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Omaha Steve Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-21-08 07:44 PM
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Tough times for American workers

Steven Greenhouse

Friday, April 18, 2008

Some people ask me why I called my new book, "The Big Squeeze." The answer is simple: The nation's corporations have been squeezing workers every which way in their drive to push down labor costs. This, unfortunately, has left the nation's workers (and consumers) weakened and weary even before we feel the full brunt of a recession that will inevitably mean unemployment and lower paychecks for many Americans.

This squeeze has taken one especially disturbing form: many corporations have cut costs by violating wage-and-hour laws. Managers at Wal-Mart, Pep Boys and Family Dollar, told me that they secretly erased hours from employees' time records because of fierce pressures to minimize costs. At many companies, managers strong-arm employees into working off the clock; hourly employees who clock out at, say, 5 p.m., are ordered to work an hour or two extra unpaid. Swift & Company, Smithfield Foods and Wal-Mart each employed, directly or through contractors, more than 1,000 illegal immigrants, who often accept lower wages than native-born workers.

In my research, I found that many companies also squeeze workers by treating them with a shocking lack of dignity. A Wal-Mart cashier in Kansas City told me that managers were so stingy about bathroom breaks that some cashiers ended up soiling themselves. RadioShack had the gall to fire 400 workers at its Fort Worth headquarters by e-mail, the message saying, "Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated." Corporate executives told Myra Bronstein, a software engineer in Seattle, that as long as the company did well and she worked hard - she put in many 14-hour days - she would have a job. But one day the company suddenly fired Bronstein and 17 other engineers, telling them that if they wanted any severance pay, they had to spend the next four weeks training the workers from India who would be replacing them.

The biggest squeeze has been on wages and benefits. During the economic expansion that began in November 2001, corporate profits soared, while productivity per worker rose more than 15 percent. Nonetheless, hourly wages for the typical worker have inched up by just 1 percent since then, after inflation, while median income for working-age households has fallen nearly $2,400 to $54,726 since 2000, according to the most recent Census Bureau report on poverty and income.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, employee premiums for family-health insurance coverage have doubled in seven years, rising by $1,650 on average. And the number of Americans without health insurance has jumped by 8.6 million since 1999, to 47 million. Many young people just starting work are finding it surprisingly tough, because entry-level wages have slid since 2001, after inflation, while the percentage of entry-level jobs offering health or pension coverage has fallen as well.

FULL story at link.

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