Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, plans to begin denying health insurance to newly hired employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week, according to a copy of the company’s policy obtained by The Huffington Post.
Under the policy, slated to take effect in January, Walmart also reserves the right to eliminate health care coverage for certain workers if their average workweek dips below 30 hours — something that happens with regularity and at the direction of company managers.
Walmart declined to disclose how many of its roughly 1.4 million U.S. workers are vulnerable to losing medical insurance under its new policy. In an emailed statement, company spokesman David Tovar said Walmart had “made a business decision” not to respond to questions from The Huffington Post and accused the publication of unfair coverage.
Labor and health care experts portrayed Walmart’s decision to exclude workers from its medical plans as an attempt to limit costs while taking advantage of the national health care reform known as Obamacare. Among the key features of Obamacare is an expansion of Medicaid, the taxpayer-financed health insurance program for poor people. Many of the Walmart workers who might be dropped from the company’s health care plans earn so little that they would qualify for the expanded Medicaid program, these experts said.
“Walmart is effectively shifting the costs of paying for its employees onto the federal government with this new plan, which is one of the problems with the way the law is structured,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
For Walmart, this latest policy represents a step back in time. Almost seven years ago, as Walmart confronted public criticism that its employees couldn’t afford its benefits, the company announced with much fanfare that it would expand health coverage for part-time workers.
But last year, the company eliminated coverage for some part-time workers — those new hires working 24 hours a week or less. Now, Walmart is going further.
I actually had some hope for this Adam Davidson piece. After all, he quotes my favorite labor economist, my buddy Mark Price (follow Mark on Twitter here).
But he lets it all collapse at the end, after pointing out rightly that the so-called skills gap isn’t a skills gap at all. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates is not a skills gap,” a study from the Boston Consulting Group noted. Skilled, educated workers, many of whom have debt out their ears from getting said education, are expected to work for $10 an hour?
“It’s easy to understand every perspective in this drama,” Davidson writes, but as usual he finds it much easier to relate to the bosses than to the workers.
Which is perhaps why Davidson takes “weakened unions” as a fact of life, rather than a result of years and years of sustained attacks on unions from all angles, from the courtroom to Congress to the shop floor. “The social contract has collapsed” is a passive-voice monstrosity that masks the reality that the workers kept up their end of the bargain and indeed conceded time and again (witness the Hostess story for a perfect example). The contract didn’t collapse of its own weight, it was violated again and again.
Davidson could find experts and a boss to quote, but couldn’t go find, say, a union manufacturing worker to discuss, say, the last twenty or thirty years of attempts by the bosses to force down wages, turn pensions into 401(k)s, cut back on healthcare contributions, and lay off workers entirely to ship jobs to China.
The last paragraph, where Davidson’s argument collapses entirely as he lets the boss steer him into the neoliberal blogger’s favorite hobbyhorse, is really special. Education is the problem! Education will save us! He conveniently neglects to mention that $10 an hour starting salary from just the previous page. Hell, I’m surprised that he didn’t find a way to outright blame teachers’ unions for the fact that “too few graduate high school with the basic math and science skills that his company needs to compete.”
As Seth Ackerman pointed out, “competitive” wages is a stick applied to workers by neoliberal writers and opinion leaders to remind the proles of their place. The wage that Davidson’s pet boss is offering is uncompetitive even in a country where real wages are debased—nobody will take the jobs he’s offering at the pay rate he’s offering them.
Yet Davidson, who wholeheartedly believes in free markets, has to find something else to blame for the failure of employers to offer a wage that workers will take. Enter the favorite punching bag of the well-educated pundit class: public schools.
You see, if those schools were just cranking out workers with the right math and science skills, we’d be able to compete! (Which, in this case, means “get workers to take lousy $10 an hour jobs”.)
Here’s the thing: if public schools were actually graduating close to 100% of the students they taught with the precise math and science skills that Davidson and his pet boss want, they’d still be “competing” for the same lousy $10 an hour jobs. In fact, the glut of skilled workers would most likely push those wages down, because even though, as Price pointed out, the “shortage” of skilled workers hasn’t seen a rise in wages for those skilled jobs, we most certainly have seen downward pressure on wages as unemployment has remained high.
In other words, we don’t need more educated workers until we have the good jobs to offer them.
Education is a great thing for its own sake. I want to see free higher education for all who want it. But even without the millstone of student debt around the necks of young people, $10 an hour jobs are not going to fix the economy. As Heidi Shierholz, Natalie Sabadish and Hilary Wething at the Economic Policy Institute pointed out in a recent report, young people still have few opportunities, face high unemployment and even higher underemployment.
But that’s a scary thought, and so even though Davidson starts off heading in that direction, he screeches to a halt and turns off down the reliable path of calling for “education”, never mind that his conclusion almost completely contradicts the points he’s made earlier in the piece.
Because if he were going to open up a real discussion about low wages and skilled workers and outsourcing, he’d perhaps have to admit that the market solutions he favors won’t fix these problems.
Kudos to Adam Davidson for some much-needed mythbusting about the supposed skills shortage holding the US economy back. Whenever you see some business person quoted complaining about how he or she can’t find workers with the necessary skills, ask what wage they’re offering. Almost always, it turns out that what said business person really wants is highly (and expensively) educated workers at a manual-labor wage. No wonder they come up short.
And this dovetails perfectly with one of the key arguments against the claim that much of our unemployment is “structural”, due to a mismatch between skills and labor demand. If that were true, you should see soaring wages for those workers who do have the right skills; in fact, with rare exceptions you don’t.
So what you really want to ask is why American businesses don’t feel that it’s worth their while to pay enough to attract the workers they say they need.
SCOTT WALKER PLAYING TRICKS WITH THE JOB NUMBERS - Prosecutors (by BarrettForWisconsin)
Just this week, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law the first bill in the nation prohibiting employers from requiring or requesting employees or job applicants to disclose their user names or passwords or any other means of accessing personal internet sites as a condition of employment.
Two of my dear friends have started a Tumblr with job postings. From their blog:
“Looking to exchange labour for currency in our hegemonic capitalist society? We’ve got you covered. Expect postings for all manners of employment, especially for nonprofit and academic positions. Submissions always welcome.”
I know lots of my readers are on the hunt for a job, so… go forth and labor!
She logged into her Facebook as I requested, and as I followed the COO’s instructions to scan her timeline and friends list looking for evidence of moral turpitude, I became aware she was writing something on her iPad.
“Taking notes?” I asked politely.
“No,” she smiled, “Emailing a human rights lawyer I know.” To say that the tension in the room could be cut with a knife would be understatement of the highest order. “Oh?” I asked. I waited, and as I am an expert in out-waiting people, she eventually cracked and explained herself.
“If you are surfing my Facebook, you could reasonably be expected to discover that I am a Lesbian. Since discrimination against me on this basis is illegal in Ontario, I am just preparing myself for the possibility that you might refuse to hire me and instead hire someone who is a heterosexual but less qualified in any way. Likewise, if you do hire me, I might need to have your employment contracts disclosed to ensure you aren’t paying me less than any male and/or heterosexual colleagues with equivalent responsibilities and experience.”
I got her out of the room as quickly as possible. The next few interviews were a blur, I was shaken. And then it happened again. This time, I found myself talking to a young man fresh out of University about a development position. After allowing me to surf his Facebook, he asked me how I felt about parenting. As a parent, it was easy to say I liked the idea. Then he dropped the bombshell.
His partner was expecting, and shortly after being hired he would be taking six months of parental leave as required by Ontario law. I told him that he should not have discussed this matter with me. “Oh normally I wouldn’t, but since you’re looking through my Facebook, you know that already. Now of course, you would never refuse to hire someone because they plan to exercise their legal right to parental leave, would you?”
What could I say? I guess we have another hire whether he’s qualified or not. Here’s the bottom line: My ability to select the best candidates for our positions has been irreparably compromised by looking into their private lives. I’ve been “tainted” by knowledge of their sexual orientation, illnesses, religion, political affiliations, and other factors that expose us to anti-discrimination legislation. We can’t even claim that the employee improperly disclosed these matters to us, as we are the ones initiating the investigation of their private doings.
People receiving long-term unemployment insurance will get fewer weeks of benefits as a federal program is phased out early next month in several states.
The federal Extended Benefits program, which in states with high-unemployment rates grants claimants out of work for a long period of time a final 13 to 20 weeks of benefits, will be phased out on April 7 in Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin, according to an analysis by the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group.
State labor departments were notified of the changes by the U.S. Labor Department in a complex March 5 memo. States, in turn, are trying to explain what’s going on to those who will no longer receive checks through the Extended Benefits program.
Unemployment is high, gas prices are kinda high, a reactionary political movement is afoot, and there’s a Democrat in the White House, so by the conventions of lazy historical analogy it must be the late 1970s again with Barack Obama reprising the role of Jimmy “Malaise Forever” Carter. Except these analogies obfuscate more than enlighten, doing an injustice to a decade when New Politics met the old New Deal and everything went to hell. If you’re interested in labor history, working-class politics, or a historical account of how the post-war liberal consensus blew apart, I recommend Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class.
One takeaway lesson for contemporary politics is the degree to which the success of the liberal project is dependent on maintaining full employment. This was made especially clear in the section on the rights revolution in the workplace, when institutions like the EEOC strengthened the enforcement of anti-discrimination and affirmative action statutes, allowing women and minorities access to the economic pie. Unfortunately, it was a rapidly shrinking pie, at least within basic industry. The result was politically and socially explosive: it’s one thing for affirmative action programs to answer the question “who gets hired?” during the expansionary 60s, quite another when “who gets fired?” becomes the question in the recessionary late ’70s.
The DC-focused part of the book centers on the debate over the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Bill and the failure of progressives to overcome a Senate filibuster during the 1978 attempt to pass labor law reform. Readers of Hacker & Pierson’s will recall this episode from Winner Take All Politics. One can think of Cowie’s work as a narrative companion to the more analytic Hacker work.
In fact, both books draw attention to a letter of resignation written by UAW President Douglas Fraser, announcing his withdrawal from the “Labor-Management Group,” an organization predicated on the idea of labor and corporate cooperation. Fraser’s statement is still the most eloquent explanation of what went wrong:
I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in this country—a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society. The leaders of industry, commerce and finance in the United States have broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a past period of growth and progress…
I would rather sit with the rural poor, the desperate children of urban blight, the victims of racism, and working people seeking a better life than with those whose religion is the status quo, whose goal is profit and whose hearts are cold. We in the UAW intend to reforge the links with those who believe in struggle: the kind of people who sat-down in the factories in the 1930’s and who marched in Selma in the 1960’s.
That kind of Old Labor-New Politics alliance is no less crucial today. Those interested in fostering the synthesis should read Cowie’s book to get a sense of the enormous challenge.
tl;dr version: I enjoyed this book. Here’s an interesting negative review from a Left perspective, Rick Perlstein offers praise, and the author blogs about the book.
More proof, as if we needed any, that the only way to stimulate an economy out of a recession is through increased government spending. You cannot tax-cut your way out of a recession.
I tend to think of it like reducing food shopping so you won’t be starving anymore — there is only so much cutting you can do.
Greatest country in the world (to work in until we drop dead)