Monday, December 15, 2014

The Bipartisan War on Workers

There was a brutal double-whammy of an assault on American labor last week. And what with the torture report and Wall Street once again putting taxpayers on the hook for its greedy bets, hardly anyone noticed.

Whammy Number One: a bill allowing multi-employer pension funds to unilaterally cut the benefits of 1.5 million retirees was sneakily tucked into the Cromnibus Bill. This legislation, co-sponsored by a "liberal" Democrat and a Republican, paves the way for the immediate evisceration, at employer will, of the benefits of 1.5 million current retirees and tens of millions of future pensioners. These workers will not even be allowed to sue. It's a done deal.

Whammy Number Two: In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Amazon warehouse temps don't deserve to be paid for the roughly half-hour per working day that they are forced to remain on the premises to undergo anti-theft body searches. The Obama administration fought hard for Scrooge, and Scrooge won. Besides being anti-labor, this odious ruling also falls neatly into the "pre-crime" rationale for the Surveillance State spying on American citizens. Not only are you presumed guilty for merely trying to live, but the highest court has effectively criminalized labor itself. The unanimous ruling has essentially paved the way for the workplace to become a jail, the boss to become the warden, and for the establishment to create a new tier of work: that of virtual enslavement. The ruling is mission-creep, plutocracy-style.

The pension plan-gutting (Whammy #1) is a double-whammy in and of itself, because the precarious worker-funded retirement plans now on the chopping block were made that way by the very Wall Street malfeasance which is again being handsomely rewarded and encouraged by the Obama White House and both parties in Congress.  As David Sirota writes in the International Business Times, this measure in the Cromnibus amounts to "the most consequential change to retirement policy in the United States since the passage of landmark pension legislation 40 years ago. Altering the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act to permit benefit cuts could prompt a slew of efforts to chip away at formerly untouchable guarantees of income to millions of retirees."
Lawmakers pushing to allow benefit cuts are citing the example of the $18.7 billion Teamsters' Central States Fund, which has 410,000 members and is the nation’s second-largest multiemployer pension plan. There’s an estimated $22 billion gap between assets in the Central States Fund and promised benefits to the system’s current and future retirees -- a shortfall that legislators point to as a rationale to pass a new law permitting multiemployer plans to slash promised retirement benefits.

“We have to do something to allow these plans to make the corrections and adjustments they need to keep these plans viable,” said Democratic Rep. George Miller in pushing the plan.
But critics of the provisions say the plight of the Central States Fund is not a cautionary tale about unsustainable benefits but an example of Wall Street mismanagement. They note that Central States is the only major private pension fund where all the discretionary investment decisions are made by financial firms rather than by the fund’s board. Roughly a third of the pension system’s shortfalls -- or almost $9 billion -- can be traced to investment losses accrued during the financial industry’s 2008 collapse. Those losses were in addition to more than $250 million in fees paid by the plan to financial firms in just the last 5 years.

Many pension funds followed strategies that involved high fees for Wall Street companies while producing “financial returns that trailed plain vanilla investment strategies,” said Jay Youngdahl, a fellow with the Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University. Central States appears to be a prime example, he said. “Before cutting benefits, we need to examine what exactly has happened.”
The pension funds controlled by Goldman Sachs alone lost more than a third of their value in the 2008 meltdown. Had this criminal banking cartel behaved itself and not gambled with union money, the funds would now be flush with cash and earning enough interest to keep the workers who paid into them in relatively comfortable retirements. Not only are the banks not being forced pay compensation to their victims, they continue to make obscene profits. CEO Lloyd Blankfein roams free, stuffing his own pockets as well as those of his political enablers in Congress and the White House.

Now we come to Whammy #2 -- the plight of the low-wage warehouse workers, who don't even have a pension fund that Wall Street can loot. Therefore, the masters of the universe are doing the next best thing: they're robbing employees of their time and their dignity.

The workers are not even employed directly by Amazon, but by the ironically-named Integrity Staffing Solutions. The case gives a whole new meaning to the word "Temp" and "workplace" (plantation). It also gives a whole new meaning to the argument that we have to elect a Democrat to save the Supreme Court from right-wing hacks. A Democratic administration actually urged its own black-robed appointees to screw the workers in this case.

And boy, did they ever oblige -- unanimously. The Court ruled that because the body searches have nothing to do with actual work, they are not compensable. Being held against one's will does not contribute to the bottom line of the employer, so all's fair in profit and oppression. From David Hensel's blog:
In an Amazon warehouse in Las Vegas, NV, workers for the temp agency Integrity Staffing Solutions have to go through a security screening at the end of each day for which workers are not paid. The process is meant to prevent theft by workers. Workers say waiting for the screening can take 25 minutes. Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, two of these workers, sued the temp agency for the pay they were denied. The question asked is whether the security screening (and thus waiting for it) is an integral part of the principle activities for workers – should they be paid for the time spent in them?
The Court’s decision focused on what “integral and indispensable” work would be: it has to be absolutely central to why the workers were hired in the first place and a key part of completing that job.

"An activity is therefore integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities."
In her concurring opinion reversing a lower court ruling, "liberal" Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the forced security screenings were simply part of the exiting procedure, comparable to showering or waiting in line for a paycheck, and therefore not part of official work duties for which the plaintiffs were hired. Being criminalized by one's boss falls outside the category of labor and therefore can't be paid.

Wall Street crime pays.

Worker criminalization does not.

 In other words, Kafka has infiltrated the Supreme Court to allow a cheapskate version of Orwell's Big Brother to infiltrate the American workplace. 

(Illustrations courtesy of Kafka; Precariat courtesy of the American Plutocracy)
 The freedom to search and screen employees at no cost to the boss? You might call this latest New Abnormal in the age of unfettered hypercapitalism the "Enhanced Clocking-Out Technique".

The working class has been transformed into a post-2008 sub-underclass called the Precariat: officially defined as being only a meager paycheck or retirement benefit away from outright destitution. Even people lucky enough to have jobs are never allowed to forget that there are plenty more people waiting outside, willing to be searched, suspected, and oppressed for even lower wages and fewer benefits. It's how the plutocracy's Divide and Conquer agenda works.   


Denis Neville said...

Cromnibus is just another word for looting.

The Employee Income Retirement Security Act was adopted in 1974 to ensure that workers would be able to collect the money they deferred into pension plans. The bipartisan den of vipers and thieves in Washington have approved the looting of those benefits. Retirees will take enormous cuts to benefits that were earned and promised. They also lose their right to contest those cuts in court.

According to effing geniuses at The New York Times, “It allows certain multi-employer pension plans to shore up their finances by cutting retirees’ benefits.”

A lot of the pension system’s shortfalls are due to the huge losses in assets managed by the banksters during 2008 collapse and the high fees paid to them.

Kansas is a prime example of what's wrong in America, cut and gut the middle class. Kansas is the "poster child" for the future of America. Kansas Republican Governor Sam Brownback wants to slash the state’s required pension contribution by $40 million to balance the state budget in order to cover the huge budget gaps created by his massive tax cuts. Kansas already has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the USA. Now he wants to steal the pensions of people that have been paid for and earned.

So much for the secure, predictable retirement income once promised to American workers.

“The new America … is fast becoming a vast ghetto in which all of us, conservatives and progressives, are being bled dry by a relatively tiny oligarchy of extremely clever financial criminals and their castrato henchmen in government, whose job is to be good actors on TV and put on a good show… Our leaders know we’re turning into a giant ghetto and they are taking every last hubcap they can get their hands on before the rest of us wake up and realize what’s happened.” - Matt Taibbi, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America

Zee said...

Ah, yes, U.S. Representative George Miller III. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a close watcher thereof while studying at UC Davis, the name rang a few bells in my mind.

According to Wikipedia,we must have been UCD contemporaries, he at the law school, and I in grad school:

“According to the National Journal, Miller is one of seven members of the House of Representatives who tie for most liberal.”


“Miller has been considered Nancy Pelosi's most trusted confidant, with ... columnist Robert Novak describing him as 'her consigliere, always at her side.' Pelosi receives advice from Miller as well as protection from potential adversaries in the Democratic Caucus. Miller describes her as the leader he has been waiting for 30 years and supported her when the Democrats lost the majority in 2010, saying that the Obama administration did not defend her or her accomplishments. Pelosi also named Miller chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, where he had an influential role in preparing the 'New Direction' for the 2006 election...

Their friendship has spanned 'over 30 years and many plane trips to Washington from their neighboring California districts' with some colleagues saying that they have become so close that they finish each other's sentences. The New York Times reported that 'In the concerns of some Democrats — and the I-told-you-so’s of some Republicans — Mr. Miller represents Mrs. Pelosi’s true liberal soul.'...”

But perhaps Novak's description of Miller as Pelosi's “consigliere” was particularly apt. In true mafioso style, Miller's stiletto flicked open and knifed Pelosi in the back over the Cromnibus bill:

“While Pelosi was railing against the cromnibus and trying to use her leverage for a better deal — bucking the White House, with whom she has typically had a good relationship, in the process — she had plenty of allies by her side. But Miller, Pelosi’s closest confidante and counselor, ultimately voted 'yes.' It likely had to do with the fact that the underlying spending package included an amendment related to pensions, which he had helped facilitate. But it was a striking moment for Miller to break away from Pelosi: It was the retiring congressman’s second-to-last vote as a member of the House.”

Et tu, George?

More on the corruption of ├╝ber liberal George Miller III, from the same Wikipedia article:

SunPower controversy: It was reported that Miller and his son, George Miller IV, a lobbyist, were involved in the controversy surrounding the U.S. Department of Energy awarding a $1.2 billion loan to the struggling SunPower Corporation... The loan was awarded hours before the DOE program was set to expire. It was reported that by April 2012, the company's stock had fallen nearly 50% since the loan had been awarded. SunPower has paid Miller's son and his lobbying firm US$138,000 to represent them. Miller asserts that he and his son never discusses legislation; his son, however, does boast of political connections in Washington openly...

Conservative critics said that '[t]here is great cause for alarm over political influence contaminating the DOE loan guarantee program.' ... Liberal sources note speaking with Miller IV on the phone, and reported his statement he does not specifically work on SunPower's account.

Accepting free travel: In January 2012, Miller was cited as one of the members of Congress who had accepted the most free travel the previous year.

Again, per Wikipedia, “Miller has been described as the 'heir to a tradition of Bay Area working-class politics.'”

But given what Miller has done to pensions for the “working man” via his sneaky little insert into the Cromnibus bill, whoever made that statement may care to rethink his “legacy.”

Pearl said...

Zee that explains Ms.Pelosi's murky agenda such as stabbing citizens in the back by removing public choices for promised Health coverage and many other items that have mercilessly left my mind. Perhaps you or Denis can remind us.
It is always interesting when politicians' past histories are exposed and with few exceptions it is not always an honorable one.
Wonder how they ever keep their stories straight except they do rely on the public amnesia to protect them. We need more researchers like Karen and supporters to keep us on our toes.

Bert Gold, Frederick Maryland said...

I just posted this on the NYTimes comment board under David Brooks' column about how Elizabeth Warren can win. I don't know if she or Bernie Sanders can win. What I know is that the whole rest of the country is rotted and fascist. Am I the only person in America courageous enough to tell the truth? (OK, Karen is excepted; she tells the truth, also).

America is essentially fascist right now: A confederation of business and government that makes life impossible for the middle class. It's an unholy alliance. Anyone or anything that can break it is something and someone I am for. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both see it as I do. I am pretty certain that they can win because neither lacks courage.

The rest of the country, including the chicken hearted former Vice-President, symbolize defeat for the nation's values and a victory for fascism.

Bert Gold, Frederick Maryland said...

Let's talk about fascism more clearly. Here is my NYTimes comment on the CIA's path to torture, through the guidance of psychologists Goering and Eichmann, er, I mean, Mitchell and Jensen:

Stanley Milgram showed that in a corrupt system perpetuating heinous crime, human beings giving orders become cogs in a machine. He called this 'fundamental attribution error', meaning that we attribute to the individuals (in this case Mitchell & Jessen) the power to undo that which the authority insists be done. It is in this context that all Americans are guilty of creating the corrupt system -- as all Germans were guilty of creating the Third Reich. Now the question is: Can this nation rise past its abominable history of enslavement of Africans and torture of Islamics and their sympathizers? I think not. We are a heathen people who would have created the atrocities of the Second World War if given half a chance. In fact, Kurt Vonnegut, a bomber over Dresden, asserted that we *did* create great atrocities. And, he proposed, not in the name of vanquishing our enemy, but in the name of who we are as a people. Americans now need to look in the mirror, as Charles Blow said this week, and ask: "Who are we?". One likely conclusion is that we are not who we thought we were.

Karen Garcia said...


Kansas is aiming for #1 in the Laboratory of Oligarchy sweepstakes. Either that, or Brownback wants to reprise the era of Bloody Kansas. David Sirota has a piece on the pension robbery here:

Zee, thanks for your research on George Miller. He's of a piece with New York's own Sean Maloney (D-Wall Street) stenographer and co-sponsor of Citigroup's corporate welfare bill.

Pearl, Pelosi is an opportunistic fraud. She licked her index finger, stuck it in the air, and felt a change in the wind direction from due left. Cue the fundraising emails.

Bert,I agree that "the Homeland" is a fascist state. The consolation is that this reality is becoming accepted by the mainstream. The sheen on the Obama personality cult is permanently dulled and people are waking up and taking to the streets.

stranger in a strange land said...

If the bleak reality of "being bled dry by a relatively tiny oligarchy of extremely clever financial criminals and their castrato henchmen in government" is ever actually recognized by "folks" will the powers-that-be simply replace the current soft-tyranny of distraction and crumbs (Huxley) with an uglier version (Orwell) that we've gotten more than a few glimpses of recently?

Will they, to paraphrase Frank Zappa, simply take down the scenery, pull back the curtains, and reveal the brick walls of the theater/prison?

Cirze said...


I'm with you and Karen and Stranger.

I've been writing about the fascism here for many years to a largely disbelieving audience.

It's become obvious to all now.

I think letting Cheney constantly perform his act on the MSM is brilliant truth telling that almost no one misses anymore.

Love to all you guys at this brilliant blog!