Author Archives: afscme

Mass Incarceration and Working Class Interests: Which Side Are the Unions On?

Source: James Kilgore, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 37 no. 4, December 2012
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Since the early 1980s mass incarceration has become a critical fixture on the U.S. social landscape. Prison and jail populations have increased almost fivefold since 1980 with similar increments in the ranks of those under parole and probation. Historically many labor analysts and unions have regarded incarcerated people as an aberrant sector of the working class. Labels such as “lumpen proletariat,” “criminals,” and the “undeserving poor” have often been applied. In some instances, people doing poorly paid production work while incarcerated have been categorized as “scabs” who undermine hard won union gains. Such thinking is at odds with current realities, if it ever was appropriate. The recent patterns of criminalization have led to the imprisonment of significant swaths of working class people of color, largely the targets of the War on Drugs or anti-immigrant repression. Despite the fact that this racialized roundup now holds millions of workers captive, the process remains largely outside the scope of those concerned with labor and working class organization. Old stereotypes still keep “ex-convicts” and “felons” at the margins of labor organization and analysis. This article argues that unions and labor-oriented organizations need to oppose mass incarceration and adopt new strategies to incorporate a broad working class perspective in their approach to the criminal justice system. The author emphasizes that such an approach would compel unions to act in the interests of the broad working class, which at time may even be in conflict with the immediate interests of their members.

The Strike: A Contemporary Lesson from Labor History or a Historical Artifact?

Source: Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 37 no. 4, December 2012
(subscription required)

Articles include:

Labor’s Economic Weapons: Learning from Labor History by Joe Burns
This article argues that trade unionism has deviated from fundamentals of trade union economics. For the first 150 years of trade unionism in the United States, union strategy centered on two objectives: (1) standardizing wages across entire labor and/or product markets and (2) developing a strike capable of halting production or otherwise impacting the operations of the employers…

It’s Not Whether to Strike, It’s How to Win a Strike by Steven Ashby
The author addresses the big question labor continues to debate: how can the labor movement resist the corporate onslaught?… The author suggests that only one ingredient is missing. Striking, we are told, will put labor back on the path to victory. Labor used to know this, we hear, as the strike was labor’s primary weapon in its “first 150 years.” There are several problems with this thesis..

Context Matters More: A Response to Joe Burns by Joseph A. McCartin
…While other labor analysts focus on declining union density figures, the spread of right-to-work laws, the failure of labor law reform, or the rollback of public-sector collective bargaining in states like Michigan as the most revealing measures of labor’s current weakness, Burns puts his finger on a deeper problem. Organized labor’s very survival depends on coming to terms with the trends he outlines here….Arguably, the difficulties unions face in organizing workers today stem more from their inability to strike and bargain effectively than from increased employer opposition to organizing….

Response: Confronting Unjust Labor Law is Key by Joe Burns
Joseph McCartin makes an important point in noting that legal restrictions are not the main determinant of the level of strike activity. McCartin’s points on the other factors leading to the decline of strike activity are well taken. However, for reasons explained below, that does not mean that legal rules do not matter…

State-by-State Figures on Obama’s Proposal to Limit Tax Expenditures

Source: Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), May 2, 2013

President Obama has proposed to limit the tax savings for high-income taxpayers from itemized deductions and certain other deductions and exclusions to 28 cents for each dollar deducted or excluded. This proposal would raise more than half a trillion dollars in revenue over the up­coming decade.

A new report from Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) analyzes the proposal and models its effects on taxpayers nationally and state-by-state. Findings include:
– Only 3.6 percent of Americans would receive a tax increase under the plan in 2014, and their average tax increase would equal less than one percent of their income, or $5,950.
– The deduction for state and local taxes and the deduction for charitable giving together would make up just over half of the tax expenditures (deductions, etc.) limited under the proposal.
– Arkansas and West Virginia have the lowest percentage (1.6 percent) of taxpayers who would see a tax increase from this proposal; Washington, D.C. would have the largest percentage (8.9 percent) followed by Connecticut and New Jersey (both 6.7 percent).

Underwriting Bad Jobs: How Our Tax Dollars Are Funding Low-Wage Work and Fueling Inequality

Source: Amy Traub, Robert Hiltonsmith, Dēmos, May 2013

From the introduction:
Every day, Americans benefit from public structures that contribute to our quality of life. When we walk into a clean, well-maintained post office; drive on federal highways; send our kids to school knowing they’ll get a hot lunch; or call the Social Security benefits office with a question, we see our federal tax dollars at work, providing public services we rely on.

We find that nearly two million private sector employees working on behalf of America earn wages too low to support a family, making $12 or less per hour. This is more than the number of low-wage workers at Walmart and McDonalds combined. Yet, if anything, this figure underestimates the total number of poorly-paid workers funded by our tax dollars. Our analysis encompasses U.S. workers employed by government contractors, paid by federal health care spending, supported by Small Business Administration loans, working on federal construction grants, and maintaining buildings leased by the federal government. This encompasses the largest share of poorly-paid workers funded by our taxes. However, other streams of funding have yet to be analyzed. For example, loans and subsidies from the Department of Agriculture fund giant agribusinesses that employ more than a million farm workers, while grants from the Department of Education fund low-wage assistant teachers, bus monitors and cooks in Head Start and other programs. Due to lack of data, retail and food service workers for concessionaires of the National Parks Service and other federal agencies also fall outside our analysis….

…When our tax dollars underwrite bad jobs, the economy as a whole is weakened and all of us are negatively affected. There is a ripple effect as low-paid workers and their families have little money to spend, hindering economic growth that could be creating more jobs. Poorly-paid workers also contribute less in taxes and are more likely to rely on public benefits to care for their families. In contrast, we would all benefit from an economy where workers earn good wages—and we have a special responsibility to see that the people working on behalf of our nation are paid and treated fairly. Raising standards for people working on behalf of America is one important piece to providing opportunities for workers to reach the middle class….

Medicaid: Alternative Measures Could Be Used to Allocate Funding More Equitably

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office, GAO-13-434, May 10, 2013

From the summary:
GAO identified multiple data sources that could be used to develop measures to allocate Medicaid funding to states more equitably than the current funding formula–known as the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP)–which is based solely on per capita income (PCI). To be equitable from the perspective of beneficiaries and allow states to provide a comparable level of services to each person in need, a funding allocation mechanism should take into account the demand for services in each state and geographic cost differences among states. To be equitable from the perspective of taxpayers, an allocation mechanism should ensure that taxpayers in poorer states are not more heavily burdened than those in wealthier ones, by taking into account state resources. To illustrate, GAO identified at least one federal data source that could be used to develop measures of each of these aspects, in order to allocate Medicaid funding more equitably.

Work-related post-traumatic stress disorder

Source: M. Skogstad, A. Lie, H. S. Conradi, T. Heir and L. Weisæth, Occupational Medicine, Volume 63, Issue 3, April 2013

From the abstract:
Background: Work-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an important condition encountered by many occupational health practitioners.

Aims: To carry out an in-depth review of the research on occupational groups that are at particular risk of developing work-related PTSD.

Methods: A literature search was conducted in the databases OVID MEDLINE, OVID Embase, Ovid PsycINFO, ISI Web of Science and CSA Health and Safety Science Abstracts.

Results: Professionals such as police officers, firefighters and ambulance personnel often experience incidents that satisfy the stressor criterion for the PTSD diagnosis. Other professional groups such as health care professionals, train drivers, divers, journalists, sailors and employees in bank, post offices or in stores may also be subjected to work-related traumatic events. Work-related PTSD usually diminishes with time.

Conclusions: Mental health problems prior to the traumatic event and weak social support increase the risk of PTSD. Prevention of work-related PTSD includes a sound organizational and psychosocial work environment, systematic training of employees, social support from colleagues and managers and a proper follow-up of employees after a critical event.

The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks

Source: Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, Benjamin M. Sand, National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper No. 18901, March 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
What explains the current low rate of employment in the US? While there has been substantial debate over this question in recent years, we believe that considerable added insight can be derived by focusing on changes in the labor market at the turn of the century. In particular, we argue that in about the year 2000, the demand for skill (or, more specifically, for cognitive tasks often associated with high educational skill) underwent a reversal. Many researchers have documented a strong, ongoing increase in the demand for skills in the decades leading up to 2000. In this paper, we document a decline in that demand in the years since 2000, even as the supply of high education workers continues to grow. We go on to show that, in response to this demand reversal, high-skilled workers have moved down the occupational ladder and have begun to perform jobs traditionally performed by lower-skilled workers. This de-skilling process, in turn, results in high-skilled workers pushing low-skilled workers even further down the occupational ladder and, to some degree, out of the labor force all together. In order to understand these patterns, we offer a simple extension to the standard skill biased technical change model that views cognitive tasks as a stock rather than a flow. We show how such a model can explain the trends in the data that we present, and offers a novel interpretation of the current employment situation in the US.

Increased health care cost sharing works as intended – It burdens patients who need care the most

Source: Elise Gould, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #358, May 8, 2013

From the summary:
A number of different health care policy proposals that have emerged in recent years share a common goal: make households directly pay for a larger share of most health expenditures by encouraging higher deductibles, higher copays, or higher co-insurance rates. The rationale of such proposals is that too-generous insurance policies (either those provided by employers or public insurance such as Medicare) distort the prices consumers face, and that removing this distortion would allow patients to choose their health care more wisely, hence slowing health care cost growth. The “success” of increased cost sharing hinges on the ability of patients to make educated decisions about their health care purchases much like they do when buying other goods and services such as milk, cars, or cell phone plans.

This brief argues that this is a flawed strategy for health care cost containment. The health care market is unlike other markets; thus, forcing increased cost sharing on American households is a deeply inefficient strategy for trying to contain health care costs. Forcing Americans to pay a higher share of health costs will not induce them to shop around and compare prices when they are experiencing chest pains or their child is suffering from an asthma attack. Further, consumers of health care are in no position to second-guess their doctor when she tells them an MRI is better than an X-ray (and hence worth the higher price) to diagnose a condition. Lastly, unlike other markets, prices of health care services faced by consumers bear very little relation to providers’ cost to supply these services. Hence, these prices provide little to no information for consumers looking to judge the relative efficacy of various health care interventions….

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect

Source: AFL-CIO, Safety and Health Department, 22nd Edition, April 2013

From the blog post:
Today, 150 people will likely be killed on the job or die from job-related illnesses and disease. That deadly toll will continue tomorrow and the next day and the next until the nation “renews the commitment to protect workers from injury, disease and death,” and makes it a high priority, says the 2013 edition of the AFL-CIO’s Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.

The report, released this morning, finds that along with the 4,693 workers killed on the job in 2011 (about 13 a day)—the last figures available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—an estimated 50,000 workers a year (about 137 a day) die from occupational diseases. In addition, some 3.8 workers are reported to suffer job-related injuries or illnesses each year, but workplace safety experts believe the actual numbers could be more than 11 million because of under reporting.

South American Immigrants in the United States

Source: Sierra Stoney, Jeanne Batalova, and Joseph Russell, Migration Policy Institute, May 2013

Compared to other regions of origin in Latin America and around the world, South America has always had relatively few immigrants living in the United States. While the overall population remains lower than those from Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean, South America’s immigrant population grew faster between 2000 and 2010 than all regions but Central America. South American immigrants’ share of the overall immigrant population in the United States has also been growing steadily for the past 50 years, from less than 1 percent in 1960 to almost 7 percent in 2011. …

…This article focuses on South American immigrants residing in the United States, examining the population’s size, geographic distribution, admission categories, and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. Data are from the US Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey (ACS), the 2000 Decennial Census (as well as earlier censuses), and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS)…