The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Corporate Reform (Page 2 of 2)

Corporations Are Taking Worker Wages To Increase Profits

 

Image: csmonitor.com

Eight-three percent of all workers are ‘non-supervisory’ workers in the Federal Reserve classification of types of workers, yet they have not seen a fair cut of the profits since 2000.  Corporations have used financial engineering techniques like stock buybacks where funds are used to buy corporate stock and goose the price up. J.P. Morgan estimates that with dollars repatriated from the tax cut bill, that stock buybacks will hit a new record of $800 billion for 2018.  This $800 billion is absolutely wasted on driving stock prices up while not investing in employee wages, capital expenditures, research and development, instead stock buy backs increase executive compensation tied to stock price.

Source; Real Investment Advice – 6/29/18

Since before the Great Recession wages have been stagnant for working class people, the 80 % of the workforce that make corporations prosper.  The wages to profits ratio arc shows a continuing decline since the 1980s – interestingly when the GOP was telling us that ‘trickle down’ economics would bring economic prosperity to all.  Instead working class families are having to take two or three jobs and borrow on their credit cards just to keep their household finances afloat.

Next Steps:

The country is run by Corporate Nation States who make the contributions, fund the campaigns and essentially buy off the legislative influence that counts in the U.S.  Each year corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars in Washington DC lobbying alone, i.e. Amazon has 94 lobbyists keeping DOJ anti-trust lawyers distracted, the FCC at bay on drones and lobby other interests to keep its juggernaut growing.

It is time we wake up to what is happening from Supreme Court decisions that favor American Express over merchants, to the GOP tax cut bill, to relaxing the Dodd-Frank rules on banking Corporate Nation States are running this country.  The basic economic trends in America are not going to change unless we have corporate reform.  Will this reform come in the form of legislation like Sen. Booker’s Dividend Reform Act or letters from investment banks to corporate CEOs like Blackrock CEO Larry Fink sent recently.  We are not sure, but we need to take a path that takes on the dominant power of Corporate Nation States or we are going to see the middle class wiped out and our economy with it. After all, as we pointed out in a recent post on the Common Good, when the working class has little money to spend the rich will lose too.  The working class has earned a fair share of the profits. Fair share means when profits go up by 5 % wages go up by at least 5 % otherwise the economy deteriorates like it is today deeply in public and corporate debt.

in the end the rich will need to see that it is in their interest to build the Common Good, by contributing to our institutions of government and common people or they will lose what they already have and probably a lot more.”

Building An Economy for the Common Good

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Image: Your Little Planet

In the past week, American Express won a gag order over merchants when the Supreme Court handed down a decision that allowed the huge financial services company to require all their merchants not to tell their consumers other cards had cheaper swipe fees.  Amazon announced the acquisition of Pill Pack a mail order pharmacy company, which sent financial shock waves through the drug store industry. So, it goes on, a Corporate Nation State (CNS) like American Express  or Amazon have their way limiting consumers choices to reduce costs and to take over the drug marketplace with no fair market rules in place.

Are these two companies focused on building the common good, fair play rules in the marketplace, doing what is right for consumers and taking social responsibility for the impact of their decisions?  No.  There is no countervailing power when Congress, The Supreme Court and the Executive branch are all doing the bidding of CNS organizations.

Corporations run our federal government by donating hundreds of millions of dollars (they have no campaign donation limits) each year to congressional campaigns through super PACs. Some CNS entities have large lobbying offices in Washington, like Amazon with 94 lobbyists knocking on Representative and Senator doors every day!  Do we have an army of lobbyists twisting arms for our interests?  No.

Where can we look for corporate reform to build the common good?  Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, a $6.3 trillion institutional investment corporation, sent a letter to 1000 CEOs of companies they invest in telling them that beyond profits they would be evaluated on how well they are taking care of the environment, responding to climate change, having a diverse workforce, and fairness with their employees. We applaud Mr. Fink’s move, and look to more investors to call upon corporate management to be held accountable for their social responsibilities.

There are corporate accountability frameworks that have been receiving widespread acceptance and government support. In the European Union a group called the Economy for the Common Good (ECG), has over 2400 corporate endorsers and almost 10,000 individuals support their effort to require corporations report on a Common Good Balance Sheet their social responsibility activities. The EU has adopted a non-binding directive requiring companies of 500 employees and ‘public interest’ to report on human rights, diversity, labor rights, the environment, health and anti-corruption measures. The report is not included with the corporate annual report and is therefore not audited.

The Common Good Balance Sheet is divided into four key accountability areas: human dignity, solidarity and social justice, environmental sustainability, and transparency and co-determination:

Source: Economy for the Common Good – 6/29/18

The ECG is now working to make actual changes in corporate behavior by focusing on gaining support for these eight issues:

  • universal (all values and relevant issues)
  • legally binding
  • measurable and comparable (e. g. using points)
  • externally audited
  • generally understandable (for the public)
  • public (on all products, websites, shop doors)
  • developed in a participatory process
  • linked to legal incentives (taxes, tariffs, …)

The first phase has been completed of their initiative to gain EU nonbinding support next they look for a binding EU directive by 2020 followed by integration financial reporting.

We need to find corporate leaders in the US that see the vision of an Economy for the Common Good, embrace it and implement its ideas in their day to day operations – while measuring the results to show it is a better way to run a business.  A business can build an economy that works for all and still be a thriving profitable enterprise.

Amazon’s Growing Corporate Power In Washington – Threat to Capitalist Democracy

Source: e-brand.biz

An oligarchy is defined by Wikipedia as, “a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people”.  One of the Elite is corporate tycoon Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, who is thought to be the wealthiest person in the world with net worth estimated at $141 billion.  He wields great corporate power leading an innovative company, pioneering e-retailing when many said it couldn’t be done building a $177 billion empire in e-Commerce, web services, grocery, and just about everything you can buy in a store you can get from Amazon.  Amazon owns 43 % of the e-Commerce market, and has been responsible for a complete transformation of brick-n-mortar retailing causing the loss  of thousands of jobs.  The company name is synonymous with going out of business as some store owners declare they have been ‘Amazoned’.

Amazon has one of the largest lobbying forces in Washington, 94 strong:

Sources: The Center for Responsible Politics, The Wall Street Journal, 6/20/18

Amazon spent $13 million on lobbying and is one of the top spenders on lobbying along with Google, AT & T and Oracle.

The Amazon corporate power juggernaut keeps rolling.  The e-Commerce giant owns 50 % of the book print sales market for publishers, with Barnes and Noble in the teens and independent book sellers about 6 – 8 percent. Ten years ago, independent book stores held a 30 % share of the book print sales market until Amazon drove them out of business, with convenience and not being required to pay sales taxes to states (though the Supreme Court just ruled last week that e-Commerce firms must pay sales taxes). Now, in an ironic twist the firm has 3 brick- n-mortar stores and is opening 5 more in 2017- so Amazon drives the competition out of business, with low cost prices and no taxes then starts opening brick n-mortar-stores.  Is that fair? In audio books Amazon owns Audible the No. 1 provider of audio books where last year listener – readers heard over 2 billion hours of programming.  The Kindle subscription business holds 14 % of the e-reader market and is the fastest growing segment increasing 4 % in 2016

Amazon is humongous compared to its competitors with brick-n-mortar stores:

Source: visualcapitalist.com – 12/30/16

Amazon is larger than the next 8 competitors and it is killing their businesses by amortizing its cut rate prices with profits from its Business to Business cloud enterprise – Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Source: Geekwire – 10/1/16

Without AWS Amazon would not be able to take profit from the B to B side of the business and fund the cut rate prices driving other stores out of business. While it may seem like this is capitalism ‘creative destruction’ at its best, this condition strikes us as unfair competition. Add a tax cut giveaway to corporations like Amazon, and the juggernaut keeps picking up speed at the expense of workers and democracy.

Next steps:

  1. One Lobbyist Limit – The Company is a citizen according to the Supreme Court in Citizens United, then good it has one lobbyist representative to Congress.
  2. Sunshine Contractor Monitoring – Amazon and the top 100 government contractors would have to contribute to a web site noting their business with the Federal Government, revenue from the contracts, agencies working with, number of government staff working with Amazon, Amazon staff size working on projects, where they are located, and all contacts with Congress, Executive branch staff – date, time, attends, discussion top, money involved, follow up. All these details would be available to the public on a web site 24/7.  These disclosure are a ‘annual report’ to the people of the US about what the top 100 contracts are doing for our federal government, and us and how they are contributing to our government and society goals.
  3. Campaign Contribution limits – $2700 per corporation if they are a person, that is all a citizen is allowed to contribute, and the Supreme Court found corporations were citizens, so Amazon has the same limit as a citizen.
  4. Corporate Reform – top 2 corporations in an industry sector must have a minority number of outside board members elected by all the shareholders. Employees can form ‘councils’ along the line of the German worker council models.  Salaries for executives would be limited to 50 times the average worker in the firm (consumer discretionary sector the average for CEOs is 350 times, Bloomberg, Feb 1 2018)., Stock buy backs need to end, or be phased out as they are artificially raising the price of stock on major exchanges by 20 – 15 % experts estimate just to line the pockets of executives and major shareholders, the funds are not going to wage increases, productivity investments or job training.
  5. Anti – trust – Amazon needs to be broken up into a corporate web business – Amazon Web Services, and grocery business (Whole Foods never should have been approved) spun off. The e-Commerce business needs to stand on its own, plus we need to look for other ways to create fair- play markets possibly separating services from distribution,

Workers Struggling Under Credit Card Debt

Photo: finder.com.au

While consumers did pay down their credit card debt by $40 billion during the first quarter of 2018, they still owe a giant $1.021 trillion in revolving debt.  Credit card debt is at the second highest level since 2008, during the Great Recession.  Consumers piled on another $91.6 billion by the end of 2017, at a run rate of 104 % of the average over the past 10 years.

Sources: Marketwatch, WalletHub – 6/13/18

Adding to consumer woes are interest rates that are rising, adding to the servicing costs of credit card, auto loan, and student loan debts. Below the chart shows debt servicing costs as a percentage of disposable income, while mortgage debt servicing is declining consumer servicing costs are rising.

Sources: Federal Reserve, National Bureau of Economic Research, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 6/13/18

Finally, non-supervisory worker’s wages are stuck at 2.5% and when inflation is taken into account are largely flat. As consumers continue to try and maintain their standard of living, they are taking on more revolving debt which is costing more for them to pay. This financial squeeze is sustainable as long as jobs are abundant as they seem to be now, but if the economy turns down and layoffs happen it will be hard times for workers.  A survey published today in the Wall Street Journal blog – The Daily Shot showed executives plan layoffs as the first approach to deal with tightened financial conditions and slow sales.

 Next Steps:

 Workers need to receive a living wage that is not stagnant as wages have been for the past 10 years since the recession. Over 14 % of all workers have not received a raise in the last year versus 11% prior to the recession. Stock buy backs need to end and those funds invested in raising worker wages, increasing productivity and providing job training and development.  Corporations stash over 40 % of their profits in overseas tax sheltered accounts – all those funds need to come back to the US with companies paying their fair share of taxes. Corporations are the beneficiaries of job training and education, and should pick up more responsibility in terms of taxes for apprenticeship programs on par with those in Germany to provide US workers with the advanced skills needed to obtain a good paying job and create a dual track besides college. Today, there are more job openings than candidates available to fill those jobs, we need to invest developing worker’s job skills to close the gap.

14 % of Workers Have Not Received Wage Increases In the Last Year

 

Photo: theaustintimes.com

While CEOs at the top 100 corporations received a 5 %  raise in average compensation  of  $15.7 million last year,  14 % of all workers have received no raises at all, higher than before the Great Recession. The recovery has not come for many workers.

Sources: San Francisco Federal Reserve, National Bureau of Economic Research, Haver Analytics, Marketwatch – 5/29/18

Prior to the 2008 recession there were 11 % of all workers not receiving raises, still too high but much lower when considering the size in millions of the US workforce. After the recession companies were slow to give all workers raises as the rate rose to almost 17 % without raises.  Then, over time more workers are receiving raises as the economy recovered for the top 20 % in income. Still, 14 % is still too high.  The Federal Reserve economists note that the no raise rate would have to drop to 12.5 % or so for enough wage pressure to cause a move from the present stagnant 2.5 % to increase to 3 % and cause wage push inflation.  The fact the number of employees not receiving wages is actually going up is a concern that wage raises may actually fall or stay the same.

Next Steps:

We continue to see the extreme inequity of executives and professionals continuing to receive raises, for many twice the 2 % inflation rate versus workers. The reality is that employees just do not have the same wage power that they used to. We have previously discussed the combination of factors that contribute to extreme lack of wage power for workers including: lack of union representation, automation, fewer corporations due to mergers reducing the number of jobs,  low wage H1-B visas being approved,  using profits for stocky buybacks instead of investment in productivity increases, Internet recruiting nationwide and worldwide for some positions, and the shift to outsourcing jobs and the gig economy.

We recommend the following actions be taken by Congress and Corporate Leaders:

  1. Place Workers on Boards– as Germany has so effectively setup, engaging management with required representation of workers on Boards.
  2. End Outsourcing– corporations would pay 50 % tax on each job moved overseas making the move costly, encouraging corporations to move jobs to low cost or inland areas of the US, or innovation economic zones (special tax geographies) and to invest in worker training to receive training tax credits.
  3. End Low Cost H1-B Visas– the practice of importing inexpensive labor to drive down wages in US markets would be ended.
  4. Offer Lower Taxes on Repatriated Funds– only if the profits from overseas are invested in productivity actions, increasing wages of workers (not executives), reducing costs or innovation. Stock buybacks or dividends would be prohibited.
  5. End Stock buybacks– these funds are totally wasted, mislead investors on earnings reports and only serve to increase compensation for executives and shareholders. These funds are better allocated to increase worker wages or increase productivity so workers can receive higher wage increases.
  6. Breakup Oligopolies– breakup market concentrations in key sectors: information technology, banks and financial services, health insurers, airlines, hospitals and clinics, entertainment, media and distribution and others as deemed in the public interest.
  7. Balance Job Market Process– require companies over 100 employees to offer information on their website for contacts, phone numbers, job listings with identified contacts, and to let the candidate know the status of his consideration, and candidate introductions held monthly for F2F communication.
  8. Balance Worker and Executive Pay– tax corporations 25 % surcharge on any corporate income where any executive makes greater than 150 % than any the average worker wage – this would force executives to share their income with workers while not increasing costs. End federal tax deductions on corporate income taxes for executive stock compensation above $1 million. End golden parachute packages by taxing 50 % of every dollar received above $1 million. Severance packages for workers would have to be in proportion to the highest executive package ie, executive receives 10x of monthly salary a worker would receive 10x of his/her monthly salary.
  9. Fund Worker Training and Increase Wages – for each robot employed, the corporation would be required to offer training, skills development for the displaced worker to find a comparable job within the company or outside. Where automation software or technology is deployed 10 % of the realized cost benefit would be used to raise the wages of all workers in the company.

Activists Push Environmental Corporate Reform at McDonalds

 

Image: thepeoplesconvention.org

We believe corporate behavior will most likely only change when shareholders demand change through corporate reform.  While some farsighted companies are moving to all sustainable materials for their packaged goods McDonalds has been slow to make it happen.

McDonalds says it is willing to move to eliminate plastic straws by 2025 – seven years from now.  That timeframe is just too late.  There are plastic straw substitutes like biodegradables are available now made from starch, corn or bamboo. The giant restaurateur has been dragging on making shift.  Plastic in our oceans is a huge problem, destroying habitat for ocean creatures and fouling their food sources multiplying each year by 8 million metric tons.

Source: The Ocean Conservancy – 5/24/18

We applaud the plastic straw proposal by SumOfUs, corporate reform activists, obtaining 450,000 signatures to qualify for a shareholder vote.

Corporate decision making must continue to be monitored, and when a decision is making our planet more uninhabitable it must be changed to make our life here sustainable.  The reality is that those profits are not going to matter in a planet where our environment is destroying the world we live in placing people world-wide in jeopardy of shortened life spans.

Unfortunately, today the plastic straw proposal only received 8 % of shareholder votes.  The vote of major shareholders and institutions against the proposal shows there is still work to be done to in corporate reform.   We are pleased to see major institutions, like Blackrock, where CEO Larry Fink has demanded that companies they invest in get more engaged in environmental issues and ‘how’ they make money not just make money. When CEOs at major companies see that it is in their interest to move the paradigm of environmental protection ahead then we will know that they are listening to us, the people, rather than Wall Street. Corporations and the wealthy control Congress so we need to go directly to Corporate Nation States to bring about real change.

Blackrock CEO To Corporations: Focus on Social Responsibility Too, Are They Listening?

Image: ipleaders.in

Laurence Fink, CEO of Blackrock with $6.3 trillion of assets under management sent a letter to one thousand CEOs outlining that in the future they will be evaluating companies on their societal impact not just profits.  Blackrock manages major index funds which require that they invest in firms included in the index even when they don’t like the direction management is taking the company or take actions that are detrimental to their employees or community.  Fink tells executives that a new age has arrived where shareholders and company management need to be more actively engaged. Plus, companies need to take the long term view related to rising automation,  slow wage growth and climate change and explain their plans to shareholders.

Next Steps: 

We applaud Fink’s focus on social responsibility by corporations.  As he notes governments maybe way behind in the seeing the needs of society and solving those problems.  Corporations can even add value, as Deloitte observes in five ways: creating new market opportunities, taking regulatory relationships from reactive to proactive, retaining top talent, enhancing brand value,  and building sustainable supply chains. Now, let’s make this a priority on Wall Street.  Fink in an interview on NPR’s Marketplace today, clarifying that Blackrock was not Wall Street.  We have a ways to go with Wall Street expectations for quarterly results – we can hope that Wall Street was listening to a major investor like Blackrock.

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén