Posts tagged with 'Wal-mart'
Michigan’s new Emergency Manager Law is already forcing major concessions from unions. The law gives the governor the power to declare a city insolvent and appoint an emergency manager with virtually unlimited power to reorganize every aspect of city business, including dissolving the city entirely. The emergency manager even has the power to terminate collective bargaining agreements.
As a result of these expanded new powers, public employees unions in some Michigan municipalities are already making large preemptive concessions to keep their cities from tripping any of the “triggers” in the new law that might give the governor an opening to send in a union-busting emergency manager, Eartha Jane Melzer reports in the Michigan Messenger.
In Flint, the firefighters’ union agreed to increase contributions to health insurance and give up holiday pay and night shift differentials. Flint Firefighters Union President Raul Garcia told the Wall Street Journal that these concessions were driven by fear of a state takeover of Flint. “I would rather give concessions that I would like than have an [emergency financial manager] or something of that magnitude come in and say this is what you are going to do,” Garcia said.
The new law also gives the Emergency Manager the power to privatize prisons, Melzer notes.
Detroit grows green
The citizens of Detroit aren’t waiting around for an emergency manager to take over. The city’s industrial economy is dying, but its grassroots economy is stirring to life, Jenny Lee and Paul Abowd report in In These Times. Detroit residents have been growing their own food in town for decades, but recently activists and the city have joined forces to link many small producers into a network that will provide food security for the city.
Wal-Mart and wage discrimination
Next week, the Supreme Court will take up the case of 100 women who are suing Wal-Mart for wage discrimination. As Scott Lemieux explains in The American Prospect, the Court will decide whether these women can band together to sue the nation’s largest retailer, or whether each must sue the firm individually.
Lemieux argues that, for the sake of women’s rights at work, it is very important that these Wal-Mart employees be allowed to sue together instead of one at a time:
Given the compelling stories these individual women can tell, does it matter whether they can file suit collectively? Absolutely, for at least two reasons. First of all, only a class-action suit can properly create a record of the systematic gender discrimination at Wal-Mart. Any individual case can be dismissed as an anomaly or a misunderstanding, but the volume of complaints makes clear that gender discrimination was embedded deeply within the culture of the corporation, a very relevant fact for a discrimination suit.
Litigation is expensive and time-consuming, for the individuals and for the court system. Forcing victims of discrimination to sue one by one makes it less likely that they will seek justice, especially if they’re suing because they were underpaid in the first place. Wal-Mart claims that the class is too large to be allowed to proceed, and that the women couldn’t possibly have similar enough claims. But as Lemieux points out, the class is huge because Wal-Mart is huge.
War and the deficit
Jamelle Bouie writes at TAPPED, in response to the United States’ new military commitments in Libya:
I just wish we could at least acknowledge the obvious truth: conservatives don’t care about deficits but will use them to cut spending on poor people. When it comes to things they like — wars, for instance — they’re willing to pay any price.
The U.S. fired 110 Tomahawk Missiles at Libya on Saturday, at an estimated total cost of $81 million, or 33 times the annual federal funding for National Public Radio.
Sally Kohn of TAPPED notes that the United States scraped together $2.3 million worth of “blood money” to pay off the families of the victims of Raymond Davis, a rogue CIA operative who shot and killed two men who tried to rob him in Pakistan. Laura Flanders of GRITtv calculates that $2.3 million ransom for a single killer would have paid the salaries of 45 Wisconsin public school teachers for a year.
Public pensions 101
We often hear that public pensions are unfunded. On the Breakdown, Chris Hayes of The Nation asks economist Dean Baker what this actually means. Baker explains that s0-called “defined benefit” pensions have become rare in the private sector, but remain relatively common in the public sector. A defined benefit pension guarantees the pensioner a certain income. Most private sector pensions are so-called “defined contribution” plans, which means that employer puts aside a certain amount of money each month for the employee, but there’s no guarantee how much return the pensioner will eventually get on that investment.
A state pension fund is considered unfunded if the assets the fund has today aren’t sufficient to cover the defined benefits that are due to workers over the next 30 years. Baker notes that many funds are a lot healthier than they look because their values were calculated at the nadir of the stock market in 2009. The market has since made up a large percentage of that ground. A handful of states were mismanaging their pension funds, but most states have been responsible.
Bea is a manager of a big-box chain store in Maine. The company pays her staff between $6 and $8 an hour and many are struggling. Even as she tries to keep a professional atmosphere in the store, Bea has been known to bend the rules to help an employee in need, as Lisa Dodson describes in YES! Magazine:
When one of her employees couldn’t afford to buy her daughter a prom dress, Bea couldn’t shake the feeling that she was implicated by the injustice. “Let’s just say … we made some mistakes with our prom dress orders last year,” she told me. “Too many were ordered, some went back. It got pretty confusing.” And Edy? “She knocked them dead” at the prom.
Andrew, a manager in the Midwest is quietly padding his employees’ paychecks because he knows their wages aren’t enough to live on. Andrew knows he might be accused of stealing, but he does it anyway because the alternative is unthinkable.
Dodson interviewed hundreds of low- and middle-income people about the economy between 2001 and 2008. Along the way, she stumbled on what she calls “the moral underground,” a world where managers bend the rules at corporate expense to enable their low-wage staff to get by. It is legal to pay people less than a living wage, but increasing numbers of people like Bea and Arthur have decided that the situation is morally unacceptable, and quietly acted accordingly.
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Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. A major theme of the speech will be jobs and the economy. Let’s hope the president spares a few minutes for Wall Street reforms that might prevent a repeat of the economic collapse that we’re slowly starting to recover from.
As Kai Wright points out in ColorLines, the State of the Union is the unofficial kickoff of the 2012 election season:
The still churning foreclosures and mounding debt in black and brown neighborhoods don’t suggest a stabilized economy anywhere except Wall Street, but let’s set that familiar fight to the side for now. The point is that whether we’re talking about creating jobs or seating district court judges, the time for making policy is gone. Starting tomorrow night, it’s all talk until we vote next.
Amy Dean of Working In These Times shares Wright’s skepticism. With the Republicans in control of the House and the Democrats hanging on to the Senate, we’re looking at a legislative stalemate until the next election. Dean argues that activists should use this lull in the action to refocus their organizing at the grassroots level.
Wall Street destroyed $8 for every $1 it earned
In AlterNet, Les Leopold asks why bankers are earning such huge bonuses while the financial system is in disarray. According to standard economic theory, your compensation reflects the value of your work. Yet, according to Leopold’s back-of-the-envelope calculations, the financial sector has destroyed $8 worth of wealth for every dollar it earned over the last 5 years. His estimate includes the wealth-destroying impact of the subprime mortgage crisis and other epic Wall Street blunders. (more…)
by Raquel Brown, TMC MediaWire Blogger
Last week, Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil and the American Automobile Association (AAA) announced new programs that promote sustainability and a cleaner planet. The three corporations may have turned over a new leaf, but their efforts may actually be a case of corporate greenwashing. In today’s economic climate, many companies are taking advantage of consumers that don’t have the funds to be choosy about the environmental-friendliness of their purchases.
Wal-Mart announced its plans to develop a sustainability index to measure the environmental impact of its products, establish international sustainability standards and offer transparency to consumers. This program, described by The American Prospect’s Alexandra Gutierrez as “nutrition labeling, but for the planet,” is very ambitious. Wal-Mart will work with a consortium of universities, retailers and government agencies to determine each products ranking over its life cycle, then relay that information back to consumers.
But when has Wal-Mart ever acted in the environment’s best interests? In a two-part blog for Sojourners, Tracey Bianchi writes skeptically about Wal-Mart’s ulterior motive, given the corporation’s reputation of using unethical business practices to maximize profits.
“Wal-Mart’s green claims are good, but the reality is that they are not a free ride to environmental bliss. They are, at best, a $400+ billion change in the way we do business in the global marketplace. At worst, they are greenwashing and a sort of salve to the part of our soul that silently moans, “’How you consume comes with a price tag that you cannot afford,’” Bianchi writes.
But at the end of the day, Wal-Mart’s true intentions are irrelevant, says Jodi Kasten in Salon. As the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart has an incredible amount of influence over which products are made and sold. The company can use its clout and market-driven incentives to curb pollution and implement environmental changes. This approach could yield more effective results than climate change legislation. Retailers who might be willing to flout the law aren’t willing to risk losing customers.
“Uncovering greenwashing is an Olympic sport amongst environmental activists. I’m all for that. I think that abuse of the systems which are already in place give consumers a false sense of environmental awareness. But, we do have to consider that ANY system of sustainability information is better than what we have now, which is nothing,” Kasten writes.
Climate criminal ExxonMobil pledged to invest $600 million in alternative-energy technology last week. After adamantly refusing to adopt alternative-energy for years, the oil giant is partnering with Synthetic Genomics to create an algae-based biofuel. Does this partnership mark a paradigm shift for ExxonMobil? Hardly.
As Grist’s Joseph Romm reports, ExxonMobil is still funding climate change skeptics, even after promising to no longer finance organizations “whose positions on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner,” as stated in the company’s 2008 Corporate Citizenship Report.
ExxonMobil also helped fund Spanish economist Gabriel Calzada’s study condemning green jobs, as Osha Gray Davidson notes for Mother Jones. Many conservative Congressmen, most recently Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), have used Calzada’s study to back their opposition to the ACES bill.
Finally, AAA is now extending its services to cover bicycles. Despite a long history of lobbying against the environment, including strong opposition to public transportation funding and criticizing The Clean Air Act, the company has experienced a sudden change of heart. According to Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones, it all breaks down to competition. The Better World Club (BWC) rivals AAA as an environmentally friendly auto club that provides services that range from discounts on hybrid car rentals to eco-travel services. For the past seven years, BWC offered the nation’s only roadside assistance program for bicycles.
BWC has tried to distance themselves from AAA, claiming that they “are nothing like … other auto clubs,” and even linking to information about AAA’s anti-environment lobbying. “We have the same reliable roadside assistance, but we have a unique policy agenda.” AAA stands to gain new customers who use alternative modes of transportation and muscle out an organization that had good intentions from the start.
In the long run, one green initiative doesn’t make a corporation environmentally sustainable. While these companies try to shine green in the public eye, it remains to be seen as to whether they will actually advocate for positive change, or continue to push their own political agenda.
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