Retail and Service Workers Need to Unionize

Grocery store and retail employees are dying from Covid-19. None of them are getting paid enough for this sort of risk or have the benefits to cover them if they get sick. Even if they are given those benefits right now it won’t make up for a lifetime of not having them. The reason these workers have no voice is that they have consistently voted against unionizing in these industries across the country.

People lament the exit of good paying manufacturing jobs from the USA, but they fail to realize that the only reason those jobs paid well and had good benefits was because of unions. Before unions those jobs were worse than what are available now in retail and service. Manufacturing workers were often subject to extremely dangerous working conditions and long hours for low pay and no benefits at all. No retirement plan, no health insurance. Until 1938 their kids probably worked those jobs as well.

When people organized during the late 1800s the corporations called on armed goon squads to beat down union members, organizers and strikers. These people weren’t just risking a job to organize, they were risking their lives.

Yet today unions get a bad rap all around. Corporations and their political mouthpieces in the government have made unions out to be full of swindlers and con men with links to organized crime that are out to cheat laborers. When Reagan busted PATCO back in 1981 that opened the floodgates for corporations to throw labor under the bus. Reagan’s action cost the government billions of dollars, far more than PATCO had asked for in their negotiations, but he got away with it because corporations loved it.

As union membership waned in the 1980s, those decent paying jobs were shipped off to other countries. Why is this the case? Dean Baker in his book Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer explains how the game is set up.

The conventional story is that we lose manufacturing jobs to developing countries because they have hundreds of millions of people willing to do factory work at a fraction of the pay of manufacturing workers in the United States. This is true, but developing countries also have tens of millions of smart and ambitious people willing to work as doctors and lawyers in the United States at a fraction of the pay of the ones we have now.

Gains from trade work the same with doctors and lawyers as they do with textiles and steel. Our consumers would save hundreds of billions a year if we could hire professionals from developing countries and pay them salaries that are substantially less than what we pay our professionals now. The reason we import manufactured goods and not doctors is that we have designed the rules of trade that way. We deliberately write trade pacts to make it as easy as possible for U.S. companies to set up manufacturing operations abroad and ship the products back to the United States, but we have done little or nothing to remove the obstacles that professionals from other countries face in trying to work in the United States. The reason is simple: doctors and lawyers have more political power than autoworkers.

…The loss of manufacturing jobs also reduced the wages of less-educated workers (those without college degrees) more generally. The displaced manufacturing workers crowded into retail and other service sectors, putting downward pressure on wages there.

Having worked in retail both as a grunt and as a manager I can tell you from personal experience, major retailers are deathly afraid of unionization. Walmart has closed stores that have unionized. They eliminated butchers from 180 stores when one store’s meat department unionized. They settled for up to $640 million in 2008 for failing to pay workers overtime. They will literally lose billions just to avoid paying labor fair wages. They are not alone.

Corporations overall dedicate billions of dollars each year both towards lobbying for laws that weaken labor as well as paying for the services of companies that actively work at discouraging organized labor.

The only way to get labor back in a position where it can be effective is to have the majority of workers in these industries in a union, because that is the only way labor will have a voice in politics. There is no hope of electing someone that is sympathetic to labor and having them act on those promises without the political firepower to back them up.

You can’t fight a war without weapons.

The projected outcome of the coronavirus outbreak continues to get more grim. All countries are preparing as best they can for the inevitable influx of critically ill patients.

In the USA the social experiment we have engaged in since the mid 20th century, of primarily giving healthcare only to those that are working, is about to be put to the test. We’re about to find out that this public health crisis can’t be handled by the for-profit healthcare system that has long been touted as the most efficient and the best in the world.

In a recent public address the President declared that this is a war. If this is a war, the truth is that we have no ability to fight this war. We’re fighting a nuclear weapon with stone knives. We’ve cut funding for weapons research, we’ve severely limited the amount of soldiers we can put in the fight and those we do have are ill-equipped to fight. We knew this threat was out there, but we’ve ignored the problem almost completely. Even doctors in the UK where they have an actual public health system are lamenting the lack of resources they have to fight the virus. Where does the USA stand in that regard?

The USA has around 28 million uninsured. If and when those people flood emergency rooms the costs of a private system will come due and they will be apocalyptic.

USA healthcare coverage is tied to employment. As of now, even before the peak of the virus, there are mass layoffs from industries that have been forced to close or those that have experienced severe drops in demand. People in the USA without jobs in most cases have no access to healthcare. Even those with access often face massive financial burdens due to the arcane nature of how coverage works.

We must face the fact that in a war for the health of the USA we’ve budgeted only to defend the richest people in the country.

 

If you interact with the public you probably have no sick leave.

Why the coronavirus should have everyone rethinking paid sick leave.

The coronavirus issue has me thinking about paid sick leave from new perspectives. I never approved of people not getting paid sick days, but now I’m honestly wondering how and why the hell we ever let it get like this.
It’s been well documented at this point that anything less than an N95 mask doesn’t really do much to contain the spread of a virus and I’ve yet to see anyone at any restaurant wearing one. Sometimes you see food preparation done by people with surgical style masks on, but that’s just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. They might not cough or sneeze directly onto the food, but it’s not preventing them from spreading virus around or preventing them from contracting it.

Essentially, every time I go to a public restaurant I’m now going to be thinking about all the sick people that are probably working their shift because they can’t afford not to and how I’m probably getting virus laden food all the time. Why would anyone ever want to go out to eat knowing this fact? How did we get brainwashed into thinking this was a great idea? I’ll pay another 50 cents or $1 for a value meal if it gets people paid sick leave, but profit is really not the issue since McDs had
net income of $6.025B in 2019 and bought back $30 billion in stock from 2013-2016.
Companies like Walmart and Apple are also making stock buybacks in the tens of billions and hundreds of billions rather than pay people sick leave.
And yet you can still find in first page search results for “walmart stock buyback” a media outlet rising to the defense of Walmart and Apple for their stock buybacks. The defense being that the companies that do the most buybacks also have the biggest capital investments as well.
 
Walmart, for its part, said last year it would buy back $20 billion in stock. Yet the company has invested at least $10 billion annually for the past three years in an effort to meet head-on competition from Amazon
Did they invest $10 billion in making sure their employees aren’t coming into work sick all the time?!
 
No. They didn’t. Because now they, among others, are all scrambling to give people temporary paid sick time just for this outbreak.
Great, this time, during a massive pandemic, people can stay out sick, but how about when flu season rolls around again? Why do people have to endure sick employees spreading disease everywhere because the company is too cheap to pay people for when they inevitably get sick?
How is this logical for a business looking to be efficient anyway? Sick employee comes in, doesn’t work as hard because they feel like crap, they end up infecting other employees they are working with and customers as well. Now you have a group of workers that are feeling like crap and coming in to work and not working as hard and you have customers that won’t be coming in to shop at your store or eat at your restaurant because they are sick.
Then keep going down the line, the people that get sick that have secondary health issues, those people end up at the hospital and since they are shopping and eating at these low cost establishments they probably are some of the 27.5 million people that still have no health insurance and then does anyone have to wonder why the fuck we pay more than any other country on this planet per capita for health insurance?!
So, not only are we getting harmful diseases because of corporate greed, not only is our food being contaminated by corporate greed, we’re paying more to solve any issues resulting from those situations, because of corporate greed!