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On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Importance of Labor Unions and Meaning Behind Labor Day, and More

Celebrating Labor Day should mean commemorating the key role unions played in winning benefits we take for granted now; and more.

In today’s On the News segment: Celebrating Labor Day should mean commemorating the key role unions played in winning benefits we take for granted now; women still earn just cents on the dollar compared to the income of their male counterparts; young people are not the only ones burdened by student loans; and more.


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

You need to know this. The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882, and it became a federal holiday twelve years later. The day was originally proposed as a “workingman’s holiday,” and as a celebration of the many ways that trade and labor unions contribute to our nation. Today, more than 100 years later, millions of Americans enjoy their day off, but far too few of them appreciate the meaning behind the holiday. Without unions, people wouldn’t be sitting around barbeques on the first Monday in September. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits we enjoy because of the labor movement. Unions fought for the rights and protections that we often take for granted today, like the five-day workweek, paid overtime, pensions, worker’s compensation, and the list goes on. In addition to workplace protections, labor groups played an important role in the fight for civil rights, for equal pay for women, and for public education for our children. In 1953, at the height of union membership, 28.3 percent of Americans belonged to a labor organization. By 2013, only 11.3 percent of Americans were union members, and most of those workers were employed in the public sector. Despite all that we owe the men and women who fought for the right to organize, the war on unions still threatens everything that they worked for. These important rights and protections continue to be undermined and weakened by the corporate elite, and we need to do more to ensure that they’re here to stay. The best way to protect our right to organize is to use it, and ensure that unions – and all the important rights that they fought for – are still around for the workers of the future.

The fight for women’s equality in the workplace has come a long way, but on average, women still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. However, one major retailer has announced that they’re eliminating the gender pay gap between their workers. The clothing chain, The Gap, confirmed this to the Think Progress Blog, and said, “We pay people based on the work they do and the value they bring to our company.” Even their lowest paid American workers earn at least $10 an hour after the company raised wages back in February. In addition to paying women equally, Gap, Inc., also has more women in leadership roles than most other chains in the retail industry. Women make up 70 percent of store managers and almost 50 percent of executive level positions. Women at other top companies in the industry only make up about 30 percent of executives, and 46 percent of store managers. Even in 2014, we are still fighting for women’s equality, and it’s important to recognize the businesses that are helping win that fight.

Young people are not the only ones who are being effected by student loans. According to a new analysis by the Treasury Department, more than 150,000 seniors are losing part of their social security benefits to pay back outstanding college loans. The number of checks being garnished has tripled since 2006, and, on average, seniors are losing $180 dollars from their monthly benefits. Considering that the average Social Security benefit is only about $1200 dollars, these garnishments make it even harder for seniors to get by. Social Security benefits were originally protected from creditors, but that all changed in 1996, when bankruptcy laws were changed to make student loans nearly impossible to discharge. Unlike other debt, there is no statute of limitations on student loans, and almost no way for borrowers to avoid paying – even for low-income seniors. Corporations can easily escape the financial fallout of their bad decisions, but almost no one is able to get student loan relief after trying to work for a better future. It’s time to change these unjust bankruptcy laws and help all students with a debt jubilee and a free college education.

As if there was any doubt, now we know exactly who Mitch McConnell works for. In a recording of his remarks at a recent Koch brother-hosted secret conference, the Senate Minority Leader explained what he’ll focus on if he’s reelected in November. In the tape obtained by The Nation Magazine, McConnell said he’ll make sure that the Senate doesn’t waste time “debating all these gosh darn proposals,” like an increase to the federal minimum wage and extending unemployment insurance. Senator McConnell promised the Koch-brother crowd that he’ll block funding “to do this or do that,” and explained that Republicans will “go after [democrats] on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, [and] across the board.” If you think that Congress couldn’t become more dysfunctional, Mitch McConnell has news for you. This November, his constituents should make it clear that they prefer legislators who will actually work on those “gosh darn proposals” that Americans want enacted.

And finally… Treating employees and customers well pays off for business owners. Artie T, the ousted-CEO of supermarket chain Market Basket, is living proof. After Artie T was pushed out of the company by the board of directors who wanted to maximize shareholder profit, customers and workers began a 41-day boycott and strike calling for his return. That strike, and the media frenzy that followed, allowed Artie T to buy back his company and resume day-to-day operations. Many Market Basket workers have been with the company for over a decade, and they refused to accept a new boss who raised prices, cut wages, and reduced quality. Customers also made it clear that they would shop somewhere else until Artie T’s return. Employees and patrons fought hard for a man who has fought for them for years, and together they have achieved success. Artie T is back in charge as of last week, and the full purchase deal will soon be finalized. Whether it’s standing up to bosses or standing up for them, there is nothing we can’t achieve when we stand together.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of September 1, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

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