A Strange Way of Helping Workers

September 28th, 2017 by Phil Mattera

The Trump Administration would have us believe it is all about helping workers. Yet it has a strange way of showing it. Policies that directly assist workers are under attack, and all the emphasis is on initiatives that purportedly aid workers indirectly by boosting their employers.

That dubious approach is on full display now in a tax proposal that is being sold as pro-worker even though its main effect will be to make the rich even richer with the trickle-down hope they decide to use some of their additional wealth to create jobs and boost wages.

The same goes with regulation, a topic Trump is expected to return to in a speech next week. The dismantling of safeguards vital to the well-being of workers and consumers is packaged as the key to unleashing Corporate America’s job-creation mojo.

To a great extent these arguments are nothing more than chicanery. If there is any shred of sincerity, it is based on the idea that corporations, with fewer tax and regulatory burdens, will act in a socially beneficial way.

Corporations themselves, including ones that have lately been critical of the Trump Administration on issues such as race relations and climate change, help to promote the notion of business civic virtue. In fact, they and their apologists don’t restrain themselves in claiming the moral high ground.

A prime example of this appears in a recent issue of Fortune, which contains the magazine’s latest list of what it calls Change the World companies. These are the corporations whose operations supposedly have the greatest positive social impact.

Perhaps I have a jaded view, but I was astounded to see many of the companies on the list. Not only are they not paragons of virtue — in some cases they are leading corporate miscreants.

Take No. 1 on the list: JPMorgan Chase. In Violation Tracker the bank shows up with more than $29 billion in fines and settlements since 2000, making it the second most penalized company in the United States (after Bank of America). A big part of its total comes from toxic securities cases and mortgage abuses in the period leading to the financial meltdown, but there is much more. For example, it had to pay $1.7 billion to resolve a deferred prosecution criminal case relating to its role as the banker for Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme; $550 million for its role in a conspiracy to manipulate the foreign exchange market; $329 million for illegal credit card practices; and so on.

No. 9 on the Fortune list is Johnson & Johnson, which long cultivated a lily-white image as a producer of baby powder and other wholesome items, but in recent years has gotten itself embroiled in a series of scandals. Its Violation Tracker tally comes mainly from a 2013 civil and criminal case in which it had to pay $2.2 billion to resolve allegations of promoting three prescription drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Among the companies on the top tier of the Fortune list are some with terrible employment records, including Walmart, which has long fought efforts of its U.S. workers to form unions and bargain for better pay, and Apple, which grew rich from the toil of the underpaid overseas workers producing its overpriced devices.

The Fortune lists contains some smaller and less notorious companies, but the presence of those leading corporate culprits taints the whole project.

A similar taint can be found in the Trump tax and deregulatory initiatives. If you want to help workers, help them directly — don’t give away the store to their employers.

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