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Walmart raising cost of its ‘always low prices’
by sticking taxpayers with health care bills

screwWalmart, the nation’s largest retailer, is at it again, transferring the cost of necessities for its always low-wage workers onto taxpayers.

A Huffington Post report says Walmart plans to start cutting the hours of some unspecified number of its 1.2 million U.S. employees to less than 30 per week, starting in January.

Walmart isn’t going to reduce work hours of people struggling to get by on already low incomes just to give them more time with their families. This move is all about shifting the health care cost of those workers to taxpayers — a backdoor form of corporate welfare.

An Obamacare provision excuses employers from providing health care benefits to workers regularly on the job less than 30 hours a week. At the same time, the American Affordable Care Act is making more Medicaid money available to states, in a good-faith effort to ensure more low-income and no-income Americans have access to health care.

By reducing work hours of its employees, Walmart clearly intends to shift their health care costs to Medicaid, a program intended for the poorest Americans, including those unable to work at all.

This isn’t a new maneuver for Walmart. A 2011 New York Times story details how the retail giant instituted cuts in eligibility while limiting coverage and drastically raising premiums prices and deductibles.

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Citing rising costs, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, told its employees this week that all future part-time employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for any of the company’s health insurance plans.

In addition, any new employees who average 24 hours to 33 hours a week will no longer be able to include a spouse as part of their health care plan, although children can still be covered.

This is a big shift from just a few years ago when Wal-Mart expanded coverage for employees and their families after facing criticism because so many of its 1.4 million workers could not afford or did not qualify for coverage — rendering many of them eligible for Medicaid.

. . .In Wal-Mart’s 2012 health offerings, premiums will increase for some plans by more than 40 percent, although many of their workers pay relatively low premiums in comparison to more generous plans offered by other employers. But many Wal-Mart employees complain that their low premiums are accompanied by high deductibles that sometimes exceed 20 percent of their annual pay.

. . . Barbara Collins, a sales associate at the Wal-Mart in Placerville, Calif., said that the premiums for the H.M.O. plan for herself and her 5-year-old son would rise to $18 every two weeks from $10. Her big concern, she said, was that her deductible would jump to $5,000 a year, from $1,000 — a daunting amount considering she earns $19,000 a year. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to afford it if I go to a doctor or to physical therapy,” she said.

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The story notes Walmart also cut by half the $1,000 it had been putting into employee health care savings accounts, alternative plans that help some employees with costs not covered by inurance. The company had encouraged use of the health savings program, which is cheaper for it than health insurance.

Last July, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted that the Walton family has more wealth — $102.7 billion in 2010 — than the bottom 40 percent of American families. Politifact checked that out and judged the statement to be true. Here’s what that looks like per the six Walton heirs to make the Forbes 400 list (all amounts in billions):

Christy Walton, $25.3; Jim Walton, $23.7; Alice Walton, $23.3; S. Robson Walton, $23.1; Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion; and Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion.

From Wikipedia’s Walmart entry: “For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2011, Wal-Mart reported a net income of $15.4 billion on $422 billion of revenue with a 24.7% gross profit margin.”

Walmart CEO Michael Duke’s 2011 total compensation was $18.7 million, according to Marketwatch.

Our bottom-line impression: Walmart can well afford to provide high-quality, affordable health insurance to all its employees, without cutting the payroll or workers’ hours. And after doing that, the Walton clan would still have more wealth than needed to live in splendor for 100 lifetimes each. The company’s CEO and executives would be in no danger of impoverishment either.

There’s only one way to describe Walmart’s treatment of workers and shifting of costs to taxpayers: raw greed.

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Wisconsin Democrats and unions need
a president who will show up for them

Barrett

Barrett

President Obama should go to Wisconsin before June 5 to spend some quality time campaigning for fellow Democrat and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who’s running to unseat Gov. Scott Walker in a recall election with national implications.

Sure, if Barrett loses – a real possibility given the $25 million-plus that union-busting Koch brothers tool Walker has been given by out-of-state big-money interests – Obama will be tagged by the right-wing noise machine as lacking political horsepower.

But that charge can be easily cast off by the White House. It wouldn’t be as though Obama had spent days or weeks stumping the state for Barrett.

What Obama’s show of support would do is help convince organized labor, whose leadership, and especially whose out-of-work union members, have been less than thrilled with his support for them and their issues so far, that he really is on their side and willing to fight for them.

When you read this kind of statement, you realize the importance of a personal appearance by the president.

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A Democratic strategist working for anti-Walker forces warned that union members would be less enthusiastic about working for Obama if he doesn’t step up for them.

“It won’t go unnoticed by labor the extent to which the White House ultimately decides to fight or not fight for working people the final critical days in Wisconsin,” he said. “The White House needs to move beyond being afraid of its own shadow. The Romney campaign has already been foaming at the mouth to pounce if Walker survives. If that isn’t motivation enough for the White House to start doing everything it can to help defeat Scott Walker, it’s hard to know what is.”

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Reading that, we were reminded how Big Labor abandoned President Jimmy Carter in 1980, with legions of hardhats proclaiming themselves Reagan Democrats as they contributed greatly to Reagan’s landslide win.

MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, who has been all over the Wisconsin situation since it exploded last year, makes the case in more detail.

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Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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It’s as simple as this. If Obama goes to Wisconsin, putting it on the line to help Barrett, he will shore up his union support and earn the gratitude of large numbers of emotionally charged Wisconsin voters, even if Barrett loses. If Obama stays away to avoid being tainted by a Barrett loss, many union people and disappointed Wisconsin voters will feel the president let them down. That feeling of having been let down could spread across the country — the last thing a president seeking re-election needs among those who should be his solid supporters.

For the sake of completeness, let’s turn to professor Robert Reich’s observation that Republicanas have made themsevles so thoroughly unacceptable to organized labor that its support for Obama should be assured — presumably, whether Obama shows up in Wisconsin or not.

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“I said a year ago that there was a danger — Democrats faced possibility of the enthusiasm gap” sinking their 2012 prospects, said Robert Reich, former labor secretary under Bill Clinton and a professor at University of California-Berkeley. “But the Republicans once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory: they went on an anti-union crusade — some even call it a tirade — and they went at the heart of the union movement, which is the right to organize. And Washington Republicans essentially cheered them on.”

As a result, “the labor union has been galvanized, even though Obama may not have done everything they wanted,” Reich said. “They’ve done him a huge favor.”

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That’s plausible, but the relationship going forward could be a kissing-your-sister thing, which wouldn’t bode well for 2016. Such mistakes have kept a Democratic presidential candidate from succeeding a living Democratic president by succeeding at the polls since . . . Hmmm, would you believe since before the 20th century?

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Biz-whiz Romney’s job-creation claims
buried under mountain of layoff notices

guy with fingers crossed behind backR epublican presidential candidate Mitt Romney presents himself as the successful business wizard who can make the economy run like a well-oiled machine, producing jobs aplenty and decimating the budget deficit, all with no increase in taxes (on the rich).

The former head of Bain Capital kicked off this campaign strategy a few weeks ago claiming he had created 100,000 jobs. He quickly scaled that back to 10,000, then just “thousands,” when fact-checkers cried foul and laid-off Bain victims started coming out of the woodwork.

The National Memo looked into Bain’s jobs record and came up with some of the rest of the story:

How six Bain victims fared

Company jobs lost
Ampad 385
GST Steel 750
Dade International 1,900
Dynamic Details, Inc. 2,100
Clear Channel 2,500
KB Toys 3,400

CNBC investment guru Jim Cramer got to the bottom line of Bain and Romney’s big-money-making M.O. succinctly.

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Well said. We will just add that during Romney’s time as governor of Massachusetts, the Bay State ranked 48th in the nation in new-job creation.

Sorry, Romney, but if it sounds like a lie and checks out like a lie, it’s just a lie. You’d do better to say, “Well, we didn’t fire everybody” in all those companies Bain took over. But then you had better hope no one adds up how many people ultimately lost their jobs when many of those gutted, debt-laden companies failed a year or two after you and your fellow vulture capitalists made off with your millions in ill-gotten gains.

What’s that old saying about Republicans with their lips moving?

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Gingrich’s child-labor riff is a flip-flop

Gingrich

—International Business Times

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s recent assertion child labor laws are stupid and that poor children should be able to work as school janitors runs counter to his position in 1996, when he was running for re-eleciton against a Georgia businessman.

Gingrich’s remarks in favor giving poor children who lack employed role models a chance to earn money have drawn criticism since he uttered them Nov. 21 in a talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, but he stood by them during last night’s candidates debate.

Competitor Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said he didn’t agree.

The USA Today story notes Gingrich’s convenient change of mind.

But in a 1996 ad titled “Cookie,” Gingrich slammed his then-congressional opponent, Michael Coles, former CEO of Great American Cookie Co., as an “unscrupulous businessman” partly because of a 1993 violation of child labor laws and accused him of using children “for hazardous labor,” according to a transcript of the ad in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Coles fired back with his own ad that said the 1993 incident involved two teenagers and that the company was cited for “violating safety codes that prohibit workers under 18 from operating freight elevators” when the teenagers were taking out the trash at a suburban Atlanta mall.

This makes for a heady mix of Gingrich’s trademark political viciousness and mendacity, with a big dose of obligatory Republican hypocrisy and nod to union-busting thrown in.

Interestingly, Coles passes off the ’96 ad as “just politics,” but sensibly notes something important we’ve yet to see mentioned by the mainstream media: What happens to all the school janitors who would be displaced by child laborers?

Anyone who thinks Gingrich gives a happy damn about people who clean floors and restrooms for a living doesn’t know a thing about Gingrich. There’s not a selfless or compassionate bone in the man’s body.

But displacing low-income union workers with non-union kids is sure to draw cheers from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable wing of the GOP. Not to mention the idea’s appeal to the party’s hard-right political base of resenters, who look on the out of work as lazy slackers.

Gingrich might just be the candidate they’re looking for. He’s that awful, and proud of it.

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What genuine Democrats sound like,
for those who might have forgotten

“No business which depends for existence by paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”

—President Franklin Roosevelt, in a statement
on the National Recovery Act, June 16, 1933

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Once upon a time in America the line between Democrats and Republicans was drawn sharply and proclaimed loudly and proudly — by Democrats. There was little chance of hearing scoffers say, “Republicans, Democrats, they’re all the same — not a dime’s worth of difference between them.”

Not surprisingly, in those days the Democratic Party was dominant. It went on to hold the White House for 20 years and controlled one or both houses of Congress for most of that time.

Middle- and working-class people were clear about who in Washington was looking out for their interests, and they looked out for Democrats at election time.

Many of today’s Democrats would do well to think about what Roosevelt said, about his attitude, ideals and convictions, and then strive to regain something precious they seem to have lost in recent decades.

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GOP House passes latest of many
anti-worker, union-busting bills

As part of its ongoing war against working people generally and organized labor especially, the House Republican majority today passed H.R. 3094, which would make it easier for businesses to delay a vote by workers on unionization.

The bill, passed on a basically party-line 235-188 vote, thwarts a National Labor Relations Board rule change from earlier in the year intended to allow workers to more quickly and easily vote on joining a union.

Along with limiting the time between workers petitioning for and holding a unionization vote, the NLRB rule change says any employer legal challenges will only be taken up by the board after a vote. H.R. 3094 requires that legal challenges be considered before any vote, ensuring more and longer delays.

Here’s what Kimberly Freeman Brown, director of the labor-rights advocacy group, American Rights at Work, has to say about Republicans’ latest assault on workers.

“Right now, workers face delays of months and sometimes years before they get to vote for a union, if they get to vote at all. And the longer the delay, the more likely employers are to engage in unlawful intimidation of their employees. Rather than correct that problem, this bill would mandate a delay, during which time unscrupulous employers could engage in threats, coercion, and even firing of voters.

“This isn’t just a labor issue. It’s about maintaining standards that hold big corporations accountable so that the rest of us have a fair shake. And if the overwhelming repeal of Ohio’s Senate Bill 5 was any indication, Americans simply won’t stand for attempts to strip those protections away.”

H.R. 3094 is the handiwork of Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.

For those out of the loop about why Republicans are so intent on crushing organized labor, they’re going for a politically self-serving twofer. Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson explains excellently Republicans’ twin motives for trying to destroy unions and stick it to working people at every opportunity.

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Economy that funnels ever more rewards
to ever fewer people is unsustainable

The U.S. economy is an equation, with big-money interests like corporations, the financial industry and millionaire investors on one side of the equal sign and millions of paycheck workers, small-business operators, farmers, retirees and students on the other side.

Think of one side of the equation as the supply side and folks able to use money to make money, and the other side as people who must work to make money.

When the economy is healthy and functioning well, the equation is roughly in balance. But balance has become impossible in recent years thanks to three decades of wrong policies, ideology run amok and Americans letting themselves be misled into voting against their own best interest.

One picture of the consequences looks like this.

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The graph is from a good post at The Atlantic by Daniel Indiviglio. Do read his brief post in full, but for now consider his bottom-line conclusion about what the chart means:

. . . over the past five years Americans, on average, have seen no disposable income growth if you adjust for population and inflation. This also explains why they’re spending like it’s 2006 — because they don’t have more money to spend. No wonder the recovery continues to feel like a recession: that’s an awfully long time to go without a raise.”

Something else bears mentioning here. Since records have been kept, productivity gains have meant more profits for business, generally, and income gains for workers. Now, compare the income chart from the summer of 2006 forward to the productivity chart.

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BLS productivity graph

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When things are this out of whack there is no longer an equation. “Exploitation” is the only word that fits. Like the federal deficit, this situation cannot go on indefinitely without triggering a calamity — one that could mean plenty of pain to go around, for those profiting now as well as those getting the short end of the stick.

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Walker, Koch brothers riding high now
but their rampage could be short lived

The predictable result of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting law are taking effect, with major public-employee unions opting to not recertify with the state.

The upshot is that there will be no collective bargaining, just “informal talks” with state employers, if they’re lucky.

[stextbox id=”custom” caption=”State of decline” float=”true” align=”right” width=”160″ mleft=”6″ mright=”0″ mtop=”6″ mbottom=”6″] Census Bureau statistics show the median income in Wisconsin dropped 14.5 percent between 1999 and 2010. The national median income decline during that period was 8.9 percent.[/stextbox]

Thanks to Walker’s union-busting law, to recertify, unions must hold votes in which a majority of all covered workers would have to OK union representation, not just a majority of those who choose to vote. Large unions say that’s a punishingly expensive proposition.

Although unions are trying to put a brave face on the situation, the story on this indicates the law’s elimination of automatic payroll deduction of union dues is having a negative impact on unions’ funds. Members must contribute on their own now, and in difficult times it becomes easy to skip contributions.

One reason the unions declined to recertify is that under Walker’s law they could only bargain for pay increases. And they could only do that up to the level of inflation. Workplace safety, cleanliness, medical benefits, vacations and so forth, are no longer subject to negotiation.

The billionaire Koch brothers, who aren’t Wisconsin citizens but are the power behind Walker’s throne, are getting their money’s worth, for now.

That could change dramatically before long, though. Sentiment for recalling Walker has been widespread and intense since the first weeks of his administration. That’s because Walker immediately began engineering radical changes he did not campaign on, triggering mass protests that lasted for months.

Further adding to the dark cloud over the Koch’s handyman is an FBI investigation into the activities of a top Walker aide, Cynthia A. Archer. Her home was recently the scene of an evidence-gathering raid. If a scandal and trial ensue, Walker could find himself embroiled in all that while trying to convince voters they shouldn’t turn him out of office.

In our view that couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. But Walker’s ultimate reward should be a resounding defeat at the polls early next year, which is the soonest a recall election can be held.

High court OK’s Wisconsin union-busting law,
probably sealing Republicans’ political fate

grenade pulls own pinWisconsin’s Supreme Court overruled a lower court judge Tuesday, validating Gov. Scott Walker’s legislative assault targeting most of the state’s public-employee unions for destruction.

The court found a committee of lawmakers was not subject to the state’s open meetings law, and so did not violate that law when they hastily approved the measure and made it possible for the Senate to take it up.

. . .The court added that its role is limited to determining whether the Legislature employed a “constitutionally violative process in the enactment of the act. We conclude that the Legislature did not violate the Wisconsin Constitution by the process it used.”

The high court’s 4-3 decision allows the Republican extremists’ union-busting law to take effect for now, but is far from being final. Other court challenges are pending, and public-employee unions filed a new one yesterday.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, claims the controversial measure is unconstitutional because it creates two classes of public workers in the state — those covered by the new rules and those exempt from them.

The law, which essentially cripples collective-bargaining rights for teachers, road workers and some others, exempts police, state patrol and firefighters’ unions, violating the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under law.

Walker and his cronies in the state legislature might be giving each other high fives now, but their victory could soon turn pyrrhic.

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Supreme Court ends your class-action protection

Supreme CourtYou might not have heard, amidst all the royal wedding hype and Donald Trump “news,” but our pro-corporate Supreme Court just effectively killed class-action lawsuits.

What this means, as you’ll learn if you read enough 12-inch-wide, pale-gray, micro-print legalese, is that you can increasingly expect to be obliged to sign away your right to sue a business when you want to buy a product, a service or get a job.

What the court deems adequate redress when you feel you’ve been cheated is arbitration — a pricey, potentially time-consuming undertaking wherein the validity of your complaint is decided by a business hired by the business you believe cheated you.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices said Wednesday the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, originally aimed at disputes over maritime and rail shipments, trumps state laws and court rulings in California and about half the states that limit arbitration clauses deemed to be “unfair” to consumers.

The ruling was “the biggest ever” on class actions, said Vanderbilt University law professor Brian Fitzpatrick, an expert on such litigation.

“It gives companies a green light to exempt themselves from all class actions from their customers or from their employees,” Fitzpatrick said. “Companies can basically escape from the civil justice system. And why wouldn’t a company take advantage of that?”

Indeed, the Supreme Court ruled that arbitration clauses must be enforced even if they are unfair.

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