Grace Ross: Healthcare: The Latest Excuse To Cut Jobs
Tuesday, September 03, 2013
Yes, we were out breakfasting with our working sisters and brothers across the state and marching in the Marlboro Day parade, but the headline in the paper is that: healthcare is now the latest excuse for cutting jobs, hours, and benefits.
Healthcare reform that’s going to require the extension of benefits is, in fact, now being accused of forcing businesses, as if there was a gun to their head, to cut hours for their workers, cut jobs, and potentially take people off of their healthcare. These are the same healthcare plans that various (large) corporations put together to meet the state’s mandate for healthcare but they may shift because they may decide that it’s cheaper to meet the federal mandate for healthcare.
Let’s rewind. Businesses aren’t being forced to do anything in terms of cutting jobs. The economy is still sluggish at best and what needs to be done is to create jobs. But this has not been the focus of government policy.
On the other hand, we’ve seen job losses – first slowly and now more rapid cutting back of decent pay and decent benefits – since the early 1980s. Up through the early 1970s there was an increasing percentage of workers in those democratically created and elected organizations known as unions.
Starting in the early 70s, the percentage of folks in unionized workplaces – where there was an organized voice for things like jobs, and hours, and pay, and benefits, started to drop off.
The productivity of the American workforce continues to increase significantly and on a pretty predictable trajectory; we are producing more and more and more for the number of hours that we’re working. Through the 50s, 60s, and 70s that increase in production – creating more output from businesses and therefore more profits – a chunk of that was being plowed back into the workers. We were benefitting from our own increase in productivity.
Starting in the late 70s, the increasing trend-line for productivity and the trend-line for wages stopped tracking each other; wages have stayed basically stagnant in comparison to increasing productivity. We stopped getting any increase in pay for our increase in productivity. The economic theorists who decide the official “ends” to economic recessions, started for the first time declaring a recession over without jobs having started to bounce back. Our economic lives fell off the economic radar.
This leads us to the most recent round of excuses for why businesses are cutting back wages and benefits. The national healthcare plan comes into force piece by piece. Massachusetts companies who had to respond to its local version in Massachusetts (which did and did not really form the basis of the national plan); those businesses since the Massachusetts health reform apparently had gone from covering 70% of their workers to at least offering coverage to 76% of their workers. Now, they claim that they are going to cut back because the requirements for the national plan are different.
For instance, the state healthcare plan made its requirements based on fulltime being 35 hours or more. The federal law is requiring 30 hours or more.
Unlike local businesses that are more connected to their local workers, there have been efforts in the largest private industry circles for decades to figure out ways of cutting back benefits by not allowing people to get enough hours at work to be eligible. There’s nothing new about that strategy. In fact, in the recent bad economy, businesses tried to continue to make the same increased profit standard that has increased over the last 20 or 30 years and making all their cutbacks in worker pay and benefits.
It is formulaic for these businesses to blame the desired cutbacks on workers benefits, wages and hours they have pushed for all along on the latest scapegoat. Today, it is healthcare but these job trends started before Obamacare was a twinkle in anybody’s eye. They actually started before the recent downturn.
Similarly, we’ve seen across the board cuts in wages, in number of hours that workers have, and in benefits since the downturn – most particularly among the large companies that have continued to reap significant profits and have increased their profits through the entire economic downturn.
Here’s the bright light for workers this labor day: large numbers of folks are beginning to work directly on the things that workers need; increasing minimum wage, fighting for paid sick time, trying to rebalance the taxes and asking everybody along the income spectrum not just everybody except for wealthy folks pay their fair share.
This past Thursday, I was honored to stand with any number of folks backing the fast food workers who went on strike in various places across the country. This is an industry that pays very low wages; only slightly over 2% of the workers will ever rise to a management position and receive low wages and little or no benefits. Workers in this sector need a way to fight for their rights. So folks went on strike even though they don’t have unions. I was proud to be a part of the crew of folks who walked people back into their work and made sure there would not be any retaliation in their workplace for them having gone on strike (which would be of course against federal law). A presence seemed important.
We get an opportunity going forward to be a presence for all of each other who has to work for a living. We can tell the truth: it turns out whether its increasing wages, covering people with healthcare, providing paid sick leave, and anything that improves working conditions also improves productivity and also improves the bottom line for businesses.
Improving our work lives like with healthcare is just the most recent, and baseless excuse for penalizing workers AND the bottomline for businesses. This Labor Day, lets work for policies that improve our economy for all.
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