National News

At Walmart labor protests, striking isn't the point

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 13:33

Walmart kicks off its annual share-holders meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas, on Friday, and some Walmart workers are marking the occasion with a series of strikes across the country. Low pay is the spotlight issue--with protesters urging Walmart to raise wages to at least $25,000 a year.

But, as Walmart is quick to point out, only a tiny fraction of its workers will actually walk off the job. Depending on whom you ask, that low number means very different things.   Cynthia Brown-Elliott is a cake decorator at a Walmart in Cincinnati. She makes $8.95 an hour and lives in subsidized housing. When she strikes this week, she'll be holding a homemade sign that's a play on the Walmart slogan: Save money. Live better.   “I’m writing, ‘How Can You Save Money If You're Not Making Money? How Can You Live Better If You're Not Getting Paid Better?’” Brown-Elliot says.   She acknowledges, though, that her sign won’t have much company from co-workers on the picket line. Out of her store's several hundred employees, she knows of just seven workers walking off the job.   That relatively tiny number shows that most at Walmart are happy, says company spokesman Kory Lundberg.   “It's by and large not associates that are participating in these events. Usually the group is rounded out by UFCW* members, or people working at an organized retail competitor,” he says, referring to members of the United Food and Commercial Workers and other labor groups that have helped organize Walmart workers and protests.   “Our associates are smart. They know what a good job is. That's why 1.3 million of them have chosen to work for us,” Lundberg says.   But Brown- Elliott, the Cincinnati Walmart worker who is joining a handful of her colleagues in walking off the job, believes the low striker turn-out isn’t a sign of worker contentment; it’s a sign of worker fear. She says many of her co-workers who have families have told her they support the strikes this week, but feel they have too much to lose.   As an example, she points to a coworker who has joined the workers’ group Our Walmart, but decided not to strike. “She's a mother and she has children who are living in her house--she's scared of losing her job,” says Brown-Elliott, who is an empty-nester.   “In this economy you can’t afford to lose your job,” she adds, but says without a family to support she feels emboldened on the picket line. “I only have me to worry about.”   Fifty years ago, when workers were generally more skilled, unemployment rates were lower, and unions had more legal protections, striking didn't feel quite as risky for workers, even ones with families, according to Gary Chiason, professor of labor relations at Clark University.   Today, however, with a sluggish economy in which jobs are hard to come by, Chiason says strikes have necessarily taken on a different role: more about public relations, less about any real attempt by employees to pressure a company by withholding their labor.    “It's a question of drawing public attention,” he says. “The whole concept is to embarrass the employer as a low-wage, poor working condition employer—to go after the consumer who really holds the decision making power, and to tell the consumers that this is not a good place to patronize because they don’t pay workers well.”    In other words, in today’s economy, the number of low-paid retail workers on a picket line isn’t really the point. What matters is whether the signs they’re holding resonate with the shoppers walking by. 

CORRECTION: The original version of this article misidentified a union that is helping to organize protests by Walmart workers. It is the United Food and Commercial Workers. The article has been corrected.

Among Walmart protests, few actual strikers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 13:33

Walmart kicks off its annual share-holders meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas, on Friday, and some Walmart workers are marking the occasion with a series of strikes across the country. Low pay is the spotlight issue--with protesters urging Walmart to raise wages to at least $25,000 a year.

But, as Walmart is quick to point out, only a tiny fraction of its workers will actually walk off the job. Depending on whom you ask, that low number means very different things.   Cynthia Brown-Elliott is a cake decorator at a Walmart in Cincinnati. She makes $8.95 an hour and lives in subsidized housing. When she strikes this week, she'll be holding a homemade sign that's a play on the Walmart slogan: Save money. Live better.   “I’m writing, ‘How Can You Save Money If You're Not Making Money? How Can You Live Better If You're Not Getting Paid Better?’” Brown-Elliot says.   She acknowledges, though, that her sign won’t have much company from co-workers on the picket line. Out of her store's several hundred employees, she knows of just seven workers walking off the job.   That relatively tiny number shows that most at Walmart are happy, says company spokesman Kory Lundberg.   “It's by and large not associates that are participating in these events. Usually the group is rounded out by UFCW members, or people working at an organized retail competitor,” he says, referring to members of the United Food and Culinary Workers Union and other labor groups that have helped organize Walmart workers and protests.   “Our associates are smart. They know what a good job is. That's why 1.3 million of them have chosen to work for us,” Lundberg says.   But Brown- Elliott, the Cincinnati Walmart worker who is joining a handful of her colleagues in walking off the job, believes the low striker turn-out isn’t a sign of worker contentment; it’s a sign of worker fear. She says many of her co-workers who have families have told her they support the strikes this week, but feel they have too much to lose.   As an example, she points to a coworker who has joined the workers’ group Our Walmart, but decided not to strike. “She's a mother and she has children who are living in her house--she's scared of losing her job,” says Brown-Elliott, who is an empty-nester.   “In this economy you can’t afford to lose your job,” she adds, but says without a family to support she feels emboldened on the picket line. “I only have me to worry about.”   Fifty years ago, when workers were generally more skilled, unemployment rates were lower, and unions had more legal protections, striking didn't feel quite as risky for workers, even ones with families, according to Gary Chiason, professor of labor relations at Clark University.   Today, however, with a sluggish economy in which jobs are hard to come by, Chiason says strikes have necessarily taken on a different role: more about public relations, less about any real attempt by employees to pressure a company by withholding their labor.    “It's a question of drawing public attention,” he says. “The whole concept is to embarrass the employer as a low-wage, poor working condition employer—to go after the consumer who really holds the decision making power, and to tell the consumers that this is not a good place to patronize because they don’t pay workers well.”    In other words, in today’s economy, the number of low-paid retail workers on a picket line isn’t really the point. What matters is whether the signs they’re holding resonate with the shoppers walking by.   

What the VA and the Cleveland Clinic have in common

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 13:32

One of the country’s top hospital executives may be on the short-list to become the next secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Toby Cosgrove could replace Eric Shinseki, after Shinseki resigned over veterans waiting prolonged periods of time for an appointment and staff covering that up.

If there’s one thing the VA needs to do right now, it’s figure out how to make sure patients are getting the right care in the right place at the right time.

On paper Cosgrove’s resume seems ideal.

He’s a veteran, a successful surgeon and is seen as one of the few hospital executives in the country who has improved patient care and controlled healthcare costs.

Greg Anrig with the left-leaning Century Foundation says he thinks Cosgrove could hit the ground running because the VA and the Cleveland Clinic are similar creatures.

“They are team focused. They are focused on data, they are oriented on using technology effectively,” he says.

While this patient scandal has certainly marred the VA’s reputation, the VA has a sturdy track record delivering quality care that’s often similar to -- or better than -- what can be found in the private sector.

But one certain challenge ahead is addressing high patient demand in areas with sizeable veteran populations.

Cosgrove has shown he knows how to treat patients in hospitals when they need it, and elsewhere when they don’t.

The VA could likely benefit from that kind of patient management.

Some in the healthcare world believe if Cosgrove becomes the next secretary – and is successful - his reforms could influence hospitals around the nation.

Latest Sexual Assault In India Underscores U.N. Chief's Call For Action

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 13:21

As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demands a global end to violence against women, a 35-year-old is molested and shot in front of her husband and five children in India's northeast.

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Doctors Hesitate To Ask Heart Patients About End-Of-Life Plans

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 13:05

Most people diagnosed with heart failure die within five years, yet doctors often don't ask them about how they want to prepare for death, a study finds. They cited lack of confidence as one reason.

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Despite Video Of Bergdahl's Release, Questions Dog His Capture

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:55

Questions surround Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's initial disappearance. Bergdahl has said he was captured by the Taliban while lagging behind on a patrol, but many wonder whether he planned to desert.

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Ex-Ambassador To Syria: Civil War Could Drag On For Years

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:51

Robert Ford resigned as U.S. ambassador to Syria earlier this year. He tells NPR's Robert Siegel that it became impossible for him to defend the Obama administration's policies in the country.

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NFL Says When It Comes To Super Bowl 50, 'L' Is For Losers

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:47

The football league says the 2016 championship will depart from tradition by not using the Roman numeral L (50) because it doesn't work well on the logo.

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Privacy Law Frustrates Parents Of Mentally Ill Adult Children

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:41

Even if parents are providing health insurance, they often can't find out what's happening when their adult children suffer from severe mental illness.

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Women 'Complain A Lot, Interrupt,' Developer Says At Conference

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:18

At a tech conference in Berlin, a developer compared a software plug-in framework to his girlfriend, saying she "complains, interrupts" and "doesn't play well with others."

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In Mississippi, A Heated Senate Primary Spills Into Runoff

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:08

In one of the country's most competitive primaries, incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran and Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel appear headed for a runoff.

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Chinese Authorities Ensure Tiananmen Anniversary Passes Quietly

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:08

Twenty-five years ago, Chinese soldiers backed by tanks cracked down on protesters, shooting hundreds and possibly thousands of unarmed civilians in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The Chinese mourned victims in private Wednesday, as Tiananmen Square evinced a heavy security presence.

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After State Lawmaker Comes Out, Campaign Becomes Battle Of Write-ins

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:08

Mike Fleck, who was re-elected three times before he came out as gay in 2012, lost the Republican state house primary to a write-in candidate. So he won as a write-in on the Democratic ballot instead.

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New Pollution Rules Leave Utilities Frustrated, As Details Remain Up In Air

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:08

The Obama administration has proposed rules for limiting greenhouse gases, but many of the details must still be set by states, leaving utilities unsure about specifics they'll be expected to achieve.

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In Keynote Speech, Obama Marks A Quarter-Century Of Polish Democracy

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:08

President Obama is delivering the keynote address of his current trip to Europe in Poland. Earlier in the day, Obama is meeting with the president-elect of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko.

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Prisoner Swap Ignites Political Firestorm On The Hill

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 12:08

Everything the Obama administration touches seems to set off a political firestorm. The latest involves Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and the prisoner exchange that led to his release by the Taliban.

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VA Health Care's Chronic Ailments: Long Waits And Red Tape

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 11:34

Problems at the VA are not new; the system has struggled for years to deliver health care in a timely manner. Most of those enduring long waits are older vets from Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

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1 Baby, 3 Parents: Scientists Say Due Date Is In Two Years

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 11:27

A medical procedure uses material from three people to target problems in mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles that have their own DNA.

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The student-debt burden: online vs traditional schools

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 11:05

There were dueling Congressional hearings on student loans today.

The Senate Banking and Budget committees talked about what a trillion dollars in student-loan debt might mean for the economy.

Our colleague, Sally Herships reported on legislation proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; it would allow students to refinance their federal student loans. 

We thought we’d compare the debt load for students who graduated from exclusively online program, to the debt load for students whose programs were not entirely online.  Financial-aid expert Mark Kantrowitz ran the numbers for us, based on data from  the 2011-2012 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS).

&nbsp Average debt at graduation, by program type | Create Infographics
  Percentage of students graduating with debt, by program type | Create Infographics  
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