Saturday, May 21, 2016

Why Is Congress Using Zika To Weaken Truck Safety? Thom Hartman May. 20, 2016 By Thom Hartmann

In a week, families all over the country will pack up their cars and make a trip to the beach, to a family picnic, or just to get away from day to day life for the holiday weekend.

And if the trucking industry had its way, those families would be sharing the interstate with semi-truck drivers who are exhausted from working more than 80 hours a week.

Seriously. If that sounds reckless and unbelievably unsafe for both the public and the drivers, that's because it is. Nearly 4,000 people die in large truck crashes each year, and driver fatigue is a leading factor according to the Department of Transportation.

Take truck driver Dana Logan, who recently told reporters the heartwrenching story about how she personally witnessed another truck driver fall asleep and ram an SUV from behind. The SUV was slammed underneath Logan's trailer, shearing off the top of the SUV and decapitating the two fathers and two children inside the SUV. The truck driver who had fallen asleep and rammed the SUV from behind managed to ask Dana Logan's husband one last question before he died, he asked simply "Did I hit something?".

More famously back in June of 2014, a Walmart truck driver had been awake for more than 28 hours when he slammed his truck into actor Tracy Morgan's limo van, killing one passenger and leaving Morgan in a coma for two weeks.

We all drive on the roads, so this is definitely a matter of public concern. So when will the public comment period be on this proposal to let trucking companies push their drivers even beyond an 80 hour week? When will the public get to weigh in on whether the truck drivers are allowed to work themselves to exhaustion and threaten public safety?


That's because these measures are being inserted into a must-pass spending measure that includes funding for transportation, funding for housing and military construction projects, funding for the Veterans Administration, as well as new funding for Zika prevention in the United States. Both the House and the Senate versions of this legislation would block the Obama administration from enforcing a regulation that requires workers to take two days in a row off per week, and caps truck drivers' hours at 70 hours a week.

And as the Huffington Post points out, bribing, excuse me, "making campaign contributions to", compliant congressmen to use this sort of legislative backdoor to roll back safety regulations is something that the trucking industry has been doing for at least the last three years.

But it's not just the trucking industry that does this, pretty much every lobbying group on Capitol Hill can pull a few strings to get riders inserted into must-pass spending bills, and even though they rarely have anything to do with the larger bill, they always have a clear benefit to special interest factions.

In the last few years we've seen spending bills amended with industry-friendly riders that would roll back clean water protections and net neutrality rules, we've seen riders to defund Planned Parenthood, to defund Obamacare, to gut the National Labor Relations Board and thus block a litany of safety regulations, and the list goes on and on.

This rider that would let truckers work up to 83 hours, which is more than two full work weeks, in a row, is a prime example of how broken our legislative process is. The fact that there are no public hearings on any of these things isn't a sign of how busy Congress is, instead, it's a sign that our lawmaking process is set-up so that lawmakers only get input from industry about how Congress can help industry, at the expense of public safety and the common good.

So far in 2016, the members of the House have taken a full week off during every single month of this year, and they've actually been in session for only 59 days, and the Senate was only in session for 65 days.

There have been 95 working days and only five public holidays in 2016, and considering the fact that every single Representative is up for re-election this year, you can be certain that they've been spending their weekends and weeks off hustling campaign donations. And now the Republicans in Congress are earning their contributions from the trucking lobbying groups that have already given nearly 2 million dollars to Republican candidates in 2016.

What's even more insidious is that this rider is buried in a bill that includes funding for the VA along with much needed funding for Zika prevention.

That means that the Democrats and Barack Obama are left with the choice of either letting this rider pass - endangering people on our public highways all over the country - or risk being called out for playing political football in the face of a looming public health crisis.

It's time to get money out of politics so that our lawmakers actually spend their time carefully considering laws and getting public input before they vote.

Rolling back these trucking regulations will put every person who drives on our roads in danger, and the public is being completely blocked out of the lawmaking process.

Until we get money out of politics, we'll be stuck with a legislative agenda that places the well-being of special interests and corporate bottom-lines over public interests and the common good.

For more information on how we can get money out of politics, check out - See more at:

Friday, May 20, 2016

Americans Don’t Miss Manufacturing — They Miss Unions

Americans Don’t Miss Manufacturing — They Miss Unions

By Ben Casselman

U.S. manufacturing jobs, I argued a few weeks ago, are never coming back. But that doesn’t stop politicians from talking about them. Donald Trump scored his knockout blow in Indiana in part by railing against the decision by Carrier, a local air-conditioning manufacturer, to shift production to Mexico. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have sparred throughout their race over who would best protect manufacturing jobs. And the man they are all trying to replace, President Obama, pledged during his reelection campaign to create a million manufacturing jobs during his second term; he’s still about 700,000 jobs short of that goal.

Candidates talk about manufacturing because of what it represents in the popular imagination: a source of stable, well-paying jobs, especially for people without a college degree. But that image is rooted more in nostalgia than in reality. Manufacturing no longer plays its former role in the economy, and not only because there are far fewer factory jobs than in the past. The jobs being created today often pay less than those of the past — sometimes far less.

A new report this week from the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley, found that a third of production workers — non-managers working on factory floors and in related occupations — earn so little that their families receive some form of public assistance such as food stamps or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Many of those workers are temps, who account for a growing share of factory employment. The median wage for a manufacturing production worker, according to separate data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $16.14 an hour in 2015, below the $17.40 an hour for all workers.

On average, manufacturing jobs still pay better than most jobs available to people without a college degree. The median manufacturing worker without a bachelor’s degree earned $15 an hour in 2015, a dollar more than similarly educated workers in other industries.1 But those averages obscure a great deal of variation beneath the surface. Average manufacturing wages are inflated by high-earning veterans; newly created jobs tend to pay less. And there are substantial regional variations. The average manufacturing production worker in Michigan earns $20.80 an hour, vs.$18.86 in South Carolina, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why do factory workers make more in Michigan? In a word: unions. The Midwest was, at least until recently, a bastion of union strength. Southern states, by contrast, are mostly “right-to-work” states where unions never gained a strong foothold. Private-sector unions have been shrinking across the country for decades, but they are stronger in the Midwest than in most other parts of the country. In Michigan, 23 percent of manufacturing production workers were union members in 2015; in South Carolina, less than 2 percent were.2

Unions also help explain why the middle class is healthier in the Midwest than in the Southeast, where manufacturing jobs have been growing rapidly in recent decades. A new analysis from the Pew Research Center this week explored the state of the middle class in different parts of the country by looking at the share of households making between two-thirds and double the national median income, after controlling for the local cost of living. In many Midwestern cities, 60 percent or more of households are considered “middle-income” by this definition; in some Southern cities, even those with large manufacturing bases, middle-income households are now in the minority.

Even in the Midwest, however, unions are weakening and the middle class is shrinking. In the Indianapolis metro area, where the Carrier plant Trump talks about is located, the share of households in the middle tier of earners has shrunk to 54.8 percent in 2014 from 58.9 percent in 2000. And unlike in some parts of the country, the decline in the middle class there has been primarily driven by people falling into the lower tier of earners, not moving up. The Carrier plant, where workers make more than $20 an hour, is unionized.

Cause and effect here is complicated. Unions have been weakened by some of the same forces that are driving down wages overall, such as globalization and automation. And while unions benefit their members, economists disagree over whether they are good for the economy as a whole. Liberal economists note that overall wages tend to be higher in union-friendly states; conservative economists counter that unemployment tends to be higher in those states, too.

But this much is clear: For all of the glow that surrounds manufacturing jobs in political rhetoric, there is nothing inherently special about them. Some pay well; others don’t. They are not immune from the forces that have led to slow wage growth in other sectors of the economy. When politicians pledge to protect manufacturing jobs, they really mean a certain kind of job: well-paid, long-lasting, with opportunities for advancement. Those aren’t qualities associated with working on a factory floor; they’re qualities associated with being a member of a union.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thom's Blog

Thom's blog
Shift To 401(K) Retirement Plans A "Disaster"
Thom plus logo  A report released Thursday from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows the shift away from traditional pensions to 401(k)-like plans contributes to inequality. Bloomberg reported Friday, "The U.S. retirement landscape is starting to look like a Charles Dickens novel." These "defined contribution (DC)" plans, the report notes, "have become the dominant form of retirement plan for U.S. workers," but 60 percent of all U.S. households in 2013 had no retirement savings in one.

Further showing this inequality, the GAO reports that while 81 percent of working, high-income households had savings in a DC plan, only about 25 percent of working, low-income households had any savings in one. Also from 2007 to 2013, the average balance in such accounts held by white working households didn't significantly change, but for black working households, the average balance in plans dropped significantly-from $31,100 in 2007 to $16,400 in 2013.

Further, according to GAO's projections, households in the lowest earning group accumulated DC savings that generated lifetime income in retirement, as measured by an annuity equivalent, of about $560 per month on average (in 2015 dollars). Yet, 35 percent of this group had no DC savings at retirement.

In contrast, households in the highest earning group saved enough to receive about 11 times more per month in retirement and only 8 percent had no DC savings.

A 2013 paper from the Economic Policy Institute showed how this shift away from traditional pensions to 401(k) retirement plans has been a "disaster," fueling inequality and creating more insecure retirements.

Economist Dean Baker also noted in December that "Your retirement prospects are bleaker than ever," attributing it to "the disappearance of traditional defined benefit pensions and the failure of 401(k)-type plans to fill the gap." He added, "The vast majority of Americans who expect to retire in the next decade can count on little income other than their Social Security. This is true not only for low-income workers, who have struggled most of their lives, but also for millions of middle-income workers," Baker wrote. "Although Social Security is a tremendously important program, and provides a solid base that retirees can depend upon, its $16,000 average annual benefit doesn't go very far. Many if not most can expect to see sharp reductions in living standards." Hello Tiny Tim....


Monday, May 9, 2016

Mediator Kenneth Feinberg rejects Central States’ plan to cut Teamsters’ pensions

Monday, May 2, 2016

Fedex Settles CA Wage and Hour Lawsuit for Undisclosed Amount

California truck drivers who accused FedEx Freight Inc. of failing to pay them adequate wages will be compensated from an undisclosed wage and hour settlement amount, according to an agreement recently approved by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd signed off on preliminary approval of the Fedex wage and hour settlement, marking the beginning of the end of an approximately two-year-long class action lawsuit over wages, break time and other compensation.
Final approval is pending a hearing scheduled for June 2016.
The settlement will provide compensation to a group of about 1,600 truck drivers that was certified as a plaintiff class in July 2015. A little more than two-thirds of the undisclosed settlement amount will serve as compensation for the truck drivers, according to Judge Drozd.
The rest will cover administration of payments, attorneys’ fees and court costs, and applicable penalties under California labor laws.
The major terms of the settlement will remain redacted in publicly available court documents. Judge Drozd reviewed the unredacted version of the settlement, which will remain sealed.
Without disclosing the essential terms of the settlement, Judge Drozd said they met the legal requirements for settlement of a wage and hour class action lawsuit in terms of fairness, reasonableness, and the circumstances under which they were negotiated.
The judge commented that the size of the settlement payment was “substantial,” given the size of the plaintiff class and the allegations made.

Drivers Alleged Violations of Wage and Hour Laws

In initiating this wage and hour class action lawsuit in 2013, lead plaintiff Roy T. alleged that FedEx Freight had systematically failed to pay drivers while they executed many tasks that were ancillary to their core driving work.
According to Judge Drozd’s order, Fed Ex Freight paid truck drivers mileage-based compensation for nondriving activities, regardless of whether the drivers were line haul drivers or nonregular line drivers.
Roy said that as a result of this policy, drivers went unpaid for time spent inspecting trucks, waiting to switch trailers, and driving to and from designated locations, as well as for nonpersonal time spent at hotels.
He also alleged Fed Ex Freight had failed to provide rest and meal periods, accurate itemized wage statements, and timely compensation upon termination, as required by California labor laws.
The plaintiff class encompasses “all California-based employees who worked for FedEx Freight as road drivers or other drivers paid by the hour to the extent they performed road runs paid on a piece rate basis, in California on or after January 28, 2012, through December 31, 2015.”
An earlier lawsuit brought by FedEx Ground California drivers also resulted in a settlement in 2015. A group of drivers for FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery had alleged the company had misclassified them as contractors instead of employees and had failed to pay them properly under California wage and hour law.
The ligitation ended with a settlement agreement worth $228 million.
The FedEx Wage and Hour Class Action Lawsuit is Case No. 1:13-CV-01137 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.