Millions seek less work, a few win enormous pay
Labor Day is when to assess the future of work
We trim, blend, and append three 2008 articles: “More Americans search for quality part-time work” in The Christian Science Monitor of August 25 by Marilyn Gardner, “Should Uncle Sam Be Helping CEOs Get Richer?” at AlterNet of August 28 by Sam Pizzigati, editor of the online weekly Too Much, and “The Future of Work: Where the Labor Movement Is Heading” at AlterNet on September 1 by Global Labor Strategies.
by Jeffery J. Smith, September 2008Gardner: Once confined primarily to entry-level or hourly-wage positions -- retail, clerical, fast-food -- part-time work is becoming the province of professionals, as more parents, retirees, and young people seek flexible schedules.
More than 25 million people hold part-time jobs in the United States. That work can range from administrative positions to IT, sales support, graphic design, engineering, law, and finance.
Demand for higher-level part-time posts outstrips supply. Women with children lead the charge for a better deal.
On average, only a quarter of firms offer healthcare benefits to part-time employees. Just one-third of part-time employees in the private sector receive retirement benefits.
In the past decade, the number of part-time jobs at all levels has increased nearly 10%. But not everyone working reduced hours does so by choice. The number of people involuntarily working part-time has risen to 5 million.
JJS: While some are willing to take less pay to enjoy more time off, for others the sky’s the limit when it comes to money.
Pizzigati: The Executive Excess 2008 report notes top CEOs in the United States pocketed $10.5 million on average. That’s 344 times the pay of an average US worker -- and ten times the pay gap that existed 30 years ago.
The federal tax code lets top executives defer millions every year with no limits -- and quite often they get a guaranteed, above-market rate return on all the dollars they stuff in their no-limit stashes. Last January, Target CEO Robert Ulrich retired with over $140 million in his deferred pay account.
America’s highest-paid power suits are the managers of hedge and private equity fund partnerships. The top 50 of these fund managers last year averaged $588 million in take-home pay. Tax law lets them pay taxes at the 15% capital gain rate -- not the 35% top rate on ordinary income -- saving them $2.6 billion a year.
Top companies can deduct whatever they pay their executives, so long as they define that pay as a performance-based incentive, shifting $20 billion a year from taxable income to executive excess.
Stratospheric CEO pay is made possible in part by government bailouts and procurement. One example: Lockheed Martin is currently getting about 80% of its revenue from federal contracts. Lockheed Martin CEO Robert Stevens raked in $24 million last year, 787 times the pay of a typical US worker.
Pending before Congress are the Patriot Corporations Act which would give preference in federal contract bidding to companies that pay their executives no more than 100 times the pay of their lowest-paid employee. Other bills would end all the subsidies that encourage lavish CEO pay.
JJS: While overpaying for products like weapons is part of corporate welfare, there’s also undercharging for leases of resources like oil, even failing to collect any royalties at all. To top it off, there’s the direct grant from the public treasury to help a powerful corporation that needs no charity, such as subsidies to MacDonalds to sell hamburgers in Paris. Without such largesse, CEOs could not be overpaid nor Big Business be so big.
Global Labor Strategies: Conventional trade unionism is pretty much over. It's time to figure out what should come next.
It has been decades since Labor Day was a celebration of workers and trade unions as its 19th century founders intended it to be. Today it marks the end of summer.
In the US, only 8% of private sector workers belong to a union. Vast sections of the country are essentially union free.
Like any movement under attack, labor generally resists as disloyal critical thinking that challenges established tenets and practices.
But marginal changes in labor law do not address the dynamics of capital mobility, new corporate structures, and contingent staffing strategies that undermine organized labor.
In the era of globalization, labor needs a movement to build cross-border solidarity and overcome the polarization of wealth and the persistence of poverty.
JJS: Would-be reformers often link wealth with poverty yet seldom know of the book, Progress and Poverty by Henry George, whose birthday falls on or near Labor Day. George shows how labor and capital should be partners, were it not for the absentee ownership of land.
When owners do not have to pay rent to their community, then land becomes an object of speculation. With its supply curtailed, its rent rises, at the expense of wages. Denied locations on which to work, excess labor must compete among itself, further driving down wages.
To reverse that chain of sorry events, we need to de-tax labor, even de-tax capital, and instead recover the rents paid for sites and resources. Then owners would compete among themselves and workers would enjoy the leverage to negotiate higher salaries -- at the expense of CEO excess -- plus shorter hours. That is, once a critical mass links land, labor, and liberty.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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