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OP-ED | On Wall Street, ‘Right-to-Work’ Means a Wider Gap Between Rich & Poor

by Lori Pelletier | Aug 15, 2014 12:18pm
(27) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Equality, Labor, Opinion

One doesn’t have to look any further than Fairfield County to understand why Connecticut has one of the greatest income disparities in the country. A few miles from the estates of Wall Street brokers and bankers, Bridgeport’s residents are struggling to get by in the new economy. Good manufacturing jobs have been replaced by minimum wage shifts at McDonalds. A third of children in Bridgeport live below the poverty line.”

Yet organizations funded by ultra-wealthy and corporate special interests are blatantly advocating for further widening the wage gap between rich and poor. As part of “Employee Freedom Week,” a nationally coordinated effort to convince workers to drop out of their unions, ads are running in Connecticut urging home healthcare workers to opt out.

This is a thinly veiled attempt to convince these workers to act against their own self-interest, and could have lethal repercussions in an industry where collective bargaining rights have not only alleviated home health aides’ difficult working conditions, but also have helped prolong their patients’ lives.

Home healthcare workers are everyday heroes who perform the backbreaking, draining work of caring for our sick, disabled, and elderly. From changing bedpans to administering medicine, dressing wounds and washing their patients, their work allows them to live their lives at home, with dignity and respect.

A stable, qualified home care workforce is at the heart of ensuring that working families have an opportunity to secure the American Dream, and seniors and people with disabilities can live with dignity in their homes. Pulling together means that care providers can negotiate for improvements in training, hours and policies, which keep seniors and people with disabilities safe. This is the only approach that has proven effective.

Everyone benefits from working together in the union, so everyone should contribute a fair amount to pay for the value they receive. Fair share fees are democratic — if a majority votes to form a union, all workers are represented. So it makes sense that all workers should contribute their fair share to that representation. Just as all Americans, regardless of whom they voted for, must pitch in to maintain their roads, operate their schools, and keep their libraries open, this is a basic premise of democracy.

Opting out will weaken these workers’ ability to negotiate for better pay and working conditions, and hurt them and their patients in the long run.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what the backers of this poll want. This attempt by Wall Street bankers and CEOs to strip working people of their rights would mean less freedom and fewer rights for both home care workers and clients. And it makes it easier for corporate CEOs to move people to part-time work, stamp out their opportunity to succeed, and eliminate the dignity and respect the elderly and disabled deserve.

The poll is far from a representative assessment of Connecticut residents’ feelings about workplace rights. The pollster, Jordan Bruneau, is a researcher for Berman and Company, an ultra-conservative PR firm that has launched attacks on healthcare reform. Bruneau also has worked for the Charles Koch Institute.

The Yankee Institute for Public Policy, which is among the supporters of the poll, is connected to a collection of groups that, while claiming to support “employee freedom,” have actually fought to take away workers’ rights. They are a part of the State Policy Network, an umbrella group of 59 right-wing “think tanks” across the country that are funded by national right-wing corporations and foundations including the Koch brothers — the same billionaires who bankrolled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to stamp out employee rights in 2011.

These national rightwing groups may claim that Connecticut needs right-to-work. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley may think that it’s time for our state to have its own “Wisconsin moment.” Yet those of us who live in Connecticut, who are faced every day with the reality of our rising poverty rates, know otherwise.

We know that in order to rebuild Connecticut’s middle class, we need to be creating opportunity for ordinary working people, not tearing down their chances for higher wages and safe working conditions. Leaders in our state and city governments have come together to fight our state’s growing income inequality, using strategies proven to work in Connecticut — increasing the tax rate for Connecticut’s top earners, opening up more slots in preschool for children from low-income households, and focusing on job growth. Instead of importing Wisconsin’s extreme agenda, let’s continue working together to find creative solution. That is the only real way to move our state forward.

Lori Pelletier is Secretary-Treasurer of the CT AFL-CIO.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(27) Comments

posted by: art vandelay | August 15, 2014  3:48pm

art vandelay

OK Lori answer me this question.  Why is it when a patient under MEDICARE requires live in home health care assistance the government will only pay for non unionized nurses from 3rd world countries.  It happened to my mother & father-in-law.  It’s costing me a fortune to live in this state because of Davis-Bacon, unionized state workers, and a government controlled by the unions.  This state needs a Scott Walker along with a Conservative Legislature to put this state back on its feet so people CAN afford to live here.  Unions & the Democrats have done everything possible to destroy the economy of this great state.

posted by: ConnVoter | August 15, 2014  3:58pm

Hi, Lori.  Your policies have done more damage to the middle class than anything the Koch brothers could ever do.  You have driven up the cost of doing business in this state so high that the only people making money here are those that know how to make, follow or bend ever expanding government regulations.  Coveted middle class jobs have all headed elsewhere in the wake of rising costs and everything you have proposed would continue to cause those costs to rise.  It is clear that you and your union have no idea how to address poverty and your only solution is to vote for politicians who would spend more of my money.  You and the candidates you have endorsed own this economy and I would be impressed if you would admit this fact.

posted by: ocoandasoc | August 15, 2014  4:18pm

Right on cue! But wait… If Connecticut currently has no “right to work laws,” and yet, as Ms. Pelletier correctly states, the State also has one of the largest income level disparities in the U.S., how does that prove that right-to-work laws are bad? Doesn’t it just underscore Ms. Bates observation that states WITH right-to-work laws are doing better than Connecticut in terms of economic growth, jobs, and wages? Yes… I think it does! And btw, no one makes more use of biased data from studies conducted by sympathetic organizations than the pro-union left. NO ONE!

posted by: art vandelay | August 15, 2014  7:38pm

art vandelay

Why is it that the Unions & the Democrat Party are always pitting Wall St. against Main St.  It’s vacation time.  If the leaders of the Democrat Party profess the virtues and plight of the people living on Main St, why are they vacationing w/people from Wall St. on Martha’s Vinyard & the Hamptons.  Why aren’t they vacationing in St. Louis, Philadelphia or Oakland?

posted by: shinningstars122 | August 15, 2014  7:53pm

shinningstars122

Actually the data is mixed on the “successes” of right-to work.

The point to remember is how much of a raise did you get last year?
1%? 2% Or none at all?

Of if you became on of the millions of long termed unemployed during the Great Recession are you now working and earning much less?

If you answered ” yes” to both question well maybe you need to see the bigger picture of how corporations have made hundreds of billions in profits since 2008 but US wage growth has been dismal for decades.

Did Google give their employees an 5% or 10% hourly raise last year?

I don’t think so.

The bottom line is the American worker has been reconditioned to not question the ” man” and to just fight for himself.

Some of us may have benefited from that noble effort but the facts on the ground paint an entirely different picture that effects all working Americans…we simply are earning less and less of the American pie.

The longer we stand divide the more, or rather the less companies will pay their workers.

If you deny this simple fact keep buying those mega millions tickets and chasing that plastic carrot.

posted by: Fisherman | August 15, 2014  8:58pm

“Good manufacturing jobs have been replaced by minimum wage shifts at McDonalds…” It appears that Ms. Pelletier has again missed the point; as she did a few weeks ago in her comments regarding the forthcoming demise of the postal service. The three-cent price increase she referred to then is already history. The next price increase tips the scales for the worse. This time, she complains that good manufacturing jobs have been replaced with minimum wage jobs. Yes, Ms. Pelletier; because no intelligent manufacturer would set up shop in a blue state. And when automation hits fast food, where will our union brothers and sisters work… and for how little?

posted by: StillRevolting | August 16, 2014  8:20am

Union dues are just another tax then? Fine. I don’t get anywhere near fair value from my contributions to the government. Why would I expect to do so from someone to whom I’ve signed over my right to ask for a raise? This should really be titled: “How unions intend to fix the income gap by dragging more of the middle to the bottom”

posted by: ASTANVET | August 16, 2014  8:46am

wide gaps between rich and poor - hmmm… does that have something to do with the skill level, education level, experience, job field, career choices, life choices, luck, hard work… yeah, but i’m sure it’s all about right to work states.  Personally I believe we should be doing anything and everything to make connecticut competitive with every other state in the union.  If we’re not doing that… what the heck are we doing?  Right to work is part of that…but not the golden bullet.

posted by: RJEastHartford | August 17, 2014  9:18am

Many at-willl employees have been replaced by people, including immigrants with H-1B Visas (guest workers) hired as independent contractors. Lower salary, no benefits while the company receives a federal tax break/incentive. They replaced workers with a high skill level, much experience and education but the problem is, they cost too much. Higher quality replaced with cheaper lower acceptable quality. These same people lost any health insurance, including upon retirement if they chose retirement, Saving for retirement? Paying for college? Supporting local small business? Can no longer do it. That is the paradigm shift in this country for corporations. This is happening every day but you don’t read it in the news paper. I would be glad to provide references and sources regarding all of this. Republican’s and some/most Democrats have sold out working people with tax laws, employment laws, Accounting rules etc. etc. I would be glad to debate this with anyone. Forget the “I am conservative b-s**t talking points” etc It is all a distraction, people need to wake up. Berkshire Hathaway Class A was priced under $2,000 a share in 1992 (DJIA under 2000 pts) that same stock closed over $200,000 last week, but here is no money?, who is struggling?, Your neighbor, friend not McDonald’s who os suing local towns on assessment values while importing expired meat from China. It is all about margin and cost. Need more Market Basket cases. Look it up.
You could drive tax rates down to next to nothing but as an employee you will still be struggling because of the paradigm shift. Take a look at the proposed FASB changes for example. Collective power and union’s are the problem, please.

posted by: art vandelay | August 17, 2014  9:03pm

art vandelay

@Shiningstars122,
Let’s take your idea and give hamburger flippers at McDonald’s a salary of $20.00 p/hr.  The cost of your $3.00 Big Mac would have to be increased to $10.00.  Would you pay it or walk out the door.  Many people would choose to walk.  What happens to the $20.00 p/hr worker?  He looses his job and the store closes putting ever $20.00 p/hour worker out of a job.  Remember when the government imposed a luxury tax on yachts? It had to be rescinded.  Why are foreign shipyards constructing cruise ships like there is no tomorrow and American yards are lucky to get a single Navy contract?  Could it be high union wages?  Your views have been tried in the past and have consistently failed.  Walk away from the dark side of the force before it consumes you.

posted by: art vandelay | August 17, 2014  9:22pm

art vandelay

@Shiningstars122,
Maybe the answer might lie in the practices of companies like Costco.  They provide their employees with a livable wage.  Prices are decent, and employees for the most part are not exploited.  It works for me.  I’ve been told their profits come from membership dues.  To be fair, I deplore what Wal-Mart stands for, so I boycott the store.  On the other side I deplore Metro North & LIRR employees taking home healthy 6 figure salaries along with the Longshoremen working the container terminal in Port Elizabeth.  We have to find a happy medium somewhere.

posted by: shinningstars122 | August 18, 2014  5:07am

shinningstars122

@artvandelay you can be such a drama queen.

Always exploiting the extreme on any issue.

You are right that Costco starts all employees at $11.50. 82% of employees have health insurance and the company pays 92% of the premium…OMG!!! How can a publicly traded company survive doing that!?!

There is a middle way and it is not paying fast food workers $20 an hour but when the Federal minimum wage is only $7.25 we are only half way there.

Union representation could help change that and expedite the rise of lower paying service jobs. 58% of all jobs gained since 2010 have paid less than $13.83 an hour

That would increase consumer spending which in turn would help companies grow as well as allowing two income families to gasp!! Possibly save for a house.

Believe it or not most meals now cost more than $10 at Micky D’s these days anyways.

Even with all those corn and beef subsidies they have leached off for years.

Dollar menu anyone?

A livable wage is a round $12-$14 an hour.

Ct is going to be at $10.10 so that is a start.

I think if you do some fact checking in Alabama many ship building companies are not unionized…yet.

Regardless of the right-to work movement unions should and must play a role in helping to shore up the working class.

If you leave it alone to big business…well we know what they will do.

Nada!

posted by: ASTANVET | August 18, 2014  7:01am

so the hub-ub about this article is that an AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer doesn’t want right to work in CT?  SHOCKER!  She surely wants to keep that union money coming in to pay her salary!  Self interest strikes again! - at who’s expense I wonder…

posted by: art vandelay | August 18, 2014  11:15am

art vandelay

@Shiningstars122,
If I’m the “Drama Queen” you’re the KING!

posted by: Salmo | August 18, 2014  12:45pm

I am absolutely all for Right-to Work regs in Connecticut. You don’t want to belong to a union or pay union fees for benefits negotiated for and won that’s up to you. BUT, you come into the union shop under the terms of the previous contract. You do not enjoy any of the benefits won through negotiation under the current contract. You have no protections at all from management whims. You go up the ladder no further than the old contract allows. It’s not rocket science. You don’t want to pay for all the hard work involved with labor /management
bargaining then you get nothing from it. You want fairness and freedom. You got it!

posted by: shinningstars122 | August 18, 2014  5:25pm

shinningstars122

@ArtVandelay LMAO well then let us both rule this state together.

posted by: Blanchk | August 18, 2014  6:51pm

These people who are commenting that unions are the reason why companies are headed overseas are so out of touch. Even if every manufacturing worker made five dollars an hour these companies would still be heading overseas to get cheap labor for cents per hour. Why? Because they can. Our politicians and our laws used to protect American jobs, now its all about corporate profit and stockholders. Our elected officials allow this through free trade deals that put corporate profit above all else. Unions are the last advocate for workers who are trying to live a decent life. If these commenters had their way, slavery and child labor would be next.

posted by: RJEastHartford | August 19, 2014  8:57am

@Blanchk, I agree with you. Thank You!

posted by: ASTANVET | August 20, 2014  6:34am

Blanchk - you have probably not had the pleasure of negotiating a contract where the company hangs in the balance… i have… the company lost… they are now a much much smaller company - sold their customer list to the competitors and kept the most profitable portion, cut 90% of employees…but those unemployed machinists sure did stick it to them for the term of that contract… kudos.

posted by: Blanchk | August 20, 2014  8:40am

Astanvet, the last time I was at the table, it was a two-way negotiation. Im sure the company you speak of would still have been profitable under the collective bargaining agreement THEY too negotiated. In this day and time, being profitable is not enough. They need to maximize profit in any way they can to make sure that stock price rises. Workers having a voice in the negotiation of their wages and working conditions is a fair and equitable way to run a business. Even if the company you speak of had no union workers they probably would have made the same moves to maximize profits. Their competitors had probably already packed up and went to Mexico or China. Maybe the workers should have agreed to work for $1.50 an hour then the work might have stayed and we could all live like third world citizens. It just does not work. There is no competing with other countries that have low wages, no environmental protections etc etc etc.

posted by: ASTANVET | August 21, 2014  2:37pm

Blanchk - Ok, so what you have is a judgement on what you think the owners should or shouldn’t accept as their profit margin.  It just so happens that it was a private manufacturing business, 100 years in business or so - no stock holders.  So, the man who owns the company says, “i want to stay in business in CT, but it is only worth XX dollars and personal struggle to do that” - he gave his bottom line as to what it was worth to keep the company open.  All union shop, a couple hundred employees.  They called what they thought was his bluff.  They all lost their jobs except about 20 or so of them who did a highly profitable small portion of their business.  You see, he kept the rest of the company going to support the workers - and keep the company name going.  When push came to shove he shut down all non-essential parts, sold the contracts, contacts, and sales and kept a small manageable portion.  He still makes a ton of profit on that one thing, and those workers are WELL compensated.  (no longer union) - The point is, no matter what you THINK he should make, he knew what it was worth.  Every company weighs these options whether it is profit, cost of relocation, employee cost etc… you don’t get to make that decision… and your lack of willingness to see that is part of what’s wrong with CT.

posted by: Blanchk | August 21, 2014  4:58pm

Astanvet, thats why negotiations are a two way street. No contract is signed without agreement in both sides.

posted by: ASTANVET | August 22, 2014  7:43am

Blanchk - you missed the point.  The owner signed the contract, after the union pushed for more benefits/wages and raised the operating costs.  He sure did sign it to keep the doors open while he sold off pieces.  That took 3 years (the length of the contract).  So yes, the option to the owner was to shut the doors that day or to make a tactical decision knowing that the labor had gone beyond what he was willing to pay.  That’s what we are seeing on a macro scale in the US labor market.  You can deny it, but it doesn’t change the data.  Labor is worth whatever the market value is of the increased productivity to the business or service.

posted by: shinningstars122 | August 22, 2014  9:28am

shinningstars122

@ATANVET You can boil down this argument to two points.

Let me set up the frame work first, the last tens year we have seen corporate personhood granted, along with the continued stagnation of worker’s earning capacity.

In addition to this we have seen corporations, especially publicly traded ones,  continually to be quite profitable.
Over 20 % in annualized rates since 2008.

I mentioned earlier in this thread we know that more than 50% of the jobs gained since the Great Recession are paying less than $13.83.

You would be very hard press that you could raise a family of four in North Carolina or Alabama on less than $28,000 a year.

Even if both parents are working full time and you double amount that you are just a hair over the 2012 US medium income level.

The other point is right- to work favors the employer not the employee and believe it of not Connecticut is not considered one the most employee friendly states in the union.

For example earned vacation time is considered a benefit in our state, so if you worked for a company for ten years, and were switching jobs, and you had a couple weeks of vacation time left your employer would not be required to pay you for that time.

Half the states, including many in the south, require employers to pay for unused vacation time.


So onto point 1.

Continue to enable corporations to use ” for profit” status to hasten and erode worker rights and wages.

With the ability to influence with no limits all area of public opinion and legislation this amounts to coercion.

Point 2.

Workers realize that collective bargaining and union representation can balances the scale in ways that acting as individuals we can not do alone.

You dramatization of your former employer is vivid but devoid of the true intentions of your employer who inevitable became an even wealthier man after allowing the collective bargaining negotiations to falter.

Unions over the years, to the determent of many of its members, have continually given up concessions that at the time seemed realistic and pragmatic but in time set the stage of management success at weakening the collective body.

Maybe your former boss did not want to be seen as the ” bad buy” in all of that?

So he acted like things were “beyond” his control and allowed an outcome that ultimately benefited him alone.

Nothing surprising about that…its the American way.

posted by: ASTANVET | August 22, 2014  7:05pm

Shining Stars - i assure you, my story was not a dramatization - it was just how things went.  He had a bottom dollar - when we (negotiating team) came to him and told him that the union wouldn’t drop down to his number he instructed us to close the deal - I knew then what it meant.  The thing was, we told them that ahead of time “here is his bottom line” but they wanted to push the envelope.  It sucked to be a part of - and the inevitable threats that came after to me personally - that was awesome as if it was my fault that they gambled with 200 peoples lives and lost.  But the profit margin on the business is whatever the OWNER is willing to have.  You know, Shareholders (people with 401K’s and mutual funds) they like their retirements to make a return. 

There is a balance somewhere, but the devaluation of the dollar and artificially raising wages is not the answer. 

Maybe returning to sound monetary policy would start something good - pain up front but long term stability… it has to be better than the mass printing of worthless dollars. 

But back to the point - the AFL-CIO mouthpiece who wrote this article has a vested interest in keeping unionized employment in CT.  It pays her salary.  I find that mildly amusing.  She worries about HER money, like the business owner worries about his - but she produces nothing to the market aside from increased labor costs. 

As for the low paying jobs - thank the president and the economic folly his administration has embarked on… thank the governor of the State of CT who is more interested in ideological objectives than objective facts.  I think you and I could come to some compromise - I did it in other labor relations issues - maybe we could have a crack at it but leave the party talking points on the other side of the door - we’d BOTH be better off.

posted by: RJEastHartford | August 24, 2014  12:13pm

@ASTANVET “Labor is worth whatever the market value is of the increased productivity to the business or service” Market values have been artificially skewed against cost of labor by Federal Employment Law/Guest Workers etc. , FASB Accounting rule changes, Tax incentives, Wall Street Valuations and so on. Consultant Services such as Tata, Accenture, Cognizant deem only guest workers are eligible to apply for jobs that are placed at large corporations, especially STEM and High Tech manufacturing. This distorts the market. One’s son or daughter may be qualified after paying for a high cost education, but is not eligible to apply.I know you cite a specific circumstance but the overall market is driven by well paid for policy.

posted by: ASTANVET | August 25, 2014  3:08pm

Maybe I should have said that wages SHOULD be based on the increased productivity and or capacity for service - but I agree the markets are so distorted (like our fiat currency) can we get a do-over?