Obama Administration Defends Amazon’s Low Pay – Again

Oct 9, 2014Richard Kirsch

It's hard for workers to trust the President's support for policies that help them when the administration sides with Amazon at the Supreme Court.

Amazon’s business model is based on quick easy buying and low prices. One way it does that is to force its warehouse workers to wait a long time to leave work, without getting paid. And that’s just fine with the Obama administration, which continues to have a blind spot when it comes to decent pay and working conditions at Amazon.

It's hard for workers to trust the President's support for policies that help them when the administration sides with Amazon at the Supreme Court.

Amazon’s business model is based on quick easy buying and low prices. One way it does that is to force its warehouse workers to wait a long time to leave work, without getting paid. And that’s just fine with the Obama administration, which continues to have a blind spot when it comes to decent pay and working conditions at Amazon.

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard a case (Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk) in which workers are suing the temp firm that staff’s Amazon warehouses. The workers are in court because they don’t get paid for the time they are forced to stand on line for a security check when they leave work to be sure they haven’t stolen anything. The security screening itself reveals the poor working conditions and lack of respect that Amazon has for its workers. Workers who are well paid and have job security will not take the risk of stealing. The lack of pay adds costly insult to their injury.

The legal issues revolve around whether the security screenings, which can take 20 minutes or more, are “integral and indispensable” to the job, which would trigger pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Amazon certainly thinks so; the screenings aren’t optional. Still the firm, which pays warehouse workers around $11 or $12 an hour, cheaps out by denying the workers pay when they are waiting on line to leave.

As Jesse Busk, the lead plaintiff in the case, told The Huffington Post, "You're just standing there, and everyone wants to get home. It was not comfortable. There could be hundreds of people waiting at the end of the shift."

While President Obama has made numerous passionate speeches about giving Americans a raise, his administration is taking Amazon’s side at the Supreme Court, filing an amicus brief, alongside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing new about this from the administration. Last August, as I wrote at the time, “President Obama gave a great speech on why good jobs are the foundation for his middle-out economic strategy... from a huge Amazon warehouse where the workers do not have good jobs.”

The President told the Amazon warehouse workers who were in the audience, “we should be doing everything we can as a country to create more good jobs that pay good wages.”

Everything, it turns out, except being sure they get paid for all the time they are required to be at work.

The Obama administration may wonder why the President does not get more credit for the economic progress the nation has made coming out of the Great Recession or more recognition for his calls for raising the minimum wage. The core reason is that for too many Americans too low wages, too few hours at work, and job insecurity or no job at all remain their reality.

The President’s defense of Amazon reveals another reason. Americans see that he is unwilling to take on the powerful forces that are driving down the living standards and hopes of American workers. They see his embrace of Amazon and Wal-Mart, where he gave a speech on energy earlier this year. And too many come to the conclusion that it is only campaign contributors that matter, despairing of finding leaders who understand what really is going on in their lives – and who are willing to take their side against the powerful.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - October 6: Despite New Rules, Corporations Still Seek Tax Loopholes

Oct 6, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Are Obama's New Corporate Tax Rules Working? (Melissa Harris-Perry)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Are Obama's New Corporate Tax Rules Working? (Melissa Harris-Perry)

As guest host, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren moderates a discussion of corporations' attempts to dodge paying taxes through loopholes like inversion.

Unemployment is Finally Under 6 Percent, But Don’t Expect a Raise Anytime Soon (WaPo)

Matt O'Brien says that while the September jobs report was solid, continued "shadow unemployment" and low wage growth will keep the Fed from increasing interest rates just yet.

Facebook’s Bus Drivers Seek Union (NYT)

The drivers who shuttle Facebook employees to their Silicon Valley offices, unhappy with their low pay and difficult split shift schedule, are seeking to unionize through the Teamsters, writes Steven Greenhouse.

The U.S. Has a Jobs Crisis. Here's How to Fix It (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore speaks to four experts – two politicians and two economists – about the best ways to solve the jobs crisis. Common themes include immigration reform and a minimum wage hike.

Huh? Walmart Foundation Battles Hunger As Walmart Workers Turn to Food Stamps (Inside Philanthropy)

David Callahan critiques Walmart for its big charitable push to solve hunger when it has been widely documented that its own workers are relying on the social safety net to eat.

U.S. Restaurant Patrons Support Minimum Wage Hike (Reuters)

Lisa Baertlein contrasts the restaurant industry's lobbying against raising the minimum wage with a new survey that shows broad support for a higher wage among its customers.

New on Next New Deal

A Crisis Turned Catastrophe in Texas

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn explains how the latest court decision on Texas's anti-abortion laws will bring Texas women's access to reproductive health care to the brink of disaster.

The Big Mistake in President Obama’s Economic Pivot: Overlooking the Grassroots

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Director Joelle Gamble says the President would be better served by focusing on local rather than federal initiatives to improve the economy.

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Daily Digest - October 3: Will the Senate Deny Minimum Wage to Home Care Workers?

Oct 3, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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GOP Senators: Don’t Raise Home Care Worker Wages (The Hill)

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GOP Senators: Don’t Raise Home Care Worker Wages (The Hill)

Ramsey Cox reports that this group of Senators claims giving home care workers minimum wage is unaffordable because of increased costs for Medicaid.

S.F., Oakland at Forefront of U.S. Minimum Wage Movement (SF Chronicle)

A proposition on the ballot this November will raise San Francisco's minimum wage to $15 an hour by July 2018, and it's expected to pass by wide margins, writes John Coté.

Americans Have No Idea How the Government Spends Money (WaPo)

Christopher Ingraham reports on a quiz given by the Pew Research Center. The results show that a third of Americans incorrectly think the government spends more on foreign aid than Social Security.

What to Watch on Jobs Day: Nominal Wages, Teacher Gap, and Upward Revisions (Working Economics)

Elise Gould explains why these three data points will be her focus in analyzing the jobs report, and says this month is a good time to look at the teacher gap to see whether public education jobs have bounced back.

People Who Warned the Fed Are Very Smart and Very Wrong (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Peter Coy looks back at a 2010 letter from a group of economists to the Federal Reserve, which warned against quantitative easing. He shares some of the writers' explanations for their incorrect predictions.

Poverty Isn't Just About Not Having Much; It's About Never Knowing How Much You're Going to Have (Vox)

Danielle Kurtzleben looks at data on the vast swings in monthly income that low-to-moderate-income households experience, which make it nearly impossible to plan ahead.

Chart: The Typical White Family Is 20 Times Wealthier Than the Typical Black Family (Mother Jones)

Dave Gilson explains that while the income gap between white and Black households is significant, the wealth gap is even greater – and it's the wealth gap that sustains generational inequality.

 

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Daily Digest - October 2: Democracy Has Become a Luxury Purchase

Oct 2, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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This Edition: K. Sabeel Rahman, Four Freedoms Center (Eldridge & Co.)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

This Edition: K. Sabeel Rahman, Four Freedoms Center (Eldridge & Co.)

Ronnie Eldridge speaks with Roosevelt Institute Fellow Sabeel Rahman about why democracy isn't working right now. He says public policy is mostly responding to the needs of the wealthy.

Not Enough Taxation and Too Much Representation (AJAM)

Amy B. Dean says the trend of companies moving abroad is just the latest strategy in tax avoidance. She argues that as companies further disconnect from American life, their influence on politics should be limited.

  • Roosevelt Take: On Next City, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Director Joelle Gamble argued for a stakeholder model of corporate governance to force companies to pay more attention to local communities.

“Payment on an Unpaid Basis” (The Baffler)

Charles Davis looks at the entertainment industry's reliance on unpaid work. Many companies he called for comment responded by taking down unpaid listings, but that's not an efficient way to fight back.

Lies, Fear and Tragedy: Maria Fernandes and the Crisis of Part-Time Work (The Guardian)

The death of Maria Fernandes, a part-time employee at three different Dunkin' Donuts stores, highlights the crisis created by low-paying employers, writes Jana Kasperkevic.

Loan Fraud Inquiry Said to Focus on Used-Car Dealers (NYT)

Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery report on new investigations into fraudulent subprime auto loans. The loans are smaller, but could create the same problems as mortgages in 2008.

Make No Mistake: Eric Holder Chose Not to Jail the Bankers (Medium)

The Department of Justice had the power to send bank executives to jail, writes Alexis Goldstein, but chose a more passive approach instead of pushing through real change in the industry.

Voter Suppression: How Bad? (Pretty Bad) (TAP)

Wendy R. Weiser highlights the variety of new voting laws which will serve to suppress the vote in 2014, pointing at North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin as the most important states to watch.

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Daily Digest - September 22: Minimum Wage Boost Would Trickle Up for All

Sep 22, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Pay Pressure (Financial Times)

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Pay Pressure (Financial Times)

In a survey of economists about how to jump-start wage growth, Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz calls for fiscal stimulus, a minimum wage increase, and tax incentives for labor-intensive investment.

Holder Launches Historic Study on Police Bias (Melissa Harris-Perry)

As Saturday's guest host, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren speaks with the Director of the Center for Policing Equity about the significance of the Attorney General's new plan to reduce bias.

Paul Ryan May Have Found a Trick to Make His Tax Plan Add Up (TNR)

Danny Vinik explains how dynamic scoring will allow Rep. Ryan to claim that his tax reform plan is mathematically possible while remaining revenue-neutral.

Climate Change is War – and Wall Street is Winning (AJAM)

Nathan Schneider writes that corporate influence has been too strong in international discussions of how to fight climate change, and argues that our economic system must shift to save the planet.

Is Obama Going Easy On Banks That Break the Law? (In These Times)

David Sirota looks at the reduction of sanctions on Credit Suisse, and says that this action by the administion suggests that some financial institutions are being treated as above the law.

Why Poor Students Struggle (NYT)

For lower-income college students at elite universities, the academics aren't a problem, writes Vicki Madden, but the social differences between classes make life on campus difficult.

New on Next New Deal

Ken Burns’s New Documentary Reveals the Human Side of the Roosevelts – And Our Deep Connection To Their Legacy

Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong praises The Roosevelts for depicting these giants of progressive policy with a humanity that helps us understand why they pushed for change.

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Daily Digest - September 19: This Bus Doesn't Stop for Big Money

Sep 19, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Catholic Nuns Take On Dark Money In Politics With Nationwide Bus Tour (ThinkProgress)

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Catholic Nuns Take On Dark Money In Politics With Nationwide Bus Tour (ThinkProgress)

Sister Simone Campbell, the 2013 FDR Four Freedoms Awards laureate for Freedom of Worship, is leading a new Nuns on the Bus tour, this time focused on disenfranchised voters, writes Jack Jenkins.

Tenants Facing Eviction in Era of Skyrocketing Rents Need Legal Assistance (TAP)

Martha Bergmark emphasizes the need to support legal aid programs, noting that legal representation doubles tenants' chances of staying in their homes when fighting eviction.

Workers Deserve to Benefit from Their Productivity, Too (WaPo)

Harold Meyerson says newly proposed legislation from Rep. Chris Van Hollen that ties the performance pay tax deduction to workers' wage increases is necessary to ensure a fair deal for workers.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Holmberg and Campus Network alumna Lydia Austin look at the broader problems with the performance pay provision in the tax code.

Does Silicon Valley Have a Contract-Worker Problem? (NY Mag)

Kevin Roose dives deep into the so-called "1099 Economy," in which start-ups have independent contractors galore, many of whom may legally qualify as employees.

Demonizing the Minimum Wage (New Yorker)

William Finnegan looks at the range of statements against raising the minimum wage, which consistently misrepresent minimum wage workers. They aren't just teenagers with after-school jobs.

New Republican Bill Would Paralyze National Labor Relations Board (In These Times)

Bruce Vail explains why and how the Republicans are aiming to gridlock the National Labor Relations Board, a goal that he says is primarily based in anti-union, anti-worker bias.

Tax Cuts Can Do More Harm Than Good (AJAM)

David Cay Johnston looks at a new report on tax cuts, which shows that short-term economic growth aside, badly structured tax cuts just push costs to the future and can incentivize bad investments.

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Daily Digest - September 17: Who's Taking Part in Our Unequal Democracy?

Sep 17, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Fighting Inequality in the New Gilded Age (Boston Review)

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Fighting Inequality in the New Gilded Age (Boston Review)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Sabeel Rahman reviews three new books that ask who is engaging in democracy and how they are doing so in light of today's economic inequality.

Home Free? (New Yorker)

James Surowiecki looks at Utah's Housing First and Rapid Rehousing programs as examples of a better approach to solving social problems: investing in prevention.

At the Uber for Home Cleaning, Workers Pay a Price for Convenience (WaPo)

Lydia DePillis compares HomeJoy, an app-based cleaning service, to traditional services that count workers as employees, complete with worker's compensation for a job that involves harsh chemicals.

Do State Retirement Pensions Belong with Wall Street Hedge Funds? (The Guardian)

Suzanne McGee looks to current arguments in Rhode Island to explain why the high risks and high fees associated with hedge funds make some pension managers think twice.

‘A National Admissions Office’ for Low-Income Strivers (NYT)

David Leonhardt says Questbridge, a non-profit connecting low-income students to full-ride scholarships at top universities, has an innovative approach that is shifting the admissions process.

Americans' Stagnant Incomes, in Two Depressing Charts (Vox)

Danielle Kurtzleben looks at new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which confirms that U.S. household income remains stagnant and income inequality hasn't shifted either.

New on Next New Deal

Wall Street Swindled Local Governments, Too. Here’s How They Can Get Their Money Back.

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti explains how Wall Street harmed municipalities with risky interest rate swap deals, and argues that those deals may have been illegal and should be fought in court.

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Daily Digest - September 11: Funding Universal Preschool Means Taking Banks to Task

Sep 11, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Bright Future Chicago Pushes for Universal Preschool (Chicago Tonight)

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Bright Future Chicago Pushes for Universal Preschool (Chicago Tonight)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti explains one way that universal preschool could be funded: Chicago could pursue legal claims against banks for bad interest rate swap deals.

Jerry Brown Signs Bill Requiring Employers to Give Paid Sick Leave (The Sacramento Bee)

California is the second state to enact state-wide paid sick leave, but David Siders reports that labor groups aren't in full support of the new law because it excludes home health care workers.

Asset Limits Are a Barrier to Economic Security and Mobility (CAP)

Rebecca Vallas and Joe Valenti explain how asset limits on social safety net programs prevent low-income families from building necessary economic stability, and lay out a plan for reform.

The Federal Reserve's Too Cozy Relations With Banks (WSJ)

Stephen Haber and Ross Levine suggest ways to limit banks' influence with the Federal Reserve, including requiring ex-Fed officials to agree to a waiting period before taking jobs in financial services.

Student Debt Collections Are Leaving the Elderly in Poverty (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Federal student debt among the elderly has increased sixfold since 2005, and a law meant to keep garnishments from putting retirees in poverty is in dire need of an update, reports Natalie Kitroeff.

Who Needs a Smoke-Filled Room? (NYT)

Thomas Edsall lays out an example of the complicated structures that allow tax-exempt "social welfare" organizations to spend millions of dollars on political campaigns with little accountability.

These Charts Are Good News if Your Employer Pays for Health Insurance (TNR)

Jonathan Cohn says that the slowed premium increases for employer-sponsored insurance this year are another sign that the Affordable Care Act is keeping health care costs down.

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Daily Digest - September 5: What Can Obama Learn from the Roosevelts?

Sep 5, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Roosevelts to the Rescue (NYT)

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Roosevelts to the Rescue (NYT)

In light of Ken Burns' upcoming documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, Timothy Egan considers what President Obama could learn from the Roosevelts' lives and political challenges.

Cities Will Lead the Nation’s Technological Advances (FedScoop)

John Breeden II speaks with Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford about her new book, The Responsive City, co-authored with Stephen Goldsmith.

Fast Food Strikes Hit 150 US Cities (MSNBC)

The strikes expanded to include acts of civil disobedience, such as sit-ins outside restaurants, that led to arrests in five cities across the country, report Ned Resnikoff and Michele Richinick.

Economic Inequality Continued To Rise In The U.S. After The Great Recession (FiveThirtyEight)

Ben Casselman and Andrew Flowers present their initial takeaways from the Federal Reserve's triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, which confirms that the recovery was only for the wealthy.

Do Fast-Food Strikes Actually Work? (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore says that the labor movement is seeing greater support as fast food strikes grow and incorporate other low-wage workers seeking a living wage and a union.

What to Watch on Jobs Day: It’s No Longer a Jobless Recovery but It’s Undoubtedly a Wage-Growth-Less Recovery (Working Economics)

Josh Bivens and Elise Gould explain why wage growth has been so very slow in the recovery, and how lack of wage growth impacts other aspects of economic growth.

New on Next New Deal

Taxes Are Never Just a Class Issue

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Director Joelle Gamble argues that tax reform isn't the end-all solution to economic inequality, because it can't fix racial inequality.

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Daily Digest - September 4: On Corporate Boards, Local Stakeholders Protect Local Interests

Sep 4, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Fighting Corporate Inversion at the City Level (Next City)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Fighting Corporate Inversion at the City Level (Next City)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Director Joelle Gamble argues for linking tax exemptions to local stakeholder governance on corporate boards to increase corporations' ties to their communities.

Guards Need Job Security of Their Own, Say Apple Store Protesters (In These Times)

Julia Carrie Wong reports on a union protest last week that aimed to garner public attention around Apple's use of subcontracted security guards who receive low wages and few, if any, benefits.

The Education Department’s Problematic Billion-Dollar Partnership With Debt Collection Agencies (Buzzfeed)

The structure of the Education Department's contracts with debt collectors encourages abuse by paying less for services like income-based repayment plans, writes Molly Hensley-Clancy.

The Huge, Regressive Tax Break Right Under Your Roof (TNR)

Danny Vinik looks at a new study on the costs of homeowner tax deductions, which he says subsidize bigger houses and more debt instead of encouraging lower- and middle-income home ownership.

Three Ways That Politicians are Storing Up Disaster for Pensioners (AJAM)

David Cay Johnston explains smoothing, spiking, and starving, three strategies that ensure pensions will be underfunded and create disaster for retirees and taxpayers alike.

The Class War in American Politics is Over. The Rich Won. (Vox)

Nick Carnes, using examples from his book White Collar Government, explains how the wealthiest Americans' control of the political system impacts policy outcomes.

Unemployment Trickles Down to Poorer Workers, Study Finds (WSJ)

When higher-skilled workers take low-skill jobs, the trickle-down effects exasperate inequality, reports Pedro da Costa, according to new research from economists in Barcelona.

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