Working In These Times

Thursday, Oct 16, 2014, 3:00 pm  ·  By Zaid Jilani, Alternet

The Walmart Way of Business: When Profits Go Up, Cut Health Care for 30,000 Employees

(Mike Mozart / Flickr)

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Walmart is a wildly successful company. Its “corporate fact sheet” online boasts that for “the fiscal year ended January 31, 2014, Walmart increased net sales by 1.6% to $473.1 billion and returned $12.8 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. Walmart ranked first on the 2014 Fortune 500 list of "the world’s largest companies by revenue.”

Yet despite the retail behemoth's growing financial prosperity, which greatly benefits the company's shareholders, executives and especially the Walton family, the company has now decided that poverty wages are not bad enough for its employees. It will also cut their benefits. Walmart just announced that it will both be cutting health care coverage altogether for 30,000 part-time employees (about 2 percent of its workforce) while increasing the premiums paid by its other employees. The size of the premium increases is significant—biweekly premiums for its lowest-cost employee plans will rise 19 percent from $3.50 to $21.90.

Walmart's latest move on health care is just the latest in its crusade to build a business empire based on cheap labor, one where even full-time workers need food stamps to survive. It is notorious for suppressing employee rights, going as far as to shut down entire stores that have unionized. In 2013, a Congressional report estimated that Walmart's failure to provide decent wages and benefits could cost taxpayers as much as $900,000 per store thanks to government provision of food stamps and other aid. Chances are that number will increase now.

Thanks to all this, the Waltons, the Walmart heirs, have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans—estimated at $102.7 billion in 2012.

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Thursday, Oct 16, 2014, 1:15 pm  ·  By Marina Fang

SEIU Health Care Local Backs Four Republican Power Players

Members of 1199SEIU march during Occupy Wall Street in 2012.   (Paul Stein / Flickr)

A prominent progressive union in New York is throwing its support behind a few influential Republican state senators.

According to the New York Post, 1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East donated $6,500 to State Sen. Dean Skelos, who leads the Republican majority in the state legislature. In addition, it either endorsed or contributed money to three other Republican state senators, one of whom heads New York’s Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

The health care workers union is also working to try to turn the GOP-controlled State Senate Democratic in November’s elections—a goal that seems at odds with donating money to four Republican state legislators.

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Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014, 3:10 pm  ·  By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Happy Halloween from the GOP

In a new campaign strategy, Republicans play off of Americans' fears by comparing Ebola and ISIS issues to Halloween-inspired horrors. (EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection / Flickr)  

Republicans have adopted a Halloween-themed campaign strategy that they hope will incite voters to run screaming from Democrats.

The GOP message: Americans should be very, very afraid because the homeland is under attack from ghouls and goblins manifest as Ebola and ISIS. Republicans even threaten boogeymen in the form of ISIS suicide agents strapping themselves with Ebola virus vests and sneaking across the southern U.S. border.

This embrace of Halloween tricks is not surprising from the party pushing voter suppression while masquerading as a democracy-loving founding father.  The GOP is warning Americans that they should be scared witless of impending government disintegration because a guy with a knife got into the White House. This “caution” comes from the political party that favors government disintegration. Republicans have, after all, repeatedly shut down government and announced their intention to drown it in a bathtub. Republicans want America to summon the GOP to save the day, like it’s the political version of Ghostbusters. Most Americans, though, see right through the GOP, like it’s a gooey glob of ectoplasm. 

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Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014, 1:30 pm  ·  By Rebecca Burns

Adjunct Instructor: ‘I Was Practically Giving My Work Away. It Was Charity.’

(Yassie / Wikimedia Commons)  

For three years in the early 1970s, journalist Studs Terkel gathered stories from a variety of American workers. He then compiled them into Working, an oral-history collection that went on to become a classic. Four decades after its publication, Working is more relevant than ever. Terkel, who regularly contributed to In These Times, once wrote, “I know the good fight—the fight for democracy, for civil rights, for the rights of workers—has a future, for these values will live on in the pages of In These Times.” In honor of that sentiment and of Working's 40th anniversary, ITT writers have invited a broad range of American workers to describe what they do, in their own words. More "Working at 40" stories can be found here

In the 1970s, communications professor Jack Hunter told Studs Terkel that his was an “invisible industry.” “Since the Second World War,” Hunter explained, “We’ve had phenomenal growth. There are seven-thousand-plus strong teachers in this discipline.” The centrality of communication and persuasion to human society meant that “communications specialists do have a sense of power,” said Hunter. He was “high on the work.”

Forty years later, Maria (a pseudonym), who until recently taught English composition classes at a Texas community college, similarly describes her work as invisible. But she does not have the same sense of power—as an adjunct professor, she says that she is treated as disposable, even though her work teaching incoming students communication skills is still just as crucial. Maria says that drastic changes have occurred in higher education since Hunter’s day—most notably, tenure-track faculty now constitute just 24 percent of the higher education workforce, according to the American Association of University Professors. 

Before I started as an adjunct, I was in publishing for 20-odd years. A long time ago, I was getting my Ph.D, and I had finished everything but my dissertation. I had gone out for a job, and I was in the final group out of three hundred applicants, but I was pregnant at the time and they didn’t pick me. So I went into publishing. But I always loved teaching, and when my kids grew up, I knew I wanted to go back into it.

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Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014, 10:44 am  ·  By Michael Arria

Major League Baseball Has a Wage Theft Problem

The MLB's gross revenue has increased around 264% in the last 18 years, yet wage theft cases seem to be spiking. (Keith Allison/Flickr)  

With Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter’s retirement, the end of the Kansas City Royals’ lengthy playoff drought, and the yearly shift to the playoffs, Major League Baseball has seen an increase in national coverage lately, despite the NFL’s numerous scandals swallowing up the bulk of most sports segments. The uptick in attention stands in contrast to the more commonly-held perception that baseball’s popularity and cultural impact are dwindling.

The key numbers in assessing the MLB’s economic fortunes are its television revenues: according to an anonymous source who spoke to Forbes at the end of 2013, professional baseball took in between $8-$8.5 billion last year. In the last 18 years, the league’s gross revenue has increased by around 264 percent. The average MLB team is now worth around $811 million, a 9 percent increase from last year.

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Tuesday, Oct 14, 2014, 4:30 pm  ·  By Will Craft

Jimmy John’s Workers Can’t Even Quit Without Worrying About Absurd Noncompete Agreements

With Jimmy John's harsh noncompete clauses, workers will have to think twice before quitting in spectacular fashion—lest they become unhireable at other restaurants. (Guillermo Díaz in Half Baked)  

Fast food worker is often considered the archetypal crappy, dead-end job. But along with its low pay and less-than-stimulating working conditions, the industry has traditionally been a place where a fed-up worker could exit and re-enter with relative ease.

Not so at Jimmy John’s. The fast-food sandwich restaurant is trying to prevent workers from finding other jobs in the industry after they leave the company.

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Tuesday, Oct 14, 2014, 1:14 pm  ·  By Arun Gupta

Debut of Politico’s ‘Morning Shift’ Raises Ethical Questions Around IFA Sponsorship

McDonald's is a member of the International Franchise Association, an industry group that sponsors Politico's labor content.   Håkan Dahlström / Flickr / Creative Commons

I was pleased to learn in late September of Politico’s plans to launch a labor reporting desk—I am of a “more the merrier” mindset when it comes to journalism, especially on a topic so underreported as labor. 

Politico apparently sees money to be made in labor journalism, even as this vital beat fades in newsrooms across the country. According to the Huffington Post, “Politico’s market research suggested that stakeholders in government, lobbying and Fortune 500 companies were looking for the ‘nitty-gritty’ details of labor policy.” “Labor and Workplace Policy” will join Politico’s portfolio of 13 other “Pro Verticals,” paywall-protected sections that cover single topics like education, transportation, technology and the military. Subscriptions to the verticals can run into the thousands of dollars, the HuffPost says.

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Tuesday, Oct 14, 2014, 7:00 am  ·  By David Dayen

The Real World of Reality TV: Worker Exploitation

The 2007-08 Writers Guild strike drew big headlines, but many of the writers and editors that make Hollywood run are victims of wage theft and other basic labor law violations. (EvilMonkey / Wikimedia)  

On September 10, 16 editors on the Bravo reality show Shahs of Sunset walked off the job in Hollywood after informing their employer, Ryan Seacrest Productions, of their intentions to unionize. The next day, Bravo announced they would delay the premiere of the fourth season. 

“We thought it was about time, in the fourth season of a popular show, to get health care and pension benefits,” says Vanessa Hughes, one of the editors seeking representation through the Motion Picture Editors Guild, a division of the International Association of Stage and Theatrical Employees (IATSE). “We thought it’d take a day or so of picketing.”

But on September 26, Bravo announced they would take over production of the show, and the striking editors would be fired—leading workers to believe that Bravo would complete the season with scabs

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Monday, Oct 13, 2014, 4:39 pm  ·  By Jordan McCurdy

Airport Workers Paid $9 an Hour and At Risk of Ebola Go on Strike

Workers at LaGuardia Airport stand a chance of catching infectious diseases like Ebola, yet lack basic provisions like goggles and decent gloves. (Spreng Ben / Flickr)  

Since the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the nation’s first diagnosis of Ebola on September 30, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Academy of Sciences have demanded that airlines begin screening passengers arriving from African countries most affected by the pandemic for the disease. While this might contain the virus, it does so within the confines of each plane—leaving airline workers with increased exposure risks.

Dangers like this led LaGuardia airport workers to go on strike last week, demanding better health and safety protections. 

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Monday, Oct 13, 2014, 11:50 am  ·  By Alex Lubben

Facebook Shuttle Drivers Demand a Union—And Some Sleep

The Bay Area's tech company shuttle buses have become a flashpoint for anti-gentrification activists in recent years, but working conditions for drivers at companies like Facebook have gone unnoticed. (Chris Martin / Flickr)  

The tech industry loves to celebrate its propensity for “disruption,” upending all of our old traditions to create better, more efficient ways of doing things. Less often trumpeted is the industry’s creation of a new underclass of blue-collar workers—the janitors, cooks, drivers and security guards who keep the sprawling tech campuses running smoothly but see almost none of the industry’s booming profits. And while tech’s aversion to organized labor has kept most of these workers from organizing, Silicon Valley may soon have to confront a growing unionized blue-collar workforce.

Facebook’s shuttle bus drivers are no exception. They ferry the social media giant’s employees from San Francisco and Oakland out to Facebook’s offices in Menlo Park every day and can’t afford to live where they work. 

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