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Tag: "labor"

Wellness Programs as Tools of the Boss

[ 82 ] April 8, 2014 |

Not at all surprising that employee wellness program shifts responsibility for unhealthy workplaces off of the employer and onto the employee:

“Many of the individual behaviors you are focusing on in your health and wellness programs [such as] stop smoking, eat better, exercise more, are in fact the consequences of the environments in which they [employees] are working,” Pfeffer says. “If you work people to death, of course they are going to smoke more, drink more and eat worse.”

Pfeffer outlined his concept of “social sustainability,” where companies invest more in making their human capital sustainable.

“Work organizations ought to be measuring the health of their workforce,” he said in his keynote speech. “Just as many places today measure carbon, renewables and environmental impacts, we ought to measure human sustainability just as much as we measure environmental sustainability.”

When determining well-being and longevity of workforces, Pfeffer said that most company wellness programs – which conventionally promote individual health and wellness, biometric screenings and smoking and drinking cessation programs – do fall short of really instituting change. Indicators such as work-family conflict, lack of job control, perceived fairness at work, as well as layoffs and economic insecurity, all play a huge role in workforce health, he added.

“The higher you are [in the organizational structure of

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your company] the more control you have; the lower you are, [the] more flows down hill,” Pfeffer said, while noting that low control over one’s work increases a person’s likelihood of having a cardiovascular event.

That this Stanford researcher told this to a conference of employers means I’m surprised he wasn’t howled down on the spot. If companies can charge workers higher premiums if they don’t live up to their standards of health, even more money stolen from workers!

Capital Mobility and the Death of Steady Work

[ 103 ] April 7, 2014 |

Once again, capital mobility is the biggest threat to modern labor.* Companies already outsourced much work from the United States, contributing to the decline of unions, the split between labor and environmentalists, the end of steady work, the corporate domination over American politics, Gilded Age levels of income inequality, and the rapid decline of working-class voices in American debates.

Well, it’s no better for Indian workers since companies will dump those workers to in order to fight ever cheaper labor, making the conditions necessary for a permanent middle class nigh well impossible.

NEW DELHI: Struggling to diversify the delivery footprint to take advantage of low-cost centres, India’s BPO industry is currently losing 70 per cent of all incremental voice and call centre business to competitors like Philippines and countries in Eastern Europe, says a report.

“It is estimated that in the ongoing decade India might lose $ 30 billion in terms of foreign exchange earnings to Philippines, which has become the top destination for Indian investors,” Assocham Secretary General D S Rawat said. Thus there is a need to reduce costs and make operations leaner across the BPO industry,” he added.

BPO companies could reduce the total operating costs by 20-30 per cent by moving to a low-cost city within India, with a cost differential of around 10-15 per cent for non-voice processes and upwards of 20 per cent for voice processes, the report pointed out.

Several Indian firms have set up substantial operations in Philippines which has a large pool of well-educated, English-speaking, talented and employable graduates. Almost 30 per cent graduates in Philippines are employable unlike 10 per cent in India where the training consumes considerable amount of time, according to the report.

David Atkins on the importance of this.

The labor arbitrage game continues worldwide as corporations shift from country to country looking for highly trained workers to sell their labor for next to nothing on the global marketplace. These corporations are like parasites, putting jobs in one country for a decade or two, only to destabilize them and move the jobs elsewhere the moment something cheaper and better trained comes along.

Combined with increased capital mobility, labor arbitrage is giving corporations the upper hand in the battle with governments worldwide. The fate of the world’s economy–and, given the realities of climate change perhaps even the human race itself–will depend largely on whether the governments of the world can cooperate to neutralize the parasitic, plutocratic threat of global corporations.

I agree entirely. Fighting capital mobility needs to be at the very highest level of the progressive agenda. It is not today.

*One can make an argument for automation here as well.

UPS Labor Intimidation

[ 46 ] April 3, 2014 |

In February, 250 UPS workers staged a 90-minute strike in response to the firing of a union activist.

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UPS has now fired all of them, despite their Teamsters membership. Because this is in Queens, the City Council is powerful enough to push back against UPS. We’ll see if it makes a difference. At the very least, it sends a message to the non-New York part of the nation to not challenge management.

Sex Work Prohibitionism

[ 440 ] April 3, 2014 |

Melissa Gira Grant’s new book is causing all sorts of discomfort among liberals who are just flat not comfortable with thinking of sex work as labor. Katha Pollitt’s latest piece is an excellent example of this. Unfortunately, while Pollitt is writing in the language of second-wave feminism, she’s also writing in the language of prohibitionism. She tries to stigmatize a reality of the world as immoral, but in fact just reinforces a system by which women are in fact victimized. Even the poor women she accuses Grant of ignoring are not helped by keeping sex work illegal. If you legalize sex work, you are going to make it harder for underground sex operations that treat women terribly to continue because a major reason why they exist is that sex work is illegal and therefore stigmatized. That’s not to say sex work is great–it’s a bad job—but keeping it illegal does not promote the equality that Pollitt wants to see.

…To clarify one point, I realize Pollitt is not really calling for sex work to remain illegal, but by using language that separates it from other kinds of work as inherently and perhaps uniquely awful, it reinforces long-standing arguments used to keep it illegal. Quibble with my characterization if you’d like, but I just wanted to clarify this point a bit.

Structural Inequality and Infant Mortality

[ 114 ] April 2, 2014 |

I can’t recommend this Stephen Bezruchka essay on structural inequality and infant mortality strongly enough. Just a quick excerpt:

Everyone in a society gains when children grow up to be healthy adults. The rest of the world seems to understand this simple fact, and only three countries in the world don’t have a policy, at least on the books, for paid maternal leave—Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and the United States. What does that say about our understanding, or concern, about the health of our youth?

Infant death rates, those occurring in the first year of life, are a particularly sensitive measure of health in a population. According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in 2013, our infant mortality rate is about 6.1 deaths for every thousand live births. Sweden has an infant mortality rate less than half of ours, 2.1 deaths per thousand births. If we had Sweden’s rate of infant deaths, the United States would have around forty-seven fewer infants dying every day in the United States. That is what is achievable: every day forty-seven babies wouldn’t die if we had Sweden’s rate of infant deaths.

Differences in mortality rates are not just a statistical concern— they reflect suffering and pain for very real individuals and families. The higher mortality in the United States is an example of what Paul Farmer, the noted physician and anthropologist, calls structural violence. The forty-seven infant deaths occur every day because of the way society in the United States is structured, resulting in our health status being that of a middle-income country, not a rich country.

There is growing evidence that the factor most responsible for the relatively poor health in the United States is the vast and rising inequality in wealth and income that we not only tolerate, but resist changing. Inequality is the central element, the upstream cause of the social disadvantage described in the IOM report. A political system that fosters inequality limits the attainment of health.

Resist changing? For Republicans, rising inequality is the stated goal, with an underlying racial tone that gets poor whites to buy in against their own economic interests.

The only thing I’d add that Bezruchka leaves out is how the decline of labor unions has played into this problem. He suggests worker-owned businesses as part of the strategy to overcome this structural inequality, but that he mentions this and not unionized workplaces says a lot about just how desperate organized labor’s situation has become. In all of American history, only labor unions have allowed workers to have a real voice on the job and provided a powerful and long-term voice for the American working class. Without that voice and the potential of delivering (or withholding) votes and money, politicians have little reason to care very much about structural inequality.

But otherwise, an outstanding essay.

World Cup Deaths

[ 17 ] April 2, 2014 |

It’s not only in Qatar that workers are dying to build World Cup stadiums. It’s also in Brazil, but unlike Qatar, which uses largely very poor migrant laborers, these are workers empowered to take matters into their own hands:

Builders at the Itaquerao Arena in São Paulo downed tools in protest at another death of a construction worker.

Organisers now fear the ground will not be completed in time for the curtain-raiser between the hosts and Croatia.A source said: “The stadium was originally due to be handed over last year. It is extremely worrying that deadlines keep being missed.”

Worker Fabio Hamilton da Cruz, 23, plunged 26ft to his death while installing seating, making him the eighth labourer to die at Brazil 2014 sites. Three deaths have been in São Paulo. Building firm Fast Engenharia, in charge of seating at the Itaquerao, have now vowed to put extra safety measures in place.

The End of the Strike

[ 39 ] April 2, 2014 |

It’s no wonder workers feel they don’t have any power at the workplace in the 21st century. For a variety of reasons, the ability of them to use their collective power in its most power-challenging form has been taken away:

Anti-Unionol

[ 3 ] April 1, 2014 |

AFSCME wins April Fool’s Day with a fake advertisement for a suppository that destroys the middle class. Note: “the drug is not for everyone including pregnant women, people with families, if you have a pre-existing mortgage or if you suffer from student debt”

NAFTA at 20

[ 51 ] March 30, 2014 |

The AFL-CIO has produced a report on the impacts of NAFTA 20 years after passage. Although the impacts are probably familiar to you, it’s worth a read anyway. The summary:

It’s a flawed model that promotes the economic interests of a very few and at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself.

While the overall volume of trade within North America due to NAFTA has increased and corporate profits have skyrocketed, wages have remained stagnant in all three countries.

Productivity has increased, but workers’ share of these gains has decreased steadily, along with unionization rates.

NAFTA pushed small Mexican farmers off their lands, increasing the flow of desperate undocumented migrants.

It exacerbated inequality in all three countries.

And the NAFTA labor side agreement has failed to accomplish its most basic mandate: to ensure compliance with fundamental labor rights and enforcement of national labor laws.

The only answer is to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership so this can all just get worse.

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Race and Organizing Southern Auto

[ 29 ] March 30, 2014 |

The UAW is continuing to organize the South after its catastrophic defeat in Chattanooga. It is targeting a Mississippi Nissan plant. Unlike Volkswagen, Nissan is fighting the union. The difference between the two campaigns is that in Mississippi, ministers are on the side of the workers, potentially lending important community support to the campaign lacking in Tennessee. But when I read this article about it that stresses the civil rights angle of the struggle, the main difference I see, and of course I have no ability to know the demographics in the plant, is that the workers and presumably the ministers are black. That hardly surprises me. In the early 21st century, people of color are more likely to support unions than whites. Given the sharp racial divides that determine much of American politics at this time, probably the ability of the UAW to win has as much (or nearly as much) to do with the racial demographics of the Nissan plant as its own organizing strategy. I’m not prematurely letting the union off the hook for another loss, but it’s impossible to ignore the racial issue within southern unionism, an issue that has never been separable from southern organizing campaigns and something that employers have always exploited to divide workers.

In other words, labor rights are indeed civil rights, but if the a lot of the white workers in the plant oppose civil rights, it’s unlikely they will support labor rights.

The Subcontracting Scourge: Fukushima Edition

[ 71 ] March 29, 2014 |

The scourge of companies subcontracting labor in order to maximize profit continues. Tokyo Electric Power Company runs the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor. Rather than employ the cleanup workers itself, it is relying on subcontractors that, not surprisingly, cut corners on such things as keeping workers safe.

Most workers inside the plant are contract laborers hired by multiple layers of construction companies. A Reuters investigation last year found widespread labor abuses, where workers said their pay was skimmed and there was little scrutiny over working conditions inside the plant.

Tepco on Friday would not name the worker’s direct employer, but said he reported up to Toso Fudosan Kanri Company, a first-tier contractor under Tepco. The worker was in his 50s, the utility said.

The company confirmed it had hired the worker through another subcontractor.

Tepco has been widely criticized for its handling of the cleanup. The operator was plagued by a series of leaks of radioactive water from hastily built tanks at the site last year and it has repeatedly promised to improve working conditions.

Of course not using subcontractors would probably be the best idea for improving those working conditions.

I’ll also note that when I write these subcontracting posts, commenters inevitably start talking about the benefits of subcontracting since why should every company have its own IT staff. A couple points here to hopefully reduce this kind of thing. First, during the greatest time of economic growth in American history, subcontracting barely existed. It’s not as if you need subcontracting in order to have a successful business model. Second, there may well be times when you can subcontract and have it make sense, such as IT. However, is there any good reason why we should allow subcontracting where the workers labor for less pay, benefits, and safety precautions than directly employed workers? No. There is not. Third, those who defend subcontracting on principle are sort of missing what’s important here. Or at least, for me keeping workers safe and making living wages is more important than a streamlined business process that concentrates wealth at the top. Maybe that’s not everyone’s priority, I don’t know. Once we get to the point where there’s a bill before Congress to ban subcontracting, we can start worrying about the exceptions that make sense. For now, I’m not going to worry too much about the concerns of business.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

[ 50 ] March 28, 2014 |

Like other presidents in recent decades, regardless of political party, Obama has pushed for fast track authority to slam free trade bills through without taking into account the concerns of American workers or those concerned about environmental issues. Obama’s goal is to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free trade agreement covering nations from Chile to Brunei, would continue allowing American companies to operate without consequences. So far Congressional Democrats have rejected the TPP because it would ship even more American jobs overseas and increase the environmental impact of American manufacturing. Organized labor is pointing out the environmental impact of such a deal. Says the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, “Let’s not exacerbate the pollution problems of the world and perpetuate human exploitation by including nations like Malaysia and Vietnam in a free trade pact, as the TPP would do.”

Like other trade agreements such as NAFTA, the TPP would effectively encourage American corporations to move operations into countries with terrible human rights, labor rights, and environmental records, providing no legal framework to make companies responsible for what happens in outsourced factories. It allows companies to take advantage of Vietnam’s 28 cent an hour minimum wage and buildings that kill workers in fires. It continues the outsourcing of American jobs, the increase in income inequality, and the conditions of the New Gilded Age.

Of course, the TPP could mandate better conditions for labor. The House initially rejected NAFTA’s renewal in 1997, forcing Clinton to compromise and include a labor enforcement mechanism in a trade deal with Cambodia. Proposed by UNITE, a union decimated by the outsourcing of the clothing industry, the U.S. provided Cambodia incentives to allow workers to unionize in return for an increased export quota. They received $50 a month for a

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48-hour week, received a dozen federal holidays, vacation days, sick leave, and maternity leave. The plan worked, at least initially. Overseen by the International Labour Organization, Cambodian clothing exports skyrocketed at the same time that union density grew and apparel makers signed contracts with workers. It was not a perfect system—factory owners tried to avoid the regulations and coached workers on what to say to ILO inspectors. But it still made enormous improvements and showed how government could still intervene in a global marketplace for good. But like most trade agreements, this one came to an end. With the decline of multi fibre quota system in 2004, the U.S.-Cambodian trade pact also ended and its replacement lost this mechanism. Within weeks of the quota ending in 2005, underground sweatshops appeared with terrible working conditions. Now even freer than ever before to concentrate in nations with the worst workplaces standards, Cambodian labor saw its union pacts quickly scuttled and its working conditions and wages plummet to some of the lowest in the industry. Wages fell by 17 percent for Cambodian garment workers between 2001 and 2011.

So the TPP could create safe and reasonably paying work when American companies move overseas but of course it won’t. It could mandate that American companies sign the Bangladesh Accord or a similar agreement, which European companies have signed to mandate improved conditions in outsourced Bangladeshi apparel factories. It provides money to upgrade the sweatshops and at least a minimal legal framework for enforcement. Of course the American manufacturers have refused to sign this, led by Wal-Mart and Gap. There’s no evidence the American government has any desire to pressure them to do so, but regardless, we know that terrible labor conditions have not blocked Obama’s desire for the TPP to pass. It’s a shame because the American government could do a lot to improve the lives of overseas workers producing goods for the American market and it chooses not to.

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