Category Archives: Vacation Pay

A Green New Deal for Workers

Workers in 2020 have a unique opportunity to vote to put two fellow workers in the White House. Howie is a recently retired Teamster and Angela is a dump truck driver. We know the economic realities that working people face in the United States. This Labor Day we call for a better class of people in the White House than the corporate crooks and flunkies that have been occupying it.

The COVID pandemic and economic collapse have highlighted the race and class inequalities in our society. With more than 35 million jobs lost, millions have lost their employer-connected health insurance in the middle of a pandemic. COVID-19 deaths are disproportionately afflicting working-class people, particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. The case for universal healthcare through a publicly-funded Medicare for All has never been stronger.

As income disappears, the rent — already too high — has become impossible for many to pay. The threat of eviction is with many of us every month. Even if eviction has been stopped by a temporary moratorium for some of us, we see our rent piling up each month so that we will be evicted anyway when the moratorium ends. We need a federal emergency housing relief program that helps people make their rent and mortgage payments during the emergency. To fix the fundamentals of the housing crisis requires a major investment in public housing, this time not just as segregated housing for the poor but as high-quality mixed-income developments that include middle-income workers and professionals.

Congress and the president are responding to the economic collapse so poorly that the nation is falling into a depression. A poll this week reported that 50% unemployed workers, 8.3 million people, were unable to cover their basic expenses in August.

Trump and Biden rely on private enterprise alone to pull us out of this economic hole. Their public economic recovery spending proposals feature corporate welfare grants, loans, and tax breaks that will supposedly trickle-down to working people as new jobs. But with working-class consumer demand depressed, it is too risky for corporations to make job-creating productive investments. Instead, they will again invest their stimulus money in stocks, bonds, and derivatives, just rearranging and further concentrating who owns the productive assets we have rather than creating new ones.

Our alternative is large-scale public investment in new public enterprises and services to benefit the working-class majority. Our ecosocialist Green New Deal will create 30 million jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, energy, and agriculture to rebuild our production systems for zero-to-negative carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. It provides for a Just Transition of up to five years wage and benefits maintenance for workers displaced by this economic transition, but few will need it for very long with all the new jobs that will be created.

We create 8 million more jobs with an Economic Bill of Rights to a living-wage job, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, universal health care, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement for every senior by doubling Social Security benefits.

The two corporate parties, who represent their Wall Street and big business donors, continue to undermine the rights of workers and let employers get away with breaking labor, health, and safety laws. It is time to repeal repressive labor laws, starting with the Taft-Hartley law that restricts labor’s ability to organize, act in solidarity, and engage in political activity. We need to enact new laws that enable union organization, including card check union recognition and the repeal of anti-union “right-to-work” laws.

We call for a Workers Bill of Rights, including workers rights to unions, to living wages, to portable defined-benefit pensions, to information about chemicals used at work, to refuse unsafe work, and to participate in enterprise governance. In order to increase economic security and strengthen workers’ power, we must replace employment-at-will laws, which let employers discharge workers for any reason or no reason, with just cause termination laws, where workers can only be fired for nonperformance or economic reasons. We must extend constitutional rights into the workplace, including free speech, association, and assembly, and freedom from warrantless employer surveillance, search, and seizure.

Even before the pandemic health and economic crisis hit, three super-rich Americans owned more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population, who earn a poverty-level median income of $18,000 a year.

Now, mounting COVID-19 deaths, economic depression, accelerating economic inequality, and climate collapse are all reasons to restructure our economy into a socialist economic democracy where the working-class majority is empowered to protect its interests and receive the full value of its labor. The first step is the ecosocialist Green New Deal for economic recovery as well as climate recovery.

The post A Green New Deal for Workers first appeared on Dissident Voice.

American Workers Have Been Given a Raw Deal Throughout the Trump Era

Although Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that American workers are “thriving” during his presidency, this contention rings hollow.  The mishandled coronavirus pandemic, of course, has created levels of unemployment, hunger, and misery in the United States not seen since the Great Depression.  But even in the years before the pandemic, when Trump claimed he had created “the greatest economy in history,”  that economy left American workers far behind.

During pre-pandemic years, the labor market was shifting, producing a rising percentage of workers concentrated in low-paying jobs.  A study released by the Brookings Institution in late 2019 reported that 44 percent of American workers (53 million people) earned low wages, with median annual pay of $17,950 per year.  Low-wage work was often precarious, with unpredictable schedules, reduced benefits, and unsteady employment.  Low-wage workers usually remained stuck in these jobs, and even workers in the middle class were “more likely to move down the occupation ladder than up.”  Unable to cover their living costs, substantial numbers of Americans worked at two or more jobs.

Overall, wages remained stagnant during the Trump era, with gains in take-home pay eaten up by inflation, leaving “real wages” for workers the same as 40 years before.  By contrast, the compensation received by their bosses rose dramatically, leading to an executive-to-worker pay ratio of 339 to 1.

Millions of American workers also suffered injury and even death on the job.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 alone private sector employers reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses.  Fatal work injuries numbered 5,280.

Moreover, despite legal restrictions on child labor, it remained remarkably widespread.  According to the U.S. Labor Department, in 2017 there were 2.5 million child workers in the United States.  Child labor was particularly common in agriculture, where it was perfectly legal for a 12-year old to work 50 to 60 hours a week in the fields, exposed to toxic pesticides and extreme heat.  When Human Rights Watch interviewed child tobacco workers in four Southern states in 2019, most reported symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness.

American workers faced other kinds of mistreatment, as well.  Enormous numbers filed official complaints of gender, race, age, and religious discrimination.  In late 2017, a Pew Research poll of U.S. working women found that 42 percent said they faced gender discrimination on the job.  Another survey, conducted in 2018, reported that 38 percent of women and 13 percent of men claimed that they had experienced sexual harassment at work.  McDonald’s, one of the largest employers in the United States (with over 800,000 employees), became notorious for the sexual attacks experienced by its workers, who even staged a nationwide strike over the issue.

Perhaps most significant, American workers were largely stripped of a key protection against exploitation:  labor unions.  Thanks to union activism, union members are more likely than other workers to have good wages, employer-provided health insurance, paid vacations, sick leave, and pension plans.  And even workers without unions gain when union agitation leads to improved working conditions and pro-worker legislation.  But unscrupulous U.S. employers effectively used legal and illegal tactics—including harassing union organizing drives, firing union sympathizers, and waging vicious, anti-union campaigns—to deprive workers of union representation.  As a result, although nearly two-thirds of Americans approved of unions and roughly half of unorganized workers said they would join one if they could, union membership in the United States fell to an all-time low, with severe consequences for workers.

But how does the record of United States compare with that of other advanced industrial countries?

In 2016 (the last year for which comparative statistics are available), the death rate for U.S. workers on the job was considerably higher than the rate in comparable nations—more than twice as high as in Japan, three times higher than in Canada, and more than five times higher than in Sweden.  Moreover, in 2019, U.S. unemployment insurance benefits were considerably lower than in many advanced industrial societies.

Among the three dozen industrial nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States, in 2019, was exceeded only by Latvia in having the highest percentage of low-wage workers.  This is not entirely surprising, as the U.S. minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, placing the United States behind Luxembourg ($13.78), Australia ($12.14), France ($11.66), New Zealand ($11.20), Germany ($10.87), Netherlands ($10.44), Belgium ($10.38), Britain ($10.34), Ireland ($9.62), Canada ($9.52), and Israel ($7.94).

Furthermore, American workers put in many more hours on the job than did their foreign counterparts.  At the beginning of 2020, full-time U.S. workers had a longer work week than full-time workers in 24 OECD nations.  In addition, the United States remained the only country with an advanced industrial economy that did not guarantee workers a paid vacation.  The European Union guaranteed workers at least 20 paid vacation days a year, with some countries mandating as many as 30.  Although the United States had no legally mandated paid holidays, most advanced industrial countries offered at least six per year.  As a result, close to one in four Americans had no paid vacation and no paid holidays, while the average American worker in the private sector received only 10 paid vacation days and six paid holidays—far less time free of employment responsibilities than in almost every other country with an advanced economy.  The United States also remained the only advanced industrial nation that failed to guarantee paid maternity leave to workers.

When it comes to unions, the story is much the same.  American unions represented a much smaller portion of the workforce than labor organizations in comparable societies.  In 2019, when union membership in the United States fell to 10.1 percent, it stood at 90.4 percent in Iceland, 66.1 percent in Sweden, 54.2 percent in Belgium, 34.3 percent in Italy, 25.9 percent in Canada, 24.2 percent in Ireland, and 23.2 percent in Britain.  Union membership in OECD nations averaged 16 percent.

Not surprisingly, in a 2020 report, the International Trade Union Confederation, representing 200 million workers in 163 countries, ranked the United States as the worst among the nations with the world’s leading economies for workers’ rights.

Against this backdrop, it’s hard to take seriously Trump’s claim that U.S. workers have thrived during his presidency.  Indeed, even before the disasters wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, American workers received a raw deal.