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Death of an Adjunct

6:57 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Duquesne Campus

After 25 years of service to Duquesne Universty, an adjunct died in poverty.

Appearing earlier this month on a radio program in Pittsburgh with labor historian Charles McCollester, I heard for the first time the story of Margaret Mary Vojtko, a 25-year adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University who died recently in poverty at the age of 83.

Two and a half years ago, the Keystone Research Center released the most comprehensive state report in the United States on the rising use of adjunct faculty at colleges and universities. The numbers were sobering. Even if they cobbled together a full-time (10 courses per year) load at multiple institutions, adjunct community college faculty in Pennsylvania earned only about $25,000 annually. Contingent faculty members and instructors taught 42% of the courses at all public colleges and universities in Pennsylvania (versus 49% nationally). Most part-time/adjunct faculty members in Pennsylvania public higher education received no health or pension benefits.

Given cuts in state funding for higher education since we wrote our report, the situation is surely worse today in Pennsylvania.

How do we avoid a future in which a majority of higher education faculty earn less than a “quality” wage — a wage sufficient to give teachers time to prepare lessons, establish office hours, and provide feedback that increases student learning?

It would help if we honored the rights of part-time/contingent faculty to join a union — starting, for example, at Margaret Mary’s Duquesne. One game-changing option would give all part-time and contingent faculty at publicly funded Pennsylvania higher education institutions the freedom to form a single statewide local union. This would enable part-time and contingent faculty to negotiate statewide wage and benefit standards and working conditions consistent with teaching excellence. (This type of geographically based union that lifts up low wages and benefits in service industries that can’t relocate — because they have to be near their “customers” — is exactly what is needed to rebuild the middle class generally in Pennsylvania and the United States. See my earlier posts on fast food workers and on the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”)

State lawmakers also need to develop — and fund — a long-term plan for paying all higher education teachers a “quality wage.” In a world both moral and rational, this could be part of a broader plan that also makes post-secondary education affordable again for students, and marries online and in-person education to lower costs while maintaining quality.

This approach starts with values — the outcomes we want for students, faculty, and taxpayers — and then uses technology, collective problem-solving, and social negotiation to create a world that honors those values. Imagine the possibilities.

The story of Margaret Mary is a sad reminder that all public policy discussion should start from values — the world we want to create and, unfortunately, the world we want to avoid.

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‘This Is What the Middle Class Looks Like’

9:09 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

"This Is What Democracy Looks Like"

But what does a real middle class look like?

“This is what democracy looks like.” Even though this chant originated with the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO), which haven’t yet led to major reforms, the phrase nonetheless captures the idea of a social movement that has crystallized its demands and has a better chance to succeed because of it. Other examples include the right to vote in the civil rights movement, or the fight to legalize gay marriage, a simple modern demand that culminates a fight for equality in all its dimensions.

One challenge in the U.S. fight for economic justice since inequality began to yawn wider in the 1970s has been the lack of a simple demand that either working people or elites thought could bring back the middle class. Having such a demand fuels social movements because it gives members of the movement confidence — conviction — that there is a way for the world to give them what they want. It also fuels social movements because it gives the broader society a way to let the protesters get a win.

The fast food workers engaging in one-day strikes across the country may be on the verge of crystallizing a simple demand to which their low-wage employers could accede — and, in the process, cracking the code to the next U.S. middle class.

Today’s story on these strikes in The New York Times says that the organizers aren’t actually clear yet on the path to victory. The demand is a $15-per-hour wage — a ticket to the middle class. But will progress result from a higher minimum wage, local living wage requirements for big chains, or companies themselves raising wages to get off the front page? (This is where you say in your best pompous pundit voice, “Well, ah, um, cough, good question.”)

Because these protesters have a practical, confident vision of the end point they want — an economy that pays lower-wage workers a middle-class wage (so what if Big Macs cost 50 cents more) — they have a good chance of finding the mechanism that can get them there and keep them there (or forcing the rest of us to figure out the mechanism).

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The Reports of Unions’ Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

2:50 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Workers Rising Banner

Weakening unions could be trouble for the middle class.

There’s a good deal of crowing in conservative circles this week about the new 2012 numbers on union membership. Union membership nationally fell by about 400,000, to 14.4 million. Union membership in Pennsylvania declined 45,000, including 59,000 in the private sector.

Of course, for anyone who cares about, say, the American Dream, democracy, and rising living standards, the newest numbers are bad news. A simple chart put together by the Center for American Progress shows that unions are vital to the middle class. As unions have weakened, so has the share of income going to middle-income workers — and the gap between the 1% and the 99% has mushroomed.

As this blog has noted, inequality undermines not only economic opportunity, but it also slows economic growth and makes our democracy less responsive to typical families and the public good (and too responsive to rich special interests).

One silver lining in the new numbers is the great variation that exists across states. Unions are growing in some places. Another silver lining is that the weaker unions get, the more evidence we get that this is a bad thing. Evidence such as the fact that the top 1% of the population took home 93% of the increase in income in the United States in the last year for which we have data. And evidence such as the skills shortage in U.S. manufacturing: surprise, surprise, if you pay workers poorly and don’t invest in them, you can’t attract and retain the factory talent you need.

Fifteen years ago, we outlined why America needs “new unions for a new economy” — and noted that we couldn’t see how to restore widely shared prosperity without a revival of unionism. The evidence for our position grows with each day.

But beneath the overall numbers, even in Pennsylvania and even in manufacturing, there are signs of revival. Take, for example, a unionized Schott Glass plant near Scranton, which is pioneering a new labor-management apprenticeship program.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of unions’ death are greatly exaggerated.

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PA Must Reads: Rising Demand for Meals On Wheels in Reading and Fines for a Hershey Co. Subcontractor

11:29 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

The Reading Eagle reports meals on wheels for low-income and disabled adults is short of cash thanks to rising demand and falling state support.

Because of state budget cuts, a Berks County Meals on Wheels program is running out of money and won’t be able to operate between March and July unless new funds are found.

The special program is $7,000 short…The program has almost doubled in the number of meals served in the past two years…

“Last month, we served 370 meals (at a cost of $5.84 per person), but we are trying to keep a cap on participation in the program.” Kropf said. “We are turning people away because we don’t have enough money.”

The U.S. Labor Department has fined the Hershey Co. Contractor that inspired a crack down on J-1 Visa violations.

The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Exel Inc. for nine workplace safety and health violations and proposed fines of $291,000 against the company.

Ohio-based Exel, which runs the distribution center for The Hershey Co., said it will appeal.

The citations stem from an investigation initiated after about 200 foreign exchange students walked off the job and demonstrated in August. Read the rest of this entry →

PA Must Reads: Haute Couture, Extended Unemployment Benefits and Nursing Home Cuts

8:51 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

Zoolander

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Project Runway fans (don’t judge) know that this week is Fashion Week in New York. So in a nod to our fashion forward readers comes a story about an effort to provide more workplace protections for fashion models.

Models are more than just pretty faces. They’re often overworked, underfed and underage independent contractors with little say when things go bad behind the scenes. Many are just teenagers far from home, in some cases earning as much in a day as their poor families back in Russia and Eastern Europe do in a month. As a result, many fear speaking out about sexual harassment, unscrupulous booking agencies, demands to alter their bodies, lack of backstage privacy and punishing stretches with little sleep.

“Modeling is precarious freelance labor,” said model Sara Ziff, who was discovered at 14 walking home from her New York City school. “We have very little job security. It’s also a winner-takes-all market. There’s only one Gisele. Basically, it’s a labor force of children who are working in a very grown-up business.”

Dorian Warren at NewDeal 2.0 has more on the effort to provide workplace protections for models.

You really must read all of Simon Johnson’s post this morning on efforts in Washington to weaken extended unemployment benefits.

The principle behind unemployment insurance is simple. Since the 1930s, employers have paid insurance premiums (in the form of payroll taxes, levied on wages) to the government. If people are laid off through no fault of their own, they can claim this insurance — much the way you file a claim on your homeowner’s or renter’s policy if your home burns down…

The original legislative intent, reaffirmed over the years, is clear: Help people to help themselves in the face of shocks beyond their control.

But the severity and depth of our current recession raise an issue that we have literally not had to confront since the 1930s. What should we do when people run out of standard unemployment benefits — much of which are provided at the state level — but still cannot find a job?

In negotiations currently under way, House Republicans propose to cut back drastically on these benefits, asserting that this will push people back to work and speed the recovery. Does this make sense, or is it bad economics, as well as being mean-spirited?…

The jobs crisis was caused by recklessness in the financial sector, made possible by irresponsible deregulation (including a period when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House) and resulting in enormous unconditional bailout protection for the bankers at the heart of the disaster (under both President George W. Bush and President Obama).

Let’s be generous for a moment and simply state that mistakes were made — on an enormous, macroeconomic scale with gut-wrenching consequences for families around the country. Why would anyone now seek to punish these people when they seek work but cannot get it?

Since Simon brought up punishing the 99% for the sins of the 1%, let’s turn our attention to the state budget. My colleagues at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center have released their full analysis of Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget. The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning focuses in on the budget cuts targeting nursing homes.

Pennsylvania nursing-home operators, already hit hard by last year’s cuts in federal and state funding, face another revenue loss in Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The budget proposal, released Tuesday, calls for a 4 percent cut in the Medicaid reimbursement rate for nursing homes. The total revenue loss for nursing homes is projected by the Pennsylvania Health Care Association to be $46.5 million…

“The issue isn’t: Can you cut costs? Everybody can cut costs. The issue is: Can you cut costs and provide quality care?” Kleinberg said. Cutting aid to elderly poor who rely on Medicaid is a relatively “easy thing to do,” she said. “Their need is so great, but their voice is so small.”