On the News With Thom Hartmann: Senate GOP Blocks Legislation on Gender Pay Gap, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Senate Republicans block legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap; voters in Sweden say “no” to austerity; our government may have bailed out Wall Street, but Rolling Jubilee is bailing out students; and more.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

You need to know this. Just in time for election season, last week Senate Republicans blocked legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap. For the third time since 2012, Republicans refused to allow debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, and reminded women that the GOP doesn’t believe in equal pay for equal work. Even in 2014, women still earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts, and there are substantial legal hurdles that prevent women from suing employers for pay discrimination. Senate Democrats introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act years ago, to provide training for salary negotiations, and prevent employers from retaliating against workers who fight for equal pay. Republicans in the upper chamber claim that the legislation would mean more lawsuits, and say that Democrats should be focused on other matters. Senator John McCain said, “Here we have an international crisis, with the defense authorization bill out there, and we refuse to take [that] up.” However, many Americans would argue that the Senator from Arizona has his priorities backwards. Just like unemployment, student debt relief, and immigration reform, Republicans continue to block the Paycheck Fairness Act but have no problem voting to fund another war. Americans want Congress to get to work on jobs and infrastructure and equal pay for equal work, but those on the Right refuse to pass anything that could be viewed as a win for the President. Come this November, it’s time to remind Congress that they work for us. Let’s say enough with the obstruction, and elect new lawmakers who are actually listening to We The People.

When the local couple who owned three retail businesses in Deer Island, Maine started to think about selling, their employees came up with a plan. More than 60 workers got together and bought the couple’s three stores – The Gallery, V&S Variety and Pharmacy, and the Burnt Cove Market – and created the largest worker cooperative in the state of Maine. The employees in all three businesses banded together and formed the Island Employee Cooperative, and kept dozens of good paying jobs in their community. In addition to becoming their own boss, these workers also provided a successful model that could be duplicated by workers around the country. It took over a year to form the Island Employee Co-op, but these retail workers fought hard to accomplish their goal. Thanks to that hard work, they will be able to shape their own futures, and they won’t have to worry about outsourcing or corporate takeover. Employee-owned cooperatives give power to workers, and hopefully we will see many more co-ops in our future.

Voters in Sweden have said “no” to austerity. Last week, Swedish voters kicked out their pro-austerity lawmakers, and voted the Social Democrat Party in to power. Along with the Green Party and the Left Party, the center-left groups won 43.7 percent of the vote, and 159 seats in Parliament. That vote forced Prime Minister Fredrick Reinfeldt to resign, and to take his “tax-cuts-for-the-rich” and privatization policies with him. Their new leader Stefan Lofven is a former welder and union organizer, and he has promised to reverse Reinfeldt’s austerity policies. During his victory speech, Lofven said, “The Swedish people have turned their backs against tax cuts and privatizations. The Swedish people demanded change.” The austerity policies of the ousted prime minister have resulted in rising unemployment, increased privatization, and complaints about failing public services. In response to those failures, the Swedish voters changed course and elected a government that recognizes that they can’t cut their way to prosperity. Hopefully, voters in our country will do the same.

Leave it to Walmart to find a new way to screw workers. Recently, the company announced a new dress code, which will require employees to buy blue collared shirts. According to federal labor law, workers can’t be forced to buy new uniforms if paying for them drops wages below the federal minimum hourly wage. However, Walmart is getting around that regulation by insisting the new, required shirts aren’t uniforms – they’re part of a “dress code.” Because the new shirts do not feature a company logo, employees could theoretically wear them outside of work, so Walmart gets to skip out on the bill for their new policy. Considering that many workers at the low-cost retailer make close to minimum wage, it’s simply immoral to make them cover the cost of these new uniforms. Richard Reynoso, a Walmart employee and member of the OUR Walmart campaign, said, “The sad truth is that I do not have $50 laying around the house to spend on new uniform clothes just because Walmart suddenly decided to change its policy.” If Walmart demands that workers wear these specific shirts, the company should be paying for them – and they should be paying a living wage as well.

And finally… Our government may have bailed out Wall Street, but Rolling Jubilee is bailing out students. Last week, on the third anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the Strike Debt group announced that they have abolished nearly four million dollars of student debt. Because the federal government owns the majority of student loans, Rolling Jubilee could only purchase and eliminate private loan debt. However, the group continues to call on the Department of Education to reform student loans and help struggling debtors. Ann Larson, a member of Strike Debt, said, “Being forced into debt for basic social services is a systemic problem, and the only solution is to respond collectively to create a new, equitable economy.” In addition to paying off loans for nearly 3,000 people, Rolling Jubilee also announced the launch of The Debt Collective, a new platform for advocacy, organization, and debt resistance. A Debt Collective organizer explained the platform, saying “The Debt Collective will challenge the 1% creditor class by empowering members to renegotiate, resist, and refuse unfair debts while advocating for real solutions including free education and universal health care.” No one should be forced to destroy their credit to escape predatory loans and debts, and no one should have to be a life-long slave to their education loans. It’s time we demand a national debt jubilee, and Strike Debt is getting that process rolling.

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