You may wonder why congressmen and senators seem to be so out of touch with the reality that middle and lower class Citizens face each and every day. In fact, you may wonder why they seem to completely ignore any message you try to get to them via email, phone calls, or even smoke signals. Nothing seems to work.
From what I observe of Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), she is a recluse to the middle and lower classes. I have never seen her do a "town hall meeting" like Congressman Jay Inslee frequently does. I also find that when she visits a city within Washington State, she is more likely to be visiting with the Chamber of Commerce than a local labor council.
That is why I jumped at the chance to go to a "round table discussion" that she held Friday at 3:30pm in the super progressive town of Bellingham. One of her staffers invited the Snohomish County Labor Council, for which I am a delegate. The invitation was forwarded out to all the delegates of the council. The title of this round table discussion is "Jobs for Us, Jobs for Our Kids". "Wow", I thought, "this is a very grass roots sounding title, and she wants to hear from unions." What I found however, is that it was very short notice for working folk. It is a long drive for most people to Bellingham. It is around a 2 hour drive from Seattle. You had to be very determined in order to go to this thing, and you had to have some amount of flexibility from work. Now that I think about it, I can see where this inconvenience for the common folk may have been a convenience for Cantwell.
Well, I felt that it was a great opportunity to be heard. And, being a true progressive, I felt I had to give her the benefit of a doubt. Cantwell is known in the technology worker circles as a senator who is contributing to the destruction of jobs and careers in the high-tech industry. This is due to her no holds barred support for unlimited VISAs for foreign workers to take our jobs here in the U.S. You may think highly of her for fighting to get the Air Force contract to build new refueling tankers away from Airbus and back into Boeing's hands. But, after attending this round table discussion, I am convinced that she is doing it more for the CEO of Boeing than for the Boeing workers.
I arrived at the Bellingham Technical College where this round table discussion was to occur. In the lobby, I found that they already had a name tag for me. I was glad to see that I had a name tag because they hadn't confirmed the RSVP email that I had sent. Glancing in the room, I noticed that there were name cards on the tables in the middle of the room that were arranged into a large rectangle to seat about 25-30 people. I said "oh, seating is assigned"? For which I got the reply "only for those who are sitting at the Table, others can sit in the chairs that are arranged against the wall". I proceeded into the room. I was early so I walked around the arranged tables and read all the name cards. There was Cantwell's card, and a card for her local staffer. There was one card for some guy from a local blue-collar union (sorry, I know I should have taken down names). The rest were for CEOs of local companies and for Presidents of various Washington universities and colleges. No, Bill Gates wasn't there. He always cuts out the middle man and goes to DC himself. Hmmm. I didn't see my name on any of those cards, so I sat in one of the chairs that were arranged in rows lining the room.
All the Presidents and CEOs showed up wearing suits and then Cantwell showed up, shaking hands with everyone, including the commoners, who did not have name cards on the table. I was one of the commoners, and yes I got to shake her hand (Woo Hoo). When the meeting started, it was quickly announced that all the suits at the table would get a turn to speak, while the commoners were there to be the "audience", and yes, they did say "audience", like we were there for a Pacific Northwest Navy Band Concert. If I wanted to be part of an 'audience', I would have been in downtown Seattle at the Paramount Theatre seeing "Mamma Mia!" (Oh darn, I missed it again! Maybe next year). It was also announced that at the end of the session, they would set some time aside to take "a couple questions from the audience". I'm thinking "oh great, I brought charts, printouts, and facts with me because I was going to participate in the round table, not to be the 'audience'". At this point, I also began to wonder about the title of the discussion, "Jobs for Us, Jobs for Our Kids". I thought, "Wait a minute, all these CEOs and Presidents have jobs, and I am sure their kids will never be in want of a job". There is something fishy going on here. I thought we would discuss how to make more jobs available for us, the commoners, and for our kids. I thought we would be talking about jobs that may or may not be available to me, and jobs that may or may not be available for my kids. And, being a true progressive, I once again felt betrayed for giving her that benefit of a doubt that I had mentioned earlier. I have to say, she looked very comfortable sitting at that table with all those CEOs and Presidents. They are her peeps.
So after those announcements, it was on with the show, and they didn't even serve popcorn. Well, they did serve coffee and cookies, so it wasn't all bad. The CEOs started first. One of the first things that many of the CEOs did was to thank Cantwell for everything she has done for labor. Ummm, wait a minute. CEOs thanking her for what she has done for labor? That can't be good. I took a quick look out a nearby window to see if any of the birds outside were flying backwards.
The CEOs continued on by talking about their corporate problems. They were all talking about how business has never been better, yet they cannot find enough skilled labor to hire. One of the CEOs there was from a company that builds very large catamarans, 50 to 100 foot boats he said. I am sure I will never be buying one of his boats unless somehow my salary is more than quadrupled some day. He talked about how "his company was full of gray hairs". He "tries to keep his employees as long as possible, but he can't find replacements with the right skills." Another common theme was that "it was too expensive for the companies to train people for the jobs".
Let me give you a side note as to what is going on here. Any real economist will tell you that the "Law of Supply and Demand" applies to many other things besides products. The law states, from Economics 101, that the price will go up for a product if demand rises or supply falls, or the price will fall for the product if the demand falls or the supply increases. For instance, the oil companies frequently and artificially lower the supply of oil in order to increase prices to gouge us in order to make higher profits. Of course eventually, there will be a real shortage of oil, but by then most of us will be breathing with artificial lungs and will have adopted our very own polar bear in order to keep the species alive.
The "Supply and Demand" law also applies to jobs and wages. A higher demand and a lower supply of workers will result in higher salaries. This is a great thing because this situation corrects itself. The higher wages will attract new workers, because it will actually be worth it to them to train themselves for these jobs. Conversely, lower demand and a higher supply of workers will lower salaries. Naturally, people will leave this work force and seek out other careers, so the situation corrects itself again. That is why when the government artificially floods the high-tech market with cheaper foreign labor, you will see less Americans going into debt to get an engineering degree.
This law also applies when it comes to productivity and wages. Productivity is the "product" and wages represent the demand. In other words, a healthy economy needs to keep a good balance between productivity and wages; wages need to increase with increases in productivity. Otherwise we would have a lot of productivity (products and services) with no demand for that productivity. According to these real economists, productivity has been increasing since 1980 with no real increase in wages. How can this be? The answer is that demand is being created through debt. That is why we are having so many economic problems today. To really fix this problem we need to increase everyone's wages. However, the powers that be right now, along with the corporate protectionists (also known as 'Free' Traders, people such as Greenspan), do not want to increase wages. They just want to keep raising the debt, including the debt that the government carries as well as the debt that Americans are saddled with.
So, back to the round table discussion. The CEOs want to hire already skilled workers, because they don't want to spend money to train anyone, and they don't want to offer higher wages to naturally attract new self-trained workers. Put another way, they do not want to hire already skilled workers at higher salaries. This results in quite a quandary for them, and it leaves us, the commoners, in debt with not much to hope for.
Another CEO I found particularly interesting there was the CEO of a local oil refinery. He too was talking about how great business was. We have the Bush administration and his oil cronies to thank for that. He also joined the chorus complaining about not finding any skilled workers.
Then, later in the CEO discussions came the kicker. They talked about resorting to immigration for the solution. They also talked about all the "skilled workers" in the area that they couldn't hire because they didn't speak English. They reached out across the table to the college Presidents asking them to reach out to these non-English speaking communities and teach them English. Their hunger for cheap labor was really showing then.
The one blue-collar union guy at the Table got to speak and he actually brought up a very good point. He said he was dissapointed that the only informational brochures that the kids bring home from school are brochures for colleges. He said there needs to be more information given out at schools about trades and getting involved in apprenticeships. This was the best thing that I heard coming from the "Table of the Constituents that Matter".
When it came time for all the college presidents to talk, it was all about their funding being cut and financial aid being cut. They also talked about a problem with students having to live in their cars on campus grounds. It's no wonder, if you are not rich, you have to get into huge amounts of debt to earn a degree. I worked as an adjunct lecturer for a while at one of these local technical colleges. The college paid me a pittance to teach baccalaureate level courses in computer and network security. I'm serious; I could have made more working part time as a cashier somewhere. Yet they charged the students thousands of dollars each for the class. Where was all that money going? I don't know, but I do know that I wasn't seeing any of it and it certainly didn't go into any decent lab equipment.
After listening to all the whining from the "Table of the Super Constituents", it finally came down to a "quick question and answer session" with the "audience". They had a microphone set up and it was obvious that all they were expecting was a couple timid members of the "audience" to come up and ask some easy naive questions. Just about half of the audience got up and raced to get in line at the microphone. There was an audible gasp emanating from the "Table of the Business Elite".
I was fourth in line. I can't remember what the first 3 had talked about, probably because I was trying to mentally prepare to do my bit. I knew I wasn't going to have a lot of time, and with what I had to say, I knew I was going to be the "wet smelly dog in the room". I knew I had to get their attention and trust first before I did my bit and I had to do it quickly. When it was my turn at the microphone, I introduced myself, explained that I was a software engineer with a Master of Information Systems Management degree. I then remarked, addressing those at the Table, "I feel like I should have brought you all copies of my resume." Laughter came rolling from the "Table of the Congressional Influencers". I gave a quick plug for my 13 year old son. Telling them about his programming robotics and how he is going to compete at the FIRST Lego competition in Atlanta in April. I also told them that his younger 8 year old brother is not far behind, because he is developing his own games on the computer. With interests peeked, I then bring out my chart that I made showing what happened to software engineering salaries over the past few years. You can see the chart here: Software Engineering Salary Survey. I explained that dropping salaries means that there is more supply than demand for software engineers. I mentioned that there are many independent studies that show there is no shortage of technology workers. I also told them about the DOL Strategy Plan that anyone can download from the DOL site that states that it is OK to replace American workers with foreign workers on H-1B VISAs. I was hearing gasps from all over the room, including from those waiting in line behind me. I then said that they should not be talking about increasing the VISA cap in DC. Cantwell decided it was a good time to cut me off and said that she did not agree. She threw out some bogus numbers saying that there were 300,000 jobs to fill each year and that the number of college graduates plus the foreign VISAs were still under that amount. She also started throwing out company names like Google, etc., all alleged to be started by foreigners in the U.S., saying that "if it wasn't for foreigners coming to our country to start these companies, these companies would have been created in China or elsewhere". Yes, thank God for those foreigners starting businesses for us here in the U.S. Heaven knows we Americans can't do it ourselves (dripping sarcasm intentional).
She ended my time at the microphone by telling me to send her the statistics that I had. She said she "would be more than happy to be proven wrong". (yeah, right).
Interestingly, 5th in line was a blind woman representing those with disabilities in the state. It played right into what I was saying. She said that there are many disabled people in Washington State who are very highly qualified, and yet they are not getting any jobs. She claimed that the disabled have an unemployment rate of 70%. I believe it. Discrimination is high right now. If you are disabled, or over 40, it is tough to get a full-time permanent job with benefits.
Wake up Washington. Stop re-electing these corporate-centric politicians. They are not good for the people.