The Obama Administration.... Standing Up For Poor and Working People Since... Never

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The Obama Administration.... Standing Up For Poor and Working People Since... Never

Walmart workers striking in California in 2013. (Photo: Aurelio Barrera/flickr/cc)

"...with no help from federal or state prosecutors, and in a legal atmosphere which makes union organizing more difficult than any time in the last seven decades, workers are forced to seek individual relief in the courts..."

In warehouses and in retail, wage stealing by bosses, forcing people to work off the clock, and compelling them to wait in half hour long lines without pay for exit security checks are shockingly commonplace practice. Though all are pretty much illegal, and according to economist Dr. Richard Wolff, the amount corporate employers steal from the wages of workers year is roughly three times the monetary value of all the nation's armed robberies, state and federal prosecutors rarely bother to investigate or indict.

When was the last time you heard a prosecutor running for office pledging to crack down on wage thievery? The answer is never. But President Obama's campaign did sell him to the American people as the agent of change. In front of union audiences candidate Obama even promised to “put on some comfortable shoes” and walk the occasional picket line. When is this likely to happen? The answer again, is never.

The reality is that with no help from federal or state prosecutors, and in a legal atmosphere which makes union organizing more difficult than any time in the last seven decades, workers are forced to seek individual relief in the courts. An Amazon.com worker filed in federal court against his bosses, who forced employees to stand in line without pay for a daily security check before being allowed to leave the job. Workers asked to be paid for the time. Amazon said no. They asked their bosses to buy another scanning machine and hire more security staff to speed up the process. Amazon said no. And again, this is a common practice across a large section of retail and warehouse employers.

It took a couple years, but a federal judge ruled in favor of Amazon's workers, and an appeals court also ordered Amazon to pay them. Amazon's platoon of lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case.

"...If it suited the president to stand up for poor and working families in the campaign just past, many more Democrat voters might have turned out..."

And who did the Obama administration side with? The administration that would not help workers secure their rights with new laws, and would not prosecute employers for wage theft filed not one brief in favor of Amazon.com's right to NOT pay its workers, but two --- one from the Justice Department, and another from the Department of Labor, the cabinet bureaucracy supposedly created to safeguard the rights of working people. Bosses are watching this case carefully, and corporate media are for the most part ignoring it just as carefully. If Amazon.com, the retail and warehousing industry, and the Obama administration get their way on this case, employers will be free to define the work processes so as to avoid paying employees for suiting up with protective gear, cleaning and maintaining machinery when the machinery is not running, and declaring that a wide variety of actual work tasks essential to their businesses are not “work” and should not be paid at all.

President Obama and the first lady regularly do personal appearances and speechifying at Wal-Mart and Amazon using a hundred or so diverse looking workers as their backdrop. They routinely praise these companies for their efficiency and “innovation,” even though the real names for that innovation and that efficiency are ecocide, genocide, robbing public treasuries and impoverishing their workers.

If it suited the president to stand up for poor and working families in the campaign just past, many more Democrat voters might have turned out. He could have spent a week jumping out of Aire Force One to barnstorm the country with speeches and appearances talking up raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, or even indexing it to the cost of living, like civilized countries do. That's how advances are made. But the president spent the last two weeks of the campaign in rooms full of five and six figure donors.

Current polls show that even many Republicans are in favor of raising the minimum wage, and a deal IS possible. Negotiating-wise THIS campaign was, and even now this season remains the time to raise the ante, to keep the issue in the forefront. When will this happen? The answer, of course is never.

Unemployment seems to be falling right now, but so, say economists like David Wolff and Doug Henwood, is labor force participation, as hundreds of thousands each month give up the search for work altogether as hopeless. It's the new normal at the end of year six of the Obama era, standing up for poor and working people.... since never.

Bruce Dixon

Bruce Dixon is based in Atlanta GA and is managing editor at Black Agenda Report.  He can be reached at bruce.dixon@blackagendareport.com.

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