In 2012 the American public objected after learning that U.S. Olympic team uniforms – from hats to shoes and all worn in between – were made in China. For athletes who represented the country to wear clothing made in another country was, well, un-American.
A new report by New York Times’ Ian Urbina, though, finds even more unpatriotic purchases: the U.S. government spends $1.5 billion annually on items made overseas.
Uniforms for federal firefighters and law enforcement, souvenir clothing sold by the Smithsonian and others items carrying military logos, and even uniforms worn by particular military units are made at factories in Southeast Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
And even though some laws and policies still exist to deter such outsourcing, it seems that few in charge of the relevant purchasing departments know much about it, and don’t seem to care, either.
According to the article:
Federal agencies rarely know what factories make their clothes, much less require audits of them, according to interviews with procurement officials and industry experts. The agencies, they added, exert less oversight of foreign suppliers than many retailers do.
And not only do these U.S. government offices not care if their goods are made outside the U.S., but they also don’t seem to care about the unfair – even dangerous – conditions in which those products are made.
(T)here is no law prohibiting the federal government from buying clothes produced overseas under unsafe or abusive conditions.
Attempts to at least ensure that the products purchased are safely made have been fruitless, too, and due to apparent profit-oriented selfishness.
Labor and State Department officials have encouraged retailers to participate in strengthening rules on factory conditions in Bangladesh — home to one of the largest and most dangerous garment industries. But defense officials this month helped kill a legislative measure that would have required military stores, which last year made more than $485 million in profit, to comply with such rules because they said the $500,000 annual cost was too expensive.
That the Dept. of Defense insists on overlooking life-protecting safety to preserve only one percent in profit doesn’t uphold its stated mission of security and protection, it seems.
Foreign facilities aren’t unsafe to their workers alone, though. They’re dangerous for Americans, with high rates of product recall due to safety violations.
Perhaps worse, they’re also a danger to the U.S. economy. Losing over 2 million jobs during the 2007-2009 recession, unemployment in manufacturing remained as high as 13 percent through early 2010, months after the recession was declared over, and is still at a 6.2 percent level in the last-reported period of November 2013.
The 6.8 percent difference isn’t complete regain, either. Many of those jobs were eliminated, and the workers had to find employment in other industries.
Continuing economic damage to the U.S., those new jobs are paying workers less than they previously earned. While unemployment has notably declined, today’s wages are 6.1 percent less than national average income before the 2007-2009 recession began.
Manufacturing was once the dominant industry in the U.S., employing 19.5 million in 1979. Since then, over a third of those jobs have been lost to overseas facilities, though; only 12 million Americans currently work in this industry.
Through the last century, many laws were created to protect U.S. businesses and employment, including three Buy American Acts that pertained to general and specific product fields.
The first one from 1933 was updated eight years later with the Berry Amendment, which specified that the Dept. of Defense could only purchase uniforms and food items (with other products later added) that are made by American companies throughout all phases of production.
In recent years, though, the federal government has sought continuous loopholes to these job-protecting measures. In 2001, for example, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) introduced a bill that would exclude particular clothing items from the Berry Amendment; it passed later that year. Fasteners were eliminated from inclusion by the Dept. of Defense in 2007, and in 2008 Congress removed many other metal items and even general off-the-shelf products from the list, too.
The American public is greatly aware of the impacts of job loss to foreign countries; 86 percent agree that U.S. companies are outsourcing jobs simply for lower wages, 95 percent agree that this practice has contributed to unemployment in the United States, and 90 percent think the primary method for economic recovery would be regulations to “keep jobs in America.”
Before they can attempt to correct this in the role of conscious consumers, however, the public will need to return to gainful employment with proper wages.
And to reach that first step, the U.S. government should stop spending its money on foreign-made goods.
Want living wages with that?
Pay is so low for some workers that they might be unable to afford the same fast food they make and serve, two new studies, both released on October 15, find. As a result, taxpayers have to make-up the difference, say reports from the UC Berkeley Labor Project and National Employment Law Project.
“(T)he overwhelming share of jobs in the fast-food industry pay low wages that force millions of workers to rely on public assistance in order to afford health care, food, and other basic necessities,” NELP says.
A 52-percent majority of this industry’s full-time employees receive some type of public assistance. They might prepare food, but many need food stamps to purchase their own meals. Add in the costs of Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Children’s Health Insurance Programs and Earned Income Tax Credit, says UC Berkeley’s “Fast Food, Poverty Wages,” and the total in public benefits received by fast-food workers hits $7 billion every year.
And a majority of that high amount – $3.6 billion annually – is due to just 10 companies alone, NELP reports in “Super-Sizing Public Costs.” (See the list of companies below.)
The profits of just six of those 10 fast-food franchises were $7.44 billion in the last fiscal year, though (the remaining four are privately-owned and don’t disclose annual profit). And while their shareholders earned another $7.7 billion, about 1.2 million employees of these 10 companies required public assistance.
That high $3.6 billion in taxpayer-funded aid doesn’t tell the total costs, either; programs like WIC, Section 8 Housing, free/reduced price school lunches, and the Low-Income Heat and Energy Assistance Program weren’t included in the calculations. Neither was cost adjustments to private health insurance, which increase annually to cover unpaid medical bills of uninsured patients; 87 percent of fast-food workers have no health insurance.
Employees of this industry are standing up of late, though, and with recent demonstrations in almost 60 cities, calling for improved wages.
A good economy requires good wages, Dr. Robert Reich told participants in a June 20 conference. And good labor organization is required to get those good wages, he said.
Public policy professor at UC-Berkeley and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Reich answered questions from national AFL-CIO members in a one-hour session.
Median income in the U.S. has consistently declined, shrinking the middle class to its lowest point in history, participants noted, and Reich agreed.
“The biggest factor, I think, is the declining power of ordinary workers to get better pay, coupled with high unemployment that further reduces their bargaining power. Corporate profits today are soaring largely because payroll costs are dropping. So we need a stronger union movement.”
The benefits would go both ways, too, Reich said.
“History does provide valuable lessons here. We know, for example, that the rich would do better with a smaller share of a rapidly-growing pie – growing rapidly because a prosperous and expanding middle class has the money to spend – than a large share of a pie that’s barely growing, as is the case today.
“We also know that when the vast majority becomes cynical and angry because they work hard and get nowhere, they’re more prone to listen to demagogues – on the extreme left as well as the extreme right – who endanger the economy and society. In other words, it’s in the long-term interest of the wealthiest people in America to reverse the trend toward widening inequality.”
The extreme right, though, has been more harmful to middle-class America, Reich insinuated, especially through its media avenues.
Specifying Fox News and radio-show host Rush Limbaugh, he said “these rightwing mouthpieces have done huge damage to America, causing many working-class people to believe the opposite of what’s true, and the opposite of what they need.”
Participants attributed some of American job insecurity to the change in national economy from an industrial base to one of service-industry focus, alluding to a trade of skilled jobs for lower income employment. Reich agreed, but doesn’t think the change in industry dominance requires acceptance of poor wages.
“We can’t bring back the old assembly line because technology is replacing with computerized machine tools and robotics, nor can we bring back the old industrial economy that generated millions of jobs. But we can bring back job security and good wages,” he offered, along with an example pertaining to global trade.
“America is still the largest market in the world. Every global company wants to come here to sell its goods and services. So suppose we conditioned market entry on a corporation agreeing that it would hire Americans in proportion to its sales in the U.S., and that the median pay of its U.S. employees would not be lower than 10 percent of the average pay of its top five executives?”
He acknowledged a gender inequality in income (females earn 19 percent less than males in full-time, year-round earnings), but “the pay gap between men and women isn’t the largest inequality problem,” Reich said.
“The biggest widening gap is between the richest one percent of Americans and the bottom 99 percent – and even between the richest one-tenth of one percent and everyone else. The 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us, the bottom half of the American population, put together.
“This wild distortion is not only bad for the economy,” he said, “but it’s also terrible for our democracy, because it means that democracy can be bought.”
Recent questionable court rulings add to the dilemma of a government-for-sale, too, Reich offered. “The biggest source of corruption is unlimited campaign contributions. We need to reverse Citizens United [a U.S. Supreme Court decision that provides corporations and organizations with an avenue of unlimited spending in political campaigns](.)”
Meanwhile, there are multiple routes organized labor can take simultaneously in its efforts to correct income disparity and protect U.S. jobs.
“I’d recommend three things,” he said. “A major educational outreach to the public about what the labor movement has accomplished and what it could accomplish for average working people in the future, (like) paid sick leave, for example; a major fight with Wal-Mart or any other huge and irresponsible employer that dramatizes the struggle – and a win; and a set of demands that any candidate for office must agree to if they are to receive union support, such as commitment to sponsor and vote for (the) Employee Free Choice Act.”
Reich also recommended worker co-ops and worker ownership as means to protect jobs from moving overseas, and agreed that a substantial increase to minimum wage is necessary for the economy. (See Reich's video on minimum wage below.)
What "Right to Work" Means
Annual wages and benefits in RTW states are an average of $1,500 less than for the same job in non-RTW/unionized states (and that's for both union and non-union members). That's an 11.9 percent difference.
So what's the opposite of Right to Work? The Right to Prosper - to earn decent wages with decent benefits that let workers return to and support the economy, which in turn creates more jobs.
The "LiUNA" referred to in the video is the Laborers' International Union of North America.
Wal-mart, Wal-fare, or maybe Wel-mart.
But the name doesn't matter, as long you understand that the store you know as Wal-mart probably carries the most responsibility for welfare and poverty in the U.S.
Check the graphic below that offers more details on how Wal-mart (or Wal-fare) is the biggest freeloader of all time. We're the ones paying for it, and in more ways than one.
(from The Winning Words Project)
How Wal-Mart is devouring the food system
As if the pay and benefits weren't bad enough
Long lines at retail stores on the day after Thanksgiving Thursday are common, but this year’s “Black Friday” will have a new twist.
Many of the lines at Wal-Mart stores across the country won’t be customers, but protesters instead.
A demonstration against the company’s treatment of its workers and even its effect on the economy is scheduled for the big-box chain's North Charleston location on November 23, as well.
The two-hour protest starts at 10 a.m. this Friday at the corner of Centre Pointe Dr and Tanger Outlet Blvd
The Charleston Central Labor Council and SC AFL-CIO are promoting the local demonstration, but neither group can take credit for it, says Erin McKee, who’s an officer with both groups.
“Ours is a just a response to the national tide of strikes, sit-outs and demonstrations at Wal-Mart across the country,” McKee says.
Over 1,000 Wal-Mart demonstrations are occurring nationwide over a nine-day period.
Wal-Mart’s unfair labor practices are a primary basis for the local rally, McKee says, offering its payroll as evidence.
The company employs 1.4 million Americans – more than any other company – but 80 percent of them are paid so little that they qualify for food stamps, and even though Wal-Martclears over $15 billion in net profit every year.
The four primary shareholders of the corporation – children of its founder Sam Walton – rank among the 10 wealthiest Americans, however. Each one (Christy, Jim, Alice and S. Robson Walton) has over $26 billion in assets.
The annual costs of food stamps and Medicaid for Wal-Mart workers, as well as free and reduced-price lunches at school for their children, come to $2.66 billion, according to Good Jobs First.
That’s another basis for Friday’s demonstration. McKee says she hopes the rally will “explain to the taxpayers that these cheap prices are not cheap.”
A group known as OUR (“Organization United for Respect at”) Wal-Mart has caught flak from the corporation for promoting this Black Friday event, it says, and to the degree that OUR Wal-Mart has filed suit to protect its right to demonstrate.
Filed yesterday with the National Labor Relations Council, the charges specify threats the company made to employees should they participate in any demonstrations or strikes.
The demonstration will end at noon. Early arrivers can join other participants at the nearby IHOP on Centre Pointe Dr.
Amount Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter says he’ll have to
raise the cost of pizza to cover his employee’s insurance:
11 to 14 cents each
Actual per-pizza cost of insurance if Papa John’s were to
provide insurance to all of its employees:
3.4 to 4.6 cents each
Number of Papa John’s employees:
Number of Papa John’s employees actually covered by insurance:
CEO John Schnatter’s total pay and compensation (2011):
Wages of a Papa John’s delivery driver:
$5.83 to $7.25 per hour
Wages of a Papa John’s assistant manager:
$9.75 per hour
Value of Papa John’s stock on the day Schnatter first made this comment (August 7):
Value of Papa John’s stock today (November 15):
$47.06 (decline of 10.18%)
Quote from Nick Martin, part owner of Nick's Pizza, which already provides insurance to its employees:
"This may level the playing field for us. ... I'd tell Papa John's CEO 'Welcome to the club.'
We’ve battled the whole way giving health insurance to employees
ever since we could afford to do it 9 years ago, as a two-year-old business."
Read employee reviews of the Papa John’s workplace.
A little fun at the closing of a recent function created quite a stink in the state, and even circulated to national media that don’t seem to want to let this issue die down.
But what is this issue, exactly, and how on earth did it become such a mess?
At a picnic following the recent annual conference of the South Carolina Progressive Network, Donna Dewitt – the soon-too-retire president of the state’s AFL-CIO – struck a piñata that carried the name and image of Gov. Nikki Haley.
A video of that sarcastic gesture at the private event (see below) quickly went viral, and – for some reason – launched a tidal wave of angry responses from the governor, her supporters and even national networks.
Since then, Dewitt’s had to appear on national television to answer questions about the event. Another AFL-CIO official in the state (Brett Bursey) got questioned by FOX News.
And somehow, for some reason, and which many nationwide now know, striking a piñata that carries the image of another person is a very, very bad thing to do. Forget the fact that those traditional party features are regularly made in the images of very popular personalities, and even in a bride-and-groom format that gets knocked around at weddings – it’s wrong, dammit.
But if folks want to believe that hitting a Haley piñata is a terrible thing to do, and if we’re going to make Dewitt (a great person, by the way) go through grilling questions on nationwide television broadcasts, then why aren’t these same people and media asking Haley to own up for what she’s done to us so far in just this first year-and-a-half of her term?
Apparently, there’s a double-standard when it comes to issues involving elected officials and those involving everyday citizens. For example:
It’s okay for Haley to campaign on a platform of less spending, small government and an end to cronyism, only to then begin paying her staff almost a quarter-million more than the last governor did.
Striking a piñata with her name and picture on it is very wrong, however.
It’s okay for Haley to ignore her job right after she took the governor’s office so she could begin writing her autobiography, and then to ignore that job even more as she runs around attempting to promote that book.
Taking a stick to a piñata that has her image on it, though, is somehow wrong.
It’s okay for Haley to promise to help senior citizens register to vote, only to break that promise, leaving those seniors on the phone with Haley’s staff who didn’t know anything about that promise.
But hitting a Haley piñata is bad.
It’s okay for Haley to spend our money to build a wine cellar in the governor’s mansion.
Hitting a piñata that carries her face is a no-no.
It’s okay for Haley to spend $127,000 of tax-payer dollars on a trip to Paris, and it’s okay for her to spend additional money on having her staff meetings at exclusive vacation getaways instead of her own office.
It’s wrong to smack a $19.99 piñata that bears her name, though.
It’s okay for Haley to call a reporter who asks her important questions about those tax-payer funded vacations “a little girl.”
Hitting a little piñata with Haley’s picture on it is somehow wrong.
It’s okay for Haley to sell her endorsement to other politicians in exchange for $36,000.
However, it’s quite erroneous to hit a piñata with Haley’s picture on it.
It’s okay for Haley to say on national television that “women don’t care about contraception.”
Women like Haley do care, though, when a piñata gets used like a piñata is supposed to be used, but which you can’t do if it has her name or photo on it.
It’s okay for Haley to remove a woman who gave over $70 million to the state university from its board of trustees in exchange for a guy who have Haley’s campaign $4,500.
But, nope – hacking at the Haley piñata is bad.
It’s okay for Haley to sign an executive order to block workers who are on strike from collecting unemployment, and apparently only as a publicity stunt since striking workers don’t get unemployment benefits anyway.
But hitting a piñata that has her picture on it is wrong.
It’s okay for Haley to declare representation of workers is “not needed, not wanted, and not welcome” in South Carolina, seeking to knock our citizens further down the ladder into serfdom.
Using a piñata in the exact way a piñata is supposed to be used is gravely wrong, though, if it has Haley’s name and picture on it.
It’s okay for Haley to play around with a $1 million federal grant to such a degree that the federal government is calling for an investigation on misuse of funds. It’s also okay for Haley to actively delete all of her office’s email records pertaining to that misuse of the $1 million grant, not only breaking her own promise of transparent government, but also violating state law against disposal of public records.
But whopping a piñata with her picture on it is wrong.
It’s okay for Haley to have 23 arrested for exercising their right to assembly on public property, even though there’s been federal ruling on the books for over 50 years protecting that right.
Don’t hit a piñata if it carries her picture, though.
It’s okay for Haley to block the bipartisan and unanimously approved Stroke Prevention Act here in this state that ranks fifth highest in number of strokes, and to try to veto a total of four bills that pertain to improving healthcare in the state.
But smacking a piñata with Haley’s picture must be worse than a stroke or any of the other medical maladies she wants to ignore.
It’s okay for Haley to try to veto three bills that pertain to funding of the state’s Dept. of Health and Environmental Control, and only as vengeance for the time when DHEC denied approval of a project attempted by Haley’s former employer.
But striking a piñata – which is exactly what you’re supposed to do with a piñata – is wrong, simply because it has Haley’s picture on it.
It’s okay for Haley to appoint a new board for DHEC, which now votes exactly the way she tells it to.
It’s not okay to use a piñata in the way it’s supposed to be used, though, if that piñata is a Haley piñata.
It’s okay for Haley to sell out our state and harm the development of its major port by aiding the development of that port’s biggest competitor in another state, which could cost South Carolina 280,000 jobs – and all in exchange for campaign donations she received from that other state.
But don’t even think about hitting a Haley piñata.
It’s okay for Haley to be implicated in an IRS investigation of false reporting and sneaky financial tricks, including illegal contributions to a political candidate, in her role as treasurer of her family’s (supposedly) non-profit organization.
But who the hell do you think you are to use a piñata as a piñata if it carries Haley’s picture?
It’s okay for Haley for interfere with the state legislature’s own investigation of those charges, too.
But damn you and your name and your reputation if you have the audacity to smack a piñata, even though that’s what you’re supposed to do with a piñata, if that piñata has picture of Haley on it.
And now that the piñata bashing is all over and done with, it’s okay for Haley to use this incident as a fund-raising scheme, asking for donations on her website and twitter account to help her “fight back now against the bullying of Liberal unions,” and by sending emails saying she needs campaign money to “show big labor we will not stand for their bullying.”
See how different things are supposed to be if you’re a governor? And even for a quite unpopular governor, who’s never had an approval rating higher than 37.3 percent since the day she took the office?
Don’t worry, Donna Dewitt. You’ve got plenty of back-up. And hopefully media will begin paying attention to issues that matter, like all of the trash going on in Haley’s less-than-half term so far as governor.
But if it doesn’t, and if they decide to only pay attention to stuff like this, I’ll be glad to be your designated hitter at the next piñata party.
Before the badly-informed public continues use of the “right to work” term in a positive light, they should take a look at the true impositions the far-right’s anti-labor sentiment imposes on them.
For example, check out this recent graph created by Think Progress. The United States is the only country listed that does not offer a guaranteed right of paid maternity leave from the workplace.
And before anyone yells out “socialist!” take a good look at that list of countries featured on the graph – Germany, Italy, South Africa and almost all of the others are republics with governments elected by the people (and that have solid capitalist economies with profitable companies and corporations).
Ones with paler economies (Mexico, Venezuela) have it, and even a country with a much stricter, male-dominated social structure (Pakistan) guarantees that right to its women workers, too.
And there are many, many more than just those 14 countries listed on the graph that offer this basic benefit. In fact, aside from the United States, only Papua New Guinea (which has only five medical doctors for every 100,000 citizens) and Swaziland (which has a life expectancy of only 32 years) don’t guarantee this medical benefit.
That’s right – we’re one of only three countries on the planet that does not provide its citizens with a guaranteed right of paid maternity leave.
But it doesn’t stop there; 74 countries offer paid paternity leave, too, with 31 of those nations guaranteeing 14 weeks to new fathers.
We’re also notably absent from the list of 48 countries that guarantee paid time off to parents who need to care for sick children.
It gets a lot worse for U.S. workers, too; 163 countries have paid sick leave, not limited to maternity, as a basic right – but not the United States. Even though 86 percent of the population says it should be guaranteed – even 81 percent of those who self-identify as conservative – we’re still far behind the rest of the world.
Federal government employees have that right (and so does the state of Connecticut recently, due to campaigns by that state’s Working Families Party), but everyone else in the private sector is left at the mercy of their employers.
That mercy ain’t much, either – 16 percent of American workers say that they or at least one of their relatives has been punished by employers, reprimanded, or even fired because of missing work due to an illness.
In this election year, let’s keep basic labor rights included in the questions we ask candidates. Make sure they defend these rights and freedoms in the Land of the Free, and help the United States join the rest of the modern world.
And if the candidates you speak with disagree? Tell them there’s plenty of room for their kind over in Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.
Robservations by Rob Groce is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.