Article 43


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Rising Of The Telecom Underclass Part 2

An AT&T manager told me the company calls laying off it’s highly skilled American technicians and technicianettes - then hiring them back as low paid temps via staffing agencies - an evolution to a FLEXIBLE WORKFORCE.

Staffing agencies - more often called headhunters or recruiters - match people with jobs - not a bad deal when they find, then place qualified candidates in positions, and if a candidate performs well during a contract, is eventually hired by the company permanently with a benefit package and opportunity for advancement.  In this relationship everyone wins - the company gets a good worker, the worker gets a good job, and the staffing agency gets paid for bringing the two together.

The telecom staffing agencies’ business may be evolving - turning telecom job seekers into low paid permanent temps - revolving from one assignment to another - treated like slaves, and used as doormats - rather than placed in the traditional temp-to-perm positions. In this situation the worker doesn’t benefit.

I don’t see unions - at least the CWA - EFFECTIVELY ORGANIZING displaced telecom techies like myself. What’s more alarming is their friends at TUCKER TECHNOLOGIES offered me a (maybe long-term) temporary position doing one of my former jobs at AT&T for HALF the pay with no benefits.

Partnering of telecom companies, staffing agencies, and unions - may result in widespread exploitation of telecom workers - ESPECIALLY if unions are evolving into EXPRESSIONS of corporations - approving their flexible workforce policies, and allowing inadequate compensation for their members. This jeopardizes the spirit of organized labor movements everywhere - while highly skilled telecom workers evolve into disposable day laborers - earning low wages, devoid of benefits, opportunity, career growth, job security, profit sharing, and a decent standard of living.

Rising of the Telecom Underclass
PART 1 · PART 2 · PART 3 · PART 4 · PART 5 · PART 6

Posted by Elvis on 03/20/05 •
Section Telecom Underclass
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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Rising Of The Telecom Underclass

The increased globalization and outsourcing of service, manufacturing, and IT jobs to cheap labor, has gotten lots of press, but even with all the TELECOM MERGERS and layoffs going on, the developing underclass of folks in our industry doesn’t get much attention. 

I used to think LOU DOBBS on CNN was an alarmist, scaring us with his talk about the perils of corporate greed, trade imbalance with Communist China, illegal immigrants working for slave wages, computer programmer jobs outsourced to poverty ridden India, etc - but don’t anymore. Last year the OUTSOURCING OF AMERICA hit my middle-class home.

After searching since last August, and not finding a job through the usual means (networking, friends, job fairs, internet, word of mouth, newspaper ads, etc) a staffing agency placed me as an outsourced contractor to another telco - Sprint (after getting layed off from AT&T with 20+ years) - at half the pay, with no permanency, no benefits, and little hope of being hired. I didn’t see this job advertised on Sprint’s internet careers page, which I look at just about every day.

What’s more alarming is a surprising number of people I work with are middle-aged temporary contracted workers, with similar experiences and backgrounds as mine - layed off from one telco, to find a temp job with another - through a subcontractor - at a fraction of the pay. One guy I work with has been here for two years doing the same job as the regular full-time employee sitting next to him, hoping to someday get hired. While Sprint continues it’s internal POLICIES OF HIRING young college graduates, and career advancement for it’s regular employees - including transferring people into and out of our department - he hasn’t been offered the job (or any job) - even after two years satisfactorily doing it.  None of the contracted temps I work with have been offered any opportunities to be hired on as regular employees.  To some of us it smells like AGE BIAS. To most of us it reeks like EXPLOITATION OF LABOR.

The trend of HIRING AMERICANS THROUGH STAFFING AGENCIES and subcontractors at low wages, with little if any benefits or opportunity - combined with outsourcing to other venues of cheap labor - may continue and accelerate. If true, this may be a signal that the END OF DECENT PAYING JOBS IN TELECOM is well underway.

Feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness are not unlikely for middle-aged, middle-class displaced telecom techies already dealing with the EFFECTS OF LAYOFF.  Increased worry and stress may also be emotionally challenging.  For instance - due to the HIGH COST OF HEALTH CARE in the US - a growing fear of mine is GOING BANKRUPT from landing in the hospital or getting ill without DISABILITY INSURANCE. (Here’s one chilling REPORT.) I don’t have paid sick leave and can’t afford to continue paying for medical coverage like COBRA or INDIVIDUAL MEDICAL INSURANCE. Living with these pressures probably takes a heavy toll on one’s mental and emotional being, creating favorable conditions for debilitating depression, or stress induced illness.

Rising of the Telecom Underclass
PART 1 · PART 2 · PART 3 · PART 4 · PART 5 · PART 6

Posted by Elvis on 03/19/05 •
Section Telecom Underclass
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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Unions Fighting Themselves

Heated talks on unions’ organizing efforts reinforce the drive to revamp the group.
LA TImes Mar 4 2005.

LAS VEGAS — A territorial spat between two of the nation’s largest unions that was discussed Thursday at the AFL-CIO’s semiannual leadership meeting underscored the potential difficulties in holding the labor federation together.

Union fights over which can organize and represent certain workers aren’t uncommon, particularly in these days of dwindling membership. But while labor leaders universally lament the waste of energy and resources, they have yet to figure out an effective way to resolve the disputes.

This quarrel, over an effort in Illinois, is significant because it involves leading protagonists in a fierce debate over the federation’s future, with one threatening to pull his union out of the AFL-CIO. Both cite the tussle as reason not to trust the other.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/15/05 •
Section General Reading
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Saturday, March 12, 2005

United Airlines Pension Takeover

Airline Employees’ Pensions Targeted for Federal Takeover

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.—the federal agency that insures corporate pension plans—moved yesterday to take over the pensions of United Airlines’ 36,000 mechanics and baggage handlers, relieving the airline of millions of dollars in obligations to the under-funded plan.

The two unions that represent the employees oppose the takeover. One threatened to strike if it happens.

If the government takes over the plan, the employees will lose between 20 percent and 50 percent of the value of their pensions, said Robert Roach Jr., general vice president for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents 16,000 active and retired employees.

“Instead of terminating pensions, maybe we should explore terminating the employment of United’s top management, who have mired the company in bankruptcy for more than two years,” Roach said.

The group represents 736 workers at Reagan National and Dulles International airports. The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association represents the remaining 20,000 active and retired United ground workers. David Quinn, spokesman for the group, said the union would fight the airline in court. Quinn stopped short of calling for a strike but said it was “something we would entertain at the time,” depending on the court outcome.

United spokeswoman Jean Medina said a strike would be illegal under bankruptcy laws and the Railway Labor Act. She said terminating the plan is necessary for the airline to cut costs and emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this year. United, a unit of Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based UAL Corp., has operated under Chapter 11 since December 2002.

The ground employees’ plan is the second of United’s four big pension plans to be targeted by the government. The PBGC began proceedings at the end of last year to terminate the pilots’ pension plan. That matter will be reviewed in court on Friday.

Medina said United was in negotiations with its flight attendants and customer and gate agents in hopes of reaching an agreement to avoid having those pensions terminated as well.

“We believe that we need to take the difficult step to terminate and replace the plans. Ideally we would like to work that out with the unions at the bargaining table,” Medina said.

The mechanics and baggage-handlers’ plan has $1.2 billion in assets to cover $4.1 billion in benefit promises. Of the $2.9 billion shortfall, the PBGC expects to guarantee about $2.1 billion.

The agency guarantees pensions up to $45,613 a year for workers who retire at 65. Those promised higher pensions by the plan, or those who retire earlier than 65, would receive reduced payments.

PBGC Executive Director Bradley D. Belt said in a written statement that the plan is severely under-funded and that United has missed $363 million in legally required payments to it. He said the takeover is “necessary at this time to protect the [PBGC] against further losses.”

The agency recently reported a deficit of $23.3 billion

United had promised the ground workers additional benefits several years ago, but those added benefits become guaranteed by the PBGC on a phased schedule. By moving to terminate now, the agency would avoid having to cover $139 million in benefits that would become valid Monday and $88 million more in May.


Keith L. Alexander and Albert B. Crenshaw

Posted by Elvis on 03/12/05 •
Section News
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Saving The Middle Class

Democracy - Not “The Free Market” - Will Save America’s Middle Class
By Thom Hartmann
Reprinted with permission.

Here are a couple of headlines for those who haven’t had the time to study both economics and history:

1. There is no such thing as a “free market.”

2. The “middle class” is the creation of government intervention in the marketplace, and won’t exist without it (as millions of Americans and Europeans are discovering).

The conservative belief in “free markets” is a bit like the Catholic Church’s insistence that the Earth was at the center of the Solar System in the Twelfth Century. It’s widely believed by those in power, those who challenge it are branded heretics and ridiculed, and it is wrong.

In actual fact, there is no such thing as a “free market.” Markets are the creation of government.

Governments provide a stable currency to make markets possible. They provide a legal infrastructure and court systems to enforce the contracts that make markets possible. They provide educated workforces through public education, and those workers show up at their places of business after traveling on public roads, rails, or airways provided by government. Businesses that use the “free market” are protected by police and fire departments provided by government, and send their communications - from phone to fax to internet - over lines that follow public rights-of-way maintained and protected by government.

And, most important, the rules of the game of business are defined by government. Any sports fan can tell you that football, baseball, or hockey without rules and referees would be a mess. Similarly, business without rules won’t work.

Which explains why conservative economics wiped out the middle class during the period from 1880 to 1932, and why, when Reagan again began applying conservative economics, the middle class again began to vanish in America in the 1980s - a process that has dramatically picked up steam under George W. Bush.

The conservative mantra is “let the market decide.” But there is no market independent of government, so what they’re really saying is, “Stop corporations from defending workers and building a middle class, and let the corporations decide how much to pay for labor and how to trade.” This is, at best, destructive to national and international economies, and, at worst, destructive to democracy itself.

Markets are a creation of government, just as corporations exist only by authorization of government. Governments set the rules of the market. And, since our government is of, by, and for We The People, those rules have historically been set to first maximize the public good resulting from people doing business.

If you want to play the game of business, we’ve said in the US since 1784 (when Tench Coxe got the first tariffs passed “to protect domestic industries") then you have to play in a way that both makes you money AND serves the public interest.

Which requires us to puncture the second balloon of popular belief. The “middle class” is not the natural result of freeing business to do whatever it wants, of “free and open markets,” or of “free trade.” The “middle class” is not a normal result of “free markets.” Those policies will produce a small but powerful wealthy class, a small “middle” mercantilist class, and a huge and terrified worker class which have traditionally been called “serfs.”

The middle class is a new invention of liberal democracies, the direct result of governments defining the rules of the game of business. It is, quite simply, an artifact of government regulation of markets and tax laws.

When government sets the rules of the game of business in such a way that working people must receive a living wage, labor has the power to organize into unions just as capital can organize into corporations, and domestic industries are protected from overseas competition, a middle class will emerge. When government gives up these functions, the middle class vanishes and we return to the Dickens-era “normal” form of totally free market conservative economics where the rich get richer while the working poor are kept in a constant state of fear and anxiety so the cost of their labor will always be cheap.

When conservatives rail in the media of the dangers of “returning to Smoot Hawley, which created the Great Depression,” all they do is reveal their ignorance of economics and history. The Smoot-Hawley tariff legislation, which increased taxes on some imported goods by a third to two-thirds to protect American industries, was signed into law on June 17, 1930, well into the Great Depression. In the following two years, international trade dropped from 6 percent of GNP to roughly 2 percent of GNP (between 1930 and 1932), but most of that was the result of the depression going worldwide, not Smoot-Hawley. The main result of Smoot-Hawley was that American businesses now had strong financial incentives to do business with other American companies, rather than bring in products made with cheaper foreign labor: Americans started trading with other Americans.

Smoot-Hawley “protectionist” legislation did not cause the Great Depression, and while it may have had a slight short-term negative effect on the economy ("1.4 percent at most” according to many historians) its long-term effect was to bring American jobs back to America.

The fact that the “marketplace” was an artifact of government activity was well known to our Founders. As Thomas Jefferson said in an 1803 letter to David Williams, “The greatest evils of populous society have ever appeared to me to spring from the vicious distribution of its members among the occupations… But when, by a blind concourse, particular occupations are ruinously overcharged and others left in want of hands, the national authorities can do much towards restoring the equilibrium.”

And the “national authorities,” in Jefferson’s mind, should be the Congress, as he wrote in a series of answers to the French politician de Meusnier in 1786: “The commerce of the States cannot be regulated to the best advantage but by a single body, and no body so proper as Congress.”

Of course, there were conservatives (like Hamilton and Adams) in Jefferson’s time, too, who took exception, thinking that the trickle-down theory that had dominated feudal Europe for ten centuries was a stable and healthy form of governance. Jefferson took exception, in an 1809 letter to members of his Democratic Republican Party (now called the Democratic Party): “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.”

But, conservatives say, government is the problem, not the solution.

Of course, they can’t explain how it was that the repeated series of huge tax cuts for the wealthy by the Herbert Hoover administration brought us the Great Depression, while raising taxes to provide for an active and interventionist government to protect the rights of labor to organize throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s led us to the Golden Age of the American Middle Class. (The top tax rate in 1930 under Hoover was 25 percent, and even that was only paid by about a fifth of wealthy Americans. Thirty years later, the top tax rate was 91 percent, and held at 70 percent until Reagan began dismantling the middle class. As the top rate dropped, so did the middle class it helped create.)

Thomas Jefferson pointed out, in an 1816 letter to William H. Crawford, “Every society has a right to fix the fundamental principles of its association.” He also pointed out in that letter that some people - and businesses - would prefer that government not play referee to the game of business, not fix rules that protect labor or provide for the protection of the commons and the public good.

We must, Jefferson wrote to Crawford, “...say to all [such] individuals, that if they contemplate pursuits beyond the limits of these principles and involving dangers which the society chooses to avoid, they must go somewhere else for their exercise; that we want no citizens, and still less ephemeral and pseudo-citizens [like corporations], on such terms. We may exclude them from our territory, as we do persons infected with disease.”

Most of the Founders advocated - and all ultimately passed - tariffs to protect domestic industries and workers. Seventy years later, Abraham Lincoln actively stood up for the right for labor to organize, intervening in several strikes to stop corporations and local governments from using hired goon squads to beat and murder strikers.

But conservative economics - the return of ancient feudalism - rose up after Lincoln’s death and reigned through the Gilded Age, creating both great wealth and a huge population of what today we call the “working poor.” American reaction to these disparities gave birth to the Populist, Progressive, and modern Labor movements. Two generations later, Franklin Roosevelt brought us out of Herbert Hoover’s conservative-economics-produced Great Depression and bequeathed us with more than a half-century of prosperity.

But now the conservatives are back in the driver’s seat, and heading us back toward feudalism and serfdom (and possibly another Great Depression).

Only a return to liberal economic policies - a return to We The People again setting and enforcing the rules of the game of business - will reverse this dangerous trend. We’ve done it before, with tariffs, anti-trust legislation, and worker protections ranging from enforcing the rights of organized labor to restricting American companies’ access to cheap foreign labor through visas and tariffs. The result was the production of something never before seen in history: a strong and vibrant middle class.

If the remnants of that modern middle class are to survive - and grow - we must learn the lessons of the past and return to the policies that in the 1780s and the late 1930s brought this nation back from the brink of economic disaster.

Thom Hartmann is an award-winning, best-selling author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host.  His newest book is “We The People: A Call To Take Back America,” an illustrated and edited collection of his columns first published by CommonDreams.

Posted by Elvis on 03/12/05 •
Section American Solidarity
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