Wages for Housework?

From today’s NYT “Room For Debate” Blog:

Housework is a necessary labor for families, but it is largely unpaid, except when others are hired to do it. Families may pay others to cook, clean or take care of their children, but they don’t pay themselves. This year, Italyconsidered a proposal in which the government, or in some cases the husband or partner, would pay wives for this thankless task. And a few years ago, India considered a similar bill.

Should the family member who does most of the housekeeping be compensated?

Read different perspectives on this provocative question here.

Fast-food protests: Dozens of workers are arrested in strike for higher pay

From LA Times September 4 by Shal Li, Tina Susman, and Tony Perry.

Dozens of fast-food workers from Los Angeles to Manhattan were arrested as they escalated a fight for better pay Thursday with strikes, rallies and acts of civil disobedience.

Police took 10 people into custody after the protesters linked arms and sat down in front of a McDonald’s in downtown Los Angeles. The sit-in capped a midday march through the urban core by hundreds of workers and their supporters.

In San Diego, 11 marchers were arrested for blocking an intersection in the blue-collar neighborhood of City Heights. They were cited for unlawful assembly and released.

Ralllies and sit-ins occurred outside McDonald’s restaurants across the country, including Rockford, Ill.; Hartford, Conn.; Boston; Philadelphia; Atlanta; and Miami. Elsewhere, 19 fast-food workers were arrested in New York; 42 in Detroit; 23 in Chicago; 11 in Little Rock, Ark.; and 10 in Las Vegas.

In downtown Los Angeles, protesters seeking wages of $15 an hour staged a lunchtime march before converging in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway. To the sounds of a beating drum, they cycled through chants such as “We want 15 and a union!” and “Si se puede!”

After police warned the crowd to stop blocking traffic lanes, nine fast food workers and a minister remained seated. They were arrested and led away, their hands bound with plastic zip-ties behind their backs.

It was just one of several demonstrations that were planned in the Southland.

Before dawn, more than 100 workers converged on a McDonald’s in L.A.’s Exposition Park to join the nationwide protests. They went inside the store for 10 minutes as workers stood stone-faced behind the cash registers.

The protesters held up signs and chanted slogans like “Get up! Get down! Fast-food workers run this town!” near a scrum of media trucks outside the McDonald’s.

Fanny Velazquez, 36, said she was participating in the protest to fight for better wages to support her family. A single mother with three children, ages 11, 14 and 16, she said she struggles to make her $9.34-an-hour pay cover all the bills.

The South Los Angeles resident has been working at McDonald’s for eight years doing a variety of jobs, usually working 20 hours a week, she said. But lately, Velazquez said, the company has often cut her hours to 15 a week. She also qualifies for welfare and food assistance.

“It’s difficult, it’s not enough to pay my bills,” she said.

A series of protests funded in part by the Service Employees International Union and local activist groups have sought to spotlight the plight of low-wage workers and push for higher pay by staging protests and walkouts in more than 100 cities in the one-day demonstration.

Read the entire article here.

Why I Didn’t Give Year-End Bonuses

From the New York Times blog, “You’re the Boss” by Jay Goltz:

A couple of weeks ago, my production manager asked me a question that I have not looked forward to answering for several years now. “Are we going to be giving any bonuses this year?” asked Dale, who oversees 38 people in my picture-framing business.

For years, I have given an end-of-the-year bonus to everyone who works for me — the exception being when sales have declined because of a recession. Unfortunately, that’s been the case since 2008. I told Dale that there would be no bonuses for 2013. We are doing better, we are almost there, but it would be irresponsible for me to give them out at this point.

My businesses are all home-furnishings-related, which means they rely on discretionary spending, and they are most certainly affected when consumer confidence falls. In our case, and the case of many small-business owners I know, business has not rebounded from this recession the way it did from the previous recessions I have lived through.

Although it has been several years since the recession came to an official end, there have been plenty of other issues keeping things challenging: more competition, changing buying habits, higher expenses, to name a few. I don’t mean to complain. Things are continuing to get better for my businesses, in part because of the (slowly) improving economy and in part because several investments that I made in new products, new equipment and a new warehouse and production building are beginning to pay off. None of these improvements came cheap, and in the short-term, they all had a negative impact on our cash flow. I remain confident, however, that they are starting to help and will pay off in the long term.

I asked Dale if he wanted me to explain the situation at the weekly production meeting? I didn’t take the time to explain last year, and I now know that wasn’t a good decision. But it was easy, which is often a bad sign.

Dale: “You could just skip the meeting. I’m afraid that no matter what you say, people are going to be aggravated.”

Jay: “You know what? You’re the one that has been on the front line with people asking for more money and I think you may be suffering from battle fatigue. I have to believe that most people will understand. And even if it is only some of them who don’t, I think I owe them an explanation.”

Dale: “You’re right. Have the meeting. We’ll see what happens.”

Jay: “I have to tell you, I’m a little frustrated myself. We didn’t lay anyone off, we have gotten everyone back to full hours plus a good amount of overtime, and this year we have caught up on raises. I would have loved to give out bonuses, but the thought of people being mad that they didn’t get a bonus — abonus! — when we didn’t make enough money to justify it, doesn’t make me feel great. If I wanted to be cynical, I could argue that I should have never started giving bonuses in the first place.”

Dale: “I understand, but you know how people are. They are more upset if you take something away than if you never gave it to them in the first place.”

Jay: “I know. But I would like to believe that they will get it. I can tell you this, while I wish we could have given bonuses, I certainly don’t feel guilty about it. It would have been a really bad business decision. We’re growing again, we’re stable, and if everything goes as planned, we should be able to give bonuses in 2014.”

So I had the meeting about two weeks before Christmas. I explained all of the things that we have been spending money on, and all of the good results that have started to pay off. For the sake of those employees who were not here five years ago, I went through our sales history. And I reminded them that they are working at a stable company in an unstable market. And I thanked them all for working together to get us where we were. As they say in sports, I left it all on the field. There were no comments or questions. Everyone went back to work, except for me.

I waited around until the jury came back, which took about 20 minutes. One of the supervisors gave me the verdict: Several people he spoke to said they appreciated that I had given them the whole story. They understood that we have been rebuilding, and they are happy to have a stable job where they are treated well.

Now, do I believe that everyone is happy all of the time and that they think I am the greatest boss ever? Of course not. But we have very little turnover, which is part of the reason I believe that most employees understand and that most appreciate the fact that I appreciate them. And if the rest are justpretending to get it, that’s O.K., too. I plan on giving bonuses out at the end of 2014, and if that happens, it will be a very happy day for me, as well as for them.

Romney’s recent attacks mimic Republican lies on “welfare queens”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacked President Obama on the campaign trail, claiming that an executive order issued this week through the Department of Health and Human Services significantly weakens work requirements for welfare recipients. Romney claims as a result that freeriders will increase the welfare rolls in states across the country, shirking their duty to work and increasing the burden on taxpayers like us.

Obama should run this recent Onion meme in response to Romney’s lies about welfare.

This spindrift spread quicker than one can say “Cadillac driving welfare queens”—which is Republican code for lazy African American women with lots of children who game the welfare system while being discouraged to work.

Romney’s attack is a cheap but familiar ploy in the Republican Party establishment. The phrase “welfare queen” was first introduced into the lexicon of American politics by President Reagan in his failed 1976 presidential campaign, and was later modified by former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, a speech writer for both Nixon and Reagan with well-documented racist views.

Let me be clear:  Romney’s assertion is a lie. The Obama campaign and many independent media and policy sources contend that the rule change does nothing of the sort. Rather, it gives states the kind of flexibility to make their own determination what counts as work and whether it changes the status of recipient benefits. Under the current austerity measures most states have adopted this will have the likely effect of decreasing rather than increasing the number of welfare recipients. This outcome is consistent with the purpose of welfare reform in the 1990’s that was—shockingly—spearheaded by bipartisanship between former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former President Bill Clinton.

Romney’s lie also highlights two facts about his own position and track record that Americans should consider closely. First, Romney says he is for “states’ rights” and as governor asked for this same flexibility concerning welfare requirements, so any rule change by HHS to grant states more authority to determine their own requirements is consistent with his position. Second, the implicit claim that Obama is being easy on welfare recipients belies Romney’s own track record as governor of Massachusetts. The AP reports that “as governor, Romney offered welfare recipients free auto insurance, registration, inspections and memberships in AAA.”

Grandstand politicking and election year spindrift pushed aside, the rule change for welfare that gives states more authority to run their own show highlights a different issue that neither candidate has much traction on:  what do about unemployment, declining wages, and job insecurity.

Although Obama consistently hammers on the message of economic recovery and economic justice going hand in hand, there is a deficit of real policy prescriptions forthcoming about how to reverse the plight of working Americans who are hurting more than ever thanks to Republicanomics. He has been unable to get the Jobs Act passed by a recalcitrant and pitiless Congress. Romney’s record on jobs at Bain Capital is well-known:  lower wages, less job security, outsourcing, and anything else to make a fast buck.

The problem is that welfare is increasingly necessary in an economic climate where recovery is slowly grinding forward by the numbers, but without real jobs to make it effective and lasting. Moreover, economic inequality in this country is at its highest point since the Great Depression—the wealthiest Americans are reaping the most rewards while the rest of us are suffering. Furthermore, corporate profits and the mountains of cash they are sitting on are at near-record highs, but they refuse to invest in their country.

Forget about the facts, please. Let’s talk about those rich black “welfare queens” and how they are cheating us hardworking white males. That’s the real message Romney is purveying and it is putrid, ugly, and profoundly un-American.