The Boss Who Fought for the Working Class

by Walter Brasch

He was born into poverty in New Hampshire in 1811.

His father was a struggling farmer. His mother did most of the other chores.

He was a brilliant student, but the family often moved, looking for a better life-a couple of times so the father could avoid being put into debtor’s prison.

At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and became a printer’s apprentice, sending much of his wages to help his family.

For several years, he worked as an apprentice and then as a printer, his hands covered by ink, his body ingesting the chemicals of that ink.

He worked hard, saved money, helped others achieve their political dreams, became the editor of newspapers, and soon became an owner.

In the two decades leading to the Civil War, Horace Greeley had become one of the most powerful and influential men in America. His newspaper, the New York Tribune, was the nation’s largest circulation newspaper.

But instead of becoming even richer, he used his newspaper as a call for social action. For social justice.

In 1848, as a congressman fulfilling the last three months of the term of an incumbent who was removed from office, Greeley introduced legislation to end flogging in the Navy, argued for a transcontinental railroad, and introduced legislation to allow citizens to purchase at a reduced price land in unsettled territories as long as they weren’t speculators and promised to develop the land.

The Homestead Act, which Congress finally passed 13 years later, helped the indigent, unemployed, and others to help settle the American west and Midwest.

But in his three months in office he also became universally hated by almost everyone elected to Congress. The social reformer in his soul had pointed out numerous ethical and criminal abuses by members of Congress; his party didn’t ask him to run for a full term.

He called for all American citizens-Blacks and women included-to be given the rights of the vote.

In 1854, Greeley became one of the founders of the Republican party. For more than two decades, he had been a strong abolitionist and now the new political party would make the end of slavery one of its founding principles. He was one of the main reasons why his friend, Abraham Lincoln, whom he helped become president, finally relented and two years after the civil war began, finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

More than 225,000 Americans (of a nation of about 35 million) bought his relatively objective and powerful history of the civil war, making the book one of the best-sellers in the nation’s nine decade history. In today’s sales, that would be about two million copies.

Unlike some editors who pandered to the readers and advertisers, he maintained a separation of editorial and advertising departments, and demanded the best writers and reporters, no matter what their personal opinions were. Among those he hired were Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Karl Marx. And at a time when newsrooms were restricted to men, he hired Margaret Fuller to be his literary editor.

He believed in a utopian socialism, where all people helped each other, and where even the most unskilled were given the opportunity to earn a living wage.

He demanded that all workers be treated fairly and with respect. In 1851, he founded a union for printers.

When his employees said they didn’t need a union because their boss paid them well and treated them fairly, he told them that only in a union could the workers continue to be treated decently, that they had no assurances that some day he might not be as decent and generous as he was that day. The union was for their benefit, the benefit of their families, and their profession, he told them.

In 1872, Horace Greeley ran for the presidency, nominated on both the Democrat and Liberal Republican tickets. But, his opposition was U.S. Grant, the war hero running for re-election on an establishment Republican ticket.

Weeks before the electoral college met, Horace Greeley, who lost the popular vote, died, not long after his wife.

The printers, the working class, erected monuments in his honor.

And everyone knew that the man with a slight limp, who usually dressed not as a rich man but as a farmer coming into town to buy goods, who greeted everyone as a friend, who could have interesting conversations with everyone from the illiterate to the elite, was a man worthy of respect, even if they disagreed with his views. For most, Horace Greeley was just a bit too eccentric, his ideas just too many decades ahead of their time.

On this Labor Day weekend, when not one Republican candidate for president believes in unions, when CEOs often make more than 100 times what their workers earn, when millionaires and billionaires running for office pretend they are populists, when even many in the working class seem more comfortable supporting the policies and political beliefs of the elite, the nation needs to reflect upon the man who knew that without the workers, there would be no capitalism.

[Dr. Brasch has been a member of several crafts, arts, and trade labor unions. He proudly sees himself not as among the elite but as a part of the working class. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster]

 

‘Rithmatic Doesn’t Add Up in One School District

By Walter Brasch

The Danville Education Association (Pa.) has been operating without a contract for three years.

Two years ago, the teachers approved recommendations of an independent fact-finder; the board rejected it. This eventually led to a protest strike of five days in  April 2014. Recently, the teachers and the board agreed to submit their proposals to an independent arbitrator.

Working under regulations of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, the arbitrator analyzed the district finances, tax base, and other data before making his recommendations. The arbitrator concluded the district had the money to pay the teachers more-not what the teachers asked, but more than the board was offering. He also recommended increased contributions by the teachers for their health benefits.

The teachers voted to accept the recommendations. The board unanimously voted to reject the arbitrator’s recommendations, even though the arbitrator agreed with most of the board’s demands.

The board claims it can’t afford the teacher raises. The overall budget for the 2014-2015 academic year is about $34 million. In addition, the district also has about $12.2 million in reserve, most of which the district says is for anticipated increases in health care premiums and unfunded mandates to improve the state retirement system; included is an unassigned reserve of about $2.1 million. In 2011, when the Board only had a $6.2 million surplus, the fact finder had recommended a 5.7 percent increase for teacher salaries for the 2015-2016 academic year. The arbitrator two years later recommended raises of 3.5 percent for each of the four years of the new contract.

Of the 17 districts in the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU), Danville teachers are ninth in average salary (about $52,000 a year). The district has the second highest average income of all districts in the CSIU. Teacher salaries and benefits are about 48 percent of the total budget, down from 51.1 percent in the 2009-2010 academic year.

Every teacher pays 7.5 percent of his or her salary into a retirement account, in addition to 6.2 percent for social security contributions. The district, under federal law, also pays 6.2 percent social security contribution, but pays only 3.09 percent into the state pension fund, a slow increase from 1.18 percent in 2008-2009. (The state also pays 3.09 percent.)

Each teacher currently pays $1,453-$1,684 per year, depending on the plan, for health care. The arbitrator recommended the teachers increase their share of the total cost to 12 percent of the health care cost.

Perhaps the board needed the money for its “Community Room.” That room, which will be the place for board meetings, includes a new sound system ($31,159), new carpet ($13,242), and new furniture ($8,551.06).

Perhaps the board needed the money for an additional administrator ($69,209), or for the 3 percent increases for its administrative staff, which includes a salary of $133,900 for its superintendent, more than $60,000 higher than the highest pay earned by any teacher.

Because of the teachers, the students have the highest academic scores on the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile; the high school is the only one in the state, one of only 340 in the nation, to have earned Blue Ribbon designation by the U.S. Department of Education. That honor is based upon academic excellence and/or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

The board’s performance leaves some serious questions. The major question is why even go to arbitration if you don’t plan to listen to what is a fair settlement? Apparently, the board believes that only if the arbitrator agrees with all of its proposals should it accept the recommendations. This is not what arbitration is.

However, there are two deeper issues. Some residents ignorantly claim that teachers work limited hours a day and only 180 days a year, not realizing that outside of class teachers also have preparation, grading, student and parent conferences, extracurricular advising, required training sessions, and meetings; the average worker, if taking into account weekends, sick days, vacation time, and holidays, works fewer hours a year than does the average teacher. The arbitrator said many of the letters he received from the public argued that the teachers are paid more than the general public in the district, and receive better benefits. These arguments are not uncommon in Pennsylvania.

This is not the 19th century when teachers didn’t need a college degree, were primarily female-they were often called “school marms”-and worked for low wages and near-nothing benefits.

Today, every public school teacher has a college degree and state certification. Every teacher is required to take additional classes. Most teachers are pursuing or have already earned master’s degrees. They are a part of the professional class. But, they are still behind their other colleagues who have similar education and years of experience.

But, this doesn’t matter to those who may be envious that others make more than they do, a problem not just in Danville but throughout the state and nation.

Here are two realities. First, high quality teachers-the ones who teach our children who will become our tradespeople, secretaries, physicians, social workers, firefighters, and scientists-are critical to any society, and should be paid well.

Second, if the public is upset the teachers are paid more than they are, then they should do what the teachers have done successfully-Unionize and raise their own wages and benefits, rather than complain about others and try to drag their compensation down.

[Among those contributing facts to this column were Dave Fortunato, president of the Danville Teachers Association; and Allan Schappert, president of the board of the Danville Area School District. Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist, a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and the author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, political, health, and environmental effects of fracking throughout the country. Full disclosure: Dr. Brasch is a former teacher.]

‘Made in America’ Just a Political Slogan to Conservatives

by Walter Brasch

Conservatives in Congress have once again proven they are un-American and unpatriotic. This time, it’s because of their fierce approval for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline, being built and run by TransCanada, will bring tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. All the oil will be exported. Major beneficiaries, including House Speaker John Boehner, are those who invest in a Canadian company.

Opponents see the 1,179-mile pipeline as environmentally destructive. They cite innumerable leaks and spills in gas pipelines, and correctly argue that the tar sands oil is far more caustic and destructive than any of the crude oil being mined in the United States. They point out the pipeline would add about 240 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. They also argue that the use of eminent domain by a foreign corporation, in this case a Canadian one, to seize private property goes against the intent of the use of eminent domain. Eminent domain seizure, they also correctly argue, should be used only to benefit the people and not private corporations.

Proponents claim it will bring jobs to Americans. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims the pipeline would create up to 250,000 jobs. However, the Department of State concludes that completion of the pipeline would create only 35 permanent jobs.

The Republican-led House has voted nine times to force the President to approve completion of the pipeline. In January, with Republicans now in control of the Senate, a bill to support construction of the pipeline passed, 62-36. Congressional actions appear to be nothing more than political gesturing. The decision to approve or reject the pipeline is that of a recommendation by the Department of State and, finally, that of the President.

However, the conservatives’ hatred of American workers became apparent in an amendment to the Senate bill. That amendment, submitted by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) would require, if the pipeline was approved, all iron, steel, and other materials used must be made in America by American companies. That would, at least, give some work to Americans. That amendment should have had widespread approval in the Senate, especially from the conservative wing that thrusts out its chests and daily proclaim themselves to be patriots of the highest order.

But when the votes were counted, the Senate, by a 53-46 vote, rejected that amendment. Voting for “Made in America” were 44 Democrats, one independent, and one Republican. Voting against the amendment were 53 Republicans.

The Republicans’ rejection of the amendment was expected. America’s corporate business leaders, most of them conservatives and registered Republicans, have freely downsized their workforce, outsourced jobs overseas, and proudly proclaimed their actions helped raise profits. Profits, of course, are not usually shared with the workers who make the product and then were terminated so American companies could use and exploit foreign labor, while the executives enjoy seven- and eight-figure salaries, benefits, and “golden parachute” retirement clauses not available to those whose labor built the companies and their profits.

Corporations have also figured out how to best send their profits to banks outside the United States and, thus, avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Several Fortune 500 corporations, with billions of dollars in assets, pay no federal taxes. For money they keep in U.S. financial institutions, corporations have figured out numerous ways to use loopholes to bring their tax burden to a percentage lower than what the average worker might pay each year.

Congress is a willing co-conspirator because it has numerous times refused to close loopholes that allow millionaires and the corporations to easily drive through those loopholes, while penalizing lower- and middle-class Americans.

By their own actions-in business and, most certainly, in how they dealt with the Keystone XL amendment-the nation’s conservatives have proven that “Made in America” and “American Pride” are nothing more than just popular slogans.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and proud member of several unions, is the author of 20 books. The latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth look at the economic, political, environmental, and health effects of horizontal fracturing in the United States.]

 

Disposable Assets in the Fracking Industry

by Walter Brasch

The oil and gas industry, the nation’s chambers of commerce, and politicians who are dependent upon campaign contributions from the industry and the chambers, claim fracking is safe.

First, close your mind to the myriad scientific studies that show the health effects from fracking.

Close your mind to the well-documented evidence of the environmental impact.

Focus just upon the effects upon the workers.

The oil and gas industry has a fatality rate seven times higher than for all other workers, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control. (CDC). According to the CDC, the death rate in the oil and gas industry is 27.1; the U.S. collective death rate is 3.8.

“Job gains in oil and gas construction have come with more fatalities, and that is unacceptable,” said John E. Perez, secretary of labor.

Not included in the data, because it doesn’t include the past three years, when the oil/gas industry significantly increased fracking in the Marcellus and other shales, is a 27-year-old worker who was cremated in a gas well explosion in late February in Greene County, Pa. One other worker was injured. Because of extensive heat and fire, emergency management officials couldn’t get closer than 1,500 feet of the wells. Pennsylvania’s Act 13, largely written by the oil and gas industry, allows only a 300 foot set-back from wells to homes. In Greene County, it took more than a week to cap three wells on the pad where the explosion occurred.

The gas drilling industry, for the most part, is non-union or dependent upon independent contractors who often provide little or no benefits to their workers. The billion dollar corporations like it that way. That means there are no worker safety committees and no workplace regulations monitored by workers. The workers have no bargaining or grievance rights; health and workplace benefits for workers who aren’t executives or professionals are often minimal or non-existent.

It may be months or years before most workers learn the extent of possible injury or diseases caused by industry neglect.

“Almost every one of the injuries and deaths you will happen upon, it will have something to do with cutting a corner, to save time, to save money,” attorney Tim Bailey told EnergyWire.

“Multiple pressures weigh on the people who work in this high-risk, high-reward industry, including the need to produce on schedule and keep the costs down,” reports Gayathri Vaidyanathan of EnergyWire.

Tom Bean, a former gas field worker from Williamsport, Pa., says he doesn’t know what he and his co-workers were exposed to. He does know it affected his health:

 “You’d constantly have cracked hands, red hands, sore throat, sneezing. All kinds of stuff. Headaches. My biggest one was a nauseating dizzy headache . . .  People were sick all the time . . . and then they’d get into trouble for calling off sick. You’re in muck and dirt and mud and oil and grease and diesel and chemicals. And you have no idea [what they are] . . . It can be anything. You have no idea, but they [Management] don’t care . .  . It’s like, ‘Get the job done.’ . .  . You’d be asked to work 15, 18 hour days and you could be so tired that you couldn’t keep your eyes open anymore, but it was ‘Keep working. Keep working. Keep working.'”

Workers are exposed to more than 1,000 chemicals, most of them known carcinogens. They are exposed to radioactive waste, brought up from more than a mile in the earth. They are exposed to the effects from inhaling silica sand; they are exposed to protective casings that fail, and to explosions that are a part of building and maintaining a fossil fuel system that has explosive methane as its primary ingredient.

In July, two storage tanks exploded in New Milton, W.Va., injuring five persons. One of the injured, Charlie Arbogast, a rigger and trucker, suffered third degree burns on his hands and face. “You come to the rigs, you do what you do and you don’t ask questions,” Diana Arbogast, his wife, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“In Pennsylvania, workers have reported contact with chemicals without appropriate protective equipment, inhalation of sand without masks, and repeated emergency visits for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, yet many of the medical encounters go unreported,” says Dr. Pouné Saberi, a public health physician and clinical assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

The oil/gas industry, the Chambers of Commerce, politicians, and some in the media, even against significant and substantial health and environmental evidence, erroneously claim there are economic benefits to fracking. Disregard the evidence that the 100-year claim for natural gas is exaggerated by 10 times, or that the number of jobs created by the boom in the Marcellus Shale is inflated by another 10 times. Focus on Greene County, Pa.

Included in the “economic boom” is a small pizza shop that was contracted by Chevron to provide large pizzas and sodas to about 100 families living near the gas well explosion that cost one man his life. Apparently, workers, like pizza boxes, are just disposable items.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist of more than four decades. His latest of 20 books is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth documented exploration of the economic, health, and environmental effects of fracking, with an underlying theme of the connection between politicians and campaign funds provided by the oil/gas lobby.]

 

Stand with the #WalmartStrikers in Boothwyn, PA

Stand with Walmart Workers in Boothwyn, PA

For those interested in getting involved, or who believe the Walmart Workers Black Friday strike is only happening in another part of the country;  look no further then Boothwyn, Pa in Delaware County. OUR Walmart, the Organization  United for Respect at Walmart is organizing a nationwide strike on Black Friday in order to draw attention to the abuses workers face at Walmart. And if you are in the area of the Walmart at Larkins Corner in Boothwyn, Pa, come out and support the workers.

The mission statement for OUR Walmart explains the purpose of the organization better then I could:

“OUR Walmart works to ensure that every Associate, regardless of his or her title, age, race, or sex, is respected at Walmart. We join together to offer strength and support in addressing the challenges that arise in our stores and our company everyday.”

Whether or not you believe in Unions, Collective Bargaining or the changes the Labor movement in this country seeks to address. OUR Walmart is trying to address an injustice almost all of us can agree is wrong. That injustice is the targeting of workers who try to speak up for what they believe, the firing of workers who want nothing more then a voice or a future.

This isn’t some foreign ideal, some unAmerican desire. The strike is about hard working Americans who have had enough of being told that they aren’t worth the bother; shut up and be happy that they have a job. The rights that OUR Walmart are demanding are rights that I enjoy at work. The only reason I enjoy these rights is because at some point someone enough. And I stand with the Walmart workers who this Friday are saying enough and standing up for their rights.

You can find an OUR Walmart strike in your area by clicking on this link

Prevailing Wage Laws are not unnecessary laws.

Creative Conservatism is at once again in Pennsylvania. Claiming the Prevailing Wage Act is an unnecessary, expensive law that aims to limit competition the free market think tank Commonwealth Foundation, is throwing half hearted support behind Rep. Keller (R-85) HB1329, which calls for the threshold of the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act to be raised for 25,000 to 185,000. I say half hearted support, because the overall goal of think tanks such as the Commonwealth Foundation is to muster support to repeal laws that treat workers more than a commodity, but I guess they will take what they can get: 

The legislation being considered today-HB 1329-would not repeal this costly, unnecessary law, but simply increase the threshold above which projects are subject to the prevailing wage mandate (http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/who-would-oppose-reforming-a-costly-unnecessary-law)

The Prevailing Wage Act is not a costly, unnecessary law. The Prevailing Wage Act protects Pennsylvania’s workers, taxpayers and strengthens the middle class.

Prevailing Wage laws have been around since 1891. When Republicans in Kansas sought to protect local wages, and prevent downward wage pressure. My how times have changed since the Republican party sought to protect everyday Americans at the expense of corporations, but that is for a later argument. The Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act says if you bid on a public work contract that meets the criteria of the act and is greater then 25,000 dollars, you will pay the local prevailing rate for the work. According to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO:

Prevailing wage laws ensure that workers on public construction projects paid for with taxpayer dollars are paid a wage comparable to the local standard or “prevailing” wage(http://www.paaflcio.org/What-Are-Prevailing.pdf)

Prevailing wage acts protect the taxpayers investment, while preventing the taxpayers in the area, who are working on the project from receiving less then the local wage they would be used to.

While the conservative model, with the Commonwealth Foundation and other free market libertarian think tanks like to claim prevailing wage laws raise the costs for contractors, limit competition and in the end raise the bill for taxpayers the truth is taxpayer money is not what they are concerned about the contractors bottom line and how to lower it is the foremost concern of these groups. According to the Economic Policy Institute study “Prevailing Wages and Government contracting costs”:

Average labor costs, including benefits and payroll taxes, are roughly one-quarter of construction costs. Thus, even if a prevailing wage regulation raised wages by 10%, the impact on contract costs would be less than 2.5%. Thus, even if there is an increase in contract costs it is likely to be small-to the point of being undetectable. (http://www.epi.org/publication/bp215/)

 

One quarter of the production costs go to labor costs, so when we examine the Commonwealth Foundation claim that prevailing wages are going to raise taxpayers costs on a

A $42,000 bridge repair project in Carbon County

A $46,500 roof replacement in Adams County

A $134,000 traffic light upgrade in Lebanon County

Spending $44,000 to replace exterior lights and posts at the Westmoreland County Courthouse (http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/research/detail/pennsylvanias-prevailing-wage-law)

by 2.5% because the contractor has to pay the prevailing wage of the area is shrewd economics. It is a veiled attempt to give builders and contractors higher profits while allowing them to cut the one cost that affects those taxpayers who live in the community; their wages. Also, as far as competition is concerned, the contractor is free not to bid on the contract if they feel paying the local set wage is not in their interest. 

The Commonwealth foundation is correct in their assumption that: 

Hit with shrinking funds because of the recession, townships, counties, boroughs, cities and school districts are desperately looking for ways to use taxpayer money more efficiently. (http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/research/detail/pennsylvanias-prevailing-wage-law)

However, creating environments where contractors can circumvent local wages will not create the prosperity that middle class Pennsylvanians need to thrive. In times of economic hardship, lower wages are not the answer. It is easy to play on the emotions on people with creative titles such as ”

Who Would Oppose Reforming a Costly, Unnecessary Law?” I mean, wow who could be opposed to reforming costly, unnecessary laws. However, a law that protects the taxpayers from unscrupulous contractors lowering wages, making higher profits at the expense of the local workforce and the taxpayer does not prove to be unnecessary. Tell your local Representative and Senator that when you support the local workers and the Prevailing Wage in your community you broaden the tax base and create jobs with livable wages. Wages that help the middle class thrive, not that cause more burden on the social safety net.

Expand Drug Testing to the entire Public Sector; Comical Sense from the PA Water Cooler.

Libertarianism once stood for liberty, a distorted form of liberty in my opinion, but liberty nonetheless. Now that liberty gospel of old has transformed. In an article by Chris Friend, Opposing Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients? Are You High?, we see not only the demonization of those who are struggling to make it out of the social safety net (which shrinks little, by little through the PA Conservative trifecta in Harrisburg), but now all public sector workers. 

One only has to read the first sentence in bold to see where Mr. Friend is going. 

Randomly testing all public workers is simply common sense. (http://pawatercooler.com/v3/?cat=51) 

Of course, he leaves out testing our illustrious legislatures, because:

The only officials who should be exempted from mandated drug testing are elected officials, though that position is sure to generate hoots and hollars from the cheap seats.  The rationale is simple: they are elected by the people. They are not collecting government assistance checks, nor are they hired as civil service workers. (http://pawatercooler.com/v3/?cat=51)

He has a point that many of them aren’t hired as civil service workers. Our legislatures are turning more and more into special interest workers, however common sense dictates the poor and the public sector worker are the problem.

I guess you could count me as one of the hoots and hollars from the cheap seats, but I’m responding to the cheap shots of a conservative movement that shows austerity in decency. I mean my cheap shots are usually calling for drug testing CEO’s who take subsidies after turning record profits, but they are only high on greed.

Mr. Friend call for drug testing,

every single non-elected person receiving a paycheck courtesy of John Q. Taxpayer  . (http://pawatercooler.com/v3/?cat=5)

will not address the problems we face today. Creating the opportunity and environment where lower income Pennsylvanians can help rebuild our ever shrinking middle class. Governor. Rick Scott (R-FL), who holds the honor of being Americas least favorite Governor implemented a program of the sort (only welfare recipients were demonized in his drug testing effort, not the entire public sector) and what did it find? 

Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free – leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests….Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free. (http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2011/09/06/2-of-welfare-recipients-fail-drug-tests-in-florida/)

Wouldn’t common sense be better served by addressing the underlying causes of poverty in America, not diverting vital commonwealth resources through ideological witch hunts.

Obama Budget Highlights Education, Job Training

The White House hosted a conference call this afternoon on the education aspects of President Obama’s budget.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and White House Director of Domestic Policy Cecelia Munoz spoke with reporters about the need to train American workers for the jobs of the 21st century.  While there are 4 unemployed workers for each job opening there is actually a shortage of workers properly trained for many of these jobs.

The U.S. Department of Education is requesting $69.8 billion in discretionary funding for 2013, an increase of $1.7 billion or 2.5 percent from 2012. The President is proposing a $14 billion one-time strategic investment in key reform areas, including aligning education programs with workforce demands, raising the teaching profession, and increasing college affordability and quality. These investments will ensure that continuing investments in foundational programs like Title I, IDEA and Pell Grants are able to serve students and schools well. The Department’s fiscal year 2013 budget also continues commitments to existing reform efforts like Race to the Top.

Also from the White House:

Because we need more high-quality training programs that give students crucial skills and prepare them for the high-skill jobs that employers are looking to fill, the Administration is proposing $8 billion in mandatory funding for a Community College to Career Fund. Jointly administered with the U.S. Department of Labor, this competitive program would provide funding to develop new partnerships between community colleges and businesses in order to train and place 2 million workers in high-growth industries.

These funds would give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers where people learn skills that local businesses are looking for right now. In addition, employers would offer paid internships for low-income students so they could simultaneously earn credit for work-based learning and gain relevant employment experience. The fund will also support new pay-for-performance strategies to provide incentives to ensure trainees find permanent jobs and encourage companies to locate in the U.S.

In addition, the Department is proposing to invest $1.1 billion to support the reauthorization and reform of the Career and Technical Education program so what students learn is more closely aligned with the demands of the workforce, and partnerships with postsecondary education are strengthened.

Unfortunately here in Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett has been cutting funding for employee retraining programs.  Combined with his austere cuts to pre-school, K12 and higher education these mean Pennsylvania’s future is severely limited.  As the 21st century proceeds we will be left behind.

A fact sheet is below the fold…

Here is a fact sheet sent by the White House on the topic:



FACT SHEET: A Blueprint to Train Two Million Workers for High-Demand Industries through a Community College to Career Fund

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for a national commitment to help create an economy built to last by training two million workers with skills that will lead directly to a job.  Many industries have difficulty filling jobs requiring specific technical skills, even with many Americans still looking for work.  In the coming years, America will need to fill millions of good-paying mid- and high-level skilled positions in high-growth industries from healthcare to advanced manufacturing, clean energy to information technology.

On Monday, February 13, President Obama will host an event at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Virginia to announce a new $8 billion Community College to Career Fund.   Co-administered by the Department of Labor and the Department of Education, this Fund will help forge new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train two million workers for good-paying jobs in high-growth and high-demand industries.  It provides funding for community colleges and states to partner with businesses to train workers in a range of high-growth and in-demand areas, such as health care, transportation, and advanced manufacturing. These investments will give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers where people learn crucial skills that local businesses are looking for right now, ensuring that employers have the skilled workforce they need and workers are gaining industry-recognized credentials to build strong careers.

Later this month, Dr. Jill Biden – a community college instructor for the last 18 years and teacher for nearly three decades – and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis will embark on a tour of community college campuses to highlight some of these effective industry partnerships.  They will visit several community colleges and businesses that are working together to get students the skills they need to succeed in the workforce.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other administration officials will also visit many community colleges throughout our country.

The President’s Commitment to Build a High-Skilled Workforce Through a Community College to Career Fund

The Community College to Career Fund in the President’s Budget will advance skill building through funding a number of priority areas:

·         Developing community college partnerships to train skilled workers for unfilled jobs: The Fund will support community college-based training programs that will: expand targeted training that will meet the needs of employers in growth and demand sectors; provide workers with the latest certified training and skills that will lead to good-paying jobs; and invest in registered apprenticeships and other on-the-job training opportunities. The Fund will also support paid internships for low-income community college students that will allow them to simultaneously earn credit for work-based learning and gain relevant employment experience in a high-wage, high-skill field.  States will also be able to seek funding to support employer efforts to upgrade the skills of their workforce.  Additionally, the Fund will provide support for regional or national industry sectors to develop skills consortia that will identify pressing workforce needs and develop solutions such as standardizing industry certifications, development of new training technologies, and collaborations with industry employers to define and describe how skills can translate to career pathways.

·         Instituting “Pay for Performance” in job training:  The Community College to Career Fund will support pay for performance strategies to provide incentives for training providers, community colleges, and local workforce organizations to ensure trainees find permanent jobs.  For instance, states would be eligible for funding to support bonus programs for training programs whose graduates earn a credential and find quality jobs shortly after finishing the program. Pay for performance structures would provide stronger incentives for programs that effectively place individuals who face greater barriers to employment.

·         Bringing jobs back to America:   The Community College to Career Fund will allow federal agencies to partner with state and local governments to encourage businesses to invest in America.   State and local governments will be able to apply for grants to encourage companies to locate in the U.S. because of the availability of training to quickly skill up the local workforce.

·         Training the next generation of entrepreneurs:  The Community College to Career Fund will support pathways to entrepreneurship for 5 million small business owners over three years through the nation’s workforce system and its partners, including: a six-week online training course on entrepreneurship that could reach up to 500,000 new entrepreneurs and an intensive six-month entrepreneurship training program resulting in entrepreneurship certification for 100,000 small business owners.

Building on Progress:

·         Historic investments in community college-led job training: The Obama Administration has made historic investments in community colleges, which provide a linchpin for 21st century workforce training. The Obama Administration has already invested $500 million through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative to support partnerships among community colleges, employers, and Workforce Investment Boards to develop programs that provide pathways for individuals negatively impacted by trade to secure quality jobs in high wage, high skill fields including advanced manufacturing, transportation, health care, and STEM. The Administration will invest an additional $1.5 billion in this initiative over the next three years.  

·         Developed significant business and community college partnerships to build Americans’ skills:   Last year, the Obama Administration helped launch Skills for America’s Future, an industry-led initiative to improve industry partnerships with community colleges and build a nationwide network to maximize workforce development strategies, job training programs, and job placements. Through this initiative the President announced a new partnership of private sector employers, community colleges, and the National Association of Manufacturers to provide 500,000 community college students with industry-recognized credentials that will help them secure jobs in the manufacturing sector.

The Great Disconnect (Observation on two sound off articles in the Lansdale Reporter)d

Reading the Lansdale Reporter, I noticed two sound off articles that irked me. The article, Let’s Occupy the classrooms instead and Pa. in need of education reform shows a disconnect from the solutions that our commonwealth and nation need. That solution is reasonable discussion and compromise, not cuts and righteousness.

In the first article, the author tries to discuss the speck in liberal’s eyes, instead of the plank in the delivery from the right. The author quotes Republican Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich’s comment that “The Occupy movement starts with the premise that we all owe them everything” to exalt the claim that the “the left has collapsed as a moral system in this country”. The author and Speaker Gingrich are incorrect in the assumption the Occupy movement starts with the premise that they are owed something. The Occupy movement starts with the assertion of the word “Enough”

The so-called moral high ground of the right is more of self-righteousness, than a claim to morality. Quoting the former Speaker further, the author uses one of the most ridiculous of all Gingrich’s latest comments: “Go get a job right after you take a bath”. According to Keystone Politics:

“There are still over 4 job seekers for every available jobs” (http://www.keystonepolitics.com/2012/01/why-does-the-pa-chamber-think-unemployment-insurance-needs-reform/)

Where are these jobs the occupiers are supposed to get, after they take a bath of course? Jobs aren’t trickling down from the vast amount of wealth being created at the top.  When will we see enough of this useless rhetoric that creates more problems than it ever could solve.

The second article continues this belief that the removal of tenure will solve the ills of public education. By claiming tenure protects poor teachers, at the expense of excellent one and we need to reform pensions and benefits. In other words, the problem is the teachers not the education system as a whole. Tenure protects the excellent teachers, more than the poor ones. Yes, some poor teachers sneak by from this job security; however, it prevents good experienced teachers from losing their jobs due to economic convenience.  Tenure prevents school districts from firing a teacher because they can be replaced by two for the same cost. The walmart, lowest bidder approach is not one that should be applied to the education of our children.

Yes we need jobs; yes school districts need to find a way to remove poor teachers from the classrooms. However, what we need more is a concerted effort to fix the ills of our society, not expand them. Have we not seen enough division in society, why must we create more? The occupiers are not the problem, the greed and pervasion of capitalism into a form of destructive corporatism is. Tenure, pensions and benefits are not bringing public education down. This cut, cut, cut attitude of balancing budgets at the expense of services is. Furthermore, the first author and the former Speaker are right in one respect. We do owe each other something. We owe each other the guarantee that we will fight for all our rights, not just a select few. Equality in opportunity is what we need, not the prosperity of injustice.  

The Labor Market is a Buyer’s Market

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

Do you know many unemployed people these days who are turning down jobs while holding out for a better offer?

Me neither.

Over one in four Pennsylvania workers – and nearly one in three U.S. workers – have had less paid work than they wanted during the last 12 months. For every job opening in Pennsylvania, there are approximately eight workers who want more paid work – four of them are unemployed and four are underemployed.

Those are pretty sobering statistics.

Yet this Labor Day, readers of the Patriot-News were treated to a very different set of statistics by columnist Anne McGraw Reeves. Citing a temporary help agency, she wrote that 52% of surveyed employers “reported difficulty filling jobs.”

How can this be?

Reeves offers up a theory in the voice of a local temp agency proprietor, who noted that some unemployed workers “are getting too comfortable being unemployed.” Reeves goes on to lecture the unemployed:

No job seeker wants to take a job that means a cut in pay or a reduction in status. High paying jobs with great benefits and substantial cache are hard to find.

But with the amount of unemployed people increasing and the funding for unemployment compensation shrinking, many of us don’t have the luxury of waiting for the next best thing.

In other words, there are jobs to be had if only the unemployed would take them. However, a ratio of nearly eight underemployed workers for every job opening in Pennsylvania means that not everyone is finding the work they need.

There is strong evidence that employers are not having difficulty filling job openings. Consider that the average workweek has yet to fully recover to pre-recessions levels. If the majority of employers were indeed struggling to fill openings, hours of work would be rapidly rising as employers boost hours for existing employees in order to meet increased demand. But in the last three months, the average workweek has declined in the U.S and remains essentially unchanged over the last year. A depressed workweek is strong evidence that the chief problem in the economy remains a lack of demand, not that workers are choosing unemployment over paying jobs.

Reeves’ evaluation of the state of the economy rests entirely on information from national and local temporary help agencies. It is therefore notable that the temporary help industry nationally has shed an average of 3,000 jobs a month in the U.S. in the last several months.

And here in Pennsylvania?

Employment in temporary help, although steadily growing in the Commonwealth, remains 8% below its pre-recession peak – a shortfall that is an astonishing four times greater than the 2% shortfall of total employment from its pre-recession peak.

The brutal reality is that today’s labor market is a buyer’s market. Employers that survived the Great Recession are getting more out of every employee while cancelling or delaying wage increases and, in many cases, reaping record profits.

Employers in every industry are overwhelmed by job applicants and are finding a deeper pool of experienced and educated workers than they have seen in decades. Here in Pennsylvania, unemployment rates for college graduates and for workers with an advanced degree are more than twice as high as they were before the recession began.

The pool of job applicants is so rich that some employers nationally are posting openings that explicitly discourage applications from the long-term unemployed or limit résumé review to already employed workers.

To suggest that the unemployed in this environment are living it up on unemployment insurance while holding out hope for jobs with “cache” doesn’t square with the facts. And it betrays a thorough disregard for the immense challenges that come with losing your job for reasons outside your control.

Perhaps Reeves could gain some perspective on the problems facing millions of American families with a visit to a local food bank. She won’t find many people there holding out for a better offer.