Michael Wasser: Author Archive

Workers shouldn’t have to gamble on their future

NPR reports today on an interesting employment strategy set to be used at Revel, a new Atlantic City casino that’s set to open soon. Revel will only allow its “front-line” employees – those working jobs ranging from bellhops to front desk attendants to blackjack dealers – to work for a period of four to six years. If the workers want to keep their job, they will have to reapply. Read more »


When will the goal posts move for workers?

The New York Times reported over the weekend that Walmart plans to change its compensation strategy. Assuming the company read our report on turning its associates’ low-paying jobs into hourly careers, my first thought was, “This is great”! But my hopes were dashed by the second paragraph, where readers learned that Walmart was only adjusting its executive pay system.

And they’re not scaling back—not by a long shot. Read more »


Pensions: A good investment for workers and their communities

As state governments and local municipalities grapple with serious budget challenges, pension critics are taking the opportunity to push for substantial cuts and wholesale elimination of defined benefit retirement systems. To hear them say it, pensions impose only costs – but that’s simply not the case. As our new research demonstrates, private and public pension funds help drive the economies of communities through investments that, in addition to producing solid returns, create good jobs.
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Entertainment and sports stars rally for public employees

As workers, small business owners, religious leaders, and everyday community members continue fighting to protect workers’ rights, some of the country’s most renowned actors, musicians, and athletes have lent their voices to the cause. These stars and their unions, including Actors Equity, AFTRA, Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild of America, East , the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the National Football League Players Association, are amplifying the message that workers of all stripes have to stand together for a voice on the job and a fair chance at the American dream.

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SAG awards are a celebration of #unionmembers

Last night, Hollywood feted its top talent at the 17th annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards show. While we’re used to seeing celebrities stroll down the red carpet, this award show is unique because it’s a night when union members come together to honor fellow union members. In fact, it’s the only national network awards show that honors the work of union members.

And this year, the stars took full advantage of their opportunity to draw attention to the importance of unions in front of a national audience. Upon receiving her first SAG Award for best actress in ‘Black Swan”, Natalie Portman said, “”I’ve been working since I was 11-years-old, and SAG has taken care of me. I’m so grateful to have this union protecting me every day.” Portman was joined by Best Supporting Actress winner Melissa Leo of “The Fighter”, who noted, “Unions made this country great because they give the voice to the working people.” The night’s winners also praised unions outside of the entertainment world. Julianna Marguiles of “The Good Wife” gave props to the Teamsters for “digging us out of the snow for the past two weeks.”

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It all started with clean socks and jocks

Yesterday, American Rights at Work Executive Director Kimberly Freeman Brown and George Atallah, the NFL Players Association’ Assistant Executive Director for External Affairs, held a briefing call to discuss the implications of a lockout for all workers. Kim and George were joined on the call by a diverse group of non-labor organizations, coalitions, and think tanks, including: Center for American Progress , National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, Jobs with Justice, Military Saves, National Consumers League, Center for Economic and Policy Research, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

George began the call by reminding the participants that while labeled an “association,” the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is in fact a union. It was formed in 1956 with the rallying cry “clean socks and jocks,” in response to team owners refusing to provide clean uniforms. Ever since, the NFLPA has been fighting for many of the same workplace protections as workers in other industries—including health care, pensions, and safety on the job. And with the threat of a lockout looming, the NFLPA is standing with the hundreds of thousands of everyday workers – from the grounds crew in the stadium to the bell hops in the hotels – who would lose their jobs without a football season. Read more »


The sacrifice isn’t “shared”

“Shared sacrifice.” You can find the phrase in talking points, letters to the editor, speeches, editorials, and on cable television shows. Commentators, pundits, politicians, and professional sports teams owners are talking about the need for workers and their unions to make sacrifices as our economy and our communities recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

A few stories in recent weeks serve as reminders that working women and men have already sacrificed more than their fair share. Roger Martin writes that when it’s all said and done, Michigan’s public employees have already conceded nearly $4.7 billion in pay and benefit reductions to help fight a budget deficit they didn’t cause. On a national scale, Dave Zirin notes that in the midst of sky-high profits and a supposed interest in safety, NFL owners are willing to lockout players over the issue of expanding the season to another two games. And perhaps most dramatically, Stewart Acuff  shares the story of Mark Keely, a nineteen year old utility worker from Philadelphia, who gave his life when a gas main exploded.

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New unionization stats bad news for all workers

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its findings on union membership rates for 2010. The overall unionization rate – the percent of workers who belong to a union – dropped from 12.3 percent down to 11.9 percent. In the private sector, the number fell to 6.9 percent, while the unionization rate in the public sector was much higher at 36.2 percent. The construction industry, where staggering job losses have taken their toll over the past year, saw one of the greatest drops in unionization, from 15.0 percent to 13.1 percent. When it was all said and done, the U.S. lost 612,000 good, union jobs in 2010.

We’re a country that believes in checks and balances – that’s why we have three separate branches of government, limitations on federal versus state power, and a free press. We also have the same set of principles ingrained in our economy, with labor unions counteracting the undeniable power of Big Business. But as union membership declines, so does this counterbalance to Wall Street and to corporate interests’ tendency to lower standards.

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American Rights at Work releases report on Walmart

Today, American Rights at Work released a report detailing the limited career opportunities available for Walmart associates. Coauthored by Nelson Lichtenstein of the University of California at Santa Barbara and American Rights at Work’s own Erin Johansson, “Creating Hourly Careers: A New Vision for Walmart and the Country” calls on the retail giant to take the lead in establishing a career path for its hourly workforce.

As the report makes clear, Walmart’s employees want to keep working for the company – the problem is that Walmart makes it nearly impossible to do so. Associates face a cap on wages, ever-changing schedules, expensive benefits, and an arbitrary discipline process.

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#LetUsPlay also means #LetUsWork

Today the NFL Players Association is taking to Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness about the owners’ threat to lockout the players and cancel the next season of football. Billed as #LetUsPlay Day, the event’s signature phrase reflects the players’ bargaining position – they’re just asking to continue under the terms of the previous contract, nothing more. It’s the owners who, despite major profits, want the players to take an 18 percent pay cut while playing more games each season.

Despite efforts by some to paint these negotiations as a dispute between millionaires and billionaires, the reality is that an NFL lockout will affect over 100 thousand everyday workers in cities across the country. Read more »