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On the News With Thom Hartmann: Fewer Than 12 Percent of US Workers Belong to Unions, and More

A little more than fifty years ago, over a quarter of workers belonged to some type of union. Today, fewer than 12 percent of all workers belong to a labor group, and more.

In today’s On the News segment: Today, fewer than 12 percent of all workers belong to a labor group; since Congress can’t agree to increase the minimum wage, perhaps we should let small businesses decide; a Bush-appointed federal judge in California has declared that the death penalty in that state is unconstitutional; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. A little more than fifty years ago, over a quarter of workers belonged to some type of union. Today, fewer than 12 percent of all workers belong to a labor group, and they’re under attack by corporations and their lackeys in state and federal government. A half century ago, union membership put power in the hands of employees, and led to some of the highest wages and employee protections in our history. However, thirty years of deregulation, outsourcing, and an overall war on workers cut the percentage of unionized workers by more than half. Thankfully, today’s labor groups aren’t giving up without a fight. They’re using some new tactics to demonstrate the importance of union membership, help other workers form unions, and plan ahead for the future. Recently, the Think Progress Blog spoke to labor activists around the country about some of the new ways they’re fighting for workers. Unions like the SEIU 503 in Oregon are using so-called “Shop Mobs” to show up in huge crowds to support employee-owned businesses. Other groups, like two trade unions in New York state, are forming coalitions to “pool resources and bring people together to fight.” The painters and allied trades union in St. Louis, Missouri is getting in touch with the community and offering apprenticeship programs to local residents, and the IBEW is training younger members how to be the next generation of union leaders. These groups are determined to ensure that workers of the future have the same rights and benefits that workers of the past fought hard to make possible. The anti-union lawmakers may have won a few battles, but labor groups won’t give up until they declare victory in the war on workers.

Since Congress can’t agree to increase the minimum wage, perhaps we should let small businesses decide. The American Sustainable Business Council conducted a poll of businesses with fewer than 100 employees, and 61 percent of owners support higher pay for workers. Out of the 555 business owners surveyed, the majority agree that the federal minimum wage should be raised to $10.10 an hour. In fact, the largest share of business owners surveyed were self-identified Republicans, and even they recognized that higher wages would increase consumer demand. More than half of these employers also agreed that higher pay would lower employee turnover, increase productivity, and improve customer satisfaction. Republicans will say that there’s nothing stopping these companies from raising wages on their own, but that would put them at a disadvantage to their competitors. By raising the federal minimum wage, Congress could ensure that these small businesses are on equal footing, and help lift millions of Americans out of poverty. It seems like everyone can see that raising wages is common sense, except the very people who we need to make it happen.

A Bush-appointed federal judge in California has declared that the death penalty in that state is unconstitutional. Last week, Judge Cormac Carney ruled that the dysfunctional system used in California violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Judge Carney explained that California’s system does not apply the law equally, and that a death sentence in that state is actually “a sentence of life imprisonment with the remote possibility of death.” He concluded by saying that allowing an individual to be killed by such an unpredictable system “would offend the most fundamental of constitutional protections – that the government shall not be permitted to arbitrarily inflict the unjust punishment of death.” Although this ruling didn’t classify all capital punishment as cruel and unusual, it is another step towards putting an end to this barbaric practice in every state once and for all.

Technically, it is not a crime to be poor in this nation, but it sure may feel like that for the homeless. According to a new study from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, in more than half of the cities in the US, it is illegal for someone to sit or lay down on a side walk. You don’t have to be living on the street to know how and when such laws are enforced. Other cities use laws prohibiting camping or sleeping in public to keep homeless people off of their streets. This new report studied nearly 200 cities, and found an increase of anti-homeless laws since it’s last 2009 study. Three decades of Reaganomics, deregulation and NAFTA from Clinton, and two illegal wars and an economic collapse from Bush have all come together to form a perfect recipe to leave more and more Americans on the street. Rather than offering a hand up, lawmakers treat social programs like a hand out, and they use laws like these to hide the end results of their policies. It shouldn’t be a crime to find yourself without a roof overhead, and it’s time these cities changed these shameful laws.

And finally… The state of Illinois standing up for students. A pair of companies in that state targeted student loan borrowers in a scam promising help with college debt. Rather than providing any help with loans, the companies ripped students off for a few hundred bucks, and left them worse off financially than they were to begin with. So, the state of Illinois has filed a lawsuit against these companies for fraud, and they may not be the last state to do so. The Consumer Financial Protection Agency has issued warnings about these debt relief scams, and other states are looking in to them. These companies often pretend to be affiliated with the government, and they trick indebted students into shelling out hundreds of dollars. One company made up a completely fake program called the Obama Forgiveness Program, and other companies just offered services that borrows were entitled to for free from the federal government. It’s bad enough that students are stuck with mountains of debt, but it’s even worse that companies would use it as an opportunity to make a buck. Illinois is putting a stop to it, and hopefully more states will do the same.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of July 22, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

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