The president is going to announce today a tax on the big banks and financial institutions:
The tax on banks, insurance companies and brokerages with more than $50 billion in assets would start after June 30 and seek to collect $90 billion over 10 years, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters late Wednesday.
The Administration is calling the tax a “financial crisis responsibility fee”. I like that handle. But, there are two problems. First, the bankers themselves still don’t get it:
“Using tax policy to punish people is a bad idea,” J.P. Morgan Chase Chief Executive James Dimon told reporters after a hearing in Washington. Mr. Dimon said it would be unfair for banks to be left shouldering the cost of the auto bailout.
This isn’t punishment, Mr. Dimon. This is about responsibility. To your country. To the people whose hard-earned money you used to save your institution.
Second, frankly, the projected $90 billion to be collected over ten years is a pittance–and that cost is being shouldered by the shareholders of the banks and financial institutions and I’m guessing its customers who will end up paying for the tax in higher fees that the institutions slip into their “cost of doing business”.
The tax avoids any personal responsibility on the part of the individuals who created the economic crisis.
Here is another idea: demand that the Wall Street bonuses go to pay for the recovery efforts in Haiti, and to make taxpayers here whole. After all, the very economic system that Dimon and his peers created over the past several decades is the system that impoverished countries around the world, leaving them with a weak infrastructure to be able to deal with natural disasters. Putting the Wall Street bonuses towards Hait relief will perhaps make Dimon and his peers feel virtuous and not punished–but I would not count on it.
*This post originally appeared in Working Life on January 14, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the AuthorJonathan Tasini: is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.
A new report shows that comprehensive immigration reform would help American workers and the U.S. economy. Reform that offers a path to citizenship for currently unauthorized workers and enforces workers’ rights would raise the “wage floor” for the entire U.S. economy and increase the total gross domestic product (GDP) by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade, the report says.
The temporary worker program only generates an annual increase of 0.44 percent in the nation’s GDP or $792 billion over 10 years. It also leads to declining wages for newly legalized immigrant workers, the report says.
Mass deportation would reduce U.S. GDP by 1.46 percent annually or $2.6 trillion, not including the actual cost of deportation, the report adds. Wages would rise for less-skilled native-born workers, while wages for higher-skilled natives would drop. The deportations would lead to widespread job loss as well.
History bears out these findings, according to the report. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which provided opportunities for citizenship, was enacted during an economic recession characterized by high unemployment. Yet it helped raise wages and spurred increases in educational, home and small-business investments by newly legalized immigrants.
Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the report’s author, says:
This is a compelling economic reason to move away from the current “vicious cycle” where enforcement-only policies perpetuate unauthorized migration and exert downward pressure on already low wages, and toward a “virtuous cycle” of worker empowerment in which legal status and labor rights exert upward pressure on wages.
*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on January 11, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris
The lawsuit involved a class of female employees who claimed that they were illegally denied:
equal opportunity for advancement
promotional opportunities to high level profit sharing management positions
favorable job assignments, particularly, kitchen management experience, which was required for employees to receive consideration for top restaurant management positions
Stuart J. Ishimaru, EEOC Acting Chairman had this to to say in conjunction with the announcement:
There are still too many glass ceilings left to shatter in the workplaces throughout corporate America. …
Hopefully this major settlement will remind employers about the perils of perpetuating promotion practices that keep women from advancing at work.
Let’s hope so. It’s been almost 30 years since the Wall Street Journal popularized the term “glassceiling” in an article describing the invisible barriers that women confront as they approach the top of corporate hierarchy.
The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and issued several reports between 1991 and 1996. The last report noted that among Fortune 500 companies:
95 -97% of senior managers were men
97% of male top executives were white
95% of the three to five percent of the top managers who were women were white
I don’ t know how much better the data would look today but my bet would be that the difference wouldn’t be significant. No doubt ladies — after all of these years, we still have a long way to go.
I have talked to hundreds of women through the years who confront these issues at work each day. Many just don’t want to rock the boat to fight for the promotions they deserve — and that’s understandable.
That’s why cases like this one are so important. Three cheers for the courageous women who brought this class action lawsuit and the EEOC’s vigorous pursuit of equal opportunity for women.
*This article originally appeared in Employee Rights Post on January 9, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author: Ellen Simonis recognized as one of the first and foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. With more than $50* million in verdicts and settlements and over 30 years of experience, Ellen has been listed in Best Lawyers in America and in the National Law Journal as one of the nation’s leading litigators. She has been lauded for her work on landmark cases that established employment law in both state and federal court. Ellen also possesses a wealth of knowledge as a legal analyst discussing high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and women’s issues. Ms. Simon has been quoted often in local and national news media and is a regular guest on television and radio, including appearances on Court TV. She is the author of the Employee Rights Post, a legal blog devoted to employee and civil rights.
Executive Director – 9to5, National Association of Working Women
Denver, CO, January 10, 2010 — The Department of Health and Human Services has declared this week “National Influenza Vaccination Week” in the United States to encourage more widespread flu vaccination and call attention to the possibility of a third mass outbreak of H1N1 flu in the U.S.
Americans – especially those with chronic health conditions who may not realize they are at high risk for developing complications from influenza – are warned not to become complacent because of the lack of H1N1 news coverage and make decisions to skip the vaccine altogether.
But the United States faces another hurdle in ensuring that those who need the vaccine most receive it: the lack of a national paid sick days policy.
Too many American workers lack the time they need to get themselves and their families vaccinated because they do not have access to paid sick days. For these workers – many of them low-wage workers struggling mightily to make ends meet in a tough economy — taking the time away from work to be vaccinated might mean the loss of pay or even a job.
Nearly 60 million workers lack paid sick days on the job and nearly 100 million do not have a single paid sick day in which to provide preventive care for a child or other loved one. The lack of this basic labor standard means that workers who deal with the public, like waiters and child care aides, often go to work sick, jeopardizing others because they cannot afford to lose pay in this tough economic time. It also means that they do not have the time for preventive care – like getting a flu vaccination or getting children vaccinated.
The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world without a national paid sick days policy. But lost productivity due to sick workers costs the U.S. economy $180 billion annually. And the Institute for Women’s Policy Research actually found that, while a paid sick days policy would impose modest costs, the estimated business savings total $11.69 per week per worker from lower turnover, improved productivity and reduced spread of illness.
So, in addition to catching us up with the rest of the world, and ensuring the public health, paid sick days are good for business and good for our economy.
As we again consider the impact of H1N1 flu, we must move decisively toward passing the Healthy Families Act, federal legislation, currently pending in Congress that would guarantee paid sick days for American workers, ensuring that all Americans have the time to care for themselves and their families.
For interviews, or for more information on 9to5 and our paid sick campaigns, contact Public Relations Coordinator
Rosemary Harris Lytle at (303) 628-0925 or visit www.9to5.org.
About the Author: Linda Meric, a nationally-known speaker on family-friendly workplace policy, is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. A diverse, grassroots, membership-based nonprofit that helps strengthen women’s ability to win economic justice, 9to5 has staffed offices in Milwaukee, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Jose. Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].
I was flipping around the channel and came across George Carlin’s last comedy special on HBO. I started thinking about his famous list of the seven things you can’t say on television. So this week I’m going to present a work variation on Carlin’s list — a list of five taboo words for today’s workplace.
The first taboo in today’s workplace is the word “felony.” Corporations don’t like prison records. However, ex-offenders don’t need to worry too much, because this will change for two reasons. First, the dramatic increase of executives who visit the big house. If these guys keep getting arrested, every head honcho is going to have a rap sheet, and they have to work somewhere.
The second taboo at work is not a word but an acronym: “TMI” — too much information. This can apply to all manner of information, but of particular note is the often uncomfortable revealing of personal medical situations. People don’t want to hear about your medical challenges, your itchy rash, your surgery or your prostate, etc. Yes, the practice of avoiding running your mouth and disclosing TMI rules at work today. Find a therapist, a mate or a relative who really cares about the medical details of your life. But don’t share it with your coworkers, because hearing about those things makes them uneasy and can make work an uncomfortable place to be.
The third taboo at work revolves around the word “relationships.” Don’t go there. People don’t want to hear about your marital or relationship problems. Through the years I can’t believe how many people have shared intimate information about their relationships with me. Call me a prude, but I think pillow talk should be reserved for conversations that actually take place over pillows.
The fourth taboo is the word “why.” As in “Why did you…” “Why do we…” Most corporations don’t take kindly to being asked this simple question. Sure, there are bosses who can handle it. I just think that they are rarer than most people think. Sometimes it’s better to just bite your tongue and forge ahead with an assignment, even if you’re not totally sure about the outcome. People who constantly question the worth of a project or a boss’s decision often get tagged as malcontents. So be careful when you drag out the “W” word.
And finally, the fifth taboo — “bravado.”
Most of us learn at a very early age that we are never to show weakness or vulnerability at work. Bravado is the way; do what you can and fake what you can’t. I personally believe that the lack of vulnerability weakens organizations because it prevents real connection and real interactions between people.
If I had a magic wand I’d hope that we could all do a much better job of being more vulnerable at work. Sure it’s tough, but isn’t it time that we all brought a bit more humanity to our jobs? And what better way is there to do this than being genuine and vulnerable with the people we work with? So stash that bravado and learn to show a softer side — it will humanize you in the eyes of your coworkers and probably encourage them to do the same.
My five taboo words at work — felony, TMI, relationships, why and bravado. Of course I left layoff off the list. Just too painful to go there right now. I’d love to hear your suggestions.
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis today announced nearly $100 million in green jobs training grants, as authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). The grants will support job training programs to help dislocated workers and others, including veterans, women, African Americans and Latinos, find jobs in expanding green industries and related occupations. Approximately $28 million of the total funds will support projects in communities impacted by auto industry restructuring.
Through the Energy Training Partnership Grants being administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, 25 projects ranging from approximately $1.4 to $5 million each will receive grants. These grants are built on strategic partnerships — requiring labor and business to work together.
The grants announced today are part of a $500 million program created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — a.k.a. “the stimulus.”
UPDATE (Jan. 7): It’s not really clear from the list of grantees that DOL posted on their site, so I want to point out that training programs led by CtW-affiliated unions are prominent among those that received grants yesterday. For example, New York’s Shortman Fund (which was awarded a $2.8 million grant) is operated by SEIU 32BJ; SEIU locals also participate in H-CAP Inc. (granted $4.6 million); and LIUNA is active in training programs in Virginia, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Montana that were collectively awarded almost $17 million.
UPDATE (Jan. 7, 3:00PM): Quotes!
Mike Fishman, President of SEIU 32BJ:
High-impact, cost-effective labor-management programs like [the Shortman Fund’s] Green Supers are vital to the success of President Obama’s energy and environmental protection agenda. With nearly 80 percent of New York’s greenhouse gas emissions produced by buildings it’s imperative for owners, workers, environmental groups and the Federal government to jointly tackle this environmental challenge.
Terry O’Sullivan, General President, LIUNA:
Weatherization on a nationwide scale will require hundreds of thousands of skilled workers and LIUNA’s weatherization training program is leading the way while creating good jobs for working families and their communities. LIUNA’s credentialed weatherization workers will set the standard for a new American industry.
*This post originally appeared in Change to Win on January 6, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author Jason Lefkowitz: is the Online Campaigns Organizer for Change to Win, a partnership of seven unions and six million workers united together to restore the American Dream for everybody. He built his first Web site in 1995 and has been building online communities professionally since 1998. To read more of his work, visit the Change to Win blog, CtW Connect, at http://www.changetowin.org/connect.
More than 100 union members, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and UNITEHERE! President John Wilhelm were arrested at a sit-in demanding justice and a fair contract for San Francisco hotel workers last night. The workers have been without a contract since August.
The sit-in in front of the Hilton San Francisco followed a march by nearly 1,000 members of UNITEHERE! Local 2, other union members and community and political supporters. Says Ingrid Carp, a cook for 29 years at the Hilton:
“We’re determined as ever to win a good contract. It’s wrong for corporations to position themselves to make billions with the coming economic recovery, and expect us to go backward.”
At the rally before the march, Trumka told crowd:
“A job is a good job because working people fight to make it one. It doesn’t matter if the job is in a coal mine or a hotel, a classroom or a car wash.
“That’s why the struggle of hotel workers here in San Francisco and across our country is so important. If we don’t protect the wages and benefits and health care of hotel workers no job is safe, no worker is safe no family is safe.”
Tomorrow, Trumka will join workers for a rally and picket in front of the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. Along with the demand for justice for hotel workers, Trumka is in California this week to spotlight the need for job creation. We’ll have more on that later today.
The action is part of a campaign to win fair contracts at several national hotel chains, including Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood. The profitable chains are using the recession as an excuse to demand health care benefit cuts in contract talks with more than 16,000 workers at dozens of hotels in San Francisco, Chicago and other cities.
*This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on January 6, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.
A recent Time magazine poll found that 71% of Americans who responded want the government to place limits on the executive compensation at firms that received bailout money. Yet accomplishing this task selectively is impossible to do.
The government did appoint a czar of executive compensation for these corporations, but he approved a $7-million salary/$3.5-million bonus plan for the head of AIG, 80% of which is now owned by taxpayers. Few workers, executives included, would agree to work for less than the going rate. Executives are simply used to earning millions of dollars, and there is little that either the czar or shareholders can do about it unless Congress limits all executive compensation. But the chance of such legislation passing is slim.
Why is limiting executive compensation so difficult? Because executives have a seemingly unassailable argument — market forces — that University of Chicago professor Steven Kaplan defended in an October debate: “Market forces govern CEO compensation. CEOs are paid what they are worth.”
Of course, market forces are cited not only to justify outsized compensation for executives but also poverty wages for workers. Textbooks claim that minimum wage laws and union wages create unemployment. Just what are these market forces, and should we let them determine executive compensation and wages?
When British economists David Ricardo and Adam Smith examined this question 200 years ago, they concluded that what a person earns is determined not by what the person has produced but by that person’s bargaining power. Why? Because production is typically carried out by teams of workers, managers and machines, and the contribution of each member cannot be separated from that of the rest. A driver and a bus, for example, generate $100,000 of income a year. The driver is paid $25,000. Is this because the driver had transported 10 of the passengers without the bus while the bus had transported 30 of the passengers without the driver? The driver’s pay is so small only because the driver is so weak at the bargaining table.
It was Smith who explained that the bargaining power of each party is determined by the laws that the government passes and the way that it enforces them, and that, as a rule, the government sides with employers against employees. He was particularly concerned with anti-unionization laws. Had he witnessed the largesse that boards of directors are permitted to offer executives, and the government’s behavior toward executives in the current crisis, he probably would have added that the government also sides with executives against shareholders and taxpayers.
Despite the logic of Ricardo and Smith’s explanation that it is power, not productivity, that determines what people earn, the notion that people earn what they “deserve” persists. It dates to the Haymarket riot of 1886 in Chicago — in which police and labor protesters clashed and several policemen and demonstrators were killed — and the labor unrest that followed. Concerned about this unrest, John Bates Clark, a Columbia University professor, warned in an 1899 book: “The indictment that hangs over society is that of ‘exploiting labor.’ If this charge were proved, every right-minded man should become a socialist.”
It was thus with a clear political agenda that Clark took it upon himself to prove that the charge of exploitation of workers was dead wrong. Clark’s “proof” was to ignore the fact that production is carried out by teams and that individual contributions cannot be measured. He simply declared that the contribution of each individual worker and each machine could be measured, and that the earnings of either workers and executives or machines are simply the values of these contributions.
In this view, if the government were to raise wages by law, employers would have no choice but to fire workers, because no employer can pay out more than the worker puts in. And if the government were to set limits on executive compensation, the bright and the talented would choose to work less or limit the level of their performance.
Evidence that Clark’s theory is wrong — that production is carried out by teams and that astronomical compensation is not a requirement for good performance — can be found everywhere. In 1941, Wassily Leontief, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, tried to alert economists to the fallacy of Clark’s theory. But Leontief, like Ricardo and Smith, was ignored. And Clark’s tale that earnings are determined by productivity alone is still being taught around the globe.
Corporate executives take a different approach: picking the argument that suits them. When it comes to their workers’ wages, Clark’s theory rules: The wage of each worker is equal to the value of his or her product, and raising wages will cause unemployment. When it comes to the executives’ own compensation, however, they hide behind the idea that an individual’s contribution can’t be measured. So even when the corporations they run lose big and their stocks decline, they still collect millions in pay. Executive compensation is now so large that executives’ work effort no longer has any relation to the level of their compensation.
Adam Smith got it right: The remedy for the rule of power is the rule of law. We need new laws to check the unfair distribution of the fruits of our labor. One such law could set a maximum ratio at any given company between the highest executive compensation and the lowest worker’s wage. Another could set a minimum ratio for the division of income between labor and shareholders. Still another could raise the minimum wage and tie it to the median wage, which would make the minimum wage a consistent living wage.
Overpaid executives take more than their fair share and leave too little for the rest of us, threatening our health — and that of society.
Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University and is the author of “Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal.”
*This article originally appeared in The L.A. Times on January 4, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger acted illegally by placing tens of thousands of state employees on unpaid furloughs, a Superior Court judge ruled late Thursday on SEIU Local 1000’s lawsuit to overturn the furlough scheme. The ruling to halt thrice-monthly furloughs marks a much-improved start to 2010 for the state workers, who had seen their salaries slashed roughly 15 percent as a result of the mandated unpaid days off.
Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that by ignoring legal restrictions on furloughs, the Schwarzenegger administration overstepped its authority in approving the unpaid days off. Judge Roesch called the furloughs an “abuse of discretion” that interfered with operations of state agencies (like the DMV) and achieved questionable savings. From Roesch’s case ruling:
Moreover, when furloughs are implemented to save money, yet their implementation in some agencies saves nothing and increases costs, such a policy is arbitrary, capricious and unlawful.
“We said all along that the governor’s actions were illegal,” said SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker. “The governor violated the law and, as a result, people lost money…to remedy that violation, you have to give people back the money they lost.” SEIU Local 1000 first filed suit after the governor began the furloughs in February, in response to the state’s $42 billion budget gap.
Judge Roesch’s ruling could affect up to 50,000 employees represented by SEIU who work at agencies that do not rely on the state’s general fund, as well as tens of thousands of workers represented by two other unions, CASE and UAPD.
Judge Frank Roesch’s December 31st ruling is the second consecutive legal victory for Local 1000 on the furlough issue. In November, another Superior Court judge ruled that the governor violated the state insurance code when he included State Fund employees in his unilateral furlough orders.
An administration spokesperson said the governor would appeal and that an automatic suspension of Roesch’s order will result–leaving furloughs in effect and halting consideration of back pay–while an appellate panel considers the case. At a minimum, Judge Roesch’s ruling orders Governor Schwarzenegger to “cease and desist” the furlough of employees whose salaries are paid from special funds. Additional litigation may be necessary to clarify whether Judge Roesch’s order extends to state employees whose salaries are paid from the General Fund. “It remains to be seen whether the governor will continue to waste scarce state resources litigating this issue rather than simply complying with the Court’s order,” said Local 1000 president Yvonne Walker.
SEIU Local 1000 attorneys said they will ask Roesch to put the ruling into immediate effect and stop the furloughs during the appeal. In the State Fund case, Roesch ordered an immediate end to furloughs and reinstatement of back pay. The judge ruled that the governor’s reliance on the state Emergency Services Act, to furlough state workers, was misplaced because an emergency must have some time limit. “The emergency necessitating them was the failure of the Legislature to pass the budgets, though the reach of the orders extended long after those budgets were subsequently passed and signed into law,” the judge wrote.
Roesch ruled that furloughing state employees who are paid from special funds illegally interferes with the operation of specially funded agencies. “When furloughs are implemented to save money, yet their implementation in some agencies saves nothing and increases costs, such a policy is arbitrary, capricious and unlawful,” he said.
Roesch also rejected what he described as Schwarzenegger’s final justification: the need to treat all employees equally, regardless of the source of their agency’s funds. The governor is arguing, in effect, that furloughs should be spread throughout state government “so that all state employees suffer equally, without regard to savings to the General Fund and without lessening the pay cuts suffered by the General Fund employees,” Roesch said. “This is not rationally related to any government purpose.”
Read the original news update from SEIU Local 1000 here.
*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on January 4, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.
With the calendar turning to 2010, the Associated Press took a look back at the first year of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’ tenure, pointing out that “her aggressive moves to boost enforcement and crack down on businesses that violate workplace safety rules have sent employers scrambling to make sure they are following the rules.”
“Our members are concerned that the department is shifting its focus from compliance assistance back to more of the ‘gotcha’ or aggressive enforcement first approach,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business’ small business legal center…Chao has claimed that success was the result of cooperating with businesses to help them understand the myriad regulations. Keith Smith, a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers, said his members “want to build upon [Chao’s] progress and recognize what’s working.”
Of course, what worked for big business didn’t work at all for workers, as Chao’s Labor Department spent eight years “walking away from its regulatory function across a range of issues, including wage and hour law and workplace safety.”
Consider some of Chao’s legacy. The Government Accountability Office found that her Department “did an inadequate job of investigating complaints by low-wage workers who alleged that their employers were stiffing them for overtime, or failing to pay the minimum wage.” In one survey, 68 percent of low-income workers reported a pay violation in the previous week alone.
The Department’s own inspector general blamed “a lack of management emphasis on worker safety” for unsafe conditions at mines leading to a jump in worker deaths, while fines for workplace safety violations fell so low that employers began “factoring them in as part of their cost of doing business rather than complying with labor laws.” In all, “workers lose $19 billion in wages and benefits through illegal practices, nearly 6,000 American workers die on the job, and at least 50,000 workers die due to occupational disease” each year.
Solis, meanwhile, “slapped the largest fine in [Department] history on oil giant BP PLC for failing to fix safety problems after a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery.” She is hiring 250 additional wage-theft inspectors, and “started a new program that scrutinizes business records to make sure worker injury and illness reports are accurate.”
Labor Department staffers were so disgruntled under Chao that they threw a “good-riddance party” to cheer her departure. But for big business, Chao’s tenure meant acting with impunity and facing puny fines on the rare occasions that that were caught, and they’d like to go back.
*This post originally appeared in The Wonk Room on January 4, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author: Pat Garofalo is the Economics Researcher/Blogger for WonkRoom.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. His writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and at New Deal 2.0.
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