Monthly Archives: April 2016

Congratulations, Philadelphia Democratic Voters

Vanessa Lowery Brown, who represents parts of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania’s state legislature, goes on trial in September on charges she took a $4000 bribe from an undercover informant in a sting operation that has netted four other members of the state legislature (so far), two of whom pleaded guilty before their cases went to trial, and one local judge. Every indication is that she, like the others, not only took the money but encouraged the government operative to offer it.

On Tuesday Brown ran for the Democratic nomination for her own seat in a district where the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election.

She won.

Way to go, Philadelphia Democrats.

Weak Priorities

Last weekend the Washington Post published an article about the preliminary results of Prince’s autopsy.

Five people wrote the article.

Really? We’re in the middle of a presidential race, ISIS is a threat, Zika is a looming threat, and the Post assigns five – five! – people to write about an autopsy that won’t really be complete for several weeks yet?

You just have to shake your head and wonder.

Another Way Corporate America Sticks it to Working People

Corporate America has many tactics for increasing its profitability at the expense of the people who do much of the work that produces that profitability. One of those tactics is to employ significant numbers of people without putting them on the company payroll. Instead, they hire people from temp firms whom they have no intention of employing only temporarily, but they pay them much less than the workers on their payroll and don’t offer any benefits, insisting that the true employer is the temp firm and benefits are the responsibility of the temp firm.

Earlier this year the magazine Washington Monthly took a look at this practice in an article called “Benefits for the Rest of Us” (which you can find here), and The Curmudgeon would like to share some of the examples the magazine unearthed:

Consider Chris Young, an assembly-line worker at Nissan’s manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. Chris works alongside dozens of other employees, with everybody doing more or less the same job. But Chris doesn’t get to wear the coveted Nissan jersey that many of his fellow workers wear—because he doesn’t work for Nissan. He works for Yates Services, a private contractor that now provides a majority of Nissan’s workers. Chris told the Washington Post, “I build the same Infiniti SUV” as the Nissan workers, but he and other Yates employees receive half the salary, less job security, and way fewer safety net benefits.

 Auto manufacturers increasingly rely on a two-tiered system, using both regular and temporary employees. While Chris is covered by workers’ comp and Social Security Disability Insurance, being in the temp tier means he can’t say no to overtime, doesn’t get paid sick leave, doesn’t receive long-term disability, and sometimes has to work seven days a week, with ten-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays. Nationwide, the temp sector has provided nearly a fifth of the total job growth since the recession ended. With the economy continuing to drag along unevenly, temp work has galloped back ten times faster than private-sector employment. And, increasingly, the temps aren’t very temporary. Some have been employed at the same company for as long as eleven years, resulting in the term “permatemps.” (Chris Young is a permatemp.)

 *            *            *

 In 2000, Microsoft had to pay $97 million to settle a lawsuit for improperly denying benefits to more than 8,000 permatemps.

 *            *            *

 One federal study concluded that employers illegally “disguised” 3.4 million regular workers as contractors, while the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that up to 30 percent of companies misclassify employees. The incentive for employers to engage in this illegal activity is clear: a huge savings in labor costs.

 *            *            *

 After Merck sold its factory in Philadelphia in 2008, the new owner fired all 400 Merck employees and rehired them as independent contractors, then contracted with the factory to continue making the same antibiotic for them.

 *            *            *

 In June 2015, FedEx was slammed with a $288 million settlement after a federal appeals court ruled that the company had shortchanged 2,300 California delivery drivers on pay and benefits by improperly labeling them independent contractors. The next month, FedEx lost another case in a federal appeals court over misclassifying 500 delivery drivers in Kansas. Uber is being sued by thousands of drivers and ex-drivers who insist they are employees of the company, not contractors. As reported by Caroline Fredrickson for Washington Monthly, trucking firms operating in Los Angeles and Long Beach lost two major court battles with drivers claiming that they also had been robbed of wages by being misclassified as independent contractors.

 *            *            *

 …because Walmart pays so poorly and provides such a sparse safety net for its employees, the rest of society—that is, taxpayers—have to foot the bill for benefits like food stamps, Medicaid, subsidized housing, and expensive hospital emergency room visits (instead of doctor’s office visits) for those employees. Forbes reports that Walmart costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion annually in public assistance for its workers. (McDonald’s employees reportedly cost taxpayers $1.2 billion per year.) Either way, we pay.

*            *            *

Microsoft – fined $97 million. Federal Express – fined $288 million. Think how much they must be profiting through such practices to make it worthwhile to pay such enormous fines and then write them off as the cost of doing business.

One common thread here is pretty obvious: all of the companies involved in these despicable practices are wildly successful and wildly profitable. They’ve gotten there in part because of the labors of their workers but as their actions make clear, they don’t want to share any of their success with those workers. In fact, it’s as if those workers don’t even exist – because in these and many other similar cases, those workers aren’t even on the payroll.

And why would a company share its success with someone who isn’t even on the payroll?




Did He Really Say That?

“It’s very important to put some showbiz into a convention, otherwise people are going to fall asleep,” Donald Trump told the Washington Post. “We don’t have the people who know how to put showbiz into a convention.”

Yes, that’s what the man said – and it’s not hard to understand why, because it seems clear that Trump views everything he does publicly for its entertainment value and for its ability to help him make money.

And if you don’t believe that, just pay attention to what he says.

I am the entertainer, you know just where I stand...

I am the entertainer, you know just where I stand…

Remember when he talked about demanding money from CNN to participate in one of the debates because he knew his involvement would improve CNN’s ratings? It was all about television to him, about the ratings, and not about picking the next president. He sees himself as an entertainer and he sees the entertaining he does as a money-making opportunity, because if nothing else, Trump is all about the money.

So it came as little surprise recently to read that Trump complained about the Republicans’ 2012 convention, calling it “the single most boring convention I’ve ever seen.”

Wait: we’re supposed to believe The Donald sat down and watched a tv program in which he wasn’t the star?

And that he thinks conventions should be all about entertainment, as if they’re just another episode of John and Kate Plus 8 or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?

And now, Trump wants his (new) party to do better this time.

Feeeeee-lings, whoa whoa whoa FEEEEELINGS...

Feeeeee-lings, whoa whoa whoa FEEEEELINGS…

What exactly does The Donald have in mind? Dancing girls? Justin Timberlake? Jugglers? A game of dodge ball among the original pool of Republican candidates, with the winner to be his vice president candidate? Policy roundtables hosted by one of the Real Housewives?

This, as much as anything else, speaks volumes about this guy’s priorities. He wants to make money, he wants attention, he wants to be an entertainer.

Forget about running for president, Donnie. Sign up to compete on next season’s Dancing With the Stars instead.






Some Trump Humor

A Pittsburgh dentist decided to use humor in the form of campaign lawn signs to express his opposition to the candidacy of Donald Trump.

The Curmudgeon thinks he succeeded.

Anyone who's ever shoveled out a parking spot on a city street after a snowstorm understands this one.

Anyone who’s ever shoveled out a parking spot on a city street after a snowstorm understands this one.

"Terrible towels" are pieces of colored cloth that Pittsburgh Steelers fans wave at their team's games.

“Terrible towels” are pieces of colored cloth that Pittsburgh Steelers fans wave at their team’s games.

Pittsburgh is the home of Heinz foods and the Heinz family.

Pittsburgh is the home of Heinz foods and the Heinz family.

How’s That “Avoiding Obamacare” Working Out for Businesses?

For some, apparently, not so well.

When the 2010 health care reform law passed, critics said it would hinder the creation of jobs and companies would turn full-time employees into part-time employees, and only hire part-time workers in the future as much as possible, to avoid needing to fulfill the Obamacare requirement that they help full-time workers with health insurance.

This fear that the health care reform law would hinder job growth has been pretty definitively disproven, no matter what the Republicans running for office tell you. Even the Congressional Budget Office, which Republicans control these days, has said so.

But it’s true that some companies are doing their darndest to keep their full-time workforce as small as possible so they don’t have to get involved in helping to pay for health insurance for their employees. The Curmudgeon has written about such companies in the past (he’s talking about you, Olive Garden, and you, Regal theaters, although there are many others), and the practice continues. It’s especially prevalent in the fast food industry, where the level of skill needed to perform most jobs isn’t very high and owners have typically assumed that they can always find people to do the jobs they offer pretty easily and without paying them very much.

But you know what? It’s not working out for some of them.

An article in the online health care trade publication Kaiser Health News reports that

“A lot of the fast-food franchisees that did this,” she [note: a lawyer who advises small businesses on their responsibilities under the health care reform law] said, “are now coming back and saying, ‘It was a great idea for reducing the number of people that I have to offer benefits, but now I can’t run my restaurants.’ ”

part timeThey tell her it has been a nightmare trying to manage a part-time staff.

“Because you’ve got people who are less loyal, you’ve got people who are less skilled — who don’t understand the business,” she said. There’s also more employee turnover.

Bromley [the lawyer] has seen many of those restaurants reverse course. “Employers think that there’s a shortcut here or there, and then they realize, yeah, that shortcut really hurt me more than it helped me,” she said.

In other words, companies that employ minimum wage and near-minimum wage workers are learning that they get what they pay for and that underpaying for help and skirting the reform law hurts their business.

They need to learn a simple lesson: PAY YOUR EMPLOYEES!

And when they do pay their employees better they’ll find that paying their employees better will help them get paid better, too.


The front window of a Jewish-style but obviously not kosher deli-restaurant near The Curmudgeon.



This week only: fried matzoh with a side of sausage, $4.99.

A Forensic Pathologist She’s Not

Is that a boa or is she just French?

Is that a boa or is she just French?

But that doesn’t stop some people.

The body wasn’t even cold, but that noted epidemiologist Aretha Franklin already thought she knew what killed the singer who is really now the artist formerly known as Prince, telling MSNBC that

They are saying [Prince had] flu-like symptoms. I’m wondering if it had anything to do with this Zika virus.

What a freaking idiot.

Background Checks for Gun Purchases

Extremists misinterpret the constitution and insist that even background checks prior to gun purchases violate individuals’ second amendment right to bear arms. That right, us non-extremists know, is not absolute, just as we know that our first amendment right to freedom of speech comes with limits.

Struggling to justify their insistence that background checks not be permitted, they sometimes suggest that such checks don’t make a difference.

They’re wrong.

gunsConsider this, from a New Yorker magazine article:

In 2007, Missouri eliminated a decades-old system under which every handgun buyer had to obtain a permit and undergo a background check. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that the firearm-homicide rate increased by thirty-four per cent in the first year after the repeal and remained significantly higher than it had been, while the rate of homicides committed with other weapons did not change. Studies of this type don’t prove direct cause and effect, but this one is powerfully suggestive. The researchers controlled for other potential explanations, including changes in policing levels and incarceration rates, and the sharp increase was unique to the region and out of keeping with crime trends nationally. The firearm-suicide rate rose, too. Meanwhile, according to a study published last year in The American Journal of Public Health, a 1995 Connecticut law that did more or less the opposite—enacting the kind of permit system that Missouri dropped—was associated with a forty-per-cent reduction in firearm-homicide rates.

Background checks DO make a difference, and that’s why every state should require background checks for EVERY gun purchase – and that includes guns sold at gun shows, which have been scooting around background check laws in many states for years.

It’s a win-win solution: we keep guns out of the hands of people we really, really don’t want to have them and individuals’ right to own handguns is respected after appropriate investigation. It’s a fair, albeit only partial solution to the terrible problem of people who shouldn’t have access to guns doing terrible things with them.

Diagnosis “Smart Meter”

smart meterYou’re probably familiar with what utilities call “smart meters”: Wikipedia defines them as “… an electronic device that records consumption of electric energy in intervals of an hour or less and communicates that information at least daily back to the utility for monitoring and billing. Smart meters enable two-way communication between the meter and the central system.”

A Philadelphia woman says her smart reader made her sick – physically, medically sick – and the state’s Public Utility Commission is taking her complaint seriously.

As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the woman

… said she suffered “deleterious health effects” after Peco [note: her electricity provider] installed the new meter on her Germantown home in 2013.

The commission is evaluating the woman’s complaint, the Inquirer reports,

…because she said she could produce medical documentation showing that the electromagnetic radiation from the meter caused her to get sick. The meter violates the state’s public utility code requiring utilities to provide “safe and reasonable” service, she has maintained.

So what’s the problem? The woman who filed the suit says

 … her illness was diagnosed as a vaccine injury, a variant of Guillain-Barre syndrome, that makes her susceptible to the smart meter’s signal. She said she suffered from elevated blood pressure and a loss of sleep.

Her health improved, she has said, after she paid an electrician in 2014 to replace Peco’s smart meter with an old-style analog meter she bought on the Internet for $85. She mailed the uninstalled device back to Craig Adams, Peco’s chief executive.

Well, The Curmudgeon is in no position to draw any conclusions about the woman’s physical health but as for her mental health…