Friday Reads: A Sign of the Overlord Apocalypse

Good Morning!old store

It’s been since at least November since I’ve had some time to myself when I wasn’t completely in need of tons of sleep so I’m enjoying spending some time in bed with my feet up getting my reads on.  There’s not been a lot that’s intrigued me but it beats designing and updating an on line International Finance Class, believe me.  So, imagine my sheer joy when I found out that Walmart broke down and upped its wages.

There are several reasons the America’s #1 corporation and chain store made the leap.  It was probably a combination of fear of unionization and the incredible employee turnover rate.  It really costs to hire and train new workers so upping the salary is really the required move for that one.  There’s a lot of analysis on the deed so I’d thought I’d take a look at it.  First up, Joe Pinsker at The Atlantic discusses the move.

The CEO of Walmart announced earlier today that all of the company’s employees will, starting in April, be paid at least $9 an hour, nearly $2 more than the federal minimum wage. That’s still far short of the $15 per hour pushed for by OUR Walmart, a union-like group of Walmart workers. Still, it’s a change for a company that has stubbornly opposed such a raise for years.

Walmart’s CEO framed the raise as an act of corporate benevolence, but the reason his company will inch closer to paying all its employees fair wages has little to do with goodwill (few business decisions do). If Walmart has determined that it’ll need to start paying higher wages to stay competitive, then other retailers might arrive at the same conclusion. This isn’t an isolated act of corporate social responsibility—it’s a response to the current realities of labor economics that will likely inform the behavior of other American employers.

1922_Detroit_storeThis is a pretty good sign that the economy is doing well enough that workers are beginning to be able to trade up to better jobs.  It’s the best sign that I’ve seen yet that the economy has really started to recover from the financial crisis. 

Some companies have set even higher wage floors more in line with living wage expectations. Most recently, for example, Aetna set its floor for US workers at $16 an hour, twice the current federal minimum wage.

Higher wages are exactly what the financial doctors have ordered to cure America’s ailing economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, it would take a wage growth of at least 3.5% to 4% for workers to feel the impact of the recovery. In 2014, the average hourly pay went up by just 1.7%.

“Raising wages among low-wage workers shifts income into the pockets of workers and families that are highly likely to quickly spend every additional dollar they earn,” says David Cooper, economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute.

“So even though some businesses have to pay their workers more, they see more customers coming through the door because now there’s additional dollars rippling out through local economies in a way that doesn’t really happen if those dollars just go back into the bank accounts of corporate shareholders.”

It’s taken awhile for the plight of low income workers to attract any kind of attention from decision makers despite the huge amount of media attention focused on income inequality and the general lack of demand at stores that cater to the majority of Americans.  Sooner or later, something had to give.  It certainly wasn’t going to be any Republican-led legislature.

So what has changed? The simple answer is that the world for employers is very different with a 5.7 percent unemployment rate (the January level) than it was five years ago, at 9.8 percent. Finding qualified workers is harder for employers now than it was then, and their workers are at risk of jumping ship if they don’t receive pay increases or other improvements. Apart from pay, Walmart executives said in their conference call with reporters that they were revising their employee scheduling policies so that workers could have more predictability in their work schedules and more easily get time off when they needed it, such as for a doctor’s appointment.

The giant question now is not whether there will be some meaningful wage gains in 2015; beyond the anecdotal evidence from Walmart and Aetna, the collapse in oil prices means even modest pay increases will translate into quite large inflation-adjusted raises. The question is whether wage gains will be strong enough to create a virtuous cycle in which rising pay for the workers at the bottom three-quarters of the income scale, who are most likely to spend the money and get it circulating through the economy, will spur more investment and hiring.

To the degree their logic was, “We think we’re going to need to raise wages this much in the next couple of years anyway to retain good workers and maximize profitability, so we may as well get ahead of the curve and get a public relations bump out of it and announce the plans in a big splashy way,” that would be the best news for American workers. Because that would imply that it won’t just be Walmart workers getting a raise in 2015.

Other news this week is not as good.  We continue to see people justify their bigotry through religious beliefs. Judges around the country aren’t buying it but the justification is popping up in some really odd places including a pediatrician who wouldn’t accept a 6 day old as a patient because her parents are lesbians. 160376_large

Sitting in the pediatrician’s office with their 6-day-old daughter, the two moms couldn’t wait to meet the doctor they had picked out months before.

The Roseville pediatrician — one of many they had interviewed — seemed the perfect fit: She took a holistic approach to treating children. She used natural oils and probiotics. And she knew they were lesbians.

But as Jami and Krista Contreras sat in the exam room, waiting to be seen for their newborn’s first checkup, another pediatrician entered the room and delivered a major blow: The doctor they were hoping for had a change of heart. After “much prayer,” she decided that she couldn’t treat their baby because they are lesbians.

Doctor’s letter: Why she wouldn’t care for baby with 2 moms

“I was completely dumbfounded,” recalled Krista Contreras, the baby’s biological mother. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘Did we hear that correctly?’ …. When we tell people about it, they don’t believe us. They say, ‘(Doctors) can’t do that. That’s not legal.’ And we say, ‘Yes it is.'”

The Contrerases of Oak Park are going public with their story to raise awareness about the discrimination that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community continues to face. There is no federal or Michigan law that explicitly prohibits discrimination against LGBT individuals.

For months, the couple kept quiet about what happened to them and their baby — Bay Windsor Contreras — at Eastlake Pediatrics last October.

But the pain and frustration wouldn’t go away. So they broke their silence.

“We want people to know that this is happening to families. This is really happening,” said Jami Contreras, 30, who was blindsided that fall day in the doctor’s office. “It was embarrassing. It was humiliating … It’s just wrong.”

Old shops and stores in N.J (10)A judge in Washington state has made a meaningful decision on a Florist that refused service to a gay couple seeking flowers for their wedding.  The bottom line is that religion is not an excuse to refuse public accommodation under the law.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom rejected arguments from the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland that her actions were protected by her freedoms of speech and religion. While religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren’t necessarily protected, he said.

“For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief,” Ekstrom wrote. “The Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”

Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, sold flowers for years to customer Robert Ingersoll. She knew he was gay and that the flowers were for his partner, Curt Freed.

After Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in 2012, Ingersoll went to the shop the following spring to ask Stutzman to do the flowers for his wedding. At the time, floral arrangements for weddings made up about 3 percent of her business.

She placed her hands on his and told him she couldn’t, “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,” she said in a deposition. As a Southern Baptist, she believed only in opposite-sex marriages.

046618-unley-supermarket-grocery-storePeople use just about anything to justify bigotry but religion seems to be a source of refuge for a huge part of the hate-based discrimination.  You may want to take a look at a new documentary called “Hate in America” if you’d like to hear more about all the issues every one has with bigots.

For more than 30 years, Emmy-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker, and Al Jazeera America anchor Tony Harris has reported on senseless and vicious acts of violence, many fueled by intolerance, fear and hate. In the new Investigation Discovery one-hour special HATE IN AMERICA, Harris partners with The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit that has been tracking hate groups across the country since 1971, and NBC News’ award-winning production arm Peacock Productions, to examine the current realities of intolerance in America.

According to the SPLC, more than 900 active hate groups currently exist across the United States, from neo-Nazis to anti-government militias, targeting entire classes of people for their race, religion, and sexuality, among other immutable characteristics. Largely propagated by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy and the diminishing white majority, that number has been on the rise for over a decade.

Traveling to communities torn apart by violence, Harris pulls back the curtain on what drives modern-day hate, and comes face to face with its victims to examine HATE IN AMERICA.

HATE IN AMERICA premieres on Investigation Discovery on Monday, February 23, at 8/7c.

I’ve often wondered why my attitude towards shopping has changed over time.  I used to love going to the big stores downtown and the clerks all seemed so cheery and glamorous.  The buildings were vast and had huge tall ceilings supported by ornate columns.  The window decorations were incredible during the holidays and they were up such a short period that you had to rush down there just to catch them. It was fun to walk from store to store and each store had its on personality and personalities.  This is so different from today’s megastore where every one is rude and seems to only care about low priced junk. The aisles are tight and packed with crap and the crap is hard to find.  There is very little help and only cashiers in far off places.

I used to think I started disliking stores and shopping just because I’d worked so much retail in high school and college. But, I still love to hit little antique stores in quaint places and will take hours staring down some bargain. I figured I’d just burned out on the entire store experience from those years. But, I still love hopping around the big stores in NYC and I used to love hitting the Maison Blanche in downtown New Orleans when I first moved here.  So much of the things I enjoyed about shopping as a customer are gone.  Also, when I was small, even retail store owners and employees had civilized work hours.  Now, all I can think about it how grumpy every one looks and how junky the merchandise has become since they work night and day on every day imaginable. I’ve taken to ordering a lot of stuff on line just to avoid the overall experience of the ugly buildings, merchandise and people.  The thought of going to a Walmart stresses me out. It’s something I avoid if I can.  So, I don’t know.  What happened?

Whatever happened to a fun day at a store?  Oh, well.  Everything changes and now it’s just all about returning profits to a few at the inconvenience and dismay of the many.

So, those are the two interrelated topics that I’ve been investigating this week.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?