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Forum Post: Corporations Rewriting US Labor Laws

Posted 5 months ago on Nov. 2, 2013, 4:24 p.m. EST by LeoYo (4837)
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Corporations Rewriting US Labor Laws

Saturday, 02 November 2013 09:20 By Ramy Srour, Inter Press Service | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19765-corporations-rewriting-us-labor-laws

Washington - U.S. state legislators and corporate lobbies have engaged in an unprecedented attack on minimum wages that has lowered U.S. labour standards, according to new research released Thursday.

The report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank here, is the first of its kind, providing a comprehensive overview of all legislation enacted over the past two years across all 50 U.S. states. According to EPI researchers, some of the country’s largest corporate lobbies have engaged in an intense attack on U.S. labour standards and workplace protections, including minimum wage laws, the amount of paid sick leave offered, and even child labour protections.

“What is particularly important about this new report is that it emphasises the recent legislative developments at the state and local levels, which unfortunately have been largely ignored,” Jon Schmitt, a senior economist at the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), an economic research institute here, told IPS. “That means that the discussion of economic and political inequality also needs to move to the local level,” he said.

EPI says such legislative attacks have seriously undermined the ability of average U.S. citizens to achieve economic prosperity. “What is clear from the report is that attacks on labour unions are part of a larger attempt by trade associations and corporate lobbies … to fundamentally change the labour situation in America,” Gordon Lafer, an EPI research associate and an associate professor at the University of Oregon, said at the report’s launch here on Thursday. Despite the country’s general economic growth, EPI notes that more and more people in the United States are struggling to earn a living wage.

“According to our statistics, from 1983 to 2010 the bottom 60 percent of Americans actually lost wealth, despite the fact that the overall U.S. economy has grown over this same time period,” Ross Eisenbrey, the EPI’s vice-president, said Thursday. “This is a remarkable indictment of how the economy is not working for everybody.”

Although most attacks on labour standards come through state legislatures, the report notes that the momentum behind this large legislative movement has been driven primarily by powerful national corporate lobbies “that aim to lower wages and labour standards across the country.”

Wage theft

Indeed, one of the striking features of the report is the way it sets the local data into the larger national context.

Today, one out of five U.S. citizens is getting paid less than the federally mandated minimum wage. According to recent polls, workers in the U.S. are also increasingly dissatisfied with their current standards of living.

As many as seven in every 10 are saying that the economy is getting worse, and average confidence in the economy has reached its lowest point since November 2011, according to recent polls by Gallup.

On top of that, several U.S. states have already acted in one way or another by taking measures aimed at cutting minimum wage laws, considered some of the last bastions of low-wage worker protections in the country.

In 2011, for instance, New Hampshire legislators repealed the state’s minimum wage, mandating that only the federal minimum wage should be heeded. South Dakota recently abrogated the minimum wage for much of its summer tourism industry.

And while federal minimum wage standards are still in place, these recent trends suggest that the corporate influence at the state level is growing steadily.

While minimum wage restrictions are starting to take their toll on the average worker, the report also notes that many workers are not even able to recover those wages they have actually earned. Their failure to get paid – or what the report calls “wage theft” – refers to those widespread instances in which workers see parts of their paycheques being illegally withheld by their employers.

According to a 2009 survey by the National Employment Law Project, a labour advocacy group, as many as 64 percent of low-wage workers in the United States have seen portions of their paycheques stolen by their employers.

“The problem with alarming issues such as wage theft is that it’s actually very difficult to provide accurate evidence,” the CEPR’s Schmitt says. “Employers say that they’re eventually going to give that money back, but there’s no way of actually monitoring that.” Advantage: employers

And as workers struggle to obtain those wages legitimately owed to them, national labour regulations seem to be increasingly tilting to the advantage of employers.

Some states have tackled the growing problem of wage theft by requiring employers to keep detailed pay records, or by passing legislation that enables state authorities to inspect these records. But according to the EPI, business lobbies have worked hard to block the enforcement of these efforts, in some cases by challenging the constitutionality itself of wage-theft laws.

In 2010, Florida’s Miami-Dade County enacted the first wage-theft law in the country. Lacking a department of labour since 2002, the state charged its Department of Small Business Administration with the law’s enforcement.

During its first year, the new law enabled the collection of nearly two million dollars’ worth of illegally withheld pay.

But as other counties sought to follow suit with their own wage-theft laws, business lobbies engaged in extensive legal battles aimed at curbing such laws. In 2011, Palm Beach County, another Florida county, tried to enact a wage-theft law similar to Miami-Dade’s, but business lobbies successfully blocked it by arguing that it would only add a costly new bureaucracy.

“The very little enforcement of wage-theft allegations has only contributed to emboldening employers across the country,” Schmitt says. “Right now, they feel they can take more risks and take advantage of their employees, without fear of retaliation.”

Visit IPS news for fresh perspectives on development and globalization.

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11 Comments


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[-] 3 points by beautifulworld (20422) 5 months ago

It's simply outrageous that the American people sit back and allow this to happen.

[-] -1 points by georgetander (5) 5 months ago

The very people on this forum who are well aware of the problems aren't doing any actions.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (20422) 5 months ago

Lead the way, George Tander.

[-] 1 points by georgetander (5) 5 months ago

I'm part of UK's green party. I spend most of my time actively trying to change things.

[-] 3 points by beautifulworld (20422) 5 months ago

Nice. Here's a good link describing the platform. It's similar to the Green Party in the States:

http://greenparty.org.uk/policies.html

[-] 1 points by GirlFriday (21771) 5 months ago

Actually, the very people on this forum are involved in any several things at once. But, you knew that.

[-] 0 points by georgetander (5) 5 months ago

Perhaps you are right. What kind of activities are the people here engaged in apart from posting on this forum?

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4837) 5 months ago

New "Freedom Act" Would Curtail the Patriot Act

Saturday, 02 November 2013 09:33 By Katie Rucke, Mint Press News | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19767-new-freedom-act-would-curtail-the-patriot-act

Two congressmen who were involved in the passage of the Patriot Act have introduced a bill that would rein in secret surveillance of Americans.

Amid continuing revelations that the U.S. government not only conducted invasive surveillance on its own citizens but on world leaders — including U.S. allies — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) introduced a piece of legislation that would “restore Americans’ privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records and requiring greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities.”

Known as the USA FREEDOM Act, the legislation would “end the dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act — which allows the FBI to order any person or entity to hand over any tangible item to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities — and ensures that other authorities cannot be used to justify similar dragnet collection.”

The bill, which has 16 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, would also implement safeguards to ensure that the U.S. government does not conduct warrantless surveillance.

A Special Advocate position would also be created to ensure that Americans’ privacy rights and civil liberties were protected, and detailed public reports about the type and frequency of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders would also be required.

In a joint press release on Oct. 29, Leahy said he co-authored the legislation because “the government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act are far broader than the American people previously understood. It is time for serious and meaningful reforms so we can restore confidence in our intelligence community.”

“Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough. We need real reform, which is why I join today with Congressman Sensenbrenner, as well as a bipartisan group of 15 Senators, to introduce the USA FREEDOM Act.”

Sensenbrenner added that although the U.S. Patriot Act was implemented after 9/11 to “keep Americans safe by ensuring information is shared among those responsible for defending our country and by enhancing the tools the intelligence community needs to identify and track terrorists … the balance between security and privacy was lost.”

He said it’s time for the judiciary committee members to come together again as they did with the Patriot Act, but this time pass a piece of legislation that protects American liberties.

“Washington must regain Americans’ trust in their government. The USA FREEDOM Act is an essential first step,” Sensenbrenner said. Transparent surveillance practices

Introduction of the Freedom Act legislation comes after Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) proposed a budget amendment bill this past July that would have defunded a portion of the NSA’s budget — specifically the portion of the agency’s budget that was used to surveil Americans’ phone records.

Amash’s bill failed to pass by 12 votes; the congressman has now come out in support of the Freedom Act.

Advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Rifle Association and privacy-rights group Stop Watching Us have all pledged their support for the legislation.

What is unique with this legislation is that Leahy and Sensenbrenner were both the primary authors of the Patriot Act, the specific piece of legislation that the Freedom Act seeks to alter.

In a joint opinion piece for Politico, Leahy and Sensenbrenner wrote that while there have been debates about the benefits of the Patriot Act since it was passed 12 years ago, collecting “millions of Americans’ phone records every day — whether they have any connection at all to terrorism — goes far beyond what Congress envisioned or intended to authorize.”

“Since the revelation that the National Security Agency is collecting the details of Americans’ phone calls on an unprecedented scale, it has come out that the government searches the content of huge troves of emails, collects in bulk the address books from email accounts and social networking sites, at least temporarily collected geolocation data from our cellphones, committed thousands of privacy violations and made substantial misrepresentations to courts and Congress.

“Not only do many of these programs raise serious legal questions, they have come at a high cost to Americans’ privacy rights, business interests and standing in the international community. It is time for a new approach.”

Though the legislation’s authors say the government’s surveillance techniques will cease to exist with the passage of the Freedom Act, the intelligence community will still be allowed to gather information on Americans.

But instead of the surveillance program’s activities being kept secret, the bill would create new oversight, auditing and public reporting requirements.

“No longer will the government be able to employ a carte-blanche approach to records collection or enact secret laws by covertly reinterpreting congressional intent,” the opinion piece says. “And to further promote privacy interests, our legislation establishes a special advocate to provide a counterweight to the surveillance interests in the FISA Court’s closed-door proceedings.”

Though Leahy and Sensenbrenner acknowledge the problems with the U.S. government’s surveillance practices, the two said that they believe Congress has to have some surveillance practices in order to keep the country safe:

“Congress did not enact FISA and the PATRIOT Act to give the government boundless surveillance powers that could sweep in the data of countless innocent Americans. If all of our phone records are relevant to counterterrorism investigations, what else could be?

“The intelligence community has failed to justify its expansive use of these laws. It is simply not accurate to say that the bulk collection of phone records has prevented dozens of terrorist plots. The most senior NSA officials have acknowledged as much in congressional testimony. We also know that the FISA court has admonished the government for making a series of substantial misrepresentations to the court regarding these programs. As a result, the intelligence community now faces a trust deficit with the American public that compromises its ability to do its job. It is not enough to just make minor tweaks around the edges. It is time for real, substantive reform.”

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4837) 5 months ago

House Passes Deregulation Bill Written by Citigroup

Friday, 01 November 2013 11:51 By Jessica Desvarieux, The Real News Network | Video Interview

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19763-house-passes-deregulation-bill-written-by-citigroup

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Bill Black Report.

Now joining us is Bill Black. He is an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and he's a regular contributor to The Real News.

Thanks for joining us, Bill.

BILL BLACK, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS AND LAW, UMKC: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: So, Bill, what are you working on this week?

BLACK: So I'm dealing with the effort--primarily by Republicans, but with strong support from Democrats--to gut the Dodd-Frank act. So this has multiple parts, but the one I'm going to concentrate on is the passage of or attempted passage of legislation that would remove the protections that Dodd-Frank tried to put in place. And remember, Dodd-Frank didn't put a whole lot of effective protections in place. So two big things that Dodd-Frank didn't do are coming back to bite it. Dodd-Frank didn't simply repeal the repeal of Glass-Steagall and reintroduce that law that had separated commerce and banking, and in Dodd-Frank they didn't simply repeal the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which had created the massive regulatory black hole on financial derivatives. But there were specific provisions that had elements of Glass-Steagall and elements of giving regulatory authority over financial derivatives that were put into the Dodd-Frank bill. And the big banks, working to some extent with the big corporations, are making an enormous effort to get rid of these protective portions of the law.

So the one I'm going to focus on is the one that was driven by Citibank that would allow a wide range of financial derivatives to be done directly by the bank, which is to say, the insured entity, which is to say, the government would be on the hook if there were losses. And Dodd-Frank was designed to prevent or at least dramatically minimize that. So this is a truly awful bill.

And we talked about it earlier. An analysis of the 80 lines of the bill when it was first introduced showed that 75 of them were written by Citicorp, including entire paragraphs in which the only thing changed was to make some words plural by Congress. And this has been adopted by the House of Representatives by a greater than two-to-one margin, with virtually all Republicans supporting it and 70 Democrats supporting it. And there's been a study that shows the people that are cosponsoring this kind of bill get $18 from the banking industry and finance industry for every $1 that goes from that industry to people who oppose the bill. So you get what you pay for type of thing.

And, by the way, this is one of eight bills that the House has passed. This particular bill probably won't become law this year, because the Obama administration has said it's not in favor of it, and simply the time of the year and such.

But on top of that, two things have just happened. The Republicans are now, again, blocking any effective regulators from being appointed. So there was someone with a very good track record who was going to be appointed to run the federal housing finance administration, and Senate Republicans have just blocked him by threatening to keep talking. And, unfortunately, the Democrats don't make them do that.

And the second thing--and this just happened minutes ago as we're taping this--is that they blocked a appointee to the D.C. Circuit. So this is the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. And this is the critical place that is being--it is controlled. It has a shortage of judges, because the Republicans have been blocking any appointees to this particular court.

And the reason they do is right now it has a tenuous Republican majority on the court that is going back to those who--our viewers that remember substantive due process, when conservative judges used to overturn legislation 'cause they didn't like it, well, that's what they're doing on regulations. And they are blocking regulations that were to be adopted under Dodd-Frank by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in particular that are designed to restrict the big banks. And so the Republicans are desperate to keep the D.C. Circuit as a Republican fiefdom that can block regulation.

And the politics of this is that the Republicans are explicitly running as the anti-regulatory party, saying that Dodd-Frank is a terrible thing, not because it's weak, but because it has too many rules and that's causing the recession, and so we have to gut Dodd-Frank, and we have to keep effective regulators from being appointed, and we have to keep judges from being appointed who weren't, you know, folks who would overturn the regulations left, right, and center on these specious class-benefit grounds. So all of those things are happening.

The key thing for Democrats is that this has substantial support from Democrats, particularly Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee, 'cause that's where they put members of Congress (both parties do this) who are in easily contested elections. And the reason they put them on House Financial Services is everybody knows it's a gold mine in terms of getting political contributions from big finance. But, of course, it's only a complete gold mine, highly productive gold mine, if you support the bankers in this position. So what you see is freshman after freshman after freshman Democrat on House Financial Services is lining up to try to gut Dodd-Frank.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Bill Black, always a pleasure having you on.

BLACK: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4837) 5 months ago

State Department Apologizes for Calling Unionization a Security Threat

Sunday, 03 November 2013 12:50 By Mike Elk, In These Times | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19786-state-department-apologizes-for-calling-unionization-a-security-threat

The United States Department of State has a specific arm set up to promote the rights of foreign nationals it employs overseas: the State Department’s Office of International Labor Affairs (ILA). According to the State Department’s website, the ILA supports “internationally recognized labor rights relating to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and the elimination of forced labor, child labor and discrimination.”

Despite this mission statement, the State Department has rebuffed efforts by foreign-born overseas workers to form unions, saying (controversially) in August that doing so would pose a threat to national security. However, Working In These Times has learned that at a private meeting with labor groups earlier this month, the State Department opened the door to collective bargaining by workers who perform critical services for the American government overseas. More than 55,000 foreign nationals are directly employed by the State Department or other foreign agencies at American embassies around the world. These workers, known as Locally Employed/Engaged (LE) staff, do everything from gardening work to security. According to worker advocates, some perform work similar to that of the American diplomats, such as preparing reports on activities occurring in that country and processing visas. Because this work takes place on U.S. embassy grounds, activists feel that U.S. labor laws should apply to all embassy employees. But LE staff have still been denied the right to collective bargaining.

In 2009, a group of LE workers at foreign began to form the International Foreign Service Association (IFSA) to advocate for better working conditions. In early 2013, IFSA decided to link up with an American union housed within the AFL-CIO, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE). In interviews with Working In These Times, IFPTE union organizers working on behalf of IFSA described a host of problems experienced by LE staff, exacerbated by the fact that IFSA has no ability to formally represent workers' desires to the State Department. Workers involved with IFSA say that their health, benefit and wage plans vary from embassy to embassy based on the budget set by the chief of mission in a given country. Some say that they are paid dramatically less than American foreign service workers doing similar work. Another big complaint, IFPTE representatives say, is that each embassy has its own pension plan for staff, each of which is managed by the individual chief of mission, with inconsistent oversight and worker input.

Currently, according to IFSA, employees may only bring problems regarding work issues—including conditions, scheduling and oversight of pension plans—to the chief of mission in their country. There is no one in the United States they can contact if the mission chief does not address their grievances.

“These workers are in limbo. They go to the ambassador [chief of mission] and he says my hands are tied,” says IFPTE union organizer Chris Langford. “The overriding theme that I keep getting from these folks is [that] there [is] nobody responsible for addressing their issues and needs. There is no person responsible for the welfare of these employees who are scattered throughout the world. ... They have no access to the State Department in DC.”

For the past year, IFSA has been working with the stateside IFPTE to persuade the State Department to allow the workers to have a union, or, failing that, some approximation of one—-an association funded by dues deducted from workers' paychecks that engages in collective bargaining on their behalf.

In August, the State Department Chief Labor-Management Negotiator Steven J. Polson dismissed a meeting request from IFPTE and IFSA to discuss instituting a union. Many in organized labor were offended by his rationale: that any form of aunion could jeopardize national security. Polson wrote:

Unionization at diplomatic and consular missions is fundamentally incompatible with the basic functions and operations of such missions. This would directly and significantly conflict with the authority of the diplomatic mission’s Chief of Mission and could frankly, put our foreign relations and national security at risk. If union rights were realized for LE staff, the exercise of such authorities or rights would pose a real security and counter-intelligence threat to the United States.

Even more dismissively, Polson refused to meet with IFPTE-ITSA to discuss collective bargaining or dues checkoff for their organizations. In his August 9 letter, Polson continued: “The Department has no interest in pursuing this discussion further. We have three major Federal Unions representing seven distinct bargaining units of direct hire Americans within the Department. If we sought any conversation about organizing LE staff, we might be obligated to approach any of them first.”

Outraged by the letter, IFPTE responded on August 12 that Polson’s argument about unions being a threat to national security “puts the Administration in the position of saying collective bargaining is somehow associated with disloyalty and un-Americanism."

In spite of Polson's resistance, IFPTE Secretary-Treasurer Paul Shearon was able to arrange another meeting earlier this month with high-level State Department officials: David Wade, the chief of staff for Secretary of State John Kerry, and Special Representative for International Labor Affairs Barbara Shailor. (Full disclosure: I worked for Shailor’s husband, Robert Borosage, at the Institute for America’s Future from 2009-2010).

Promisingly, the State Department seemed receptive to making changes to Polson’s stated policy at the meeting, according to Shearon and Langford, both of whom were in attendance. The State Department pledged to work with IFPTE-ITSA to discuss problems with employees’ welfare and agreed to meet with them regularly, says Shearon. The department has also appointed Shailor, who previously worked as the Director of the International Department at the AFL-CIO, as its point person to address workers’ concerns, say both Langford and Shearon.

More importantly, Shearon and Langford say that Wade also apologized for the Polson letter, and that Wade called the letter "inappropriate.”

The State Department did not return Working In These Times' request for comment on whether an apology was given in the closed-door meeting.

Though the State Department plans to address workers’ expressed concerns, it also remains mum about whether workers who are foreign nationals will actually be allowed to unionize. It also has not yet agreed to meet with IFPTE-ITSA in any formal, regular capacity with set agendas to discuss specific problems.

Still, however, Shearon is optimistic. He says that the State Department can allow collective bargaining simply by issuing a new rule. “I don't think they knew that piece of policy was sitting there, it’s been sitting there for years,” says Shearon. “It’s an administrative thing that they can do internally.”

Originally published at InTheseTimes.com

[-] 1 points by shooz (26599) 5 months ago

Hmmmm, it takes someone from outside the US to say something and they go through all the motions without ever mentioning the protracted dismantling of labor unions, by these same factions, all with out also mentioning that the lions share of the dismantling was and is still being orchestrated by ALEC..

Where ware they when I am attacked for being pro union?

Where you Leo?

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