Sunday, May 18, 2014

Billions Stolen and Millions Paid In Penalties By Wage Thieves, The Screwed (So Screwed!) Class of 2014 Smiles Through the Pain, and Justice for Adjuncts, Education (In General) or Cecily McMillan? (It's Not Yet Part of the Plan)

Don't pay your employees (or for their benefits) properly? Love having the power to steal from your minimum-wage employees? Also, do you really enjoy the blessed side effects of not paying the owed Federal, state and local taxes and thereby impoverishing your hated government? Tea Partyers of the Right Owners arise!

Just don't be surprised when no one buys what you produce or shops at your stores. (Yeah, I know, Wal-Mart. You'll just open a few more in Asia.) Good luck with that scheme long term!


For workers stuck on the bottom rung, living on poverty wages is hard enough. But many also are victims of wage theft, a catch-all term for payroll abuses that cheat workers of income they are supposedly guaranteed by law.

Over the last few years employers ranging from baseball’s San Francisco Giants to Subway franchises to Farmers Insurance have been cited for wage violations. More often, though, wage abuses are not reported by victims or punished by authorities despite being routine in some low-wage industries.

If you steal from your employer, you’re going to be hauled out of the workplace in handcuffs,” said Kim Bobo, a Chicago workers rights advocate and author. “But if your employer steals from you, you’ll be lucky to get your money back.

Victims typically are low wage, low-skilled workers desperate to hang on to their jobs. Frequently, they are immigrants — the most vulnerable and least apt to speak up. “They know that if they complain, there’s always someone else out there who is willing to take their job,” said Maria Echaveste, a former labor official during the Clinton administration who is now at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

While heart-breaking for employees, wage theft also robs federal and state treasuries of many billions of dollars in taxes, and puts employers who play by the rules at a serious competitive disadvantage.

While there are no exact figures on the extent of wage theft, authorities say it is rampant in such industries as construction, garment manufacturing, restaurants and home health care. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor reported in 2012 that of more than 1,800 restaurant investigations it conducted on the West Coast over several years, it found violations in 71 percent.  Of more than 1,500 investigations of garment firms, violations were discovered in 93 percent.

Think it's almost criminal to be stuck with thousands of dollars in student loans when there are no good jobs available to help with paying off your debts?

No, it's really criminal.

As an unemployed adjunct (still hoping to be discovered) of more than a few part-time teaching gigs during the last two decades, I concur with Thomas Frank (whom I really like and quote all the time).

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Congratulations, Class of 2014: You’re Totally Screwed

College costs more and more, even as it gets objectively worse. Only people worse off than indebted grads: adjuncts

Thomas Frank

Congratulations, class of 2014: You're totally screwed

(Click on photo to enbiggen the sainted John)

Welcome to the wide world, Class of 2014. You have by now noticed the tremendous consignment of debt that the authorities at your college have spent the last four years loading on your shoulders. It may interest you to know that the average student-loan borrower among you is now $33,000 in debt, the largest of any graduating class ever.

According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, carrying that kind of debt will have certain predictable effects. It will impede your ability to accumulate wealth, for example. You will also borrow more for other things than people without debt, and naturally you will find your debt level growing, not shrinking, as the years pass.

As you probably know, neither your parents nor your grandparents were required to take on this kind of burden in order to go to college. Neither are the people of your own generation in France and Germany and Argentina and Mexico.

But in our country, as your commencement speaker will no doubt tell you, the universities are “excellent.” They are “world-class.” Indeed, they are all that stands between us and economic defeat by the savagely competitive peoples of Europe and Asia. So a word of thanks is in order, Class of 2014: By borrowing those colossal amounts and turning the proceeds over to the people who run our higher ed system, you have done your part to maintain American exceptionalism, to keep our competitive advantage alive.

Here’s a question I bet you won’t hear broached on the commencement stage: Why must college be so expensive? The obvious answer, which I’m sure has been suggested to you a thousand times, is because college is so good. A 2014 Cadillac costs more than did a 1980 Cadillac, adjusting for inflation, because it is a better car. And because you paid attention in economics class, you know the same thing must be true of education. When tuition goes up and up every year, far outpacing inflation, this indicates that the quality of education in this country is also, constantly, going up and up. You know that the only way education can cost more is if it is worth more.

In sum, you paid nearly sixty grand a year to attend some place with a classy WASP name and ivy growing on its fake medieval walls. You paid for the best, and now you are the best, an honorary classy WASP entitled to all the privileges of the club. That education your parents got, even if it was at the same school as yours, cost them far less and was thus not as good as yours. That’s the way progress works, right?

Actually, the opposite is closer to the truth: college costs more and more even as it gets objectively worse and worse. Yes, I know, universities today offer luxuries unimaginable in the 1960s: fine gymnasiums, gourmet dining halls, disturbing architecture. But when it comes to generating and communicating knowledge — the essential business of higher ed — they are, almost all of them, in a frantic race to the bottom.

According to the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty, only about 30 percent of the teachers at American colleges these days are tenured or tenure-track, which means that fewer than a third of your profs actually enjoy the security and benefits and intellectual freedom that we associate with the academic lifestyle. In 1969, traditional professors like these made up almost 80 percent of the American faculty.

Today, however, it is part-time workers without any kind of job security who are the majority of the instructors on campus, and in general these adjuncts are paid poorly and receive few benefits. That is who does the work of knowledge-transmission at the ever-so costly, ever-so excellent American university: Freelancers. Contract laborers.

The awful lives of these workers is the subject of a vast and popular literature. Read around and you will discover that these adjuncts sometimes collect food stamps and live out of cars, that they race from job to job, that they inflate grades and endure whining rich kids and come to despise the academics they once sought to join. The most shocking tale of all (so far) concerned an 83-year-old adjunct at a university in Pittsburgh who was reduced almost to the level of a homeless person before dying last year from an illness that she endured without benefit of health insurance from her employer.

What makes all these stories so irresistible, of course, is their overwhelming sense of irony. These adjuncts are people who once believed they were signing up for a life of teaching, writing and highbrow contemplation. And just look at the world of shit they got instead. Many of them have PhDs and many work hard at teaching. But it seems that all the learning in the world, all the good grades and high test scores — which they had too, remember, just like you — don’t mean a goddamned thing when people have no bargaining power.

Yes, you are a screwed generation, Class of 2014, with a helping of debt that will take you many years to digest. But consider this other generation that has also been screwed, and screwed by the very same people who secured that millstone to your neck. You borrowed and forked over enormous sums in exchange for the privilege of hearing lectures . . . lectures that were then delivered by people who earned barely enough to stay alive. It is a double disaster of the kind that only we Americans are capable of pulling off.

Actually, it’s worse than that. This is a disaster not only for individual adjuncts but for the production of knowledge itself. What do we really expect college classes to be like when they are taught by people in such dire situations? Is our new precarious professoriate able to research or write at the same pace as its predecessor? How many of them feel secure enough in their position to defy the prevailing conventions of their disciplines?

No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years,” wrote the anthropologist David Graeber in an important 2012 essay about this age of diminishing innovation. “We have been reduced to the equivalent of medieval scholastics, writing endless annotations of French theory from the seventies. . . .” I emailed Graeber and asked him to elaborate. Here’s what he said:

“If you look at the lives and personalities of almost any of the Great Thinkers currently lionized in the American academy, certainly anyone like Deleuze, or Foucault, Wittgenstein, Freud, Einstein, or even Max Weber, none of them would have lasted ten minutes in our current system. These were some seriously odd people. They probably would never have finished grad school, and if they somehow did discipline themselves to appear sufficiently “professional,” “collegial,” conformist and compliant to make it through adjunct hell or pre-tenure, it would be at the expense of leaving them incapable of producing any of the works for which they have become famous.”
It is not easy to discover how heavily any one school uses adjuncts, because the data depends on voluntary disclosures by the institutions themselves and because the number of adjuncts reported doesn’t tell us how many classes those adjuncts teach or how much time they spend on campus.

Still, numbers do exist for some institutions, thanks to a survey done by the Department of Education. What you’ll find: some of the most expensive universities in America are also big employers of part-time, non-tenure-track labor. Remarking on this situation, a spunky website for the college-bound asks, “There’s No Other Way to Put It: They Like Adjuncts. What’re You Gonna Do?”

It’s a good question. What are you gonna do? The obvious answer, for adjuncts themselves, is to organize, and they are doing it all over the country. The rest of us need to ponder how to stop this insane situation from getting any worse. We might begin by understanding college less as a mystical place of romance and achievement and more as a cartel or a predator, only a couple of removes from a company like Enron or a pharmaceutical firm that charges sick people $1,000 per pill.

We might ask why the numbers of university administrators have grown by some 369 percent since 1976, why college presidents are sometimes paid over a million dollars a year, and why state legislatures keep cutting education budgets and passing the burden along to students and their parents.

The word we always hear in connection to university price increases is “unsustainable.” The price tag of college can’t keep going up forever. But of course it can, and the party that will “sustain” it, just as soon as you get those loans paid off, will be you.

(Thomas Frank is a Salon politics and culture columnist. His many books include "What's The Matter With Kansas," "Pity the Billionaire" and "One Market Under God." He is the founding editor of The Baffler magazine.)



A frustrating mix of truth, righteous outrage, and bull here, although, to be fair, the headline writer makes it worse than the article itself does. When will Salon quit cherry-picking its case to hate on university education and discouraging students from going/finishing? We get an article like this every couple of weeks. The estimable Frank is better than the usual hackery, but he buys into a lot of dubious tropes ("not worth it," etc.).

The fact is that college education is more necessary to get ahead than ever--since the wage gap b/w 4-year degree holders and everyone else is steadily widening - as Pew has also shown.

The expansion of adjunct teaching is a scandal, but as Frank himself recognizes, many of those folks are great teachers and researchers too, just criminally under-compensated. And a lot of senior, tenured researchers can't teach to save their lives (and never really have, commonly depending on TA's even in the good old days). The answer, as others have noted, is a renewal of public investment in public unis, as cheaper competitors. But that will depend on breaking the back of the anti-tax movement on a state by state basis. That's the task of a generation.


Well said. I am truly baffled at how the decline in funding by the various states for the publics could have been allowed happen to the degree that it has. I'm sure everyone's tired of hearing the "back when I was in college" line, but by God, I felt I received a first rate education from a very respected public, including a year of study abroad, for, are you sitting down?....$45.00 a another $9.00 if you wanted to park on campus...of course there was room and board on top of that but in those days it was pretty tame as well. Consequently, working over the summer break and a little help from my parents meant zero debt in the end. We have some German friends whose daughter is just beginning university in Cologne.....I asked them about how tuition was structured in Germany, and in 2014 they are paying only slightly more than I paid here forty years ago......I guess the priorities are a little different in Germany.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Good Morning From Rikers

By Cecily McMillan, Justice for Cecily

18 May 14
ood morning. I’m writing from the Rose M. Singer Correctional Facility, dorm 2 East B on Rikers Island – where I’ve been held for the past 4 days.

Admittedly, I was shocked by the jury’s verdict on Monday, but was not surprised by the events that followed. An overreaching prosecutor plus a biased judge logically adds up to my being remanded to Rikers.

I was prepared then, as I am now, to stand by my convictions and face the consequences of my actions – namely that of refusing to forsake my values and what I know to be true in exchange for my “freedom.”

Packed into a room with 45 other women – often restricted to my cot – I’ve had nothing but time to measure the strength of my beliefs alongside that ambiguous concept – “freedom.” (I’ve come to the conclusion that it is far easier to weigh such tradeoffs from the comfort of one’s own bed.)

At Rikers, the day begins with 4:30am breakfast. Milk cartons in hand, the women echo a common set of concerns – “can’t reach my lawyer, my family won’t speak to me, no commissary” – and I become painfully aware of how privileged I am, despite what is supposed to be the great equalizing suffering of the prison experience.

Unlike my peers, I have a hell of a lawyer – Marty Stolar – who made the long journey to hold my hand and promise “I will not stop fighting for you.” I also have a gifted team of friends and organizers – #Justice4Cecily – that continue to provide around-the-clock care and mobilize public support. Finally, I’m incredibly lucky to have a vast and very much alive movement at my side, sending me “Occupy Love” from across the world.

Despite how obscenely unbalanced our circumstances are, my new-found friends – who have quickly become my comrades – are outraged by my story and resolve to do their part to keep me out of prison. After lunch, they spend their free time writing letters to Judge Zweibel, defending my character and pleading for leniency.

At 6:00pm dinner, the cramped circle of ladies ask me “What exactly is social justice organizing?” Over the complex choreography of food trading I tell them about Democratic Socialist leader Eugene Victor Debs. How nearly 100 years ago he publicly criticized U.S. involvement in WWI – in violation of the Wartime Sedition Act – and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for exercising his constitutional right to free speech. “Sort of like that,” I explain, “But he’s way out of my league – he’s my hero.”

By lights out, a subtle peace has begun to wash over me. I page through a book stopping at Debs’ speech to the Federal Court of Cleveland, Ohio – I read and reread, as if a personal mantra, these opening lines -

“Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said it then, as I say it now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
At the close of the night, I smile and shut my eyes. As I drift off, “Somehow,” I think, “this is all a part of the plan.”

What fuckin' plan?

. . . And, then, there's PK, on point, as usual, of course.

Give it a hit before you quit.

Paul Krugman | Unemployment: It's Not Personal

Paul Krugman. (photo: NYT)

Paul Krugman, The New York Times

Krugman writes: "Matt O’Brien has an interesting if depressing piece on long-term unemployment, making the point that long-term unemployment is basically bad luck: if you got laid off in a bad economy, you have a hard time finding a new job, and the longer you stay unemployed the harder it becomes to find work."



It's not personal.

Like a smash in the jaw.

It's only a symbolic gesture.

Swallow that.

No comments: