Career Calling

November 2, 2015

The Problem of Going Down the Career Ladder

 

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features an interesting article by Paul Davidson (USA Today) on the problem of moving back in a career, taking a lower level position, to stay employed. Davidson cites experts who say that a person who tries to take a few steps down on the career ladder is actually less likely to get hired. Applicants who were unemployed but seeking jobs at their current level were more likely to get hired.

That doesn’t surprise me. It’s not a matter of being employed or employed. It’s a matter of being qualified. Candidates who dumb down their resume or take a lower level job often show themselves as overqualified. They are less likely to get hired for lower level jobs because employers are worried that they would be bored or constantly looking for a job at their level. Worse still, as Davidson notes, if job seekers are “lucky” enough to land a lower level job, it’s very hard to climb back up the ladder. The article features the story of a former executive who took a job as a front line employee to keep from having a gap in her resume. Now she is having trouble getting interviews for executive positions.

My advice to clients is to take a lower level job only in two cases. First, if you need immediate income, take whatever job will give you the income you need. Second, if clients are looking to downshift and work at positions with less responsibility, they should pursue those jobs. In both cases, I inform them that moving back up the ladder will be difficult. Don’t move down the career ladder without considering the consequences.

 

September 6, 2015

The Real Costs of Right-to-Work

 

Max Rust of the Chicago Sun-Times has produced a concise overview of right-to-work laws and their impact on states and workers. In short, the picture is not pretty. In right-to-work states, wages are lower, infant mortality rates are higher, fewer people have health insurance, and the average level of education is lower. Several states, mostly in the South and Southwest, have had these laws in place since the 1940s. More recently, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have passed such laws.

Right-to-work laws hurt the ability of workers engage in collective bargaining. Yes, they do give a few people the freedom to avoid union dues. Many others, however, have seen hourly wages in these states go down over recent decades. Unions are far from perfect. In fact, today’s Chicago Sun-Times also features a great investigative article on the family of a local Teamsters’ official. Even so, unions enable workers to bargain for better wages and working conditions. If unions are so bad, why do corporations and billionaires participate in groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Club for Growth, and ALEC? If the richest people in American can collaborate to protect their interests, shouldn’t working class and middle class Americans have the same right?

July 25, 2015

Valuing the Lives of Working People

 

On July 24, 1915, Western Electric, a company in suburban Chicago, held an outing for it workers.  They were to be taken aboard the SS Eastland for a trip from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana.  The boat never left the Chicago River.  It was poorly engineered and began rock.  Frightened passengers shifted to one side of the boat, and it capsized.  Of the 2,500 passengers on board, 844 drowned, several complete families.  In an editorial to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the this tragedy, the Chicago Sun-Times asked why this disaster never received the attention of the Titanic.  It concluded that part of the reason is social class:  “The Titanic carried many passengers in society’s top tier, while most of the those who died in the Eastland were factory workers and their relatives, many of them immigrants.”  We value the lives more of the rich and famous.  Robin Leach taught us that.  Long before him, Edwin Arlington Robinson explored the same theme in his poem “Richard Cory.”  I’ve been to the section of Bohemian National Cemetery where several victims of the Eastland disaster are buried.  It’s shocking to look at gravestones and see the names of parents and children who all died on the same day.  As the Sun-Times pointed out, their lives had value and their deaths were tragic.  We need to remember that when we hear politicians demean those who work low wage jobs, including the immigrants who often do work we exceptional Americans refuse to do.

 

A headstone from Bohemian National Cemetery marking a couple who died on the Eastland:

bohemian Cemetary 030

 

April 28, 2015

“Going for Total Control”

 

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports that Sam Zell has donated $4 million to a PAC that supports the agenda of Governor Bruce Rauner.  Columnist Mark Brown sees this donation as part of a movement that he describes this way: “Rich people, no longer satisfied with the privileges of being rich, are going for complete control.”  This isn’t simply a matter of politics.  Much of Governor Rauner’s agenda targets union employees.  Brown quotes Zell as saying, “The 1 percent work harder.”  That may be true, but in a time when most American face flat wages and poverty is growing, it’s hard to see how the hard working 1% are helping the rest of us.  Working people need to decide if they support making people like Zell even richer or if they want to have a society where children from the middle class and the working class will have opportunities to be successful.  Rich people have always had disproportionate control.  Are we moving to a point where their voice is the only one that matters?

April 15, 2015

We Want Good Teachers, or Do We?

 

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports that Governor Bruce Rauner is recommending that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) use bankruptcy as a way to solve a $1.1 billion debt. If we only look at the debt, this solution might seem logical. It’s done all the time in business. No one seems to care when retired employees lose part of their pension. I hate this solution because it is a form of wage theft. In this case, I’m outraged by what the governor’s real motive seems to be.

Bankruptcy would let CPS terminate its contract with teachers. It might even let school administrators and the mayor avoid negotiating a new contract. Rauner claims to be a man of the people in saying that the people should decide if teachers have collective bargaining rights. His real goal seems to crushing one of the city’s strongest, most prominent unions.

What didn’t the governor say? He never addressed the question of recruiting and retaining good teachers. Conservatives often point to “bad teachers” as the cause of poor student performance. If that is true, the governor’s solution would seem to a blueprint for making education worse. Teaching is a very difficult job. Teachers’ salary is not that good given the pressures and hours that are required to do a good job. Take away the pension and union protections, who will want to pursue a career in teaching? We need to decide whether we are serious about having schools staffed by good, professional teachers. If we want good teachers, they need to paid well and treated as professionals.

August 22, 2014

A Very Odd Workplace Injury

Filed under: Uncategorized — claycerny @ 9:36 pm
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One of my favorite features in The Chicago Sun-Times is “This Date in Baseball” Something very odd happened on August 22, 1886. Abner Powell, an outfielder for Cincinnati, was chasing a line drive that had been hit over his head. In those days, fans sat in open areas near the field. On this date, one fan brought a dog who began to chase Powell as he ran after the ball. The dog sunk its teeth into Powell’s legs and hung on, which let the batter circle the bases for a game winning inside the park home run. This story gives new meaning to the phrase: “Dog days of summer.”

July 12, 2014

Comprehensive Solutions and a Living Wage

 

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a debate on the minimum wage. Tom Balanoff a labor leader, argues that a $15 minimum wage would provide a decent standard of life for workers. Mayor Emanuel’s commission has proposed a $13 an hour minimum phased between now and 2018. Balanoff notes that Los Angeles and Seattle have already passed $15 minimum wage laws. His argument focus on the needs of workers.

Sam Sanchez and Sott Defife, a restaurant owner and an official from the National Restaurant Association, argue that a minimum wage increase will hurt business, that it is “not a silver bullet for addressing the city’s economic challenges.” Twice they call for “comprehensive” measures, but never spell out what they would change. Their focus is on the economy, not the lives of individual workers. Still, they claim that most restaurant workers are young, “first time workers.” Once upon a time, that may have been true. Today most restaurant workers I encounter are adults, often in their thirties or forties. As Sanchez and Defife state, youth unemployment is now over 25%, in no small part because adult men and women who once worked in factories now fill low wage jobs in restaurants or retail.

It’s easy to agree with one side or the other in this debate. I’m for a living minimum wage, which could be index from state to state or region to region. In most places, that would mean at least $15 per hour (an average salary of $30,000 a year). At the same time, small businesses have some reason to be fearful of a minimum wage that would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Franchise restaurants work by economy of scale, which lets them control spending in the way that a small hot dog stand or corner store cannot. If it can be done, minimum wage laws could be written in a way that would protect small businesses. In some ways, that is the current standard in the restaurant industry where tipped workers in many states can be paid less than the minimum wage.

This debate is not simple or easy. My primary concern is with what is fair to working people. A good business will adapt its practices to meet what the market demands. Tax payers should not have to pay for services that help large corporations hire workers at a low wage. We need to demand a society where no one who works full time has to depend on state aid for food, shelter, and healthcare. We need to reward work. America needs a raise.

July 9, 2014

Outscourcing: a Race to the Bottom

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a story on United Airlines’ decision to outsource 600 jobs at 12 airports. According to a union spokesperson, employees who make $24 an hour will be replaced by those make $12 an hour. Who will be protected (at least for the time being)? Members of the union who are under contract. Outsourcing gives companies a way to cut costs through “efficiency,” which often means paying employees less. The union spokesperson cited in the article put it best when he defined outsourcing as “a race to the bottom.” Yes, big companies will save money. The outsourcing companies will hire people. But the engine of the economy consumers – working people – are being paid less. They won’t have money to buy airline tickets or cars or homes. Sooner or later, call it outsourcing, efficiency, or a race to the bottom, we will all pay the price for this kind of narrow kind of thinking. We can’t have falling wages and a healthy economy.

April 19, 2014

How College Athletes Should Not Be Paid

 

As I’ve written before, I support paying college athletes in sports that produce multimillion dollar revenues for the schools and the NCAA. Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features an editorial by Salim Furth of the Heritage Foundation that also supports paying student-athletes. However, Furth suggests a different approach that would destroy college sports, a free market approach to paying players, a business model professional sports leagues no longer follow.

Furth begins his essay by affirming that a certain type of college athlete should be paid: “Division I football players are professionals. They are given room, board, and health care in exchange for their time, and served by tutors, coaches, and trainers. They are paid only if they work.” He goes on to say that under the current model “college football players earn little for their work, because the employers collude through the NCAA to cap wages.” Here I agree and disagree. I would say student athletes who receive scholarships in all Division I sports are compensated. Whether we call it pay or compensation, there is an exchange similar to employment. The second quibble I would have with Furth is that the NCAA colludes with the colleges to “cap wages.” No, the NCAA controls the student athlete’s ability to earn any income. Moreover, one of the players’ biggest complaints about the current system is that it does not cover injuries that often impact their lives long after their college careers are done.

Where Furth and I strongly disagree, however, is over the issue of how students should be compensated. Under a union model, compensation would be negotiated for groups, not individuals. Furth advocates a system where players can “reap the rewards of their own talents and labor.” Each player would bargain with a university and be paid as an individual. Professional sports leagues found two problems with this approach in the era of free agency. First, player salaries rose at a pace that threatened the survival of teams and leagues. Every sports has introduced some mechanism to control the rise of player salaries. In a related concern, every league wants competition. If the same team wins again and again, interest in a sport wanes. Large market teams often dominant. Without caps, luxury taxes, and drafts for new players, only teams that generate the most revenue would be competitive.

Furth advocates a free market approach that sounds good on paper. Every person should be able to earn a wage that is commensurate to his or her skill and contribution to an employer’s success. This model has been tested in professional sports, and it has failed. It has also been tested in professions like law, where the ABA and law schools limit the pool of new applicants through admissions policies and standards for passing the bar exam.

The free market that Furth calls for creates a society of a few winners and many losers. Under the current system in college football, many of the same teams dominant year after year. Under Furth’s system, the teams that can pay the players most would be competitive year after year. A healthy sports league – and a healthy economy – needs balance, which can only come from some kind of regulation. I’m for compensating college athletes. But it must be done in a model that works for the players, schools, and the often ignored fans. The NCAA – or an organization like it – is needed to keep the system fair and honest. We can’t have a game without rules and referees.

April 1, 2014

An Odd Take on the Minimum Wage

Filed under: Commentary — claycerny @ 12:13 am
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In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, a reader named Ted Schwartz from Brookfield wrote: “Who will benefit when they raise the minimum wage?  The state and federal governments.  They will collect more in taxes when the raise goes in.”

 

By such logic, we should not have a minimum wage.  The only thing worse than Mr. Schwartz’s logic are his facts.  Low wage worker pay little or no income tax to the state and federal government.  However, they do pay more in sales taxes because they will be able to buy more, which is good for low wage workers and for the economy as a whole.  I don’t know why people like Mr. Schwartz are so bitter that they want to begrudge the least among us.  My problem is more with billionaires and corporations who have written the tax code for their benefit.  A raise in the minimum wage will be good for everyone, including the companies who will pay higher wages, because they will have more business.  The idea is to bring more money into the economy, not to take it out.

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