Thursday, May 19, 2016

New overtime reg is another small step the Obama Administration is taking towards greater wealth equity

By Marc Jampole

It was to be expected that conservative politicians and business organizations would complain about the U.S. Labor Department’s new overtime regulation, which mandates that anyone making under $47,476 a year automatically qualifies for time-and-a-half pay for any hours worked over 40 per week.  For example, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan criticized the new rule that enables 4.2 million more Americans to receive overtime pay, saying the regulation “hurts the very people it alleges to help.” Business organizations such as the American Bankers Association, the National Retail Federation, the Society of Human Resource Management and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have all bemoaned the new regulation, focusing exclusively on the problems it will cause for small business and the employees receiving the overtime wage boost. The mainstream news media, of course, has quoted many small business owners complaining about the new reg.

One main argument against paying people extra money when they work more than the normal week sounds just like what business interests say about raising the minimum wage: that it will lead to employers hiring fewer people. This old saw is complete BS, as I have demonstrated before. Virtually all businesses only hire the minimum number of people needed to do the job, as they always seek to maximize profit. The result of increasing the number of people to whom companies must pay time-and-a-half will certainly be to raise the cost of labor, unless employers try to avoid the additional expense by hiring additional people at the regular rate to work the hours that they will no longer give to existing employees. The choice then is that current employees make more money or the company hires more employees. That sounds like a win-win for labor.

Here is some more nonsense the news media has published about the impact of making employers pay time-and-half to lower-paid employees who work more than 40 hours a week:
·         Employees won’t want to keep track of exact hours: Many, if not an overwhelming majority, of employees already keep precise track of their hours with time cards and time sheets.
·         People work harder for a salary: Whether or not this gratuitous insult of the working stiff is true matters not in discussing the validity of applying this blanket statement to the issue of overtime pay. Any good employer develops quantifiable measurements of job performance. If someone starts to fall below the performance standards of the job, a supervisor will talk to the employee, no matter what the reason. It’s easy and legal to fire an employee who continues to perform below standard when the only reason is because he or she is trying to work the system to get time-and-a-half.
·         It will make it harder to give employees flexibility in hours: A ridiculous claim! As long as an employee is keeping accurate track of hours, who cares if they came in at 5:00 am so they could leave for their daughter’s chess tournament at 3:00 pm or if they worked the hours at home or at the office or took off Thursday and worked Saturday of the same week.
·         Employers will turn full-time employees into part-timers. Employers who want to save money by only hiring part-timers don’t need the incentive of time-and-a-half to do so. As discussed above, while employers may hire more people to work straight time, cutting hours back below 40 (as opposed to exactly 40) won’t reduce the cost of the new regulation.

The rationales for paying people extra money for overtime are simple:
1.      The extra time puts a burden on meeting other, i.e., family, responsibilities and enjoying an outside life.
2.      It’s harder on the mind and body to work long hours, and employees should therefore get additional compensation.

I have asked employees to work very few overtime hours over the 27 years I have owned an advertising and public relations agency, because I believe that work performance degrades after eight hours a day and 40 hours a week and I also believe that people are better employees when they have a full and active personal life than when they dedicate themselves solely to the job. There have been times when the temporary demands of the job have forced people to work extra hours. We have often given comp time to those working overtime, something that the new regulation does not allow for employees making less than $47,476. Thus, my costs will go up a little bit, which means my profit margin will decline slightly. I’m not too worried about it, and I’m happy to pay time-and-a-half instead of straight time (which you pay whether directly or through comp time) for the occasional overtime hour of lower-paid employees. I know I’m still making additional profit from the overtime, since the same office, administrative and healthcare costs are being spread over more hours. Those (immoral) companies that have built extra profitability into the system by making employees regularly work overtime for nothing or straight time may have a greater challenge.

I’m disturbed by the number of legal scams that the Wall Street Journal and other media are reporting that employers have already devised to avoid paying time-and-a-half or any overtime pay. Some companies say they will reduce the base rate of employees who routinely work overtime, meaning that for the employees to maintain their current income they will always have to work the extra hours. Other employers or industry representatives say they will raise the salaries of employees to over the threshold above which they don’t have to pay overtime and reduce bonuses to compensate. Let’s hope the Department of Labor adjusts their regulations accordingly and go after these scofflaws.

Let’s face it. One of the two major reasons that the wealthy—meaning business owners, executives and highly-paid specialists—have taken virtually all of the additional wealth and income over the past 36 years is that salaries for all but the very top wage-earners have stagnated until quite recently. The other reason, BTW, is that the government has taxed the wealthy less and provided fewer services to the poor and middle class. Like increasing the minimum wage, mandating overtime pay for more employees and setting it at one-and-a-half times base hourly wages goes a little way to restoring wealth equity.

New overtime reg is another small step the Obama Administration is taking towards greater wealth equity

By Marc Jampole

It was to be expected that conservative politicians and business organizations would complain about the U.S. Labor Department’s new overtime regulation, which mandates that anyone making under $47,476 a year automatically qualifies for time-and-a-half pay for any hours worked over 40 per week.  For example, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan criticized the new rule that enables 4.2 million more Americans to receive overtime pay, saying the regulation “hurts the very people it alleges to help.” Business organizations such as the American Bankers Association, the National Retail Federation, the Society of Human Resource Management and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have all bemoaned the new regulation, focusing exclusively on the problems it will cause for small business and the employees receiving the overtime wage boost. The mainstream news media, of course, has quoted many small business owners complaining about the new reg.

One main argument against paying people extra money when they work more than the normal week sounds just like what business interests say about raising the minimum wage: that it will lead to employers hiring fewer people. This old saw is complete BS, as I have demonstrated before. Virtually all businesses only hire the minimum number of people needed to do the job, as they always seek to maximize profit. The result of increasing the number of people to whom companies must pay time-and-a-half will certainly be to raise the cost of labor, unless employers try to avoid the additional expense by hiring additional people at the regular rate to work the hours that they will no longer give to existing employees. The choice then is that current employees make more money or the company hires more employees. That sounds like a win-win for labor.

Here is some more nonsense the news media has published about the impact of making employers pay time-and-half to lower-paid employees who work more than 40 hours a week:
·         Employees won’t want to keep track of exact hours: Many, if not an overwhelming majority, of employees already keep precise track of their hours with time cards and time sheets.
·         People work harder for a salary: Whether or not this gratuitous insult of the working stiff is true matters not in discussing the validity of applying this blanket statement to the issue of overtime pay. Any good employer develops quantifiable measurements of job performance. If someone starts to fall below the performance standards of the job, a supervisor will talk to the employee, no matter what the reason. It’s easy and legal to fire an employee who continues to perform below standard when the only reason is because he or she is trying to work the system to get time-and-a-half.
·         It will make it harder to give employees flexibility in hours: A ridiculous claim! As long as an employee is keeping accurate track of hours, who cares if they came in at 5:00 am so they could leave for their daughter’s chess tournament at 3:00 pm or if they worked the hours at home or at the office or took off Thursday and worked Saturday of the same week.
·         Employers will turn full-time employees into part-timers. Employers who want to save money by only hiring part-timers don’t need the incentive of time-and-a-half to do so. As discussed above, while employers may hire more people to work straight time, cutting hours back below 40 (as opposed to exactly 40) won’t reduce the cost of the new regulation.

The rationales for paying people extra money for overtime are simple:
1.      The extra time puts a burden on meeting other, i.e., family, responsibilities and enjoying an outside life.
2.      It’s harder on the mind and body to work long hours, and employees should therefore get additional compensation.

I have asked employees to work very few overtime hours over the 27 years I have owned an advertising and public relations agency, because I believe that work performance degrades after eight hours a day and 40 hours a week and I also believe that people are better employees when they have a full and active personal life than when they dedicate themselves solely to the job. There have been times when the temporary demands of the job have forced people to work extra hours. We have often given comp time to those working overtime, something that the new regulation does not allow for employees making less than $47,476. Thus, my costs will go up a little bit, which means my profit margin will decline slightly. I’m not too worried about it, and I’m happy to pay time-and-a-half instead of straight time (which you pay whether directly or through comp time) for the occasional overtime hour of lower-paid employees. I know I’m still making additional profit from the overtime, since the same office, administrative and healthcare costs are being spread over more hours. Those (immoral) companies that have built extra profitability into the system by making employees regularly work overtime for nothing or straight time may have a greater challenge.

I’m disturbed by the number of legal scams that the Wall Street Journal and other media are reporting that employers have already devised to avoid paying time-and-a-half or any overtime pay. Some companies say they will reduce the base rate of employees who routinely work overtime, meaning that for the employees to maintain their current income they will always have to work the extra hours. Other employers or industry representatives say they will raise the salaries of employees to over the threshold above which they don’t have to pay overtime and reduce bonuses to compensate. Let’s hope the Department of Labor adjusts their regulations accordingly and go after these scofflaws.

Let’s face it. One of the two major reasons that the wealthy—meaning business owners, executives and highly-paid specialists—have taken virtually all of the additional wealth and income over the past 36 years is that salaries for all but the very top wage-earners have stagnated until quite recently. The other reason, BTW, is that the government has taxed the wealthy less and provided fewer services to the poor and middle class. Like increasing the minimum wage, mandating overtime pay for more employees and setting it at one-and-a-half times base hourly wages goes a little way to restoring wealth equity.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Clinton’s foreign policy will be to form and deepen alliances to seek resolution of world problems

The mainstream and left-wing media has slapped the label “hawk” on Hillary Clinton, but if we are to believe the words of her senior policy advisor, Jake Sullivan, a more accurate description would be call her a “coalition-builder.” It’s clear from the comments Sullivan made in front of an audience of about 250 people at the Asia Society on Park Avenue in New York this week that, whether engaged in peaceful or war-like activities in other parts of the world, Clinton will only act after deliberations with other nations and within the context of an organized coalition.

A Google News search yielded seven media stories about Sullivan’s remarks at the Asia Society, including the Society’s own blog, all of which focused exclusively on Sullivan’s short comments on Donald Trump’s lack of qualifications and dangerous statements. This comment took about one minute of the more than an hour Sullivan devoted to presenting how Clinton will approach foreign affairs.

The more important message—and story—is the Clinton approach to dealing with a wide range of problems, from Syria to global warming, which is to build a coalition of all parties, look for common ground and act collectively. Implied but not stated by Sullivan, who is Vice President Biden’s national security advisor and a senior advisor to the Iran nuclear negotiations, is that collective action assumes collective responsibility and financing.

Her approach to the knot of problems in the Middle East demonstrates how Clinton hopes to implement this vision of cooperation. Sullivan says that Clinton sees three main challenges in the Middle East:
1.      The destabilization of regimes, often brought about by terrorists and violent extremists.
2.      The rise of militant right-wing Islamists.
3.      The long-term hostilities between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States.

Clinton will be willing to ensure that Iran will not destabilize Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, but in return the United States will expect the Saudis and other Gulf rulers to:
·         Contribute to the fight against ISIS
·         Stop funding terrorism
·         Begin internal political and social reforms in their countries.

Sullivan calls Clinton “clear-eyed” about Iran, by which he means that she still considers the regime hostile to U.S. interests, but she sees the benefit of working with the Iranians, especially in Syria. Clinton does not believe the Syrian problem can be solved without a new government and that any solution to the Syrian problem must have the agreement of both Russia and the United States to succeed.  My understanding of a “hawk” is someone who knee-jerks to calling in the military like John McCain. Clinton’s first step to solving the Syrian crisis is decidedly unhawkish: to negotiate “safe areas” within the country for refugees.

Sullivan kept stressing that the United States cannot be a unilateral player, but must always act in concert with other countries, whatever the region or issue. She will put a particular reemphasis on working more closely with China, seeing no reason why China and the United States can’t be friendly competitors. Clinton sees five important areas where the interests of China and the United States coincide:
1.      Climate change
2.      Terrorism
3.      The stability of Afghanistan, which borders China (and five other countries!)
4.      What Sullivan labeled “G-20” issues of trade and international economics.
5.      North Korea

Clinton wants the United States and China to cooperate to force North Korea to renounce development of its nuclear capability. Sullivan pointed out at the Asia Society that every major economy was engaged in sanctions against Iran, which produced the nuclear deal. He cautioned that the relationship between China and the United States has not reached the point at which the two nations would act in concert on North Korea.

On issue after issue, Sullivan described Clinton as taking a studied, cautious approach that focused on alliance-building and not saber-rattling. The sense I got from Sullivan is that Clinton is not afraid to use force, but will depend first on peaceful resolution of international issues that protects the United States’ interests but recognizes the interests of other countries.

Whether left-wingers like the Clinton foreign policy depends on whether we look at the glass as half empty of half full. Thus, I would prefer it if the first thing Sullivan said was that Clinton would unilaterally shut down the United States’ nuclear capability and stop selling and facilitating the sale of military-grade weapons to all foreign countries. She did not and will not. That’s the empty part of the glass.

But in the context of 70 years of America imperialistically pushing its weight around, undermining democratic regimes such as in Chile and Iran and pursuing useless wars like Viet Nam and Iraq, Clinton’s approach, which echoes that of President Obama and her husband, looks promising and dovish. I don’t believe the nonsense that Obama’s mishandling of foreign affairs led to the rise of ISIS and the splintering of Syria. George W. Bush’s ill-conceived Iraq War definitely caused ISIS; it also contributed to the destabilization of Syria and to the growth or terrorism by giving proof to the Islamic extremists who consider the United States the real rogue, devil state. Nothing Bernie Sanders has said has convinced me that he will be any more left-wing in his foreign policy than Clinton.

All the Republicans—including Donald Trump—proclaim that they will be quick to use force to address international disputes.  Trump talks about being a better negotiator than the representatives of other countries, a kind of na├»ve American exceptionalism masquerading as global bullying. It remains to be seen whether Trump keeps spouting isolationist rhetoric when it comes to trade and immigration, or retreats to Republican orthodoxy. On the most significant long-term global issue—climate change—Clinton is light-years ahead of the GOP, which still has its official policy the denial of global warming.  Compared to the unstable Trump and the war-mongering Republic foreign policy establishment, Clinton’s foreign policy is definitely superior, with more positives than negatives.  She remains within the mainstream of the last 70 years, but will move that mainstream further left, as Barack Obama has done. Yes, the idealist in me is disappointed, but the realist understands that electing Clinton (or Sanders) is critical to making the United States safer while implementing a more moral and less bellicose foreign policy.

The moderator at the Asia Society presentation was the very witty and knowledgeable Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia and current president of the Asia Society Policy Institute.  He pointed out that Asia Society had offered a forum to discuss foreign issues to every announced candidate for president and only Hillary Clinton had agreed.  Let’s hope that Donald Trump presents before the Asia Society membership (and Sanders, too, if he does it before the convention). More significantly, let’s hope that more of the news media cover the presentation and that coverage focuses on the strategies the candidates propose and not the name-calling to which the news media seems to want to reduce all campaign stories.