Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bruce Popper: "Poverty is not an accident."

Bruce Popper (center) makes the case for promoting living wage jobs by joining the "Fight for Fifteen" campaign at the Labor Day Parade presser on August 29, 2014. photo by Ove Overmyer
Remarks of Bruce Popper
First Vice-president, Rochester and Vicinity Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Rochester Labor Day Parade Press Conference
New York State United Teachers
Rochester, New York
August 29, 2014

“Poverty is not an accident.  Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the action of human beings.”

So said Nelson Mandela.

We stand here today, ready to celebrate the Labor Day weekend, to honor workers, and to recognize the movement that brought a measure of prosperity and a middle class to America.

We stand here today, within the City of Rochester, New York, a city with the 3rd worst poverty rate in America.  As President Mandela said, ‘This poverty is not an accident.’

This poverty is not from a lack of jobs.  It is not for lack of education or a failed school system.  It is not due to some ‘cultural attribute.’  For most poor people work every day.  They work several jobs just to make ends meet.  They juggle family responsibilities with the many hours of toil needed to survive.  They hold low wage jobs.  

The reason for the poverty is a lack of good paying jobs.

The workers have fought back to change their condition.  Literally thousands of low wage workers, over the past decade, have tried to organize and form unions in Monroe County, only to have their aspirations crushed.  A handful of highly paid law firms and consultants, doing the bidding of local employers, have professionally and surgically destroyed the hopes and dreams of these workers.

Whether at the Arc of Monroe, the major health systems, or call centers and retail outlets, this struggle against poverty has gone completely unrecognized by the media and community leaders.

‘Poverty is not an accident.’

We in the union movement need to accept our share of the blame for the failure of these rebellions against poverty.  As our members’ standard of living and very jobs have come under increasing attack, we have retreated to defense.  We have failed to adequately reach out to unorganized workers, community allies, and people of good conscience to build a broader movement for social and economic justice.

We continue to work in a bargaining unit paradigm born in 1935 by pitting small groups of workers against big corporations, and telling them that they can win.  That strategy may have worked a generation or two ago.  It no longer fits our time.

There is a growing awareness of this fact in the labor movement.  There is a growing awareness of the need for a new strategy if we are not all to sink into poverty.

Across the country, a movement called the “Fight for Fifteen” has arisen.  It is the organizing by fast food and other low wage workers around the demand for a living wage of no less than $15. per hour.

The “Fight for Fifteen” campaign has now come to Rochester.  It is being led by Metro-Justice and it is endorsed by the Rochester Labor Council.  It seeks to unite large numbers of workers, not small groups.  It is a strategy whose time has come.

The members of my unions, 1199 and SEIU, have embraced this demand as the theme in their upcoming contract negotiations with the University of Rochester.  No workers fully qualified for a job should be employed in our region’s largest and wealthiest employer and make less than $15. per hour.

We in 1199 SEIU, SEIU 200United, the Rochester Labor Council, and Metro-Justice ask you to join us in supporting the workers’ “Fight for Fifteen” in Rochester.

We know that poverty is not an accident. We intend to remove it by our actions.

ROC Labor Day Presser 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

ROC Labor Day Parade 2014

(Select 1080p HD) August 29, 2014--The Drum Corps Associates joined the local labor community for our annual Labor Day Parade in downtown Rochester, NY. This year's theme was, "Making Rochester Work!" All images and editing by Ove Overmyer, © 2014.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Op-Ed: Part time work and underemployment crippling our economy

Involuntary part time public workers rally outside Monroe County Office Building, Rochester, NY. Photo: Lynn Miller, CSEA © 2010

By Ove Overmyer
President, CSEA City of Rochester Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420
Federal/Local PAL
August 3, 2014

An employer shift to involuntary part time work ultimately benefits no one. Our nation's employers need to re-invest full time in the American worker.

Rochester, NY-- The easiest way to destroy the American Dream for average folks is take away a worker's opportunity of bettering their station in life. This has become the new normal and the common conundrum for every involuntary part time worker in America. I know firsthand-- I am one of them.

And for the record, you can not equate or compare having more than one part time job at a time with a full time career with benefits-- it’s not the same.

When balancing public sector fiscal budgets, federal, state and local municipalities often struggle with all the decisions related to extending the pay and benefits of its public workers who deliver the vital services our communities so desperately need. The effect of the recession that officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 on government budgets increased the interest of policy makers to alter the compensation of all its public sector employees so it could meet the shortfall demand.

When revenues began to shrink in early 2008, so did the backbone of our lawmakers across the country. Rather than find creative solutions to our most difficult challenges, more often partisan bickering and an inability to effectively deal with the people’s business ruled the day.

In 2014, New York State’s inability to offer the City of Rochester the appropriate AIM money is pathetic and wrong on so many levels. More specifically, New York State is mandated to fund New York State libraries according to the NYS constitution, which is linked with census figures and other data. Library funding for New York State should be $102M, but lawmakers continue to ignore constitutional standards by coming up more than $20M short every year for the last decade.

Most informed folks know many of the cost expenditures local municipalities’ face are mandated or out of their control-- inflation being one of them. What elected officials and bureaucrats can control, however, is labor costs and whether or not to offer public workers a living wage, fair pay and benefits in the form of full time employment. These decisions are mostly negotiated through the collective bargaining process-- but workers and the unions who represent them have had little influence over the creation and proliferation of involuntary part time work to offset the revenue losses since the mid 2000’s.

This simple truth is highlighted and no more evident than right here at my own workplace, the Rochester (NY) Public Library. Since 2005, we have seen a huge drop in full time workers. Part time workers outnumber full time workers at eleven branch libraries including Central Library, 345-99. And, I think it’s important we put a human face on these jobs-- the typical profile of the average part time City of Rochester library worker is female, person of color, age 45-54 taking care of a multigenerational family with an income no greater than $14K or $15K annually. We have been doing more with less not only on the job, but at home as well.

Almost 70 percent of these part time library workers I represent revealed in a 2013 negotiations survey that the library work is their only source of income because of factors beyond their control-- the cost of child care being the number one obstacle.

photo: Ove Overmyer, © 2010
While we CSEA part time workers have been able to successfully negotiate a cost of living increase over time with some holiday and paid leave, the collective bargaining agreement only offers health insurance and related premium benefits at 100 percent cost to the worker. It is not cost effective for most part time workers to buy into the health plan the City offers-- they would absolutely be spending their whole paycheck on the premiums. Workers and their families are left to their own device to make ends meet-- more than 65 percent of these workers receive some sort of public assistance in the form of SNAP or Medicaid. Not providing health insurance means that ailing workers often rely on emergency room treatment or Medicaid, treatment scenarios in which the costs are largely covered by the public anyway adding to the taxpayer burden. The advent of the ACA has also proven to be somewhat burdensome to part time workers—many are now spending more out of pocket money on healthcare premiums while other household necessities get the short shrift.

And today, municipal budget directors and bureaucrats think making full time work part time is their quick fix solution-- it may balance the budget this year, but in the bigger picture it does nothing to grow the economy and improve the quality of life for the residents we ultimately serve. This path is not sustainable for the long term-- and we need to fix the problem now. Replacing full time jobs with part time workers is attractive for government entities because they can reduce the amount of employee years to slow the growth of any negotiated benefit, decrease spending on pension contributions and effectively deal with skyrocketing healthcare costs over time. Public employers are simply shifting our societal problems onto other entities-- whether it’s Medicaid, Medicare or benevolent nonprofits like Catholic Charities, Inc. There is a point of diminishing returns when you do not offer public employees a living wage with benefits-- and these decisions will have long lasting ill consequences for our local communities in years to come. To say we cannot simply afford to invest in our public services, which is our workforce, is shortsighted, counterintuitive and extremely unproductive.

Consider the data

According to the latest BLS statistics, June 2014 marked 52 consecutive months of job growth. However, the number of full-time jobs actually fell in June by more than 530,000 compared with May. Total jobs increased only because part time jobs grew by about 800,000.

When you really look at the latest BLS jobs report, the data tells an entirely different story about what has slowed our recovery from the Great Recession back in 2007-09. It’s the trend and rise of public and private sector employers converting full time professional career opportunities to part time or temporary status (with no or limited benefits). Most troubling of all, the number of people who want to work full time but can find only part time work shot up from 4.6 million in 2007 to 7.5 million last month. This involuntary part time employment explains, statistically, the entire increase in part time jobs in the last six-plus years.

According to NYT Pulitzer Prize winning author David Cay Johnston, had we maintained the 2007 ratio of full time to part time jobs today, we would have 2.5 million more full time jobs and 2.5 million fewer part time jobs. He says we would still need another roughly 7 million jobs to fulfill all the demand people have for work. The shift to part time work took place before Obama’s policies had any effect and well before Congress passed the ACA in March 2010.

Income inequality is still growing and average incomes are down for every income class

It might have taken a near-historic recession for many Americans to notice our country's rapidly rising levels of income inequality, but the gap between rich and poor has finally gone mainstream, with bloggers, economists and policymakers of all stripes spouting theories on why we should or shouldn't care.

And while the debate continues over cause and consequence, that central claim has proven unshakable: the void between the wealth of America's richest and poorest is widening, and few signs show any indication of it slowing anytime soon.

Time and time again, leading economic specialists report that America will not survive without a strong middle-class economy. When you strip average folks of their spending power, it leads to strained public services, social unrest, crime, high unemployment and a poor quality of life for the majority of taxpaying citizens. People die-- and families suffer.

In the private sector, the ability to buy goods and services-- what economists call aggregate demand-- is down because average incomes are down.  Tax returns show that average real income declined in 10 of the 12 tax years since 2000. In fact, average income is down for every income class, including the very top, compared with either 2000 or 2007.

Put America back to full time work

The City of Rochester, The County of Monroe (NY), New York State and the federal government have a long-term problem of too few full time and too many part time jobs. According to Johnston, solving that problem is actually simple. All we would need to do is increase aggregate demand like investing immediately in fixing up our crumbling and decaying infrastructure and create living wage careers to get the job done.

Increasing family incomes would certainly increase demand for goods and services, which in turn would alleviate human suffering and boost unemployment levels. Don’t believe the argument that employers are cutting worker hours because of Obamacare-- the facts and data of the matter simply do not support that hypothesis. First, the data show clearly that the rise of part time work, especially forced part time, precedes any impact from the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which, again, did not take effect until this year.

If we want more living wage jobs both now and long-term, lawmakers must hear from the American people. The message must be clear-- invest public dollars in America’s public services for a better future for everyone-- especially in our roads, bridges and other infrastructure, the commonwealth property on which private wealth creation depends. Also, every concerned citizen should be screaming from the rooftops telling lawmakers to stop cutting basic research budgets and start pouring money into laboratory work, where trained workers far outnumber available jobs.

Another solution to some of these social problems would be to establish a fair and more equitable tax system. All reliable data shows that the rich simply do not pay their fair share.


Whether or not you believe systems of government have the ability to improve the lives of an average American, you cannot argue the fact as a citizen and taxpayer, the United States is truly a better place because of the educational advancements, technology, public resources and services we all share. But as we travel down this road together, when we witness high poverty rates, lack of opportunity, hunger and an ever-increasing income inequality quotient it should be seen for what it truly is-- landmines of an ill society. The good news here these conditions are man-made and preventable.

Additionally, I am making this argument because there is also a data-driven academic reason for justifying a move away from private and public sector part time work-- it just makes a tremendous amount of economic and fiscal sense to create spending power for America’s poor and working class and in the long term, taxpayers and our families will eventually benefit from this shift in job status.

Jobs have no justice if employers move full time jobs to involuntary part time work with limited or no benefits. While greed, poverty and suffering proliferates and income inequality grows, the increase of part time, low wage and temporary jobs becoming the “in thing” and permanent full time living wage careers are nowhere to be seen is definitely the wrong course for America.

And, without the political will to empower our own citizenry, it doesn’t look like there’s a surefire route to go from one to the other either-- posing serious risks to our nation’s economic vitality, to creating stronger communities, healthier families, improving worker morale and stimulating corporate growth.

If this action is not remedied in the near future, the vast majority of today’s part time worker families will probably spend their golden years in relatively unstable destitution and fully dependent on social services altogether. It seems to me that if we re-invest and empower the American worker with a living wage today in 2014, it would go a long way to creating a healthier, more productive world class American way of life. And, maybe even some of us can actually achieve the American Dream before we depart this life as we know it.


July 31, 2014

By Tom Raum
May 19, 2014 6:33 AM EDT

July 31, 2014 6:00AM ET
By David Cay Johnston