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Forum Post: Switzerland Shows US How to Handle CEOs

Posted 8 years ago on Nov. 28, 2013, 3:16 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Switzerland Shows US How to Handle CEOs

Thursday, 28 November 2013 10:03 By David Swanson, War Is a Crime | Opinion


In Switzerland a petition from 100,000 people, or about 1.25% of the population, creates a public referendum. By this means, last March, Swiss voters created strict limits on executive pay.

On November 24, the Swiss will vote on whether to take a further step -- limiting executive pay to no more than 12 times the lowest salary in the company. Such a maximum wage policy allows the CEO pay increases, but only if workers get at least a twelfth as much. A movement in the U.S. is asking: If Switzerland can do it, why can't we?

The Swiss are also set to vote, on a date yet to be set, to create a guaranteed basic income of $2,800 (2,500 Swiss francs) per month for every adult. That's about $16 per hour for a full-time worker, but it's guaranteed even for those who can't find work.

You know what country can afford such a measure even more easily, given its vast supplies of wealth? The United States of America. Here in the United States, had the minimum wage kept pace with productivity since the 1960s it would now be $21.72 an hour, or $3,722 a month. The Congressional proposal of $10.10 an hour, which President Obama now says he supports, equals $1,751 a month for a fulltime job. The actual U.S. minimum wage of $7.25, which does not apply to all workers, makes $1,242 a month. But only if you can find work.

That's less than half what the Swiss are voting on, and Swiss workers also have their healthcare paid for, public transportation widely available, quality education and higher education free or affordable, 14 weeks paid parental leave, and a nearly endless list of other advantages provided by the government.

A basic income guarantee, currently practiced in Alaska and once supported by President Richard Nixon and the U.S. House of Representatives, would be far more efficient than targeted support programs, because every individual would receive the exact same check, with no stigma attached to it; and, yes -- believe it or not -- people who could find work would still work.

Switzerland has a greater percentage of its population made up by immigrants than the United States does. Switzerland has four national languages. What allows Switzerland to practice democracy so much more effectively?

Two major parts of the answer are obvious. Switzerland doesn't fight wars, and it doesn't redistribute its wealth upward creating an overclass of multibillionaires.

Perhaps its time to begin moving our own country in a peaceful, prosperous direction. A growing number of people have decided to try.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.



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[-] 5 points by Nevada1 (5843) 8 years ago


[-] 4 points by elf3 (4203) 8 years ago

Blah blah blah....fucking jail them !!!!...criminal acts yet we're negotiating their pay cuts? Has the world gone mad? Where are the mechanisms to end the fines and wrist slap class action...and make criminals pay for murder, theft, and pillaging the citizens of this planet?

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 8 years ago

Who's going to jail them? The corporatist government establishment that works for them??? Unlike the US, Switzerland choses to be a democracy so the People have a democratic say in how things are done. If the People of the US chose to organize nationwide at the municipal level through ballot initiatives, they too could effect nationwide changes in limiting the power of big business (Union National Cooperative Municipal Economic Initiatives http://occupywallst.org/forum/the-cooperative-union/ How Can the States Provide Fourth Amendment Protection Against the NSA? http://occupywallst.org/forum/how-can-the-states-provide-fourth-amendment-protec/ ). Those who value direct democracy at the state and federal levels could form a party putting forth representative candidates who under the legal force of signed affidavits would only vote on issues in accordance with the majority votes of their district taken before scheduled representative votes. The collective majority already has the ability to bring about democratic change independent of corporatist representatives. They simply don't have the will.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 8 years ago

Courageous Boeing Workers Say No to Corporate Extortion

Friday, 29 November 2013 01:13 By Richard Kirsch, Next New Deal | Report


In a remarkable act of courage and solidarity with the next generation, last week Boeing workers in Seattle soundly rejected corporate extortion, by voting down a contract which traded job guarantees for concessions that would severely erode the pay and benefits of younger workers. In doing so, the members of the Machinists are risking their jobs to save an America built on the middle class.

The dramatic fight of fast food workers for a minimal living wage, risking their jobs every time they take a day off to demonstrate, is one end of a corporate economy based on low wages, no benefits and no unions. That corporate strategy, aimed at maximizing profits, is destroying America’s middle class, wrecking the engine that powered the U.S. economy.

On the other end of the middle class are workers like Boeing’s, who have fought together through their union for the good pay, pensions, health benefits and job security that characterized the increased prosperity and lowered income inequality of America in much of the second half of the 20th Century. But despite being a hugely profitable corporation, with dominance in the world aerospace market, Boeing is eager to follow the Wal-Mart/fast-food model of the 21st Century economy.

Boeing is the aerospace and defense industry’s largest company, with its highest profits. In 2012 just the increase in Boeing revenues alone, $13 billion, would be equivalent to the 15th largest company in the industry. With a $319 billion backlog of orders - about 3,700 planes – the company is set for years and is outpacing its only competition, Airbus. Last year, Boeing made $6.3 billion in profits and rewarded its CEO $27.5 million in compensation, a 20% hike from the previous year.

Historically, Boeing’s Seattle workforce has shared in that wealth. With a 100-year history in the Puget Sound region, Boeing is still the area’s largest employer, its 70,000 employees dwarfing the 40,000 who work for Microsoft. Boeing workers are anchors of Seattle communities, both economically and civically. And with good schools and colleges, transportation, and stable communities, the Seattle area has provided key public structures that have enabled Boeing to prosper.

But none of that matters – the high profits, the educated workers, the civic history – to a modern corporation that is driven only to maximize profits for its shareholders and pay for its top executives. Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2001 and decided to build its new 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina, with the first planes rolling out in 2012, assembled by 6,000 workers who earn $15 per hour, almost 50% less than what Washington assembly line workers earn. Early this month, Boeing tried to blackmail both its union members and Washington state. Declaring that it would consider moving assembly of a new line of 777X planes out of state, the corporation asked for mammoth tax incentives and huge concessions on wages and benefits. The Governor and State Legislature caved immediately, passing the largest development tax break for a company in American history, $8.7 billion over 16 years, in a special weekend session. The leadership of Machinists Local 751 also wavered, agreeing to put the contract up for a membership vote, over the objections of most of the union’s management council. But then a remarkable thing happened, in an age in which Americans, scared that they will lose what they have left, seem resigned to shrinking pay and disappearing benefits. A grassroots swell of membership opposition to the contract rose up, leading to 67% of the member rejecting the contract. The members did so with their eyes wide open, understanding that Boeing might not be bluffing and despite the fact that Boeing combined bribery with their extortion; the contract would have provided a $10,000 signing bonus to each worker. So why did they show such resolve?

In making their case, the members who organized against the contract focused on the fact that they would be giving up “hard fought contract negotiations and strikes by generations of Fighting Machinists that came before us. ” They warned, “Boeing is hoping you will deny the next generation many of the benefits we have today.”

While the proposed contract came with skimpy pay increases and benefit cut-backs for all workers, younger Boeing workers and new hires would have been hit the hardest. Instead of a steady progression to higher wage rates as workers stayed with the company and acquired new skills – which is what Boeing contracts have guaranteed for years – under the proposed contract, recent hires and new hires would be locked into low pay, with glacial increases. The contract would have frozen current pensions and replaced future pensions with a 401K, the defined-contribution accounts that have no guaranteed pay-out and are subject to market risk. Boeing would have been allowed to transfer money from the over-funded workers’ pension fund to the under-funded executive retirement fund.

Angered at the company’s “corporate threats and intimidation,” the members declared, “The one thing Boeing can’t take away is our solidarity.”

Unlike Boeing, which has no allegiance to anything but the bottom line, the workers care about their community. As the 751voteno.com website stated, “We must be prepared for a decision they [Boeing] may make and understand that if they take the work elsewhere, they are responsible for that decision. We just could not destroy ourselves in order to keep the company from making a decision that destroys union and non-union workers alike, our communities and the investors.”

That statement reminds me of a memorable insight I received in the first lecture of a finance class at the University of Chicago School of Business, delivered by Robert Hamada, a future dean of the School. Hamada pointed out that in the class we would be learning how a firm calculates return on investment (ROI), but that there was no reason that the calculations needed to be applied to ROI for shareholders. The same methods could be used to maximize ROI for workers, the community or society at large.

As a society, we do not have to accept that the mammoth entities that control so much of our economy should operate just to benefit their shareholders. We can require that corporate decision making take into account its impact on its workers, our communities and the broader economy.

That is what unions have done historically and still do at companies like Boeing, which pay high union wages, and in countries that support high rates of unionization. To give workers a say in decision making, German corporations are required to have works councils, which have union members sharing in decisions – which the UAW is now trying to win in a Volkswagon plant in Tennessee – and union representatives have the right to sit on corporate boards of directors. Two years ago there was a huge uproar from conservatives when the National Labor Relations Board accused Boeing of moving to South Carolina in 2009 because of anti-union bias, which is prohibited under the National Labor Relations Act. The Board was roundly attacked for second guessing a corporate decision on where to locate jobs. But the Board’s action was based on a Boeing memo, which admitted “the only consistent advantage attributed to Charleston was the ability to ‘leverage’ the site placement decision toward ‘rebalancing an unbalanced and uncompetitive labor relationship.’” The Board dropped the case after the union and company agreed to a new labor contract, the very one that Boeing now wants to replace with the concessions that the union’s members just rejected.

Part of the controversy around the Board’s decision was its novelty; cases are rare because it is difficult to prove that a company made relocation decisions based on anti-union bias. If we are going to reign in corporate destruction of wages and communities, we should instead imagine a labor law in which corporations are not able to expand into non-unionized facilities and make long-term investment decisions at the expense of jobs at already unionized facilities. These and other changes aimed at giving workers a powerful role in corporate governance are needed to balance the grip that corporate America now has on our economy and democracy.

We will find out in the next year whether Boeing is bluffing or serious. Production problems at the South Carolina plant give the union some hope that Boeing might return to the bargaining table, although only after looking to see what they can extort in concessions for anti-union states.

But regardless of where Boeing builds the 777X, the fight for an America in which hugely profitable corporations – whether it be Wal-Mart, McDonald’s or Boeing – share their wealth with their workers and their communities is just heating up. The bold vote by Boeing workers, like the wave of fast food strikes, are encouraging signs of a new movement of workers, supported by our communities, to build an America that again promises broadly based prosperity.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 8 years ago

Labor As Seen from Down Under: Fair Wages and Decent Benefits Profit Everyone

Friday, 29 November 2013 01:16 By Niall McLaren, Truthout | Op-Ed


Proverbs 14:23. In all toil, there is profit . . . (and then there was McDonalds).

Why do waiters need to eat?

When we were visiting my son in Boston at Christmas, he had to keep reminding me to tip waiters. I couldn't see why it was necessary. Here, in the upside world of Down Under, we pay our waiters a wage but, in Boston as in the rest of the US of A, it seems they don't actually pay waiters. Remarkable. His university friends, he said, who were working in the restaurant we were patronizing, were granted the sum of $2.13 per hour by the owners to wait on their tables. If they wanted more, they had to wring it from the patrons. I appreciated the artful thinking behind this move, but if an employer tried to pull that stunt in this country, he'd be in serious trouble. And rightly so. Waitpersons, kitchenhands and other lowlife actually have to eat, and pay rent, and travel to work - and pay for medicines, or schools . . . In fact, waiters etc. don't get a free ride anywhere that I've seen. Perhaps the crafty restaurateur had also read Proverbs 12:24: The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.

I see where workers at Walmart are paid an average of $24,000 a year, and need government subsidies to live (that figure is artificially inflated by including managers, as ordinary workers struggle to earn $17,000). Meanwhile, Walmart's owners blissfully wallow in torrents of money they couldn't possibly spend in a hundred lifetimes ($115 billion as of March 2013). To my simplistic way of thinking, this means the US government is subsidizing the Walton family to the tune of about $1 billion a year. I hope they pay their taxes in gratitude. The enterprising Mr Bezos, of Amazon fame, pays his workers about the same, but makes them wait in line to be frisked after their twelve-hour shifts - on their own time. Well-paid workers don't normally steal because they don't want to lose their jobs, and they also tend to respect generous employers more than tightwads. Look no further than Ephesians 4:28: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. For us, the envious foreigners who don't live in Godzone, it is a total mystery why anybody would want to crush his workers into the dirt by depriving them of a profit to their toil. I'm an employer. If I knew my workers couldn't afford to pay their children's school fees, I wouldn't be able to look them in the face. What drives US companies to pay their CEOs 354 times an average worker's wage when, 60 years ago, CEOs were satisfied with only 20 times as much? A few years ago, the CEO of Caterpillar Corporation was asked by his production line workers why they hadn't received a pay raise for 10 years whereas the firm's senior executives were getting more and more every year. The CEO replied that the company had to pay internationally competitive salaries for its top executives. At the time, the CEO of Kubota, the only competitor for Caterpillar, was earning one-tenth of the Caterpillar CEO's $22.7 million annual take.

Fair Wages and a Civil Society

Salaries here in the workers' paradise have long been controlled by the government for the purpose of making sure that workers received adequate profit for their toil. It goes back a long way, almost to the time of Federation, in 1901. One of the earliest moves of the new government of the infant Commonwealth of Australia was to establish a legal basis for ensuring industrial peace and stability through a Federal Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Unlike another federal court that's been in the news lately that prefers to remain hidden, this was a fully-functioning, adversarial court in which justice was done and was seen to be done. Anybody could bring a case against an employer and, in 1907, some unhappy workers did just that. They were not being paid a proper wage, as the law demanded, and the court found in their favor: Every employer, the judge ruled, was required to pay his workers a wage commensurate with ". . . the normal needs of an average employee, regarded as a human being in a civilized community." However, the killer point (from the owner's point of view) was this: it had to be paid regardless of the owner's capacity to pay. Crying poor didn't work (note that, Mr Bezos). The Harvester Judgement, as it was known, has shaped the industrial landscape of this country to the present; we do not accept that grinding workers into the dirt to save a few extra dollars is the action of a reasonable human being in a civilized country. We have a much higher minimum wage than the United States, and our unemployment rate is far lower. We do not have, and would not tolerate, a permanent underclass of disempowered workers on starvation wages.

The old Industrial Court has since been replaced by an Industrial Commission, but it functions much the same. Thus, we pay the people who sling hash a livable wage, well over twice the US minimum wage. At the click of a mouse on this site, workers can find their salaries and conditions because every type of work is covered by an enforceable award, governed by the Fair Work Commission. Everybody has to be paid a reasonable wage, determined by a judicial body, and all conditions of work are set out in enormous detail. Full-time workers in the fast food industry get about $17.50 an hour, as well as two weeks cumulative sick leave a year, four weeks annual leave plus public holidays, employer contributions to their pensions equivalent to 9 percent of their salaries (soon to rise to 12 percent), generous overtime rates, and are protected against unfair dismissal or any improper behavior by any person on the work site. Discriminatory behavior of any sort is subject to severe legal sanctions, all of which adds to an idea of a (perhaps imperfect) "civilized community." Casual employees generally don't get all those benefits, but they get more in their pay packets to make up for it. To top it off, if a worker loses his job, he is entitled to long-term unemployment benefits, currently $248.50 per week for a single person (the rates are here; scroll down to Payment Rates for Newstart Allowance). Retraining and vocational education grants are also available.

Our trade unions have always been much more powerful than in the United States, not least because they represent workers before the Industrial Commission and because they have made industrial safety one of their major functions. It is an offense for an employer to prevent his workers from joining a union, and unions have guaranteed access to worksites. There have been strikes where a worker didn't want to join a union. Historically, we have had industry-wide strikes at different times, including shearers, stevedores, transport and construction workers, and coalminers, but those days are long gone, and workers in those industries now have generous conditions.

What Does a Psychiatrist Earn?

So what does this mean in economic terms? Surely our struggling business owners must be on the brink of bankruptcy supporting their slothful and grossly overpaid workers? Well, no, they aren't. McDonalds franchisees just about have a license to print money. Sure, there are restaurants here that struggle; there are even restaurants that close, but that happens everywhere: It's a highly competitive industry. Aha, you say, prices in Aussie hash houses must be off the planet, that's how those poor, downtrodden owners survive. No, not at all. At present, a Big Mac here in Brisbane costs AU $4.95, about US $4.60, compared with US $4.20 in Boston, so paying generous wages to staff adds about 10 percent to the cost of a meal (and no need to tip). That's not a lot to pay to know that your waitpersons don't have to sell their children into slavery to survive. In general, workers here are paid far more than in the United States. Check the award finder site above, and find out what nurses are paid, electricians, greenskeepers, teachers and so on. If you want to know what I earn as a psychiatrist, go here to Medicare and type in psychiatry. Rebates are set out in full detail for all to see. I can make a good living without breaking my back or cheating the patients or insurers (as for cheating Medicare, don't even think it; they are not of a forgiving nature, but it isn't necessary as they pay a comfortable rebate). Yes, the cost of living is higher here. Clothes are definitely more expensive here, but quality rags cost about the same. Travel is more expensive, plus the fact that we have further to go to get anywhere, but airports here are clean and quiet. Taxis are more expensive, but not so bad when you realize you don't have to tip the driver. My family did a "celebrity tour" in Hollywood at Christmas, and couldn't get off the bus until they had handed over a sizable tip for the driver - who wasn't paid by the owners.

Restaurants are about 30 percent more expensive here, but we eat at home much more. New cars cost about 50 percent more, but our roads are jammed every rush hour. Petrol costs about $6 a US gallon, a lot of which pays for high-quality roads. Total taxes are a little higher (you have so many different taxes), and most insurance is a bit more, but what we lose on the swings, we gain on the roundabout. Health care here is essentially free for anybody who needs it. The wealthy pay a bit more, but nowhere near what their peers in the United States pay. And education here costs very little. I've talked about that in another article but when my son said he needed to go to the United States to do the course he wanted and here's the fee; it took me a week to recover.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 8 years ago

Fair Wages are a Win-Win

So paying workers a decent salary, consistent with the idea of a civilized nation, is not financial suicide, it's actually a good investment. People who say otherwise are just spreading false propaganda (aka lying). Everybody knows that well-paid workers in secure jobs work better, take less time off, have fewer accidents, don't change jobs as much, don't steal or damage as much stuff, and the job gets done with less hostility. I'm not saying our bosses and workers are always the best of mates, but we don't have anything like the vicious animosity seen in the United States. Remember that the Harvester Judgement was seven years before the infamous Ludlow Massacre in the United States. When we were worrying about how to define civilization in the workplace, US bosses were calmly murdering their workers to stop them getting even a half-decent salary.

A civil society can be done, all it takes is a bit of generosity and concern for one's fellow citizens as has been known for about 3,000 years. Proverbs 31:8-9 says it all: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

But paying waiters $2.13 an hour? No, I'd gag on that.

Copyright, Truthout.