Wal-Mart to HP Reap Worker Political Donations Through Charities - Bloomberg

So I talked a bit on the podcast, with the fabulous Liza Featherstone, about the story of Walmart employees being expected to donate food to their needy colleagues and how this demonstrates something about the corporate culture at Walmart that Bethany Moreton has explained so well.

Well, this is an even more fascinating twist on the whole story. 

In To Serve God and Wal-Mart, Moreton lays out the company’s twin narratives—the exploitation of (mostly female) caring labor for low wages, and the growth of Walmart as a political-ideological powerhouse. This latest report twines them both together perfectly. 

Walmart asks its employees to donate to its political work (which is not tax-deductible, though few Walmart associates probably make enough for tax deductions to matter, managers might) and will match that donation two-to-one to a charity. So: appealing to the workers’ better natures by offering a big charitable donation in exchange for a small political one. 

But the charity has to be the one that Walmart chooses—and it’s the one that Walmart controls, set up to donate to its own employees “facing financial distress.” 

Yes, that’s right. Instead of giving the associates a raise, Walmart prefers to donate to a “charity” of its own making, creating a fund to help out a few associates rather than spreading some wealth across the board. 

And that charity serves as a way to exploit workers’ feelings of care and support for one another to raise funds for its political lobbying—which focuses on “pro-business” policies that mostly harm those same workers. 

"Wal-Mart has been vocal on issues including the minimum wage," the article notes. 

And then there’s this: 

In 2009, IntercontinentalExchange Group Inc. (ICE), which operates global commodity and financial products marketplaces, asked the FEC for an advisory opinion on starting a double-matching program. The commission split evenly on the matter and issued no opinion. According to an audio recording of the meeting that April, three of six commissioners concluded double-matching would “skew the incentives” and “undercut the voluntariness” of contributions to the PAC. One said a double-match would “smack of buying off the contributor,” noting it could open the door to five-to-one matching or more.

So, while the practice as a whole is legal, the FEC is a little iffy as to whether double-matching “undercuts the voluntariness” of the money employees give to the political network. And “Tying the PAC and the charity could confuse donors,” according to a “former official at the Wal-Mart Foundation and associates charity,” who spoke anonymously. 

Right. 

The article notes that most of the people who contribute are managers rather than hourly associates, possibly because hourly associates don’t make enough money to make donations, charitable or otherwise, and also possibly because as Moreton notes, managers at Walmart are likely to have been picked for ideological reasons, from ideologically-aligned programs that Walmart funds at colleges and universities, and so on.

So they may well agree with the political direction that Walmart is steering them in. But even if they don’t, the company’s come up with yet another way to turn any potential care and solidarity they might have with their fellow workers to its advantage. 

Posted at 11:33am and tagged with: walmart, wal-mart, capitalism, classwar,.

Employees receive no tax deduction for the donations, as they do by giving to a charity directly. When soliciting employee contributions to PACs in exchange for charitable donations, companies typically say they want to increase voluntary participation in the political process and support pro-business candidates. Many companies offer a one-for-one match and donate the money to a charity of the employee’s choosing. Coca-Cola and HP both do this. Wal-Mart goes further. It offers a two-for-one match, and the contribution must go to the Associates in Critical Need Trust, or ACNT, a charity the company started in 2001 to help its own store workers facing financial distress. Wal-Mart gave the ACNT about $3.6 million in double-matching funds in the year that ended January 31, according to an audit of the charity’s financial filings.

Taking the Caring Out of Teaching - In These Times

My latest, on New York’s new standardized testing regime.

Posted at 9:37am and tagged with: labor, classwar, teachers, testing,.

As discontent has grown, parents around the country have been opting out of standardized tests for their children, but New York, it appears, is doubling down instead. “For the students, this is going to be way more time spent taking assessments, in every single class they take, there will be no break from assessments,” Jones says. “If we thought the testing regime was too much already, it’s going to be more out of control now that you’re going to have to have a test for the gym teacher, a test for the music teacher.” That’s right—even gym class, art and music will need to have a test. So will kindergarten. “It’s not like tests themselves are inherently evil. Almost every teacher gives some kind of test or assessment,” Jones says. “But when you place so much, so many outcomes on that edifice it’s too much weight for that instrument to bear. It distorts and warps the whole teaching and learning process.”

Bad Green Jobs - In These Times

As New York’s CitiBike program launches, the company that runs to program is accused of wage theft by its Washington, D.C. workers. 

Posted at 12:59pm and tagged with: labor, classwar, bicycles, bikes, nyc, newyork, greenjobs, jobs, wage theft, longreads,.

Samuel Swenson says he was excited when he was hired at Capital Bikeshare in the summer of 2011. He and his new colleagues were enthusiastic about bicycles and alternative transportation, he told In These Times. “We helped sell the program as much as we helped make it work.” Things quickly started to go wrong. According to Swenson, he was hired with the expectation that he would become a full-time bicycle mechanic and that he would receive health benefits, but the benefits didn’t materialize. The warehouse where he and the handful of other mechanics worked was housed next to a concrete mill in a Superfund site. The hard work and the silica dust from the concrete made him concerned about when his healthcare would kick in. When he never got a satisfactory answer from the company, he began researching Alta’s contract with the city. “I found out that I was entitled to health benefits, based on federal law, that my employer had agreed to, that I had been paid less than they had agreed [in their contract] to pay me, again according to this federal law,” he says.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (I’ve covered their work before, here) hit NYC on Saturday ahead of Wendy’s shareholder meeting to protest the fast food chain’s refusal to sign their fair food agreement. The agreement requires that companies pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes purchased, to be paid back to the workers. It’s certainly not enough to lift them out of poverty, but it helps. 

The CIW’s actions are always raucous, joyful and full of music and great art. This one was no exception. Check it: 

Posted at 12:48pm and tagged with: labor, classwar, food, new york,.

Free to Work, Free to Marry

E.J. Graff has a great piece on ENDA and why it matters, and this point, near the end, is one of the most important ones in it. Remember when Thomas Frank wrote “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” explaining that gay rights and abortion were the wedge issues that kept rural working-class folks voting Republican against their economic self-interest? Looks like that tide has turned. 

Unfortunately, it’s turned without Democrats turning in large numbers to economic populism—we’ve got Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren, a few members of the House, but largely Dems are still too timid to do more than mouth class war platitudes on the campaign trail and then pitch Social Security cuts and let the sequester stand.

To understand how we can see this huge shift in attitudes on so-called social issues (like marriage) while bills that would impact economic inequality (like ENDA) remain stalled even though they’re vastly more popular, we need to really look at how the Right and the Left (and the squishy Democrats in the middle) talk about economic justice, and see why Republicans have been able to appeal, not just on social issues, but to people who are feeling the squeeze in their wallets.

That’s why—you heard it here first, unless you didn’t—I’m working on a book* to discuss just that. And a whole lot more, too. 

*Proposal in the works. More info when I have it. I promise.

Posted at 11:12am and tagged with: classwar, politics, lgbt, enda, populism,.

Right now, as we pass over this particular tipping point—or bent moral arc, or whatever it might be—LGBT issues have become a wedge to use against Republicans, instead of—as has historically been the case—against Dems.

Unions to Banks: Pay Up

When politicians won’t lead and instead blame public workers for state budget troubles, what do we do? 

OK, it doesn’t make a great chant, but it does make an interesting story. 

Posted at 4:31pm and tagged with: unions, labor, banks, classwar,.

But there’s another option: Go after the big banks to get back the money the state lost through financial chicanery.

This is the proposal representatives for the 48,000 members of Local 503 currently in collective-bargaining talks are making. Last Friday, they unveiled their plan to demand the banks in their negotiations with the state at a press conference, with the support of the state AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the other major public-sector union, the Oregon Students Association, the Working Families Party, and other community allies.

“Traditionally, unions’ argument has been ‘We need to raise taxes.’ But if you think about the bank deals as an unfair tax on the public, then the union is simultaneously saying, ‘We need to stop banks from taxing the public,’” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime union organizer and adviser to Local 503’s campaign.

The local’s demands include that the governor and state treasurer sue the banks over illegal activities on behalf of Oregon’s public employees—they’ve calculated $110 million in losses to LIBOR rigging alone. They also want to see a task force established that would include workers struggling with debt and foreclosure to investigate the ways the state has been ripped off by Wall Street. “We do intend to go to the mat on these issues, we think that they’re vital in terms of putting the state on the right track for the future,” Heather Conroy, executive director of Local 503, says.

Cha explains to Working in These Times that women who have care-giving responsibilities at home are less likely to be able to work all day long, and care work is still seen as a woman’s job—in her paper, Cha cites a 2012 study that found that even women who make more money than their spouses spend 30 percent more time with their children. Yet male-dominated occupations—which still, Cha notes, pay more than female-dominated ones—demand long hours of workers. Fields like law or medicine expect total commitment, and even skilled blue-collar jobs tend to require longer work hours and lots of overtime. The expectation that workers will be able to stay on the job longer, combined with the expectation that women will do most of the care-giving, leads to more women leaving those male-dominated fields, either exiting the labor force entirely or finding a job that doesn’t have the same kinds of demands.

In fields dominated by men, Cha notes, women are less likely to have social support in the workplace. “Basically, women’s experiences are not reflected in workplace policy, workplace practices and norms. This makes it more difficult to combine family responsibilities and at the same time meet workplace expectations,” she says.

A Day Without Care | Jacobin

Working time, care work, gender, and strikes. 

Posted at 7:21pm and tagged with: classwar, labor, feminism, longreads,.

“Not only wages — I am thinking here of the ‘female wage’ and the ‘family wage’ — but hours, too, were constructed historically with reference to the family,” Weeks notes. The eight-hour day and five-day week presumed that the worker was a man supported by a woman in the home, and it shaped expectations that his work was important and should be decently paid, while women’s work was not really work at all (even though, as Weeks notes, the gender division of labor was supported by some paid domestic work, done largely by women of color). The postwar labor movement focused on overtime pay and wages, leaving the women’s issue of shorter hours mostly forgotten.

But the power of the eight-hour-day movement was that it didn’t require the worker to love her job, to identify with it for life, and to take pride in it in order to organize for better conditions. The industrial union movement rose up to organize those left out of the craft unions, the so-called “unskilled” workers who recognized that they were not defined by their work and that they wanted to be liberated from it as much as possible. That, in their minds, was what made them worthy of respect, not their skill level or some intrinsic identity.

The fight for shorter hours unified workers across gender and race, class and nationality, skill and ability. It did not require the valorization of “man’s work” or the idealization of women’s natural goodness.

Cash Benefit Programs Are Not Really Government Spending - The Demos Blog - PolicyShop

Matt Breunig demolishes the argument that conservatives opposed to “entitlement” programs are opposed to “government spending.” 

Posted at 10:27am and tagged with: classwar,.

The government does not spend money on a cash benefit program, it just channels it to someone who spends it. The only coherent objection that can be raised against such a program is that the people the money is channeled to should not be entitled to spend it, that the money should actually be spent by other people. But this is a purely distributive argument. It is not a government spending argument, not even slightly. We should treat objections to cash benefit programs for what they actually are: complaints about the economic distribution that those programs usher in, not complaints about government spending. Doing so will allow us to get at the real argument that is going on beneath the surface, which is the argument about who deserves what and why. If the right-wing believes that the poor, disabled, and elderly deserve to have less, then they should be forced to actually make that point overtly. I would love to see it too as I am especially interested in knowing just how much poorer the poor need to be in order for us to have a just economic distribution. But as it is, the actual disagreement about distributive justice never gets fought out. Instead, everyone involved fights a totally contrived proxy battle about government budgets that entirely obscures what’s the debate is really about.

The McJobs Strike Back: Will Fast-Food Workers Ever Get a Living Wage? - Sarah Jaffe - The Atlantic

At least three fast food restaurants couldn’t open today because a majority of their workers were out on strike. Minimum wage increase is coming for NY, but the fast food workers aren’t waiting. 

Posted at 4:09pm and tagged with: fast food forward, labor, classwar, union, service work, longreads,.

Edwin Guzman already lost his job once for union-organizing. But today, he and several hundred fast food workers across New York City are on strike anyway.


A few weeks ago, an organizer with the Fast Food Forward campaign, begun by New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other labor and community groups walked into the Burger King in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where Guzman works. He had a petition with him, calling for a raise to $15-an-hour and union recognition for the workers. Guzman and some of his colleagues signed.


Not long afterward, he had to take a couple of days off for a court date—he was being evicted from his apartment, in part because of his steadily decreasing hours and low pay at his job. Like most of the city’s fast food workers, he makes just $7.25 an hour and struggles with irregular scheduling. When he returned to work, his supervisor called him in to talk.


“He told me he had to let me go,” Guzman explained. “He felt like I disrespected him. He felt violated that I signed the petition.”


When Guzman told the organizers what had happened, they explained to him that firing workers for union activity is illegal, and that they’d support him if he wanted to fight back. With the help of City Councilman Brad Lander, after a meeting with the boss, Guzman and one of his other coworkers were reinstated. That cemented his commitment to the union campaign.


***


Today is the second citywide day of strikes in New York’s fast food industry. On November 29, 2012, some 200 workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and Domino’s Pizza locations across multiple boroughs struck in what Jonathan Westin, executive director of NYCC, called “their coming out party.” Before that, Westin explained, the workers had been organizing behind the scenes, keeping their plans quiet. Now, he said, even in the face of intimidation from their bosses, the workers have been able to grow their movement.


“We’ll have double the number of strikers, four or five hundred workers on strike, and double the locations too,” Westin said. “We will have several stores where it will not just be minority strikes like it was last time, we will have the majority of workers at several stores out on strikes, making it hard for them to do business on this day.”