Labor issues are hitting some big-name companies, including Hostess cakes where management says a strike forced them to shut down operations permanently. Walmart workers planned Black Friday protests at 1,000 stores to kick off the holiday shopping season. And locally, the janitors’ union at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center says paychecks have been delayed and even bounced. We explore the strategies of companies and workers, and whether labor movements are gaining traction after years of being on the defensive.

Guests

  • Mary Kay Henry President, SEIU
  • Ken Margolies Senior Associate of the Worker Institute at Cornell, Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations
  • Peter Morici Professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland at College Park; former Chief Economist, U.S. International Trade Commission

Transcript

  • 12:25:53

    MR. KOJO NNAMDITimes are tough, especially for those in low-wage jobs. After years of feeling the pinch, some are pushing back, putting big-name companies in the headlines, including Hostess Brands, home of the Twinkie and Wonder Bread, where a worker strike touched off an impasse. Management now says it'll be shutting down operations permanently. And thousands of Wal-Mart workers protested at stores across the country on Black Friday, hoping to hit the company's bottom line on the busiest shopping day of the year.

  • 12:26:22

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAfter a fierce teacher strike in Chicago earlier this fall and the reelection of a pro-labor president, is this a sign of a labor movement that's getting new life? Joining us to discuss this in studio is Peter Morici. He is a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He's the former chief economist of the -- with the U.S. International Trade Commission. Peter Morici, good to see you again.

  • 12:26:45

    PROF. PETER MORICINice to be with you, Kojo.

  • 12:26:47

    NNAMDIAlso joining us from NPR's Bryant Park studios in New York is Ken Margolies. He is the director of organizing programs at Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations in New York City. He's worked in the labor movement with various unions including the Teamsters. Ken Margolies, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:27:05

    MR. KEN MARGOLIESMy pleasure.

  • 12:27:06

    NNAMDIKen, I'll start with you. Wal-Mart workers protested around the country on Friday, hoping to disrupt Black Friday sales. By most accounts, it was mostly a symbolic protest in the end. What is your take on it?

  • 12:27:20

    MARGOLIESI was at one of the Wal-Mart stores in Fishkill, N.Y., which is just 50 miles north of the city, and one of the things that was real clear is Wal-Mart was pretty concerned about it. And after the protest, I walked into the store, and half of their registers were closed, weren't even open. So I -- it's -- I don't know if it affected their business or not, but I think that it very well may have. But more importantly is that I think Wal-Mart is aware that this is something that's likely to grow.

  • 12:27:56

    NNAMDIWal-Mart claimed that it had its best Black Friday ever. And, Peter, Wal-Mart employees are not unionized. Some say Wal-Mart has effectively blocked or prevented unionization. But you would dispute that.

  • 12:28:09

    MORICIWell, I don't know that they blocked it, but certainly, unions have not been able to make themselves attractive to Wal-Mart's workers. Historically, retail is very difficult to organize. It's different, say, than the hospitality industry where hotels are more organizable. And the Wal-Mart phenomena very much simplifies the challenge before the labor movement, and that is making themselves relevant in the world where a lot of people work part-time.

  • 12:28:37

    MORICIPeople don't work long durations of time as, for example, they do in the hospitality industry, in hotels and so forth. They need to show workers that they're relevant to them if they're going to get them to sign their cards and elect them in representation elections.

  • 12:28:54

    NNAMDIWhat do you mean by relevant to them?

  • 12:28:56

    MORICIWell, I think -- I can remember visiting the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, which is one of the predecessors to unite back in the '70s and reading union literature when I was the vice president of something called the National Planning Association and the literature presented itself to workers and said a union is an organization people come to to make a better life for themselves and their families.

  • 12:29:20

    MORICIUnions have been having a lot of trouble selling that to unorganized workers and, I think, the specter of folks losing their jobs at places like, you know, Hostess where you have an ultimate impasse. And I think, wrongly, the union was blamed for the end of Hostess. A lot of things ended Hostess. I think it's those kinds of events that had made it difficult.

  • 12:29:39

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number if you would like to join the conversation. What do you think of the workers' protest at Wal-Mart and the strikes at Hostess? 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wwamu.org. Or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. You can go to our website kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. Ken Margolies, you say the workers of Wal-Mart are not pushing to unionize, that they're advancing a different kind of strategy. What's the idea?

  • 12:30:09

    MARGOLIESThe idea is to not let the deficiencies in the labor law stymie their efforts to organize. One of the problems with labor law is its very difficult to -- as your other guest said, it's difficult to organize in the industry but especially if you're going against the world's largest corporation that has gone to great lengths to discourage unionization, including closing stores or departments or even pulling out of countries where they couldn't avoid unionism.

  • 12:30:40

    MARGOLIESAnd so for an average worker in a Wal-Mart, my guess is that they would like to get the things the union could bring to them, but they don't believe that it's worth the risk that -- losing their job. And they're not sure the union would prevail. So the union needed a different strategy which was company-wide, very much community based to try to raise the conditions at Wal-Mart in a different way than you would in collective bargaining, by agitating, the way they did on Black Friday. And I think there's more of that likely to happen.

  • 12:31:14

    NNAMDISo why are unions involved at all in the Wal-Mart worker protest?

  • 12:31:21

    MARGOLIESWell, one very clear self-interest is that if the Wal-Mart sets pace for prices and wages in the industry -- so if you have a unionized grocery store nearby, they're going to have difficulty competing with Wal-Mart's grocery section. And so to the extent that you take the wages out of the equation so that you close the gap, then you make unionized stores more able to compete.

  • 12:31:49

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. If you have an opinion about the worker protest at Wal-Mart or the strikes at Hostess, 800-433-8850. Peter, Wal-Mart filed an unfair labor practices suit. Can you talk a little bit about that?

  • 12:32:06

    MORICIWell, yeah. I mean, essentially you have the food and commercial workers organizing employees to protest when, you know, they don't represent the workers under the law so to speak. They don't have -- they haven't won a representation election and so forth. I don't know how far that suit will go. I'm not a labor lawyer.

  • 12:32:24

    MORICII'm an economist. That's something I cannot address directly. But I think it's important to recognize why companies like Wal-Mart are very skeptical of unions. You know, when we think of unions as pedestrians not involved, you know, a radio talk show host, a professor and so forth...

  • 12:32:45

    NNAMDIYeah.

  • 12:32:45

    MORICI...we think of wages, maybe work rules. It's very important to remember that unions change the tenure and the way that workers and management interact with each other. And that is seen by companies as interfering with their ability to manage effectively, be efficient and be competitive, and there is some justification in that view.

  • 12:33:07

    MORICIWhen you look at some of the outdated work rules that exist in contracts that go back to a time when companies were stronger and healthier and could put up with it, this is what I mean by making themselves relevant. And I remember the amalgamated prided itself in being able to improve the performance and efficiency of shirt factories, for example. I remember Jack Sheinkman who became president. He was secretary of the Treasury. He said, Peter, you know, I'd love to get into Brooks Brothers in New Jersey 'cause they're such a damn inefficient factory.

  • 12:33:37

    MORICIAnd we could pay for ourselves. Well, I don't know that was wholly true. But I think if they're going to have to demonstrate to both the employers and to their employees 'cause they haven't been effective in doing this. It's not just that people are afraid that they are really relevant and that they aren't just going to negotiate circumstances and situations which cause them to pay union dues but then put their jobs at risk. They have to make the employer better offer as well as the employees to be accepted. And I haven't seen movement in that direction.

  • 12:34:09

    NNAMDIKen Margolies, care to respond to that?

  • 12:34:12

    MARGOLIESYeah, well, I knew Jack Sheinkman. Jack Sheinkman was a friend of mine.

  • 12:34:16

    MORICIHe was a friend of mine, a close one.

  • 12:34:17

    MARGOLIESAnd he was a trustee of Cornell and a very prestigious alumni of the ILR School. And I think what he would probably say, to quote Vice President Biden, is that what was just said was well said, but it was all malarkey, that it really isn't the situation anyway.

  • 12:34:32

    MORICINo, I don't think that Jack would say that. I think Jack...

  • 12:34:35

    MARGOLIESNo, he'd say it was something stronger. I didn't want to...

  • 12:34:37

    MORICII -- that's true. But I think that Jack would go out at a different way. In the old industrial model, there were ways and circumstances in which unions could improve the situation of the employer as well as the employee. They could make factories more efficient 'cause they actually knew darn something about making shirts that often employees didn't know.

  • 12:34:58

    MORICIAnd so that, you know, it was -- there was a possibility for a gain. It wasn't just a matter of extracting more. The question is, how you create an environment where the workers can become more productive and the employer can become more efficient? And then you can start to pay for these benefits.

  • 12:35:15

    NNAMDIKen Margolies.

  • 12:35:16

    MARGOLIESWell, you have to get away from the absolute rock bottom model of saving every penny everywhere you can and doing things like scheduling people just when you need them, even if it means that they don't get benefits or they don't get enough hours to live on. If the union were at Wal-Mart, they probably could give them some improvements, but they couldn't compete with, you know, those low wages.

  • 12:35:39

    MARGOLIESIn industries like health care which are unionized in some cities like New York quite a lot, you see the unions and management working together to improve patient care, to be efficient. And you mentioned the hotel industry. The hotel industry in New York City is all unionized, but before it was, you had the same kind of conditions at Wal-Mart.

  • 12:35:58

    NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union. She joins us by phone from California. Mary Kay Henry, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:36:08

    MS. MARY KAY HENRYI'm glad to be with you, Kojo. Thank you.

  • 12:36:10

    NNAMDIUnions and labor movements have generally been seen to be under siege these past several years, well, frankly, these past several decades. Do you think anything is changing in that regard? Do you think this last election in which most of the labor movements supported President Obama sent a different message? What message would you say voters sent in this last election?

  • 12:36:30

    HENRYI think voters said loud and clear that they want a tax system where everybody pays their fair share, and they want to have shared prosperity throughout our economy and restore American middleclass of the 21st century. And I don't think there can be any dispute, and I do agree with you. I think that all of the worker activity that we're seeing across the country suggests that people have had it. That the inequality in this country is so great that people are going to risk their jobs as workers did at Wal-Mart on Friday in order to get a better life for themselves and their families.

  • 12:37:11

    NNAMDIWe know that President Obama met with labor leaders after the election. What did you ask of him, and has he committed to anything specific?

  • 12:37:19

    HENRYHe laid out his thinking for how he was going to handle the tax and jobs debate that Congress is now involved in, that we call a job cliff in the labor movement and with our community partners, and we talked about the need for Congress to extend permanently the middle class tax cuts that the Senate has already acted on. That the House needs to come together and do, so middle class families can have peace of mind as they enter the end of the year and the New Year.

  • 12:37:50

    HENRYAnd then we need to apply pressure to the House Republicans that refuse to accept that the country just said we want everybody to pay their fair share, and they need to join with the president in making clear that the wealthiest 2 percent can pay a little bit more so we can invest in vital services again in this country.

  • 12:38:11

    NNAMDISome critics of labor unions say that not all potential members approve of the kind of, well, political activism that many unions are involved in and that that can go against the grain for some workers who may not agree, for instance, with the candidate who the labor movement happens to be supporting. What is your feeling about that? Do you think that's a turn off for some workers?

  • 12:38:33

    HENRYWell, I think it's the voice of corporate America and the wealthy that are trying to silence working people, that unions are one of the final checks and balances against sort of unbridled corporate power in our democracy. And I think that those kinds of accusations are meant to distort, you know, a few workers over the half a million in my union that participated in this last election -- 300,000 of whom voluntarily contribute out of their paychecks to have a strong political voice.

  • 12:39:07

    HENRYAnd we have a democratic way inside the union to endorse candidates to come together on an agenda that supports not just our members but all working families. So I just see that criticism as a part of a coordinated attack on unions so that we can be wiped out participating in the democracy.

  • 12:39:27

    NNAMDIWell, let me go to Scott in Cambridge, Md., who seems to be raising a more specific question about organized labor. Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:39:36

    SCOTTThank you, Kojo. I just wanted to say that I lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland most of my life, but I did spend five years in Pittsburgh where I worked up there and lived. And the (word?) industry up there was obliterated by union labor and the high cost of (word?) to pay for union labor. And I was wondering of all of your guests there if they have in mind any industry in the last 50 years that has been helped by the union versus hurt. For example, the airline industry is heavily unionized. Prices go out of the reach for most people, and it's in decline.

  • 12:40:15

    NNAMDIOK. Allow me to have our panelists respond. Mary Kay Henry, Scott makes the argument that organized labor causes prices to go up and wrecks industry. Can you point to any one industry, says -- asks Scott, that has been helped by having organized labor in it?

  • 12:40:32

    HENRYWell, I think the most recent example, Kojo and Scott, is the auto industry, where workers worked with management to get out of bankruptcy, to bring U.S. manufacturing jobs back to our country, to figure out ways to compete globally so that Ford, GM and Chrysler are now selling cars, exporting them offshore. But I think Scott's speaking to a deeper problem, Kojo, which is the unbridled attack on unions over the last 30 years has created an economic situation that I think Scott has a valid point about.

  • 12:41:10

    HENRYBut the only way to address the gap between union worker wages and the rest of the economy is to allow for workers to be able to join together and lift wages again, not just for themselves, but the entire economy. When 30 percent of workers were collective bargaining in the U.S. economy, wages were rising for everybody, and that stopped when unions dropped below 10 percent strength.

  • 12:41:33

    NNAMDIWhat, finally, is SEIU's plan nationally going forward?

  • 12:41:39

    HENRYWe are going to continue to work with the president and the 99 percent champions that we elected to get America back to work, to get a fair tax system, to make sure we invest in education and health care and create a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants. And we want to catalyze workers being able to form organization, like support of the Wal-Mart workers, doing an airport campaign of our members, supporting janitors.

  • 12:42:06

    HENRYWe believe that our unique contribution is that we have to help workers join hands and bargain again in this country so that we can all share in the economic prosperity.

  • 12:42:17

    NNAMDIMary Kay Henry is the president of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU. Thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:42:25

    HENRYThank you.

  • 12:42:26

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, some responses to what Mary Kay Henry had to say and your calls. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If the lines are busy, you can send us an email at kojo@wamu.org, a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:21

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the state of labor unions with Peter Morici. He's a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He's the former chief economist with the U.S. International Trade Commission. And Ken Margolies is the director of organizing programs at Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations in New York City.

  • 12:44:41

    NNAMDIHe's worked in the labor movement with various unions, including the Teamsters. There was one point that Mary Kay Henry made that I'd like both of you, gentlemen, to address. She said when 30 percent of the labor force was organized in the United States, everybody's wages were looking better and going up, and the middle class was clearly not doing as badly as it is today. First you, Ken Margolies, what do you feel about that?

  • 12:45:06

    MARGOLIESOh, it's absolutely true, and you can look at graphs that show that as the percentage of private sector unionism has fallen, the average wage, real wages, have fallen as well. Not only wages, but benefits, pensions are becoming a thing of the past, and people are paying more for their health care. Plus they get less flexibility, less ability to work at a normal pace without being pushed to work even harder and harder. All those things were set by a certain level of unionization. As unionization gets eroded, the norm gets changed downward.

  • 12:45:43

    NNAMDIWhat, if anything, is wrong with that logic, Peter Morici?

  • 12:45:47

    MORICIWell, it's one thing to look at two variables, you know, over time and see them move in opposite directions and say that A caused B. The reality is that globalization has had a very tough effect on unions. You take something like the iPhone. The iPhone is not just cyclical the way the automobile industry is. Rather, they make these things in very huge batches when a new version comes out. And in China, you can shape up the labor force very, very quickly and then shrink it very, very quickly within six weeks or something.

  • 12:46:21

    MORICIIt's very difficult to do that even in a non-union environment in the United States. It's -- the process of productivity growth in manufacturing has been extraordinary, but it's also made ordinary workers, people that do repetitive tasks, you know, much less valuable because there's just much less demand for them. And I would suggest that forces like that have been tough both on the living standards of semi-skilled workers and on the attractiveness of unions because they are less essential to doing the critical things in our society.

  • 12:46:58

    MORICIIf the environment has been genuinely improved by the election of Mr. Obama and his critics are wrong that it was merely the cobbling together of various groups that wanted some special provision, then we should see unions winning representation elections over the next several years. I'm not talking about the proportion they win because unions are getting smarter about that. They're not calling elections merely to lose them and to make a statement.

  • 12:47:24

    MORICIAnd we should see them winning elections and the percentage of folks unionized rising from its present level in the private sector seven or 8 percent. I don't think that's going to happen because I think the economic conditions and the nature of work is changing in a way that unions have failed to find a way to address. And I think they need to look at themselves and stop casting blame on employers for being anti-union or politicians for being anti-union or the labor laws being inadequate and things of that nature.

  • 12:47:56

    MORICIThere was a time when they were able to organize in much more hostile conditions than today, and they have not been able to organize. And they have to ask themselves why and what they're doing wrong if they're ever going to fix the movement.

  • 12:48:07

    NNAMDIKen Margolies, there's been a lot of talk about unions being on the defensive or in decline the past few decades. Do these somewhat high-profile worker protests -- Wal-Mart, Hostess, the reelection of a labor movement supported President Obama -- signal a shift, and if so, how would you measure whether that shift is indeed taking place?

  • 12:48:29

    MARGOLIESWell, there might be a shift, and I think there's a lot of other things that are maybe more significant. You have a situation where workers who are very low paid and had been considered unorganizable have figured out a way to organize and change things. I had a colleague at Cornell who used to refer to that corporations would love to have hot and cold running workers, which sounded a lot like what your other guest described that happens in China where they make iPhones.

  • 12:48:57

    MARGOLIESNow, one thing about that factory is workers climbed to the top of the roof of the factory and jumped off to protest how bad the conditions are. I don't think that we want that to happen in the United States. We don't want it to happen in China either. But one example is the Wal-Mart workers who produce shrimp that sells -- gets sold at Wal-Mart -- they're a contractor -- and Wal-Mart was cutting the costs so low that their employer couldn't pay them better than very low levels.

  • 12:49:26

    MARGOLIESAnd the employers said, look, I'll pay you more if I could, but Wal-Mart won't let me. I mean, they don't pay me enough. So the organization in New Orleans that did something about it pressured Wal-Mart, embarrassed them into raising how much they'll pay that contractor a little more so that those workers actually made an advance. So I think that the kinds of things we're likely to see in the future are like that.

  • 12:49:50

    NNAMDIOn to Errol in Washington, D.C. Errol, your turn.

  • 12:49:55

    ERROLYes, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. Good afternoon, guests.

  • 12:49:58

    NNAMDIGood afternoon.

  • 12:49:59

    ERROLI would -- well, let me process my statement by saying that I am a former union member and also a former union officer for a public union here in -- for a government union here in Washington, D.C.

  • 12:50:13

    NNAMDIOK.

  • 12:50:13

    ERROLAnd I have been acutely interested in the progress of the unions and employees' ability to organize unions, especially with Wal-Mart coming upon the news around this time of Black Friday. There has been a documentary that has been aired on cable -- I think it's on Current network -- that speaks specifically about the history of unionizing with Wal-Mart and some of the tactics that they do improve.

  • 12:50:45

    ERROLNow, Dr. Morici, I think you mentioned that the unions should stop blaming the employers about the tactics that they used to prevent people from organizing, but those tactics are real message that particularly Wal-Mart does use to prevent -- to suppress unionization of its employees. They -- it's a common practice that they limit the amount of hours that employees can work less than a part-time labor hours. And also, they pay them a very low wage, and the cost on any benefits that they receive is also increasing.

  • 12:51:20

    ERROLWal-Mart has made in excess of $16 billion in profits a year. And from the documentary that I saw, this was going back to 2007. And they often -- and are notorious about practicing retaliation against employees and whatever message they can to keep them from organizing, especially when on their low hours and low wages, they limit their wages and their hours when they are aware that they are attempting (unintelligible)...

  • 12:51:42

    NNAMDIWell, you know, Errol, there are always competing documentaries about what is the cause of the problem. But I would like to have Peter Morici respond to the point that you made that you saw in the documentary you liked.

  • 12:51:53

    MORICIYou know, someone can assail tenure by drawing reference to a professor that has long ago fallen asleep -- he's 73 years old and has 32-year-old lecture notes -- and say, well, that -- that's what the professor looks like. I'm talking about broader conditions in the economy. By and large, it is not difficult these days for employers to discourage unionization because of the conditions that prevail, for example, with regard to globalization, which I don't endorse.

  • 12:52:24

    MORICII don't like the fact that iPhones are made in China and that workers are jumping off of roofs. But, unfortunately, our government has negotiated terms of globalization which are not particularly advantageous to not just low-wage Americans but ordinary middle-class Americans and even professionals. And in those kinds of conditions, it's tough to organize. That's much more difficult -- that's much more significant than any anti-union literature that the -- that Wal-Mart might pass around.

  • 12:52:52

    MORICIAlso, I'm no fan of Wal-Mart for a lot of reasons. Kojo has had me on here to talk about China and trade and so forth, and I'm hardly a fan of Wal-Mart. But I would point out to you that if you look at the practices that Wal-Mart participates in -- heavy use of part-time workers, very minimal health care coverage and so forth -- that is replicated in a lot of companies where people who consider themselves progressives spend a good deal of their time.

  • 12:53:17

    MORICIYou know, I don't think you're going to find that there are lavish health care benefits at Starbucks any more than there are at Wal-Mart or at Whole Foods and so forth. You want to know what I think is the real problem? I live in Alexandria, Va. And Alexandria, Va., is by all characterization, San Francisco East, Kojo. During the Mondale debacle, six out of seven wards in -- or precincts in Alexandria, Va., went for Mr. Mondale, not Mr. Reagan. And they've voted that way since.

  • 12:53:44

    MORICIAnd my friends, you know, go to Wal-Mart. They talked about eating locally and all this. But you go down to the club on a Saturday evening, and they drive 5,000-pound SUVs. And you visit their homes, and there are hand-tied rugs, oriental rugs, you know, that come from places like Iran and so forth.

  • 12:54:03

    NNAMDIWell, you're identifying a regular criticism about the so-called pitfalls of liberalism that people make the argument. But I think that...

  • 12:54:11

    MARGOLIESThat's an old argument. That's...

  • 12:54:12

    MORICIBut it's a relevant argument, darn it.

  • 12:54:14

    NNAMDIBut Ken wants to say something.

  • 12:54:15

    MARGOLIESNo, it isn't.

  • 12:54:16

    NNAMDIGo ahead, Ken.

  • 12:54:19

    MARGOLIESYou know, in the book, "What's the Matter with Kansas," they point out that one of the key ways that the Republicans and conservatives were able to influence people to vote against what objectively could be shown was against their economic interest was this idea that there's a bunch of these effete liberals from places like Alexandria, Va. and San Francisco and the upper west side of New York, maybe Ithaca, N.Y., who are really -- they're saying all these things, but they're hypocrites.

  • 12:54:49

    MARGOLIESSo my point is, first of all, it's overstated. But, secondly, so what if their hypocrites? They're still right about Wal-Mart.

  • 12:54:54

    MORICIBut the point is that these folks who say they are progressive, who voted for President Obama, turned out in droves on Black Friday to shop at Wal-Mart. Most Wal-Marts will not...

  • 12:55:05

    MARGOLIESActually, probably not.

  • 12:55:06

    MORICINo. It wasn't like Fishkill. Most Wal-Marts were stuffed with folks, and they were very busy places. And they had a record Black Friday. Why is that in a country that just voted for a progressive government? People have adequate opportunity to go some place else and choose not to. They could have gone to Target for Pete's sakes.

  • 12:55:23

    NNAMDIWell, a lot of people will argue that...

  • 12:55:24

    MARGOLIESWell, they probably did go to Target. And Target's not much better, especially as a union.

  • 12:55:27

    MORICIAh, so that's the whole point. The whole -- what I'm getting at is it's not just Wal-Mart. There's a pervasive condition...

  • 12:55:33

    MARGOLIESIt's the whole economy.

  • 12:55:35

    MORICIIt's the whole economy. Exactly.

  • 12:55:36

    MARGOLIESI agree.

  • 12:55:37

    NNAMDIWell, allow me to go to Andy in Annandale, Va.

  • 12:55:39

    MARGOLIESBut Wal-Mart has been driving the economy down that way.

  • 12:55:41

    MORICIOh, I don't think Wal-Mart determines economic conditions in the United States.

  • 12:55:45

    NNAMDIAndy has...

  • 12:55:45

    MORICIThat's overdone.

  • 12:55:46

    NNAMDIAndy has a completely different...

  • 12:55:47

    MARGOLIESLargest employer in the world.

  • 12:55:49

    NNAMDIAndy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:55:51

    ANDYHi there. I just like to point out the interesting irony. By the way, I'm a worker at a state university. And I'm in Virginia, so I am not allowed to join a union. I think it's thoroughly un-American that we should have such a law in Virginia. But I also wanted to point out the interesting irony. You know, you all have been talking about downward pressure on wages. Well, a lot of the members of the Service Employees International Union are illegal immigrants. You know, they're driving down the wages themselves by not purging their rolls and making sure that everybody is legit.

  • 12:56:30

    NNAMDIYou think that if the Service Employees International Union were to simply purge its rolls of illegal immigrants, that would somehow have an effect of raising wages in the United States, and if so, how?

  • 12:56:42

    ANDYAbsolutely. I think there are plenty of people out of work right now, people rather desperate, in fact, who would love to have those jobs.

  • 12:56:49

    MORICII wish I could put my hands on it, Kojo, but there was a recent study, it was in the papers, that a good number of the jobs recently have gone to illegal -- to immigrants, legal and illegal. I don't think you can argue that reducing the supply of workers would not raise wages. But whether illegal immigrants in and of themselves are the cause of the condition, I think not.

  • 12:57:15

    MORICII think it's rather that we have lost sight of the necessity of having rules in the global system, real rules that ensure that American workers don't compete under some of the worst circumstances. If we can't make iPhones in America or we can't -- what was the factory this weekend with a fire and the workers were -- help me out in New York.

  • 12:57:39

    MARGOLIESIn Bangladesh.

  • 12:57:40

    MORICIIn Bangladesh, where the workers are locked in to the factory and they're jumping off of roofs and things of that nature, it's very remindful of the conditions that existed before Al Smith in the United States. I don't know why American workers have to compete with that. And I happen to be a WTO scholar. I earned my tenure that way, and I'm absolutely convinced we could exclude imports of products made under unfair conditions.

  • 12:58:02

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we're going to have.

  • 12:58:05

    MORICII'm sorry, Kojo.

  • 12:58:05

    NNAMDIPeter Morici, we're out of time. Peter Morici is a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, former chief economist with the U.S. International Trade Commission. Ken Margolies is the director of Organizing Programs at Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations in New York City. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us. This is obviously a conversation to be continued. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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