Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...
You need to know this. If Congress refuses to act in the next month, the future of the United States Postal Service could be in jeopardy. This lame duck session may be the last chance to pass the Postal Reform Act of 2014 before Sen. Ron Johnson takes over as chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees the Postal Service. While that legislation is far from perfect, it's unlikely that the new, anti-union, pro-privatization Republican chairman will offer any better solutions. The Postal Reform Act of 2014 would begin to scale back the poison-pill requirement that they pre-fund employee benefits 75 years into the future. However, that bipartisan bill would also open the door to ending Saturday mail delivery, raising postal rates, or even stopping door-to-door delivery. As bad as those provisions may be, none of them are mandated in the bill, and they could be removed from the legislation before it's enacted. And, they're still far better than Ron Johnson's suggestions, which include bankruptcy, layoffs, terminating union contracts, and even privatization. They only way to prevent Republicans from trying to push these extreme measures is to pass the Postal Reform Act now, preferably without provisions that threaten Saturday or door-to-door delivery. The Postal Service is a national treasure that has provided reliable, affordable communication since the beginning of our country. Republicans can't stand the fact that USPS is the largest unionized employer in our nation, and that's one of the most important reasons we must fight to protect it. There are only a few days left in this lame duck session, so call Congress now and tell them to save the Postal Service.
About one out of every 30 kids in America is homeless. A new report called “America's Youngest Outcasts” from the National Center on Family Homelessness says that almost 2.5 million children did not have a place to call home at some point in 2013. That's an all-time high for our nation, but it's not the type of record we should be celebrating. In the richest country on Earth, low-wages, lack of affordable housing, and a shrinking social safety net are pushing more and more parents out on the street, and that means their kids are going right along with them. These homeless children face immediate problems like hunger and illness, but the long-term effects on their education and social development can impact their entire lives. Carmela DeCandia, one of the co-authors of the report, said, “As a society, we're going to pay a high price in human and economic terms.” We're failing these kids, and there is no acceptable reason for it. We can afford to pay parents more. We can afford to fund our safety net. And, if we can't afford to care for our children, what right do we have to call ourselves “exceptional?”
Walmart workers are preparing for their biggest Black Friday strike yet. For the last two years, employees and organizers from the group Our Walmart held rallies outside Walmart stores all over the country. This year, protests are expected outside at least 1,600 stores, and workers will be joined by tens of thousands of their supporters. Once again, these protests will focus on the workers' fight for better wages and the right to unionize, and they'll take place on the busiest shopping day of the year. Organizers hope to remind shoppers that the low-price retailer can afford to pay a living wage without raising prices, and highlight their ongoing fight to help workers form a union. Walmart rakes in billions every year in profits, and even more in direct and in-direct taxpayer subsidies. There's no excuse for the company to keep paying poverty wages. The Our Walmart protesters want the right to fair pay and union representation, and they're not giving up until those reasonable demands have been met.
You may think that slavery came to an end about 150 years ago, but according to Australia's “Walk Free Foundation,” you'd be wrong. A new report from that organization says that slavery was found in every country they studied, and there are more than 35 million people living in slavery right now. That report explains that forms of modern-day slavery range from children being forced to work or marry early, to men who can't leave work because of crushing debts, to women and girls who are exploited as unpaid, abused domestic help. Even here in the U.S., the researchers found people subject to many different forms of modern-day slavery, like bonded labor, physical confinement, or deplorable working conditions without rest or drinking water. Our so-called developed nation is not immune to human exploitation. Andrew Forrest, Chairman of the Walk Free Foundation, said, “These findings show that modern slavery exists in every country. We are all responsible for the most appalling situations where modern slavery exists and the desperate misery it brings upon our fellow human beings.” And, that means we're all responsible for bringing this horrible practice to an end.
And finally... New York City understands that internet access is a basic right, not a privilege. So, next year, the Big Apple is going to turn their old payphones into free WiFi hotspots. The new plan, called LinkNYC, will replace 10,000 decrepit payphones with new towers that offer people free WiFi, nationwide calling, and even a place to charge their phones and other devices. Even in New York City, one of the most modern cities on the planet, 20 percent of residents don't have access to high-speed internet. That number is even higher among minority communities and the elderly. Considering that many important applications, services, and agencies are now only available online, the lack of internet access can prevent someone from applying for jobs, registering for government benefits, or requesting help with various services. These new WiFi hotspots can help bridge that gap, and connect millions to the world wide web. Although the LinkNYC plan hasn't been approved yet, city regulators are already working to ensure it complies with laws and regulations, and a team of companies is ready to install the new towers. Just like basic phone service and utilities, everyone should have access to the web, and LinkNYC is a great way to make that happen.
And that's the way it is - for the week of November 24, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.