Sunday, September 5, 2010

Here's Your Free-Market at Work

I very much disagreed with Bob Herbert's last op-ed piece. I've said before and say again, the numbers for black folks are no different than any other folks. Our problem is racism, and I refuse to pretend we should be super-human.

But he redeemed himself with this most recent piece. Not to say he knows me or would care what I have to say, but you get my gist:

September 3, 2010
By Bob Herbert

Martha Escobar is staring into the cold, dark, unforgiving eyes of destitution.

Ms. Escobar is one of 16 janitors who were laid off from their jobs at a luxury complex in Los Angeles that houses some of the wealthiest tenants imaginable. JPMorgan Asset Management, a unit of the vast JPMorgan Chase empire, manages an intricate investment web that owns the buildings. The layoffs were ordered by a maintenance contractor, ABM Industries.

The Century Plaza Towers, which is part of the complex, crows on its Web site that it has “one of the most prestigious tenant rosters in the country, which includes some of America’s most prominent business leaders.” The janitors were required to keep things pristine for those prominent business leaders, who hardly ever noticed them.

They also did the mopping and scrubbing at 2000 Avenue of the Stars, which also is part of the complex and is home to an array of glittering businesses, including the Creative Artists Agency, an entertainment and sports powerhouse. The janitors were let go a few weeks ago, and, given the current job market, they have not been able to do much since then but suffer with anxiety.

Ms. Escobar is 41 years old and has two daughters, 14 and 10. She told me, through an interpreter, that she had enough money to pay September’s rent but not October’s. She has no savings. School is about to start, but she has no idea how she will pay for her girls’ uniforms.

“I have not been able to find another job,” she said.

What’s different about these layoffs is that the janitors are not going quietly. They have been vigorously protesting the callousness of their treatment — the way the rich people who employed them for the munificent sum of $13.50 an hour found it so easy to dump them on the scrap heap with the rest of America’s unemployed millions.

The janitors have marched and fasted outside the buildings they once cleaned. And Ms. Escobar and another laid-off janitor, Elba Polanco, were brought to New York City last week by the Service Employees International Union, which represents them, to bring their plight to the attention of Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase. Mr. Dimon has made a fabulous living by, among other things, borrowing enormous sums of money to buy companies and then hurling people out of work.

In the real world of America’s increasingly two-tiered society, you have to laugh at the idea of these janitors trying to get the ear of Jamie Dimon, who counts his wealth by the hundreds of millions. He is royalty, and they are from the peasant class. Mr. Dimon’s universe is orders of magnitude different from the one that Martha Escobar is scrambling around in. He talks to the Geithners and Bernankes and Larry Summerses of the world. The paycheck Ms. Escobar used to get wouldn’t cover Jamie Dimon’s dinner tab.

While Ms. Escobar and her former co-workers are being scorched by the flames of unemployment, JPMorgan Chase’s second-quarter profit this year — profit, mind you — was $4.8 billion. (It got some help in the dark days of 2008 in the form of a $25 billion bailout from the federal government, but that has all been paid back.)

Ms. Escobar and Ms. Polanco spent Thursday trying to secure an audience with Mr. Dimon. They wanted to ask if there was any chance that they and at least some of their former co-workers could be rehired. Members of the clergy and a number of other supporters were with them when they showed up at the JPMorgan Chase headquarters at 270 Park Ave.

The palace guards asked if they had an appointment. They knew very well that an appointment was an impossibility. Ms. Escobar and Ms. Polanco were janitors. They were told to go away. They asked if they could leave some reading material for Mr. Dimon. Absolutely, the guards said. Leave whatever you’d like.

I called JPMorgan Chase to ask why the janitors had been fired and if the company was open to negotiations that could result in rehires. The response was cold, cold, cold. A spokesperson said JPMorgan Chase has nothing to do with the matter. “It’s a dispute between a vendor and its employees,” he said.

When I asked if he had any response to the protests, or the plight of the workers, or their effort to get their jobs back, he said, “The comments I gave you pretty much are a response.”

ABM Industries tried mightily not to respond at all, but when pressed, issued a statement through a public relations firm, Kekst and Company, saying discussions have been held with union officials regarding the workers. The company would not say if any could be rehired or why they were fired in the first place.
You know, not that I don't want as many people employed as possible - I'm a full employment proponent. That said, I don't understand JPMorgan Chase can afford to hire ABM Industries, who can afford to hire Kekst and Company; yet, no one, it seems, can "afford" to put these janitors back to work.

I don't think I can overemphasize this: the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963) was a protest to just this sort of crass treatment of wage-earners.


  1. They can't *afford* to put the janitors to work because doing so would mean that they would *lose* money out of their bubble. In this way, they are no different from Cracked the Magazine's version of Iron Man; they would spend $3 million to avoid paying a janitor $300.


This isn't too complicated. If you disagree with me, I'm more than happy to have an honest discussion. I'm quite open to learning new facts and ideas. I'm dying for a conservative to explain their ideas in a sensible way.

But, I do have rules, and they also apply to those who agree with me. They just get the benefit of my already knowing the fact they'll be referring to.

So, here're the comment thread rules:

1 - Use facts.
2 - Refer to policy.
3 - Don't rely on theories and conjectures. Show me how, for example, a public health insurance option will lead to "rationing" of health care.
4 - No unfounded attacks on any entity.

If you break those rules, I will edit your comment to my own whimsical satisfaction.

Lastly, perhaps most importantly, I'm not going to entertain too much pro-white/racism-denying discussion. I want this to be a space to discuss strategies to fight racism, not space where I have to fight racism. I want anti-racists to be able to come here for a mental respite. If what you're interested in doing is attempting to demonstrate the fallacy of anti-racism by repeating the same ole comments and questions and accusations we hear all the time, please do that somewhere else.

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But Don't Jack My Genuis