June 2012 Labor Notes

May brought more disappointing news on the unemployment front, as the Labor Department announced that in April the economy added a measly 115,000 net new jobs. While the official unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent, that drop was largely due to a continued shrinking of the American labor force: The labor participation rate in April was a mere 63.6 percent, the lowest rate since December 1981. Millions of frustrated workers have simply given up looking for work altogether, and are therefore not counted as being in the “labor force” by government accountants. To make matters worse, as the editors of the Wall Street Journal note, over the past year, “average weekly earnings are up 2.1 percent, but inflation has climbed by 3 percent.”

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker recently told The Daily Caller that it is “conservative, right-wing policies that are to blame” for Trayvon Martin‘s death. Martin was killed in an altercation with neighborhood watchman on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Florida. According to Baker: “The same folks who want to kill workers’ rights in the work place are the same folks who want to kill voters’ votes … and now they are literally supporting legislation that is literally killing our children.” Baker is referring to Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, which allows an individual to defend himself if he feels his life is in immediate danger, and which many believe will serve as a defense for the 17-year old Martin’s accused shooter. How the tragic case of Trayvon Martin has anything to do with worker’s rights or collective bargaining reform is beyond Labor Notes.

In a recent email to union activists, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka touted his organization’s new Executive PayWatch website, aimed at exposing the alleged exorbitant salaries of private company CEO’s. The email read in part: “Runaway CEO pay isn’t just bad for our economy, it’s bad for the morale of working families, too. All workers, from the executive suite down to the shop floor, contribute to making a company successful. But these corporations are buying into the myth that the success of a corporation is the result of its CEO alone.” But after stirring up hatred for the wealthy, Trumka may have a hard time explaining his own “runaway pay.” Trumka earned $293,750 in 2011 alone, and in fact, as the Washington Free Beacon reports, “has earned well over $200,000 every year since he was promoted to Secretary Treasurer in 2003.” Meanwhile, according to Trumka’s own message, the average salary for an American worker is about $34,000 per year. Tell us more about that awful 1 percent, Richard.

Officials in North Las Vegas, Nevada are in a fight to shore up the ciy’s dismal finances. Standing in the way, not surprisingly, are the city’s public sector unions, whose bloated pensions and pay packages have contributed to the city’s upcoming $33 million budget gap. On May 8th, a bargaining session between North Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1607 and North Las Vegas city manager Timothy Hacker “ended in a stalemate” reported the Las Vegas Sun. The union refused to accept reasonable concessions sought by the city, including furloughs and a salary freeze. As a result, the city says it will be forced to lay off 57 firefighters, or about one third of the department. “We’re at a point where we can no longer provide adequate service to our citizens,” laments union president Jeff Hurley. Well, whose fault is that? According to city officials, the average salary and benefits for an International Association of Firefighters Local 1607 member tops $139,000. But a salary freeze is out of the question for the unions, even if it kills firefighter jobs and leaves citizens with a decimated fire department.

 

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