In today's On the News segment: Senate Republicans are simply repackaging old ideas and trying to pass them off as pro-worker; the International Monetary Fund is calling on our lawmakers to raise the minimum wage; Starbucks wants workers to go to college; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...
You need to know this. Republican lawmakers know that vast majority of Americans support helping the middle class. However, rather than offering any real solutions to help working families, Senate Republicans are simply repackaging old ideas and trying to pass them off as pro-worker. Last week, Right-wing lawmakers in the upper chamber announced a package of bills in advance of the White House summit for working families. Their ridiculous ideas to help families include tax deductions for putting a crib in a home office, and allowing employers to cheat workers out of over time. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the package of bills, called "A Fair Shot for Everyone," and said, "These are just the kinds of things that could make a difference in people's lives now." This may come as a new flash to Senator McConnell, but most parents don't have the luxury of working from home, and many don't earn enough to benefit from write offs on their taxes. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah is pushing the "Working Families Flexibility Act," which would allow employers to replace time-and-a-half with so-called "comp time," and roll back decades of labor law. These policies don't help working families, they're simply old Republican ideas renamed in a pathetic attempt to take advantage of American's being fed up with three decades of war on the middle class. If Republicans really want to help working families, how about passing an increase in the minimum wage, or investing in infrastructure to create good-paying American jobs. There are plenty of clear cut, simple ways to help rebuild the middle class, but the fact is that Republicans won't support them. Working families don't need comp time and cribs in the office, they need higher wages, better school systems, and lawmakers who actually listen to popular opinion.
The International Monetary Fund is calling on our lawmakers to raise the minimum wage. Last week, the IMF issued their annual review of the U.S. economy, and they said that there is a lot more we can do to fight poverty. Our federal minimum wage puts us at number 11 on the list of developed nations, and our social safety net ranks even lower in comparison to other countries. We're the richest nation on Earth, yet we allow millions of people to remain in poverty. In addition to raising wages, the IMF says that tax credits that benefit low-income families should be permanently extended, and expanded to cover more Americans. The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit are set to expire in 2017, despite the fact that they have the highest impact on low-income families. These recommendations could help lift millions of Americans out of poverty, but they both require that our broken Congress actually gets something done. Republicans refuse to listen to economists in our country, but maybe they'll take heed to the IMF's important advice.
Starbucks wants workers to go to college. In order to help make that possible, the coffee company will soon provide tuition reimbursement to help employees earn a two-year degree. The new benefit will be available to both full-time and part-time workers, and cover up to $30,000 dollars of college expenses. Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz announced the new program, and explained, "you just can not continue to leave your people behind and only focus on shareholder value." He added, "I feel so strongly that this is the right thing to do, and Starbucks as a company is going to benefit in ways that we probably can not identify today." The college benefit has no strings attached, and does not require workers to stay with the company after earning their degree. However, Mr. Schultz still recognizes that workers who are treated well are more loyal and more productive, and that our nation as a whole benefits from an educated workforce. Perhaps our lawmakers will recognize these facts, and start working to make higher education free for all Americans.
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions thinks we can't afford to care for our veterans. In response to his "No" vote on the recent VA bill, Senator Sessions said, "I feel strongly we've got to do the right thing for our veterans. But I don't think we should create a blank check, an unlimited entitlement program, now." Perhaps Sessions should have thought of that before he voted to send our military men and women into two illegal wars. Caring for those who serve our country should be a priority, especially in the wake of the recent VA scandal. Maybe someone could let Jeff Sessions know that people who fight for our country are absolutely entitled to be cared for when they get home. If he is really worried about covering the cost of the VA, he could help Democrats close corporate tax loopholes, or make those at the top pay their fair share. It's time to put our foot down when it comes to balancing budgets on the backs of the poor, and time to care for those who served our country no matter what it costs.
And finally... A hospital system in Dallas, Texas is raising its own minimum wage. The Parkland Health & Hospital System is taking the money they would have spent on executive bonuses, and using it to give workers a raise. The hospital's lowest paid employees only make $8.78 an hour, but starting next month, that will increase to an hourly wage of $10.25. The increase will make life easier for about 230 workers, and it will cost the hospital around $350,000 dollars a year. Dr. Jim Dunn, the executive vice president of Parkland, said, "We really want, in any way possible, to break down any gaps or anything between the top leaders and those who are closest to our patients. We feel like it's the right thing to do." Hospital officials recognize the value of every worker in their facilities, and they're likely to see more loyalty and productivity as a result. Perhaps more businesses will see that raising wages actually helps employers, and they won't wait on our broken Congress to pay workers a living wage.
And that's the way it is - for the week of June 23, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.