Even as the White House and Congress are up to their ears in scandal, they are still waging economic war on the poor and middle class of America and shamefully using the hurricane tragedies as their excuse. Corporate America is doing its part, too, to erode low-income workers’ benefits.
Let’s start with Wal-Mart. In an internal memo anonymously leaked to Wal*MartWatch, a not-profit group associated with labor unions, the retailer’s executive vice president for benefits, M. Susan Chambers, recommended that the company hire more part-time workers (so as not to pay them benefits) and discourage unhealthy job applicants by arranging to have every position include some physical labor – a move that would, of course, affect older workers more than younger ones.
And although she stopped short of advocating the dismissal of long-term workers, Ms. Chambers also noted that those who stay on the job over time cost the company more in wages – and wait until you hear her rationale for why this is not good for workers:
“…because we pay an associate more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases, we are pricing that associate out of the labor market.”
- - The New York Times, 26 October 2005
So is the new idea of corporate America that whatever salary a worker is hired at is their salary for their entire tenure at the company? Keep in mind that so goes Wal-Mart, so goes the American workforce.
Health coverage changes Ms. Chambers advocates for full-time Wal-Mart employees would require $2,500 a year in out-of-pocket expenses in a company where the average worker earns $17,500. The poverty line for a family of three is currently at $16,030.
Only 45 percent of Wal-Mart employees are covered for health insurance and five percent are on Medicaid – these are people with full-time jobs. It was never a good idea for the United States to tie health insurance to employment, but it’s the only (failing) system we’ve got right now and until corporations with the lobbying clout of Wal-Mart convince the federal government that we must have a national health care plan, they should be held to their responsibilities to their employees.
The Federal Government
On the federal front, the Senate on Wednesday voted down an amendment that would have authorized $3.1 billion in emergency funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP]. As one of the amendment’s sponsors, Senator Susan Collins (Rep. ME) said that people may well now have to
“…choose between keeping the heat on, putting food on the table or buying much-needed prescription drugs. No family should need to make such terrible choices.”
- - The Washington Post, 27 October 2005 [no link]
In addition, the Senate Budget Committee approved a package of spending cuts that will go to the floor for a vote next week. Among the cuts are a $10 billion reduction in Medicare and Medicaid while approving – are you ready? – a plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.
And the House Agriculture Committee’s has a plan to reduce food stamp spending by more than $1 billion while also pushing their own plan for drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
Who goes hungry and who goes without medical care with these plans? It won’t be senators and congress people. Senator Kent Conrad (Dem. N.D.), who is a member of the Budget Committee, may have been too low key for my taste, but at least he spoke up:
“I have never felt that a budget going through the Congress of the United States is more disconnected from reality than this budget.”
- - The New York Times, 27 October 2005
Doesn’t anyone in that town have the guts to rescind those tax cuts to corporations and the rich?
A Tiny Bit of Good News
The one and only one piece of good news for ordinary folks is that due to heavy pressure from around the country, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced Wednesday that the Davis-Bacon Act will be reinstated for the Gulf Coast as of 8 November. In the week following Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration suspended the Act which requires federal contractors to pay workers the local prevailing wage. AFL-CIO president, John J. Sweeney, stated well the case for reinstatement when he said that it was
“…fundamentally wrong for the Bush administration to hit workers when they were down by slashing wages, exacerbating the very poverty that the hurricanes exposed.”
- - The New York Times, 27 October 2005
Hear! Hear! Now if some people of equal power and persuasion would please stand up to the administration on their unconscionable tax cuts to the rich, and to corporate America for their rape of the working man and woman…