Erika Eichelberger

Erika Eichelberger

Reporter

Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She has also written for The NationThe Brooklyn Rail, and TomDispatch. Email her at eeichelberger [at] motherjones [dot] com. 

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Fast-Food Workers Strike in 7 Cities to Demand Higher Wages

| Mon Jul. 29, 2013 8:54 AM PDT

In a major address at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., last week, President Barack Obama launched a push to "deliver on behalf of those people that are still struggling" in this recovering economy. Some of his priorities include investing in green jobs, focusing on education and training, and raising the minimum wage. On Monday, in what will likely be the largest fast-food strike in US history, workers in seven cities are lending him a hand in the effort by walking off the job to demand higher wages.

Thousands of fast-food workers in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Flint, Mich., will strike at joints like McDonald's and Wendy's, calling for a wage increase to $15 an hour and the right to join a union without retaliation. (Although all American workers are legally allowed to join unions, many who try to organize are fired or punished with reduced hours.)

Many fast-food workers are paid at, or just above, the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25, though it's higher in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Fast-food wages have fallen 36 cents an hour since 2010, even as the industry has raked in record profits.

This is part of an economy-wide problem; the bottom 20 percent of American workers—some 28 million employees—earn less than $9.89 an hour, or $20,570 a year for a full-time employee. Their income fell five percent between 2006 and 2012. Meanwhile, average pay for chief executives at the country's top corporations leaped 16 percent last year, averaging $15.1 million, the New York Times reports.

The Times has a great chart showing what low-wage America looks like. Here are the demographics of the 21 million workers who make between $7.25 and $10 an hour:

The mobilization of fast-food workers is a pretty new thing, because the industry has traditionally had high turnover. But the slow economic recovery, which has been characterized by growth in mostly low-wage service sector jobs, has resulted in a growing population of adult fast-food workers who can't find other work.

Fast-food workers can work in the industry for years without more than a dollar or two raise. In his story on the strikes at Salon Monday, Josh Eidelson points to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project that explains why: "Opportunities for advancement in the fast food industry are significantly limited compared to other industries," the report says. "[O]nly 2.2 percent of jobs in the fast food industry are managerial, professional, or technical occupations, compared with 31 percent of jobs in the overall US economy."

The strikes today follow waves of fast-food worker strikes across the country this past spring and last fall. And they are part of a string of recent strikes in other industries too. In recent weeks, federally-contracted workers in Washington walked off their jobs; and there has been growing worker discontent at Walmart over the past year.

As City University of New York labor expert Ruth Milkman told Eidelson of the Monday strikes, "As a consciousness-raising strategy for the United States, it’s really great."

Will Russian Hackers Cause the Next Financial Crisis?

| Fri Jul. 26, 2013 7:48 AM PDT

The US brought criminal charges Thursday against a gang of Russian and Ukrainian programmers in what is the biggest hacking case yet in the United States. The men were indicted for a long-running scheme of stealing and selling 160 million credit card numbers from more than a dozen big American companies. But the case has bigger implications, according to a story in the New York Times today. One of the men was also able to hack into the servers of the Nasdaq stock exchange, raising fears among US and international authorities that the next financial crisis could be caused by rogue programmers.

One of the Russian men, Aleksandr Kalinin, was also charged Thursday in a separate case with having gained access to Nasdaq servers for two years between 2007 and 2010. The indictment reveals that Kalinin, who also went by the names Grig and Tempo, had access to an unknown amount of information on a bunch of Nasdaq servers, where he was able to enter commands to steal, change, or delete data, and at certain points could even perform systems administrator functions. According to the Times, federal prosecutors, international banking regulators, the FBI, and the financial industry are all worried that next time this happens hackers could gain access to even more tightly secured trading platforms and disrupt the financial system.

From the Times:

While Mr. Kalinin never penetrated the main servers supporting Nasdaq’s trading operations—and appears to have caused limited damage at Nasdaq—the attack raised the prospect that hackers could be getting closer to the infrastructure that supports billions of dollars of trades each hour.

"As today's allegations make clear, cybercriminals are determined to prey not only on individual bank accounts, but on the financial system itself," Preet Bharara, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in announcing the case.

It is a pivotal moment, just a week after a report from the World Federation of Exchanges and an international group of regulators warned about the vulnerability of exchanges to cybercrime. The report said that hackers were shifting their focus away from stealing money and toward more "destabilizing aims."

In a survey conducted for the report, 89 percent of the world's exchanges said that hacking posed a "systemic risk" to global financial markets...

At a Senate hearing on cybersecurity on Thursday, a representative of several financial industry groups, Mark Clancy, said that "for the financial services industry, cyberthreats are a constant reality and a potential systemic risk to the industry."

The World Federation of Exchanges (WFE) report found that 53 percent of all stock exchanges had experienced a cyberattack in the past year.

My colleague Nick Baumann has reported on how mere programming glitches at the mid-sized financial firm Knight Capital a year ago caused losses at the firm of $10 million a minute, and set off turmoil in the stock market. But an intentional attack could have more drastic effects. Baumann pointed to a 2011 article by John Bates, a computer scientist who has designed software behind complicated trading algorithms. "Fears of algorithmic terrorism, where a well-funded criminal or terrorist organization could find a way to cause a major market crisis, are not unfounded," Bates wrote at the time. "This type of scenario could cause chaos for civilization."

4 Takeaways From Obama's Big Speech on the Economy

| Wed Jul. 24, 2013 11:24 AM PDT

President Barack Obama delivered a major address Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, in which he laid out a wide-ranging plan to get the still struggling American economy raring again, and called on Republicans to drop their obstructionism and play along. Here are four takeaways from the speech:

Obama laid out a broad plan to create new jobs and train American workers: Obama said he will push initiatives to help manufacturers bring jobs back to America, and "continue to focus on strategies to create good jobs in wind, solar, and natural gas that are lowering energy costs and dangerous carbon pollution."

The president also emphasized the importance of education and job training in bolstering the American workforce. He said he would continue to push for universal preschool, and added that "federal agencies are moving on my plan to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed internet over the next five years." He also reminded the audience that Congress is closing in on a plan to lower student loan interest rates.

The president will circumvent Congress if he has to: In the face of an obstinate Congress, Obama said that he would reach out to the American people in speeches over the coming weeks to win them over to his side and get them to pressure their representatives. "Over the next several weeks, in towns across this country, I will engage the American people in this debate," he promised. Obama vowed to use his own executive authority, too, to push the economy forward, and said he'd also "pick up the phone and call CEOs, and philanthropists, and college presidents—anybody who can help—and enlist them in our efforts."

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