Dave is founder and principal author at Seeing the Forest, and a blogger at Speak Out California. He is a frequent public speaker, talk-radio personality and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community.
Before starting Seeing the Forest, Dave had over 20 years of technology industry experience. Recently he helped co-found Carbon Tracing, Inc., the company developing the desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US. He previously held senior industry positions including CEO and VP of Sales and Marketing. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic, and he was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. Send e-mail to Dave. Twitter: http://twitter.com/dcjohnson
A key section of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has been leaked to the public. The New York Times has a major story on the contents of the leaked chapter, and it's as bad as many of us feared.
Now we know why the corporations and the...
A newly launched public-relations campaign in support of trade-promotion authority, aka "fast track," and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) calls itself the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs. At its foundation is a set of misleading (at best) claims that begin with a four-Pinocchio whopper.
It is unclear who is...
Trade is great. We all trade. A lot of us trade labor for money that buys other things. A farmer trades corn for money that buys other things, and so on. No one is "against trade."
But is anything called "trade" always good for all involved? Imagine you're a farmer,...
Opponents of fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are gaining momentum. In spite of a virtual media blackout, public awareness of the coming trade deal is increasing.
More and more public-interest organizations are organizing and denouncing the rigged fast-track approval process and TPP trade agreement. One after another,...
Silicon Valley is an area of contrasts. When you stop at a traffic light in Silicon Valley, you will often find a Maserati or a Tesla on one side of you and a beaten-up, 15-year-old Accord on the other. It seems there are more high-end Mercedeses, Jaguars, Bentleys or the occasional Maybach than in other areas.
Silicon Valley companies, many run by stock billionaires, pay a lot at the top and squat at the bottom. There are the lucky employees and a huge number of "contractors" -- employees who are not called employees. The employees who reach a certain age are discarded.
There are not a lot of people in the space between Silicon Valley's top and its bottom. One in three Silicon Valley workers cannot even afford to live anywhere within a one-hour drive. The regular three-bedroom house costs a million dollars, and don't even ask about the rents (starting at more than $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment), but on the streets in working-class neighborhoods, there are so many cars parked that you can barely pass, because there are so many people and families crammed into the housing. And, of course, the traffic is terrible, but you have to use a car because public transportation is cut back due to tax dodging by giant companies like those in Silicon Valley.
The blatant lack of diversity in Silicon Valley companies is a big part of the problem. At the top of these companies, it's disproportionately white males. At the bottom it's mostly people of color. In fact, according to the report "Tech's Diversity Problem: More Than Meets the Eye," "Among the companies who have released data -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and eBay -- the portion of their U.S.-based tech workers who were either Black or Latino ranged between 3 to 4 percent."
Meanwhile 74 percent of grounds workers are Hispanic/Latino, and 41 percent of security guards and 71 percent of janitors are Hispanic/Latino or Black.
Repeat: The portion of their U.S.-based tech workers who were either Black or Latino ranged between 3 to 4 percent, 74 percent of grounds workers are Hispanic/Latino, and 71 percent of janitors are Hispanic/Latino or Black.
And, of course, the pay reflects this "occupational segregation." The San Jose Mercury News reports that workers with high-skill jobs have a median income of $118,700. Workers holding low-skill jobs have a median income of $27,000. There is also a sharp gender divide. "For those with a bachelor's degree, male workers in Silicon Valley have a median yearly income of $90,000, and female workers are at $56,000 -- meaning male wages are 61 percent higher. For those with a graduate degree, male workers were at the $125,000 median income level, and female workers were at $83,000 -- a 51 percent difference."
Repeat: In high-skill (tech, mostly white) jobs, the median pay is $118,700. In low-skill jobs (mostly not white), the median pay is $27,000. Men with undergraduate degrees get 61-percent more than women with the same degree, and 51-percent more with graduate degrees.
Silicon Valley Rising
In the midst of all this, a number of labor, faith and community groups have joined together to address income inequality, create affordable housing and urge corporate responsibility among tech companies. On Friday I attended the launch of the new coalition, called Silicon Valley Rising, which will engage in a comprehensive campaign to "raise wages, create affordable housing and build a tech economy that works for everyone." From their website:
While tech companies make massive profits, the workers who keep them running smoothly have been left behind.
Silicon Valley Rising is here to fix that by raising wages, creating affordable housing, and growing our middle class.
The launch event took place at McDonnell Hall at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. As significant as this event was, the location of the event amplified its significance. Two blocks from the event I passed this sign:
McDonnell Hall, the building where the coalition launch event was held, is in line to become a national historic landmark.
Chavez met there with other members of the Community Service Organization in the 1950s and 1960s to plan voter registration drives, civil rights lawsuits and legislative campaigns. They also taught citizenship and literacy classes. He later employed those skills to organize the United Farm Workers union and the famous grape boycott that launched him to national prominence as a civil rights leader and advocate of nonviolent protest.
From these roots Silicon Valley Rising will organize to lift the Valley's low-wage workers. Silicon Valley Business Journal writes in "New Silicon Valley coalition rises to attack income inequality":
The group will focus its considerable membership and lobbying strength on improving wages, increasing affordable housing options for renters and holding tech companies accountable for how contract workers are compensated.
Silicon Valley Rising will organize and fight for tech service workers, drivers, kitchen staff, security guards, maintenance workers, groundskeepers, cleaning staff, shuttle bus drivers and other support workers.
Father Jon Pedigo, pastor of the church, began by reading, "Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.... You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you."
Fr. Jon added, to loud cheers, "But today we offer resistance!"
As Henry Millstein reports, "Another local progressive religious leader, Rabbi Dana Magat, read a passage from the prophet Jeremiah denouncing a king "who makes his neighbors work for nothing and does not give them their wages," concluding, "It's time to rise up!" to which the crowd responded with shouts of "¡Sí se puede!""
Ben Field, the executive director of the South Bay Labor Council, said "No one who works hard and plays by the rules should live in poverty. Silicon Valley Rising is a comprehensive effort to allow everyone to thrive in Silicon Valley's tech economy."
Rome Aloise, VP At-Large of the Teamsters, spoke about the bus drivers. Drivers who work for the company that contracts with Apple, eBay, Genentech, Yahoo and Zynga to drive their employees to and from work were voting on a contract as the launch event was taking place. (The results were 104-38 in favor of the union.) Facebook's drivers had already unionized and received a raise of up to $9 an hour; the end of split shifts, which required drivers to sit around for hours with no pay; health benefits; and a retirement plan. "For the companies it is about what they spend on ping pong balls," Aloise said.
Also speaking at the event were Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director of Working Partnerships USA; Luisa Blue, chief elected officer of SEIU Local 521; and Denise Solis of SEIU-USWW.
Partners in the coalition are:
Spotted at the event:
Already Achieving Results
The organizing effort that led to the formation of the Silicon Valley Rising coalition is already achieving results. Apple announced on Tuesday it will drop its contractor and make its security officers employees with benefits and predictable working hours. From a Silicon Valley Business Journal news report, "Apple to hire security guards as full-time employees as organized labor gains ground":
"Apple recently completed a comprehensive, year-long review of its security program and we've decided to directly hire a number of key onsite security roles for Apple's Silicon Valley operations which are currently contract positions," Apple said in statement. "We will be hiring a large number of full-time people to handle our day-to day security needs. We hope that virtually all of these positions will be filled by employees from our current security vendor and we're working closely with them on this process."
This is a big deal, and Silicon Valley Rising is a big deal. This and organizing efforts like it across the country will help improve pay, benefits and working conditions for millions of people.
This post originally appeared on the website of Campaign for America's Future (CAF) on their Blog for OurFuture. I am a fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary, and/or here for the Progress Breakfast.
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Eight senators on Thursday let the country know there is going to be a fight over fast-track trade authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)...
Contract talks between the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the U.S. Postal Service for a new contract start Thursday. Along with asking for fair wages and benefits, the APWU wants improvements in customer services, including postal banking.
"There are two competing visions of the future of the Postal Service,"...
The conservative/Wall Street/1-percent/Republican anti-government strategy is to set government up to fail (usually by starving it of funding). Then they point to the resulting "crisis" they created and say that it proves that government doesn't work and that we should therefore "privatize" it -- in other words, rig the system against the majority by handing our common wealth over to a few wealthy people to harvest for personal profit.
Now they're coming for the U.S. Postal Service.
Manufacturing a Crisis
Republicans created the problems with the Postal Service. In 2006 Republicans in Congress required it to come up with $5.5 billion per year to pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. This means the Postal Service has to set aside money now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency -- and certainly no company -- has to do this.
They also require the Postal Service to make a profit -- or at least break even. But democratic government is supposed to provide services to its citizens. It is not supposed to be about making a profit off us. Yet Republicans say government should be "run like a business." Then they hamstring it, preventing it from competing with businesses because they say that it has too many advantages and that any competition would be unfair.
Here are a few things you need to know about the Postal Service "crisis":
- The Postal Service is the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. But unlike Walmart, which gets away with paying so little that employees qualify for government assistance, the Postal Services is unionized, pays reasonable wages and benefits and receives no government subsidies. (Good for them!)
- Republicans have been pushing schemes to privatize the Postal Service since at least 1996. In 2006 Republicans in the Congress pushed through a requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. The Postal Service has to pay now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency -- and certainly no company -- has to do this.
- Unlike other government agencies (like the military) since 1970 the Postal Service is required to break even. Once more: the Department of Defense is not required to break even.
- While required to break even the Postal Service has to deliver mail to areas that are unprofitable for private companies to operate in. A letter sent from a small town in Alaska is picked up and transported across the country to a farm in Maine for 46 cents. ... [M]any people for one reason or another still send letters. In a democracy these people are supposed to count, too.
- But along with requiring the Postal Service to break even, Congress has restricted the Service's ability to raise rates, enter new lines of business or take other steps to help it raise revenue. In fact, while detractors complain that the Postal Service is antiquated, inefficient and burdened by bureaucracy, the rules blocking the Postal Service from entering new lines of business do so because the Postal Service would have advantages over private companies. ...
The Postal Service is a public service for We, the People, not a business. The Service is hamstrung by people who pretend it is supposed to compete and then won't let it. They won't help with taxpayer dollars and say it has to compete in the marketplace.... [T]hey give it rules that no private company could survive. Then when it gets into trouble, say that government doesn't work, start laying people off, selling off the public assets, and saying it has to be "privatized"....
Privatization Destroys People and Communities
Privatizing the various parts of the Postal Service will move the workforce from good union jobs to low-wage, no- or low-benefit private-sector jobs. Aside from the effect that this would have on employees and their families, not to mention the effect on the currently inexpensive delivery of mail to even the most remote locations, privatization also destroys the surrounding communities. The USPS is the country's second-largest employer, so in this case the surrounding communities are... all the communities in the United States.
In "The Privatization Scam: Five Government Outsourcing Horror Stories," I wrote about a study that showed that wage and benefit cuts resulting from privatization hurt communities, including by bringing about declining retail sales, greater reliance on public assistance and a larger share of at-risk children in low-income families.
Now the people who work for the Postal Service are fighting back. The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is announcing "A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service." As the alliance's new website explains:
In the face of aggressive attacks, a wide range of national organizations have come together to create A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service. These organizations are united in the demand that the public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. The Alliance is fighting to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now -- and for many generations to come.
This grand alliance consists of a large number of organizations (at least "63 religious coalitions, retiree organizations, educational and postal unions, lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups," according to The Washington Post, with more being added as I write) as well as individuals (like you) who sign the pledge to "support the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now -- and for many generations to come."
Two Years in the Making
At his swearing-in ceremony in November 2013, APWU President Mark Dimondstein pledged to build a grand alliance to save the postal system, saying:
We must build a grand alliance between the people of this country and postal workers. We must mobilize our allies and their organizations, including seniors, retirees, civil rights organizations, veterans groups, the labor movement, community and faith-based organizations, the Occupy movement, and business groups in defense of America's right to vibrant public postal services.
Two years later, at a press conference Thursday, Dimondstein explained that this alliance is forming "because the postal service belongs to the people and it is in danger." He said there are "two competing visions of the future" -- privatizing vs. staying public -- and that there will be a conversion from "living-wage to low-wage jobs" if the Postal Service is privatized.
Dimondstein said that the Postal Service "is our democratic right" and that it can operate cost-effectively "if you get rid of the manufactured crisis created in Congress."
Also at the press conference, Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civil Participation and convener of Black Women's Round Table Public Policy Network, said, "This is a fight for the people -- We the People." She called the Postal Service "a national treasure" and said, "We're here today to stand in solidarity.... Our national postal offices have faithfully served communities."
Here's the mission of this grand alliance:
The United States Postal Service is a wonderful national treasure, enshrined in the Constitution and supported by the American people. Without any taxpayer funding, the USPS serves 150 million households and businesses each day, providing affordable, universal mail service to all -- including rich and poor, rural and urban, without regard to age, nationality, race or gender.
The U.S. Postal Service belongs to "We, the People." But the USPS and postal jobs are threatened by narrow monied interests aimed at undermining postal services and dismantling this great public institution.
Even some postal executives have been complicit in the drive toward the destruction of the Postal Service and ultimate privatization: They have slowed mail service, closed community based Post Offices and mail processing facilities, slashed hours of operations, tried ceaselessly to end six-day service as well as door to door delivery, and eliminated hundreds of thousands of living wage jobs.
Good postal jobs are vital to strong, healthy communities, and have provided equal opportunities and the foundation for financial stability for workers from all walks of life, including racial and ethnic minorities, women and veterans. Postal services are essential to commerce and bind together families, friends and loved ones. In the day of e-commerce, a public postal service is as relevant as ever.
Yet those corporate forces who want to privatize public services allege that curtailing postal services and eliminating jobs are necessary due to diminishing mail volume and "burdensome" union wages and benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In reality, a Congressionally manufactured USPS "crisis" imposed an unfair crushing financial mandate on the Postal Service that no other government agency or private company is forced to bear. (The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 compels the USPS to pay approximately $5.5 billion per year to fund future retiree healthcare costs 75 years in advance.) Without this unreasonable burden, the USPS would have enjoyed an operating surplus of $600 million in 2013 and over $1.4 Billion in 2014.
The people of this country deserve great public postal services. We advocate expanded services, such as non-profit postal banking and other financial services. We call on the Postmaster General and Postal Board of Governors to strengthen and champion the institution.
The public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. Join us in the fight to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now - and for many generations to come.
Meghan Byrd contributed to this post.
In December the trade deficit in goods and services made its largest percentage jump in more than five years and the 2014 yearly total is its highest since 2012 - which begs the question: Why is the Obama administration doubling down on the failed trade policies of its predecessors?...
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman appeared before Congress Tuesday to make the corporate argument for "fast track" trade promotion authority. The USTR and President Obama are pushing fast-track pre-approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other big "trade" agreements they are working on. The Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable...
The president briefly spoke about trade in his state of the union speech. He admitted that "past trade deals haven't always lived up to the hype," but then he called for doing more of the same. He called for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) -- "Fast Track" -- to pass the...
President Obama is likely to use the State of the Union to push for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the rigged "fast track" trade promotion authority. Here are some facts to counter the expected public relations campaign.
Of Course "Trade" Is Good
But first, of course "trade" is...
It is worth examining how the process was rigged to push that budget deal through Congress over the weekend that contained Citibank-written derivative deregulation and all kinds of other goodies for the rich and powerful. That's because the "cromnibus" formula will be formalized in the next big deal, in a...
Shouldn't it be a trade violation to threaten to move someone's job to another country? Shouldn't we negotiate trade agreements that increase people's wages on both sides of a trade border? These are the kinds of agreements we would make if We the People were negotiating trade agreements with representatives...
Many Democrats examining what happened in the 2014 midterms are asking, "What did the voters want?" But the right question is why only 36.4 percent of potential voters bothered to register and vote? Obviously Democrats did not give those voters a good enough reason to take the trouble. Is the...
60 Minutes ran a report Sunday, "Falling apart: America's neglected infrastructure," describing the seriousness and damage to the economy caused by our country's crumbling infrastructure.
Here are a few choice quotes, but really you should click through and watch the whole thing (and then come back...
U.S. multinational corporations are hoarding an estimated $2 trillion "offshore" to take advantage of a loophole in our tax laws. At our 35 percent top federal corporate tax rate, that represents up to $700 billion in taxes owed but "deferred" because they are "offshore." This is not imaginary or...
Should our government be for good jobs with good wages and benefits -- the things most of We the People want in our lives? Or should it be for bad jobs, low wages, no benefits -- the very things that a wealthy few (who like to call themselves "job creators")...
Politics is about delivering for your constituents. Underneath it all, this election was a statement by people against an economy that is not working for them.
We've heard the story but here it is again.
Washington elites are "optimistic" about another "reform." That's never good.
According to an article in The Hill this week, "WH adviser 'optimistic' for corporate tax reform":
A top economic official in the White House on Tuesday expressed confidence that the next Congress can pass corporate tax reform.