Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Like a lot of people, I was raised not to talk about certain things.  It was so uncouth to talk about salaries that I still don’t know what most of my closest family members earn.  Some families have other ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policies – about sexual orientation, someone losing their job, mental illness, eating disorders, and the like.  President Obama not too long ago said, unfortunately, proven to be a bit more prose than practice, that, “transparency is the best disinfectant.”  But as I chide President Obama a bit, I have to admit that, none of us is too transparent, and I think we are collectively worse off for it.

A few months ago the White House web site published the salaries of most employees.  You bet I looked up my friends and former colleagues.  I did what many of my friends have told me they did to me over the years.  Working for unions and in politics, I have gotten used to my salary being published.  And with opponents trying to make the point that greedy union staff are paid too much and/or somewhat biased journalists making a point, my salary has been actively publicized (yes, you can google it now, but please wait until after you finish my brilliant blog, thank you.)  It was a little freaky to know that at first.  As I mentioned, salary is just not a thing you talk about, and here mine was published.  But recently, when I was perusing the White House web site, I was thinking it would be really great if we all published our salaries.

I have discussed in this blog before pay equity for women.  I’ve been in the situation myself.  I found out men with less work experience and less higher education than me, who I had to orient, were making $10,000 more per year.  When I brought it to the attention of HR, they balked.  Finally, they said I was right.  We were minimally doing the same work (I would have argued I was doing a bit more since I had oriented them) and somehow they were ‘accidentally’ paid more – even after three departments, including HR, reviewed and approved their employment.  Their remedy was to admit they had made a mistake.  They told me it would have been unfair to reduce these men’s pay.  I agreed, I wasn’t advocating for that solution.  I advocated for me to be paid more.   “Hmm, no, we aren’t going to do that either.”  HR felt comfortable with the situation because the men in question were temporary.  In fact, both men in question had their contracts extended.  I left the organization.

This is the point when my mother who is reading this blog will be shaking her head and getting concerned that I am revealing too much.  “Someone is going to figure out the organization you are talking about, Eileen,” I can hear her say.  And she’s right.  It’s exactly the reason why I haven’t written this story before.  But with out transparency, how will anything change?  How do we achieve transparency if we don’t tell our stories?  And let’s be frank, I am still holding back some of the disinfectant.

I wonder if women’s salaries would remain lower if everyone knew everyone else’s salaries.  Would the organization I worked for be so ready to make their mistake?  Would they feel so comfortable to continue the mistake after it was pointed out?

I also think about the health insurance crisis we are facing.  We know there are over fifty million – let’s write that number out because it looks even more significant – 50,000,000 people uninsured.  Many of them children.  There are another 45,000,000 under-insured.  I know we hear some of the stories.  But, hell, this is a group of 100,000,000 people.  That is 1/3 of the United States!  A third of Americans are in a daily state of crisis, the other two-thirds, whether they realize it or not, are being affected by that crisis, and we are all of a sudden unsure of health care reform?  I will continue to be an advocate for health care reform, but we may be a lot more successful if we were led by 100,000,000 strong.  They need t tell their stories.  Reveal the truth.  Let’s benefit from disinfectant.

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From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend

In honor of May Day, aka International Workers’ Day, I’d like to take a moment to write about a movement and a history of achievements I am proud to be associated with.

May Day actually started in the United States in 1884 as a national campaign to establish the eight-hour day.  Until organized labor addressed this situation, workers would be forced to work twelve, fourteen and sixteen hours a day, six days a week.  By 1886, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (the precursor to the American Federation of Labor (AFL)) organized a general strike that mobilized a quarter of million workers to achieve the goal after legislative methods failed a number of times.

The American labor movement hasn’t only changed lives, it has altered our perception of what is fair and deserved.  Victories the labor movement has led and helped champion include, but are not limited to:

  • Ending child labor;
  • Establish the legal right of workers to form unions and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions;
  • Paid overtime;
  • Workers’ compensation benefits for workers injured on the job;
  • Unemployment insurance;
  • Securing a minimum a wage, now working for a livable wage;
  • Improving workplace safety and reducing on the job fatalities;
  • Establishing pensions;
  • Win health insurance for workers;
  • Securing paid sick leave, vacations, and holidays as standard benefits;
  • Win passage of the Civil Rights Act and Title VII
  • Win passage of the Occupational Safety and Heath Act
  • Win passage of the Family Medical Leave Act

What has the other side accomplished?  What does Corporate America stand for?  Capitalism is an economic system; it is a means to fulfill need and therefore create profit.  Corporate America has the right, some would argue the obligation, to be driven by profit.  Corporate America can claim accomplishments such as the computer, the automobile, appliances, Coca-Cola, the cell phone and most of the goods and services we use and make our lives easier and more enjoyable.  But it is not a movement. It exists to make money.

What I do not see Corporate America doing is driving the debate on human rights.  In fact, there are too many instances of greed superceding, and being in direct competition with, human rights. 

So I have to ask – why is Corporate America now suddenly claiming to be the champion of the worker by saying management ordered secret ballot elections (to be represented by a union) are the right of employees?  One of the biggest advocates against the Employee Free Choice Act is Rick Berman.  He runs an organization called Union Facts.  He also has campaigns AGAINST Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), lobbies for the beloved Tobacco industry, and works to discredit the link between fast food and obesity.

Knowing nothing about the Employee Free Choice Act but judging it merely on the groups advocating for and against it – who do you think truly has the best interests of working families at heart?

Happy May Day.

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Signing a card to join a group? What a novel idea!

This blog is featured on Workplacefairness.org

If you have any interest in politics you have heard by now the big news about Senator Arlen Specter switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.  From what I can gather, the actual process to switch parties merely requires some paperwork.  That’s it! 

Sen. Specter does not want to join the ranks of the 434,000 people unemployed in Pennsylvania and made a strategic decision to sign-up to be a Democrat.  Now, as a new member of an affiliation working to protect his job, President Obama has pledged to campaign for him and the fundraising juggernaut, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), already lists Specter as a Democrat to support in the 2010 political cycle.

 In Senator Specter’s statement about switching parties, he noted his continued opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.  He stated,

“My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.”

Despite Sen. Specter’s betrayal by flip flopping his position on the Employee Free Choice Act last month, leaders and spokespeople within the labor movement have expressed subdued exuberance at the prospect of Sen. Specter joining the ranks of the Democrats.  Sen. Specter’s party switch may indicate a compromise for the Employee Free Choice Act, and therefore, with Sen. Specter’s support, the bill could be closer to achieving the 60 votes needed for cloture. 

I do not carry the heavy burden of a leader representing millions of members, so I can afford to be more skeptical and indignant.  But the fact remains that Sen. Specter stated just one month ago that he would not support the bill and, as noted above, made a point of reiterating his position in his statement about switching parties.  This is after he was on record for years as supporting the bill.  He supported it when it was only theoretical since it didn’t have the votes to pass with Republicans holding the majority in Congress and President Bush in office vowing to veto it if it should ever come across his desk.  And as a supporter of the theoretical bill, Sen. Specter enjoyed a great deal of support from unions.

Now, in 2009, with a Democratic President and majority in Congress the theoretical bill has become very real.  Now is the time a person’s word and support means something.  And Sen. Specter changed his position. His reasoning?  He claims he cannot support legislation that would make it easier for working people to gain the protection and support of an organization that will bargain for wages, benefits and terms of employment until, wait for it – the economy improves.  Well, he has a point.  In a time of economic uncertainty, rampant layoffs, corporations asking employees for major givebacks while its managers award themselves multi-million dollar bonuses and travel by corporate jet – that’s certainly no time for workers to have some semblance of checks and balances looking out for their best interests.

So the question begs to be asked: Senator Specter – You signed a form and now belong to a group that will fight for your job and will represent your interests exactly at the time you really needed it.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could ALL have that option?

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Women of the World Unite — All We Have to Win is 22 Cents

This blog post is featured today at Workplacefairness.org

Today is Pay Equity Day. The National Committee on Pay Equity came up with the idea in the mid-1990s to acknowledge a day in April to remind us that it takes women a full year PLUS an extra four months of earning a salary (or a total of 16 months) to equal the amount male colleagues net in just one calendar year (12 months). That is what it means when you hear the statistic that women who work full time earn about 78 cents for every dollar men earn (Source: U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Minority women are subject to a far greater wage gap.

Not mad yet? Those twenty-two cents add up. The Center for American Progress reports that women who work year-round earn less than men in comparable jobs and at all educational levels. The wage gap increases over a woman’s lifetime and adds up to $434,000 over a 40-year career for the typical woman. A woman with a bachelor’s degree or higher can lose more than $713,000 (Source: Center for American Progress, “Wage Gap by the Numbers”).

“Well,” you’re thinking, “that sounds pretty bad, but this is someone else’s problem; surely I am not being paid less than my male colleagues!” Think again. The statistics say otherwise. The gender wage gap is documented in all 50 states and is at a national average rate of 78 percent (Source: National Women’s Law Center’s calculations from the U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Earnings and Poverty Data from the 2007 American Community Survey (August 2008). You do the math – chances are, if you are a woman in the workforce, it is highly likely that you are earning less than had you been a man.

If you are a man reading this, then it should trouble you that the gender wage gap is harming your wife, sister, mother, daughter, friends and colleagues. According to the AFL-CIO, working families lose $200 BILLION every year due to the wage gap! Your women are bringing home less bacon than they should be, and it is affecting everyone’s bottom line.

Or think of it another way: the current recession is especially hitting male-dominated industries, such as construction and manufacturing. Four out of every five jobs being lost in this recession affect men. Women are becoming the main breadwinner, but, on average, make up only one-third of a family’s income. Prolonged, systemic pay inequity will further hurt families who have lost the earnings of the male breadwinner and must solely depend on the woman’s wages, to say nothing of single mothers who struggle year in and year out independent of economic downturns.

In honor of Pay Equity Day, it is reasonable and even encouraged to express your well-earned outrage. There are a number of legislative efforts seeking to close the wage gaps between men and women, and minorities as well. A number of organizations’ web sites today will detail current and soon-to-be-introduced legislation to close loopholes, enhance provisions under the Equal Pay Act, and prohibit employer retaliation against workers who inquire about employers’ wage practices. I encourage you watch one of the more amusing Equal Pay legislation videos out from the Center for American Progress. Check Out : EQUAL PAY: Batgirl vs Chamber of Commerce.

Fixing this issue legislatively is one important approach, but cannot be achieved exclusively in this manner. If you have any doubts, consider that it was President Kennedy who signed the Equal Pay Act into law more than forty-five years ago. If Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon were as successful as the Equal Pay Act, Neil Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind’ would have been referring to a cool telescope.

The most direct, proven tool to combat pay inequity are unions. According to AFL-CIO compiled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2008, on average, unionization raised women’s wages by 32% compared to non-union women. A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that for the years 2004 – 2007, unionized women were much more likely to have health insurance (75.4%) and a pension (75.8%) than women workers who were not in unions (50.9% for health insurance, 43% for pensions.) In real dollar terms – the average unionized woman working full-time earns a weekly salary of $809 per week vs. the $615 a non-unionized woman will earn.

The same business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, who fought against the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which restores the right of victims of pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability to challenge the discrimination in court, are the same groups waging war against the Employee Free Choice Act – the bill that will give workers the freedom to choose a union to represent them. The more women unionize, the more they rightfully earn and the narrower the wage gap becomes.

Help pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and soon we might be celebrating Pay Equity Day when it should be celebrated – in December.

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Taxation Without Representation

No solution is perfect, but the Troubled Assets Relief Program, extending unemployment benefits and relieving the unemployed from paying 65% of their COBRA costs, as well as some aspects of the stimulus package make sense to me and I support at least the attempt (the devil is always in the details – but that’s for another blog).  What I vehemently disagree with are the pundits who are calling this President Obama’s ‘Hurricane Katrina’ moment.  While it is extraordinary and lives are at stake, the comparison barely meets the mildly clever characterization.  Unless Hurricane Katrina was the result of some impressively effective rain dance every citizen of New Orleans participated in, the comparison of the gross incompetence of the Bush Administration is inappropriate.  This economic collapse is 100% man-made.  It is a complicated web of deception and greed that can’t be pinned on one person, company or even one political party, as badly as we may want to string up Bernie Madoff and/or AIG, or the Republicans removed from power or Democrats who now bask in it, we are going to have to move forward without the satisfaction of justice for how we got here.  That does not mean, however, it has to remain the same for the future.

Advocates of regulation don’t feel much superiority right now saying, “I told you so.”  It is criminal that this much damage was inflicted on the American people with barely any laws being broken.  And now we are paying for it.  And I pay my taxes willingly.  But we cannot tolerate taxation without representation.  Corporate America once again wants the bailouts without the regulations.  In this climate when it would be far more appropriate to keep one’s head down and supplicatingly request necessary funds to keep their business going, Corporate America and Wall Street are making the Employee Free Choice Act their public enemy number one.  In fact, there is nothing to stop a corporation from using bailout money to fund the campaign to defeat the bill to give workers the choice to be represented by a union.

As the campaign for and against the Employee Free Choice Act heats up, the average citizen hears about ‘card check’ and big unions and/or ‘union bosses’.  But here is the crux of the issue.  When asked, over 60 million workers declared that they would like union representation if it were made available to them.  The problem is that the process, under the law, to organize is so subverted, pro-union employees are harassed, threatened and fired without any consequence.  Not surprisingly, elections under these oppressive conditions typically favor the company.  Corporations invest millions of dollars to deny their workers the right to representation, sometimes more money is spent to keep a union out of the workplace than the cost a fair collective bargaining agreement.

The right to organize is not about the welfare of ‘big union bosses’ or fat cat CEOs.  The right to organize is about you and me.  In these times, especially in these times, I want to work with my fellow colleagues to have a voice in my workplace.  I want to challenge CEOs and senior management raking in bonuses while I take pay cuts during bad times.  I want a say in quality management, patient care, and/or resource allocation.  Simply put, management doesn’t want to hear the voices of their employees even though they have even more a stake in the company’s success (employees don’t have multi-million dollar bonuses to rely on to get through the hard times).

Corporate America wants your tax dollars but not your voice.  They want us to bail them out but continue to shrug off accountability.  Maybe it was easier to organize when people could wrap their mind around a Kingdom squeezing 13 colonies for its benefit.  King George has been replaced by Rick Berman and his Center for Union Facts, Home Depot, Starbucks, the Chamber of Commerce and many others (not to mention the Corporate Loyalists like Senators Specter, and, very sadly, several Democrats like Nelson, Lincoln, Pryor and Webb who are backing away from their promises and platforms).  

The Employee Free Choice Act is not a declaration of war.  But if passed, it would create a revolution for labor-employment relations in this country.  Employees would be given the natural and inalienable rights they are entitled to — just as necessary and self-evident as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Maybe you’re still on the fence about the issue.  But think about this — has any tyrant ever given up control over his subjects without a fight?  Has the corporate world ever fought for anything but it’s own preservation and ability to maximize profit?  

CEOs know exactly what they are fighting against.  I’m trying to figure out how to make us understand what we need to be fighting for.

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AIG Bonus Debacle Could be the Best Thing to Happen to Corporate America

simpsons_angry_mob1Senator Specter made an announcement today that he would oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, “until the economy improves.”  In explaining his flip-flop  decision [Specter had previously been a co-sponsor of the bill, you know, when it was only a concept that couldn’t possibly pass under President Bush], he said,

“The problems of a recession make this a particularly bad time to enact Employee’s choice legislation. Employers understandably complain that adding a burden would result in further job losses. If efforts are unsuccessful to give labor sufficient bargaining power through amendments to the [National Labor Relations Act] then I would be willing to reconsider Employees choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy.”

An economic recession or depression is exactly when we should have the choice to organize a union and have a voice at the workplace.  Specter could not have forgotten that the whole National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was created in 1935 — during the Great Depression for that very reason!  

Actually, cynically speaking, I believe the NLRA was enacted largely because corporate America, Congress and FDR were a little freaked that things had gone a bit too far, suffering was a little too great, and the wind of revolution was blowing a little too hard.  The American experiment for capitalism wasn’t working out for the masses and if something wasn’t done to appease people, an alternative economic paradigm with far more dire consequences for fat cat moguls may have caught on.

Fast forward to the economic crisis of today.  I don’t think Corporate America was this smart and diabolical to plan (God help us if they are!), but last week everyone, up to, and including our President, was up in arms about the $165 million in bonuses at AIG.  I admit, I am one of them — to an extent.  This situation is outrageous and this small example embodies everything that is wrong with the corporate elite entitled mentality.  However, I feel like the American people have been slowly duped, as well as kicked, for years.  Lately, it has gotten so bad that we have actually noticed the pain and unfathomably reckless Wall Street subterfuge.  But if the American public is lost and hurting and has a limited number of flare guns to fire for help, was the AIG bonus debacle worth expending a flare for Congress to respond to?

I guess we got our pound of flesh.  I guess we got some or most of the $165 million back… when we’re talking about trillions of dollars, who cares?  But what does Corporate America get?  The grumbling has died down and the anger has subsided a bit.  And Senator Specter feels comfortable (with his term coming up next year – and from Pennsylvania no less!) this week stating that now is not the time to build the middle class!  

NOW is the time to fire the flare gun!  The Employee Free Choice Act is a fundamental part of the equation for this country’s economic recovery and anybody saying otherwise is saying yes to the greedy corporate goons who got us in this mess and yes to CEO’s getting paid 400 times the amount of the average American worker and yes to absurd bonuses and yes to deregulation making it all legal.

The problems of a recession make this a particularly bad time to have Mr. Specter representing the American people.  I would be willing to reconsider having Mr. Specter back in Congress when the economy returns to normalcy.

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

Is anyone else feeling some classic movie deja vu? As the economy keeps going through free fall, I keep thinking about The Wizard of Oz.

Is President Obama the Dorothy character, having found himself in a predicament, making allies with mutual interests along the yellow brick road, leading by facilitating the group’s strengths while managing the groups’ weaknesses? Or is he the Wizard, a booming voice standing behind the curtain? Time will tell. Of course, I am rooting for ruby basketball sneakers.

The lollipop guild: Rahm Emanuel, Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers

Glinda the Good Witch:  Michelle, of course

Wicked Witch of the West: This is a hard one. So many witches. Senator Mitch McConnell comes to mind. So does Congressman Eric Cantor. Artistically speaking – couldn’t you just see Governor Sarah Palin in the role?

Auntie Em: Governor Kathleen Sebelius has to play one of the roles. She is from Kansas, after all!

Cowardly Lion: The American public. Given the right leadership to take us through this quagmire, we will use the strength we don’t quite see in ourselves at the moment. But it is important to recognize fear in order to combat the inevitable side affect – callousness and the urge to create a scapegoat. It’s too easy to blame the weakest amongst us. Billionaire CEO’s are counting on us turning on ourselves rather than the real culprits. Let’s not do that. The assembly line worker making $80k is not the enemy. The mother applying for food stamps to feed her children certainly isn’t.

Scarecrow: Right now it doesn’t seem like many in leadership have a brain. I’m hoping this role is filled by Congress. Enough with Republicans telling us that individuals are better equipped to handle a global economic melt-down. Congress – YOU HAVE A BRAIN! I swear it. There are some smart people in DC working on policy. We elected you to lead – so do it! Ambition and power aside, this is the wonderful burden you asked for. The public can help by not giving you an exit from the yellow brick road.

Tinman: There is no easy casting for this role. Governors and local elected officials are going to have to grow a heart. I went to Washington thinking I’d work on big problems that affect the nation. Turns out, all politics really is local. The most good or the most damage can be done by local government.

Flying Monkeys: Is there any question? Republicans!

I will end my commentary a little differently today. In honor of the theme, here is my rendition of Over the Rainbow:

Somewhere over the Dow Jones
Way up over 7,000 points
There’s an economy that I heard of once in a free market

If happy little CEO’s fly corporate jets beyond the rainbow
Why oh why can’t I?

Somewhere over the Dow Jones
Bankers haven’t a clue
And the American dreams that you dare to dream really won’t come true

Someday I’ll wish upon a stimulus package
And wake up where the bankruptcies are far behind me
Where troubles melt like gas per gallon
A way above the shovel ready projects

That’s where you’ll find me

Somewhere over the Dow Jones
Bankers haven’t’ a clue
Wall Street isn’t accountable to the free market
Why then oh why am I?

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