Author Archive

Report: Walmart State and Local Tax Avoidance Exceeds $400 Million Annually

February 23, 2011

Walmart’s U.S. operations deprive state and local governments of more than $400 million a year through a variety of tax avoidance schemes, according to a report released today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, DC. The report, Shifting the Burden for Vital Public Services, is available at no cost on the Good Jobs First website at www.goodjobsfirst.org.

“Walmart likes to claim that its stores are an economic boon to local communities,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and author of the report. “But the fact is that the company tries hard to reduce the revenue stream going to state and local governments.” Walmart does this, the report notes, through methods such as the following:

  • seeking lucrative property tax abatements, tax increment financing, infrastructure assistance and other forms of economic development subsidies that in recent years have amounted to roughly $70 million annually;
  • using gimmicks such as deducting rent payments made to itself (through a captive real estate investment trust) to avoid an estimated $300 million a year in state corporate income tax payments;
  • using an army of lawyers and consultants to systematically challenge its assessments and chip away at its property tax bills, costing local governments several million dollars a year in lost revenues and legal expenses; and
  • taking advantage – to the tune of about $60 million a year – of those states that fail to cap the “vendor discounts” they provide to large retailers for collecting sales taxes from their customers

“These practices are not illegal,” notes Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy, “but taken together they deprive state and local governments of a sizeable amount of revenue desperately needed for vital public services such as education and public safety.”

Shifting the Burden for Vital Public Services is a synopsis of a series of reports previously issued by Good Jobs First on Walmart’s practices regarding economic development subsidies, property taxes and sales taxes, along with a review of research on the company’s state corporate income tax avoidance. It also contains updated information on those practices.

Report: Privatization of State Economic Development Agencies Can Undermine Integrity and Accountability

January 12, 2011

Transferring state business recruitment functions from government agencies to private entities is not the panacea that its proponents suggest, and the track record of those few states that have taken the step is filled with examples of misuse of taxpayer funds, political interference, questionable subsidy awards, and conflicts of interest, according to a report published today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, DC.

The report, entitled Public-Private Power Grab, is available at www.goodjobsfirst.org.

“Rather than making economic development activities more effective, privatization is often little more than a power grab by governors and politically connected business interests,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of the report.

Interest in economic development privatization has surged recently. It is being promoted by newly elected governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa and Arizona who are urging that state commerce or development agencies be replaced by public-private partnerships (PPPs).

“Turning economic development over to PPPs is fool’s gold,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy. “What really matters is business basics: strategic public investments in skills, infrastructure, and innovation—not privatized smoke-stack chasing.”

Good Jobs First’s review of existing economic development PPPs finds:

  • The idea is far from new but it is not a common or standard practice. Economic development PPPs date back more than 20 years, but only seven states currently allow private entities to control their business recruitment functions: Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.
  • Several other states previously employed PPPs but abandoned them because of performance problems.
  • Most of the seven states that currently make use of economic development PPPs have experienced a variety of performance problems. These include the following:

>Misuse of taxpayer funds (Rhode Island, Florida and Wyoming);

>Excessive executive bonuses (Virginia, Florida, Michigan and Wyoming);

>Questionable subsidy awards by the subset of PPPs that have a role in that process (Michigan and Rhode Island);

>Conflicts of interest in subsidy awards (Florida, Utah and Texas, which makes limited use of PPPs);

>Questionable claims by the PPP about its effectiveness (Wyoming, Florida, Utah and Indiana); and

>Resistance to accountability (Florida and Michigan).

Based on these experiences, the report concludes that the creation of economic development PPPs is not a wise course of action and urges states to focus instead on making their existing agencies more effective and accountable.

In states where a PPP already exists or a new one is being created, the report recommends strong accountability safeguards, including:

  • Maximum transparency in decision-making and finances, including adherence to state open records rules;
  • For PPPs that oversee subsidy awards, maximum transparency concerning recipients of those awards and their performance;
  • Strict conflict of interest rules regarding staff members and boards of directors;
  • Strict rules barring favoritism and “pay to play” in connection with companies doing business with the PPP;
  • Appointment of a public ombudsperson to monitor PPP activities and respond to outside complaints; and
  • Respect for the rights of employees to organize a union (or to transfer a representation agreement that was in place when the entity was a government agency).

As for the governance of PPPs, the report recommends that a governor not chair an entity’s board and not have absolute power to name all of the directors, among whom should be legislative leaders and representatives of labor, the non-profit sector and other constituencies.

The report also recommends that PPPs be funded entirely out of public revenues with full legislative oversight. If private contributions are deemed necessary, they should be in the form of mandatory fees imposed on companies applying for and/or receiving subsidy awards. Barring voluntary contributions will make it easier to avoid the problems of favoritism and pay to play.

REPORT: MANY MORE STATES ARE DISCLOSING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DEALS ONLINE BUT REPORTING QUALITY VARIES WIDELY

December 9, 2010

Online disclosure of the names of companies receiving state and local tax breaks, cash grants and other subsidies for job creation is becoming the norm around the country, but there is wide variation in the quality of the reporting and about a dozen states are still keeping taxpayers in the dark, according to a report published today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, DC.

Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Ohio were found to have the best economic development disclosure.

“With states being forced to make painful budget decisions, taxpayers expect economic development spending to be fair and transparent,” said Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy. “Claims that sunshine would hurt a state’s business climate have been discredited, trumped by people’s rising expectations about government information being online.”

In addition to the report, entitled Show Us the Subsidies, Good Jobs First also released two new online tools relating to state government economic development practices: Subsidy Tracker, a searchable database that brings together subsidy recipient information from numerous state governments; and Accountable USA, a set of webpages on each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia summarizing their track record on subsidies. All these resources are available at no cost on the Good Jobs First website.

“The outpouring of job-subsidy data is a breakthrough for state government transparency and accountability,” said Good Jobs First Research Director Philip Mattera, principal author of Show Us the Subsidies and leader of the six-person team that produced the report, Subsidy Tracker and Accountable USA. “Enhanced disclosure makes it much easier to monitor the tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer revenues that are being diverted to private parties each year.”

Show Us the Subsidies rates the reporting practices of 245 key economic development subsidy programs from around the country on the inclusion of information such as company-specific dollar amounts, job-creation and wage-rate numbers, and the geographic location of subsidized facilities. Programs are also evaluated in terms of how easy it is to find and use the online data. Each program is rated on a scale of 0 to 100 (with extra credit for including advanced features). The scores for the programs in each state are then averaged to derive a state score.

The report’s key findings are as follows:

  • Thirty-seven states provide online recipient disclosure for at least one key subsidy program.
  • Based on our scoring system, the states with the best averages across their programs are: Illinois (82), Wisconsin (71), North Carolina (69) and Ohio (66).
  • Thirteen states and the District of Columbia currently have no disclosure at all, although one of those states, Massachusetts, is slated to come online as enacted legislation takes effect. All our scoring is based on what was available online as of November 26, 2010.
  • Since 2005, half a dozen states have enacted legislation mandating subsidy recipient reporting in one or more program, the most recent being Massachusetts.  Several other states have moved toward transparency through administrative action alone.
  • Four states provide recipient reporting for all the key programs we examined: Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
  • Of the 245 programs we examined, 104 of them (42 percent) have online recipient reporting.
  • For the country as a whole, the average program score is 25. Ignoring those with no disclosure, the average rises to 59. Nineteen programs are above 75, including three that score over 100, thanks to extra credit. The top-rated programs in terms of disclosure are in Illinois and Texas.
  • We also provide the results in the form of letter grades, but in a way that diverges from the usual system used in schools. We limit the failing grade of F to those states with no disclosure at all, and we stretch out the ranges for the lower passing grades (see the table below for details). Using this system, Illinois gets a B; Wisconsin gets a B-minus; North Carolina and Ohio get a C-plus; and Missouri gets a C. Seven states get a C-minus; seven get a D-plus; nine get a D; and nine get a D-minus.

“Our findings tell two different stories,” LeRoy said. “The first is one of the steady spread of transparency across the nation. The other is that some states still inexplicably keep taxpayers completely or partially in the dark. The accountability movement has made great advances but still has a long way to go before job subsidies are as transparent as other categories of state spending, such as procurement.”

Report: U.S. Must Do More to Prevent Loss of Clean Energy Manufacturing Jobs

March 4, 2010

The United States must commit to developing a domestic manufacturing sector capable of meeting heightened demand for the parts, systems and components of the growing clean energy economy, a strategy that is key to ensuring that federal clean energy investments create quality, high-paying jobs in the United States. This would avoid indirectly subsidizing the growth of those activities in low-wage countries such as China that are emerging as key competitors in the race to lead the global clean energy economy. This is the conclusion of Winning the Race: How America Can Lead the Global Clean Energy Economy, a report released today by the Apollo Alliance and Good Jobs First at a Washington, D.C. conference.

“The United States is currently importing about 70 percent of its renewable energy systems and components,” said Phil Angelides, chairman of the Apollo Alliance. “If that trend continues, we stand to lose out on estimated 100,000 clean energy manufacturing jobs by 2015, and nearly 250,000 by 2030. This country needs a comprehensive clean-energy economic development strategy so we can ensure that jobs being created in the clean-energy sector stay in America.”

“The U.S. needs a comprehensive strategy, including safeguards to ensure that increased demand for renewable energy systems doesn’t simply create manufacturing jobs in low-wage havens,” said Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy. “In the same way Ohio wouldn’t knowingly subsidize job growth in Iowa, Uncle Sam needs to watch the store and ensure a good return on American investments in clean energy.”

Winning the Race illustrates this risk by analyzing the recipients of the Recovery Act’s Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit (also known as 48C credits), which President Obama recently proposed expanding funding for by $5 billion due to the program’s success. The report finds that, of the 90 companies that received 48C credits for wind and solar manufacturing projects in the United States, 23 have also been investing in similar production in countries such as China, India, Mexico and Malaysia. The 23 companies, which include both U.S.-based and foreign firms, received a total of $458 million in 48C credits for their U.S. projects.

“A portion of this offshore investment is meant to serve foreign markets,” said Good Jobs First Research Director Philip Mattera, who analyzed the 48C recipient list for the report. “But these examples demonstrate that the U.S. share of the global clean energy economy – particularly in manufacturing – is far from guaranteed.  48C projects have helped stimulate the clean energy manufacturing sector, but some recipients are putting their primary emphasis on low-wage production for the entire global market.”

To address this risk, Winning the Race recommends a comprehensive strategy to create jobs in the clean energy economy through the entire supply chain. The first step is to ensure an expanded and consistent market for clean energy by passing comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, and then to expand domestic clean energy manufacturing by:

  • Increasing the Advanced Manufacturing Tax Credit by $5 billion, as the president proposed in his FY2011 budget, but adding “clawback” provisions that would enable the federal government to recoup the tax credits if 48C jobs end up being sent offshore.
  • Enacting the “Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technologies (IMPACT) Act,” which would support small and mid-sized manufacturers by providing capital for investments in energy efficiency and for retooling and expanding into the clean energy supply chain.
  • Investing in the creation of a well-trained workforce that meets the needs of U.S. clean energy manufacturers and would make onshore investment more attractive.

The full report is available for download at www.apolloalliance.org and at www.goodjobsfirst.org.

Report: States Are Making More Effective Use of Web to Inform Taxpayers About Economic Stimulus Spending

January 26, 2010

Some states are making dramatic improvements in websites designed to disseminate information about their share of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), but others are still failing to make effective use of online technology to educate taxpayers about the impact of economic stimulus spending.

This is the finding of Show Us the Stimulus (Again), a report released today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit research center based in Washington, DC. It updates a similar study published by Good Jobs First last July.

The full text of the report as well as state-specific appendices can be found on the Good Jobs First website at www.goodjobsfirst.org/stimulusweb.cfm.

“Some states are making great strides in fulfilling President Obama’s promise that the Recovery Act would be carried out with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy. “Led by Maryland, which again receives the highest score, these states’ ARRA websites do a good job in helping taxpayers understand and evaluate the role of the Recovery Act in job creation and state fiscal relief.”

The Good Jobs First study examines the quality and quantity of disclosure by official state websites on the many different ways more than $200 billion in ARRA funding is flowing through state governments to communities, organizations and individuals. It looks at the availability of information on spending programs as well as specific grants and contracts, with emphasis on data relating to jobs and the geographic distribution of spending within states. Using seven main criteria, each state is graded on a scale of 0 to 100.

“We are impressed by ‘Cinderella’ states such as Kentucky and Illinois, which were ranked at the bottom in our previous assessment but broke into the top tier in the new ranking,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of both reports. “Numerous others have also improved their sites and are effectively incorporating the data states are helping to collect for the federal government’s Recovery.gov website. The state sites and Recovery.gov both have vital roles to play in helping the public evaluate the Recovery Act’s performance.”

The states with the highest scores in the new report are: Maryland (87), Kentucky (85), Connecticut (80), Colorado (72), Minnesota (72), Wisconsin (72), California (69), Illinois (69), Oregon (67), Massachusetts (65), Georgia (64), West Virginia (64), New Mexico (62), New York (62), Pennsylvania (62), Montana (61) and Arkansas (60).

At the other end, there are 11 states with scores below 20, reflecting the absence of adequate data on ARRA programs or specific projects. Starting from the bottom, they are: North Dakota (5), District of Columbia (6), Missouri (10), Alaska (13), Vermont (13), Louisiana (16), Mississippi (17), Idaho (18), Oklahoma (18), Texas (18) and South Carolina (19).

Although changes in methodology make exact comparisons impossible, the following states experienced major changes in ranking from GJF’s previous survey: Kentucky, which soared from 47th place to 2nd (an increase of 45 places); Illinois, which jumped from 50th to 7th (43 places); Minnesota, which climbed from 34th to 4th (30 places); and Utah, which rose from 50th to 24th (26 places).

Here are highlights of specific findings:

  • Most states do a good job of providing information on the composition of their ARRA spending, both in broad program categories (energy, housing, transportation, etc.) and in narrower ones. Only the District of Columbia provides no program allocation information at all.
  • Geographic breakdowns (by county or other division) are less common than summaries of spending by program category. Twenty-seven states provide geographic information, often with interactive maps.
  • Only three states—Kentucky, Maryland and Wisconsin—juxtapose the geographic distribution of spending with patterns of economic distress or need within the state.
  • Besides overall spending amounts, state residents may be interested to know where individual ARRA projects such as the repaving of a road or repair of a school building are taking place. More than half the states (28) now have some kind of project mapping feature on their ARRA site.
  • Via maps or otherwise, 41 states provide one or more of the following types of detail on projects funded through ARRA grants and contracts: description, dollar amount, recipient name, status, and the text of the contract or grant award. Four states—Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New Hampshire—have all five elements.
  • Despite the ready availability of jobs data at Recovery.gov, 10 states still have none on their websites: Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina and the District of Columbia. By contrast, 16 states have jobs data on individual projects as well as totals by program area and for the state as a whole.
  • No state provides comprehensive data on wage or benefit levels in ARRA jobs or on the demographics of the workers in those jobs.
  • Only five states—Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi and New Hampshire—provide the full texts of at least some ARRA contract awards.
  • No state reports the share of ARRA contracts going to minority, women-owned or other disadvantaged business enterprises, though Pennsylvania is expected to begin doing so soon.

Based on our findings, Good Jobs First offers the following recommendations:

  • Put a summary of key information about ARRA spending at the top of the home page of the site. A graphic showing the main spending flows goes a long way in helping the average user begin to see what the Recovery Act is all about. There should be clear links to pages with details about the various specific programs.
  • Provide a map or table showing how overall ARRA spending and the amounts in key categories are being distributed among counties (or other geographic division) around the state.
  • Also show how the spending is distributed across the state in comparison to patterns of economic distress such as local unemployment and foreclosure rates.
  • Along with information on spending streams, provide details on individual projects—such as a particular transit improvement or weatherization effort—funded by an ARRA grant or contract. These details should include a description of the project, the dollar amount, the name of the recipient entity, the status of the project, and the number of jobs generated by the project, along with the text of the contract or grant award.
  • Where possible, display the location of the projects on maps. Interactive displays that allow one to drill down for details are better than static maps.

“At a time of intense public concern about the effectiveness of government spending designed to mitigate the economic crisis, states should be maximizing their use of online tools,” Mattera said.

Good Jobs First co-chairs the Coalition for An Accountable Recovery (http://www.coalitionforanaccountablerecovery.org), which works at the federal level. It also coordinates States for a Transparent and Accountable Recovery, or STAR Coalition (http://www.accountablerecovery.org), which works with state-level organizations.

Report Deciphers Bond Provisions of the Recovery Act, Focusing on Accountability Issues

January 20, 2010

Perhaps the most obscure aspect of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is how it seeks to expand bond programs for public infrastructure and private economic development projects.  A report released today by Good Jobs New York explains how the Recovery Act’s new and expanded bond programs are facilitating economic recovery and where opportunities exist for public input. The report is available at www.goodjobsny.org.

The impacts of Recovery Act bonds are potentially enormous with billions of dollars in new lending authorized nationwide. Yet, there is little public discussion about how they work or if the projects they finance will create good jobs, concludes the study, Bonds and the Recovery Act: A Guide to Municipal Bonds Enabled Under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Their Potential Impacts on New York Communities.

“We hope this report will become a useful organizing and educational tool for many groups of New Yorkers,” said Bettina Damiani, Project Director of Good Jobs New York. “The report documents what the goals of specific bond programs are and if there are leverage points to make sure projects are accountable and create good jobs.”

The report reviews new and modified bond programs (private activity and governmental) through the lens of community needs and increased transparency and accountability: Are there public hearings? Are there prevailing wage requirements? Is priority given to low-income communities? What projects have already received such financing?

“Thanks to the Recovery Act, there are new and expanded municipal bond programs,” said Allison Lirish Dean, GJNY’s Research Analyst and lead author of the report. “But the process for issuing these bonds hasn’t changed despite the Recovery Act’s emphasis on transparency and accountability.”

The report includes commentary on approximately $74 million in approvals for Recovery Zone Facility Bond projects in New York City such as a parking facility at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, and a retail center known as “City Point” in Brooklyn.  Both projects were controversial because of the small number or low quality of jobs expected to be created. Also, the City Point project was widely opposed by Brooklyn residents and small business owners because in 2007 the City displaced numerous small, mostly locally owned stores for the development.

Bonds and the Recovery Act, while primarily a resource guide, does include policy recommendations:

  • Where possible, the Bloomberg Administration should include jobs created by Recovery Bond projects in the New York City Stimulus Tracker.
  • Any amendments to the private activity bond programs associated with the Recovery Act should increase the requirements for public input and include mechanisms that would guarantee low-income New Yorkers directly benefit from projects. Current language in the Recovery Act and additional guidelines put in place by the City last summer are too weak to guarantee that projects benefit New Yorkers who most need jobs or that they create good permanent jobs.

Bonds and the Recovery Act is online at: www.goodjobsny.org.

Study: States Should Grow Their Own High-Tech Jobs, Shun the Tax-Break “War Among States”

January 20, 2010

Pennsylvania and six other states vying with one another to grow their high-tech economies will best succeed by focusing on their existing employers and shunning the “economic war among the states” involving costly tax-break competitions.

That’s the finding of a major study released today by Good Jobs First. Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia are the states compared.

As states experience their most severe revenue crisis in post-war history, the study charts a positive alternative strategy for the most effective job-creation investments.

The study draws its conclusion from two unique analyses of Pennsylvania. One details where the state’s high-tech jobs have come from since 1990; the other reveals the effective tax rate for high-tech companies in all seven states. It finds only minimal differences among tax rates—even when the states’ most lucrative economic development incentives are accounted for.

“Over time, all the growth in Pennsylvania high-tech jobs comes when existing workplaces expand and new ones are born—not from smokestack-chasing,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First and primary author. “We believe the same analysis would find similar results for the six other states.”

Instead of competing with each other for specific companies, states’ resources will best be spent strengthening small, young and locally owned businesses, and improving the skills of workers to match industry needs, the study concludes.

Although interstate movement of high-tech jobs is almost negligible, offshore job flight is a far more significant issue. The study recommends redress be sought through federal trade policy, not to be confused with state tax policy. The study provides eight case studies of big-ticket incentive deals including Dell, Google, AMD, Westinghouse, two pharmaceuticals, a plastics factory, and a research lab.

The study was funded by the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments, a regional philanthropic leader in developing strategies to spur high-tech job growth. The public announcement of the study came just before a meeting sponsored by the Endowments to discuss implications of the findings with participants from the seven states and other economic development organizations. Good Jobs First is a non-profit research center based in Washington, DC promoting best practices in economic development. The study is online at www.goodjobsfirst.org/PAhightech.cfm.

Taking Aim at the Big-Box Economy

May 1, 2008

Today’s guest blog is by Stacy Mitchell, author of the highly recommended book Big-Box Swindle and a keynote speaker at our conference next week.

Wal-Mart wants your rebate check. So does Home Depot. But spending it at a big-box store will only further gut the U.S. economy.

As these companies expand, they continue to decimate two pillars of the middle class: small business owners and unionized manufacturing workers. In exchange for all the family-supporting livelihoods they take away, the chains leave us with nothing but very low-paying jobs working in their stores.

It’s a raw deal and a vicious cycle of ever-widening working poverty.

Yet cities continue to welcome, and often subsidize, the construction of more big-box retail. This is not economic development. It’s more like economic colonialism. Studies show that only about 14 cents of every dollar spent at a big-box store stays in the local community —compared to about 50 cents of a dollar spent at a locally owned business.

The chains manage this feat of wealth-extraction by keeping local payroll to a brutal minimum, requiring none of the local services (such as banking, printing, accounting, etc.) that independent retailers need, and carrying virtually no products produced or grown anywhere near the store.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, the rise and continued growth of mega-retailers have been driven in large part by public policy: Billions of dollars in development subsidies for big-box stores. Massive tax loopholes that favor chains over local businesses. Diminished rights for workers and communities. Transportation and planning policies that mandate sprawl. An utter failure to enforce antitrust laws. And the list goes on.

Fortunately, there’s a growing and increasingly effective grassroots movement to withdraw government backing for big retailers and build an economy that supports the common good.

These are a few of the successes so far: Arizona passed a bill last year that bars subsidies for big-box stores and shopping centers. Several states have eliminated a major tax advantage for chains and more are weighing legislation now (including Massachusetts and Colorado). Maine recently enacted a landmark law requiring economic impact studies for retail development.

But perhaps the biggest success of all was that every one of these victories was made possible by exciting, and potentially powerful, new coalitions among independent business alliances and labor and environmental groups.

I’ll be talking about these exciting developments at next week’s Good Jobs First conference — a great forum for building and expanding these ties.

Cleaner Ports, Better Jobs

April 29, 2008

Today’s guest blog is by Jon Zerolnick of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, who will be speaking at our May 7-8 conference.

We have gotten accustomed to taking our victories where and when we can get them: often marginal improvements and often for small beneficiaries (a handful of workers here, a small community group there). So it is rare (for me) to be able to write of a major victory. But at LAANE, working as part of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, we were just part of something pretty huge: a major victory both for workers and for the environment.

Because of their actions taken last month, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners will not just be reforming the broken, dysfunctional port trucking industry; they will be rebuilding it from the ground up. Some 16,000 exploited truck drivers at the Port of Los Angeles (the largest port in the country) have for decades been misclassified as independent contractors. They have finally won long-sought employee rights, which will lead to improvements in pay and working conditions as drivers now have, at long last, the right to organize. People living in the communities around the Port have won meaningful new truck standards that will improve air quality as we get filthy, dilapidated trucks off the roads in favor of newer, cleaner trucks.

Perhaps most important, this multi-year campaign has forged essential new ties between the labor & environmental communities. We’ve gotten beyond the tired old dichotomies of jobs versus environment to a new place where we not only support one another, but where we understand that it is the same forces (of global capital) that hamper progress for all of us.

(I should note that though this was a major victory, we still have much work to do. We will be focused on defending against the expected frivolous lawsuits. We will have to ensure that everything is implemented properly. Most important, we have to lead the way so that LA’s sister port, the Port of Long Beach, scraps their trucking scheme — which fails to address the true underlying problem — and replaces it with a comprehensive solution as LA did. We will then work to make sure that we can replicate at Ports around the country the gains we’ll be seeing here in Southern California.)

I’d urge you: in whatever corner of this movement you find yourself, building and strengthening these ties between different groups is going to be critical as we all move forward to build a more sane, sustainable and just society.

See you May 7 and 8 at the Good Jobs First conference!

Workers Need a Level Playing Field

April 28, 2008

Today’s guest blog is by Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work and speaker at our May7-8 conference.

These are hard times for U.S. working families. We are suffering the highest inflation rates in over 20 years. Oil prices today rose to over $118 a barrel, up nearly 80 percent in a year. As Steven Greenhouse’s new book The Big Squeeze documents, working families are getting squeezed while oil companies make record profits.

Americans are rightfully asking a simple question – why does our government continue to dole out corporate subsidies in these tough economic times?

We’ve seen thousands of jobs shipped overseas by the same companies who receive taxpayer-funded corporate welfare. The sub-prime shenanigans of Wall Street have cost thousands of working men and women their piece of the American Dream. Wages have remained stagnant despite surging inflation, and employers continue to prevent workers from achieving their economic goals.

Although workers can’t always rely on their employer to give them fair pay for a hard day’s work, they can count on union representation to fight on their behalf. That’s what most employers want their workers to forget — just ask employees of the retail food industry, where union members earn 31 percent more than non-union employees. Overall, unionized grocers contribute more than twice as much to health insurance premiums and pension coverage than non-union chains.

Corporate giants like Wal-Mart pay their workers poverty wages and then have state governments subsidize their corporate irresponsibility through public assistance programs. The unionbusting retail giant will stop at nothing to prevent its employees from getting a fair shake –that’s why workers in the United States need laws that level the playing field.

That’s why the Employee Free Choice Act is vital. Set to be reintroduced in Congress next year, the bill will give workers a more direct path to freely and fairly form a union if they so choose. Since employers often resist organizing campaigns with illegal tactics to intimidate and scare workers, this legislation will also hold anti-union employers accountable for violating federal labor laws through tougher penalties and greater enforcement.

That is, if lawmakers have the conviction to pass the legislation. While the Employee Free Choice Act overwhelmingly passed the House this session, Republican leadership in the Senate killed the bipartisan bill there. Members of Congress will soon have the opportunity to hear from Americans wanting their elected leaders to take another step toward income parity through passage of this legislation. While corporate subsidies run amuck and the cost of necessities like rent, gas, and health care continue to rise, working families can’t afford another stalemate of this critical bill in Congress next year.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers