bill suggest that coercion won’t be an issue, and if it is, employees can report business owners.

“This isn’t a bad thing. It’s what workers have already. It’s what they want. We’re just removing a bureaucratic obstacle,” said the spider to the fly.

The effects are linear if you look at the data: states with strong labor movements and unions have better pay, working conditions and benefits for workers overall — even non-unionized workers — than do states with weak labor movements.

Some of this is due to globalization and the American labor movement’s jobs moving overseas in unfair competition with countries that have few, if any, labor laws, wage standards, environmental protections and enforceable building codes to protect the public.

However, the right-wing noise machine has also  through decades of propaganda convinced many Americans that unions allow the fat and the lazy to get things they do not deserve while the non-unionized work harder for less. It’s called the politics of resentment and it works because it pits one group in society against another so that those groups are fighting each other instead of noticing that hand in their back pocket or purse about ready to steal their wallet.

Just ask Scott Walker why he had to weaken unions in his state before daring to introduce harmful legislation that affects all workers in Wisconsin.

Source: Will Wisconsin Have 7-Day Workweeks? – The Atlantic

I remember being forced to watch so many of these over the years

One of the things I love about The Atlantic magazine is its willingness to approach subjects that might, at first glance, seem silly or superficial. Yet in the hands of Atlantic writers, you find out more than you thought there was to know about, say, the history of workplace safety videos:

But while corporate-safety videos are often terrible by their very nature, they’re nevertheless an art form, tracing their roots back to the earliest PSAs and the pulpy social-guidance films of the mid-20th century.

They’re also a business that, if nothing else, keeps struggling actors and wannabe filmmakers afloat while warning the workers of America that everything—a stapler, a high-heeled shoe, a compliment—can be dangerous when used without caution.

Today’s videos are typically entertaining only by accident, but it wasn’t always so. A 1969 production by Xerox Films is a masterpiece of comic timing and political incorrectness, using animation, sound effects, elaborate special effects, and a girl in a bikini to educate viewers about the fragility of the human body.

“Here’s a pretty package of brittle bones, delicate organs, and precisely balanced chemicals, all bagged up in a sack of skin you can scratch a hole in with your fingernail,” the voiceover states, while a comely woman in a swimsuit covers herself in sunscreen. “Mark it ‘fragile.’”

The film goes on to warn how everything can be hazardous to human health—bumblebees, typewriters, filing cabinets, and even a lone pencil left on the floor.

All you people who work for the airlines can attest to the fact that these kinds of things still exist in droves if you have a job that takes you into dangerous environments like airport ramps.

But it does seem to be a bit of  dying art form for most jobs.

Source: The Workplace Safety Video Is a Glorious Staple of Corporate America – The Atlantic