On the News With Thom Hartmann: Union Membership Is Declining, and More

In today’s On the News segment: As union membership has taken a tumble in the US, the richest Americans are getting richer; Chinese chicken is being labeled as a “Product of America”; the middle class is shrinking across US as incomes fall; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartman here — on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this: According to the Economic Policy Institue, as union membership has taken a tumble, the top 10 percent have been getting more wealthy. Union membership fell to 11.1 percent in 2014, where it remained in 2015. The share of income going to the top 10 percent, meanwhile, hit 47.2 percent in 2014 — only slightly lower than 47.8 percent in 2012, the highest it has been since 1917 (the earliest year data are available). When union membership was at its peak (33.4 percent in 1945) the share of income going to the top 10 percent was only 32.6 percent. To boost wages for working people, policy makers need to intentionally tilt power back to working people by strengthening their rights to stand together and negotiate collectively for better wages and benefits, raising and improving labor standards and achieving persistent low unemployment.

Raising the DC minimum wage to $15 by 2020 would lift wages for 114,000 working people. A proposed ballot initiative would gradually raise Washington, DC’s minimum wage to $15 by mid-2020. It would also help tipped workers, such as waiters and bartenders, eventually get paid the full minimum wage, instead of the $2.77 sub-minimum wage. This proposal would raise wages for 114,000 working people — about 14 percent of all DC workers, and over one-fifth of DC private sector workers. Once the minimum wage reaches $15, the average affected worker would earn roughly $2,900 more each year than he or she does now. This is not the stereotype of low-wage workers being teenagers working to earn spending money. The ones who would benefit are overwhelmingly adult workers, and are supporting families of their own.

Paola Casale is reporting at EconomyInCrisis.org that Chinese chicken is being labeled as “Product of America.” Back in 2014, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved US-born and raised chicken to be sent to China for processing before being shipped back to the states for our consumption. Is there any up side? Apparently not; China is notorious for food safety standards. Essentially, they don’t have any! Not to mention the fact that this is costing the US jobs. These processing factories could be opened up here in America. They could offer thousands of jobs to the hundreds of thousands that are unemployed. They could provide jobs and money to those who are stuck and buried in a hole with debt. Then, to add fuel to the fire, the USDA does not even plan to require its own regulators to supervise the Chinese processors on the premises! Contact your congressional representative and urge them to stand against this latest agreement between the USDA and China.

The middle class is shrinking in Colorado and across US as incomes fall. Middle-income households in metro Denver shrank from 58 percent of the population in 2000 to 53 percent in 2014, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. That shrinkage didn’t come primarily from households moving into higher income brackets, but rather from more households moving into lower-income ones. “We still have a lot of people who are middle income. But I can understand the reason for concern,” said Gary Horvath, a Broomfield economist. “The recovery, in terms of income, hasn’t been strong.” Metro Denver’s share of upper-income households increased 1 percentage point to 25 percent, while lower-income households rose 4 percentage points to 22 percent, according to Pew. The trend toward a smaller middle class is a national one and has been underway for four decades, but sluggish economic growth has exacerbated it.

There is a wave of industrial labor unrest hitting France. This is what’s being disputed in French labor reform bill:
— The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours;
— Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay;
— The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn;
— Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated;

Officials say 153,000 people protested across France, but union leaders put the number at nearly twice that.

And finally, here’s a few economic quickies:
— In an editorial published Saturday, the Financial Times urged the oil industry to “face a future of slow and steady decline.” The editorial board wrote, “Instead of railing against climate policies, or paying them lip-service while quietly defying them with investment decisions, the oil companies will serve their investors and society better if they accept the limits they face, and embrace a future of long-term decline.”
— In a major victory for American workers, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Thursday that health care software company Epic Systems in Wisconsin could not require mandatory arbitration agreements where workers are forced to waive their rights to collective and class actions.
— Verizon workers settle strike with a tentative agreement. There were YUGE gains for the nearly 40,000 Verizon workers who have been on strike since April 13.
— Health insurance companies are proposing large premium increases this coming year in several states for insurance sold through exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare may increase on average 16 percent. Humana in Georgia is asking for huge hikes averaging over 65 percent.

And that’s the way it is for the week of May 31, 2016 on Labor and Economic News.