Unions putting self interest ahead of US economy?


IN FOCUS: Wal-Mart workers wanting to unionize are planning to strike leading up to and on Black Friday weekend over the extended hours

STEVE FORBES: Absolutely. They are still angry they haven't organized Wal-Mart yet. Wal-Mart is responding to competition, Wal-Mart is responding to the needs of customers; that's what you're supposed to do in a free market. No one is forcing people to work at Wal-Mart. So, it's serving customers. Unions don't like the fact that they haven't unionized Wal-Mart.

RICK UNGAR: Let's keep in mind what this is really about. It's really a one day event, so it's probably fairer to categorize it as a protest, a little bit more than a strike. Not about wages, not about benefits it's about working conditions mostly in inland California are where they have had big problems with people working in way overheated warehouses, equipment that is not safe; this is really what this is about. They have got a problem there, and this is what they are trying to do.

ELIZABETH MACDONALD: Wal-Mart is facing a number of protests across the country, not just for overtime; there has been a push to unionize Wal-Mart. The real issue is that Wal-Mart hires a lot of people from the grocery industry where they actually get paid less; they get less in the way of health benefits. That's why you saw Pathmark and Grand Union go out of business or Wynn Dixie or Ames because they weren't running their business models right. Their employers were actually worse served by them than Wal-Mart serves their employees. I'm not advocating for Wal-Mart either way. It's going to be a pipedream to try and unionize Wal-Mart because you have to do it from store to store. It's a big hurdle.

MORGAN BRENNAN: The truth of the matter is, the unions wouldn't be there if there wasn't worker demand for the unions. I think this is about American workers, Rick touched on it, and I'm going to jump right on that. Wal-Mart for years has been rife with allegations. A recent example is out in Illinois where workers filed charges on sexual harassment, working conditions, and unpaid wages. This is an issue we have heard about for years. I think this is just a manifestation of that at a time where it's going to make a dent.

JOHN TAMNY: Businesses are in business to profit. If you hear Morgan and Rick, you'd think Wal-Mart was exploiting their employees. The reality is every time a Wal-Mart opens, there are big lines of people wanting to work there. I think it's the opposite of what they say. They are getting paid double-time and this is just an example of unions, who are increasingly irrelevant in the private sector looking for attention on a day they will get it.

VICTORIA BARRET: I think it's awful, I think shopping on Thanksgiving sounds awful. The issue here is that we have an awful labor market so although these workers maybe offered bonus time, double pay, there is not a lot of choice in the labor market. They might not be forced to do this but essentially they are because they can't get jobs elsewhere. That's the real shame here and that's why the unions are getting excited for potentially finding new allies.

Companies warning it may have to send jobs overseas if tax hikes are part of fiscal cliff deal

ELIZABETH MACDONALD: The all in tax-rate when you corporate tax rate when you count in state, local and federal is around 60 percent. What's happening is our companies have to compete against companies from Germany or Sweden or Canada where the corporate rate there is 15 percent. Even the president's own jobs council, led by Jeffery Imelt and the economic recovery advisory board led by Paul Volcker, and also Simpson- Bowles said lower the corporate rate. The president has agreed to that too. We rank just above Argentina, Uzbekistan and Chad I think. The problem is, when you have a high tax rate, which invites all sorts of cronyism where congress drills in loopholes to favor their political cronies that donate to them.

MORGAN BRENNAN: I think the tax rate should come down as far as it possibly can. With that said, I don't think that taxes alone are the reason alone that companies are going to offshore jobs in the next year or two. I think we are seeing an interesting trend of companies that are in shoring jobs including Google, General Electric, Ford Motors, Airbus. I think we are going to see more of this regardless of the tax situation. Boston consulting group actually said over the next decade we will see over 5 million manufacturing jobs come back to the states.

STEVE FORBES: Taxes are a cost of doing business. Capital goes where it's welcome. Capital stays where it's well-treated. If the United States becomes hostile towards capital, we may get some things back, but we are not going to get as near the prosperity we should have. Make it friendly to business, and business will respond including businesses that don't even exist today, they'll spring up.

RICK UNGAR: Most of the chatter that I'm hearing out of Washington is focusing more on reducing the corporate tax rates. The president is supporting that idea. I only hear one sector complaining about this and that's the energy sector. They're not worried about their taxes going up, they are worried about their subsidies being cut and they are using it as a piece of blackmail to say ‘hey if you cut our subsidies we are going to move jobs.' Enough already guys, you can afford to do it with a little less subsidies. We are all going to contribute.

MIKE OZANIAN: I think you hit the nail on the head. That's the biggest problem is the repatriation of earnings of U.S. subsidiaries overseas. They are keeping that catch to it. We are one of the few countries that does double taxation of profits. First, they get taxed overseas, and then they tax them again when they get here. Most countries don't do that. That I think is a very serious problem and a job killer here in the United States.

VICTORIA BARRET: The apple example is fascinating because it shows what has evolved in the last decade. This isn't a totally recent phenomenon where you get large companies like Apple doing these artful perfectly legal tax dodges moving headquarters overseas. We have seen something like 50 of large multinational companies that were based in the U.S. years ago no longer based here now. That's purely a tax move. Yet you get medium and small sized businesses, they can't pull of stuff like that. So, we are in a two tier system. It hurts jobs and it hurts business creation.

California city lets voters decide how to spend tax dollars in the budget

VICTORIA BARRET: I know but it's hard because we don't trust our politicians to do the right things because we haven't done the right thing in the past. However I think that is their job, we should hold them accountable, and there should be transparency. What we have seen in the state of California is really a grand experiment in voter democracy. It has failed, we have the highest tax rates in the nation and yet our school funding is bottom of the barrel and yet our schools rank bottom in the nation. This doesn't work, you have to have accountability somewhere and it should be in our elected officials.

RICK UNGAR: I actually agree with Victoria on the point that voter democracy has not paid off in California, but this is a bit different. Look, we are taking a very small part of the city budget. These people aren't going to be making decisions on where to buy their water, and things like that. They are taking a small part of the budget and saying ‘ok voters, you decide what we should do with this if you have a good community project.' I think it's a good experiment. I like the idea of people getting to get together and do something like that.

MIKE OZANIAN: First of all we should give them a lot less of our money. I agree with Victoria I think it would be far too chaotic. It would be like football, everybody in the huddle trying to call the play. You need one person to call it, the person who is elected to be in charge. If you don't what the person in charge is doing, replace him. There are council meetings; there are all sorts of meetings during the course of the month and so forth where people can voice their opinion and speak directly to the local politicians. That's where I think this should be done.

STEVE FORBES: No, and if the citizens want to show that they can do a worse job they should be allowed to do so on a local basis. I think the real referendum should take place, and real voting should take place on big projects, like crony capitalism projects or stadium projects that no one would approve of if it were put on a ballot.

JOHN TAMNY: I used to live in California too although not near Rick. This is what you want. You want the chaos; you want it to be local because if individuals don't like how money is being spent locally it could move next door. The problem now is that so much money is spent on a federal level which essentially imprisons us all under a major spending regime; bring it back to the states and cities so people can make choices.

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