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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fast-Food Giants Make Billions While Their Workers Use Billions in Welfare Benefits

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

Wages at America’s fast-food chains are so low that millions of employees have been receiving at least $7 billion a year in welfare benefits between 2007 and 2011, according to a new study by University of California and University of Illinois labor economists.

“Our research estimates the public cost of low wages—low wage jobs in the fast food industry,” said Ken Jacobs, chair of the U.C. Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. “We specifically focus on the core, frontline fast-food workforce. These are people you are most likely to see when you walk into a fast-food restaurant.”  

“The median wage for these workers is $8.65 an hour,” Jacobs said Tuesday. “Only 13 percent have health benefits through their employer. The combination of low wages, meager benefits and often part-time hours means that many of the families of fast-food workers must rely on taxpayer-funded safety net programs to make ends meet.” 
But the billions in taxpayer subsidies is only half of the story, the labor economists said, because a companion report, also released Tuesday, found that the 10 largest fast-food chains made more than $15 billion in profits and shareholder give-backs in 2012—revealing the industry could afford to pay living wages. 

The 10 biggest chains earned $7.44 billion in profits in 2012, National Employment Law Project (NELP) found. The 10 chains, with 2.25 million workers, account for “nearly 60 percent, or $3.8 billion, of the almost $7 billion in public costs associated with their low-wage, no-benefit business model,” it said. These corporate-run franchises granted “more than $53 million in compensation to their highest-paid executives and an additional $7.7 billion in dividends and buybacks to shareholders.” 

The 10 largest fast-food chains are McDonald’s, Yum Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC), Subway, Burger King, Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dairy Queen, Little Cesar’s, Sonic, and Domino’s.

McDonald’s, with slightly more than 700,000 workers in the U.S., was the fast-food giant costing taxpayers the most, with employees collecting $1.2 billion in public assistance in four federal-state programs: Medicaid/CHIP, which is healthcare for households making below the poverty line; the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps and TANF, or aid to needy families. The economists did not count welfare benefits like housing subsidies, meaning the total public cost is larger than what it reported, its authors said.

The findings in two reports were based on household income data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, which is one of the most detailed confidential surveys conducted by the government, and Wall Street earnings reports. It was funded byFast Food Forward, a national campaign seeking $15 an hour in wages and benefits such as paid sick leave.  

The twin reports are part of a shaming campaign to pressure the fast-food industry to fill in the gap between wages and benefits that hover above the legal minimum wage, but are not living wages. They were summarized in a media conference call where several fast food workers described the impact of low wages and no benefits on their lives.

“I don’t expect to get rich,” said Willietta Dukes, a 40-year-old North Carolina Burger King worker who receives food stamps. “But why can’t we pay our bills?”

“The CEO makes more in a day than I make in a year,” said Devonte Yates, a Milwaukee McDonald’s worker who receives food stamps and said he has no expectation that he will be given employee benefits such as healthcare. “They can afford to pay their workers more. We work hard. We should be able to live simply and have basic necessities.”

The UC Berkeley/University of Illinois study makes a strong case that fast-food jobs are possibly the worst in America, based on the percentage of workers who turn to a mix of state and federal welfare programs to make ends meet and raise their children.
“More than half (52 percent) of the families of front-line fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public programs, compared to 25 percent of the workforce as a whole,” the academics’ report said, which found that 26 percent of these workers were parents; and 42 percent were older than 18. The rest were younger teenagers not living on their own.

Fast-food workers with families could not escape the cycle of poverty, the report said.
“One in five families with a member holding a fast-food job has an income below the poverty line, and 43 percent have an income two times the federal poverty level or less,” it said. “Even full-time hours are not enough to compensate for low wages. The families of more than half of the fast-food workers employed 40 or more hours per week are enrolled in public assistance programs.”

Burger King worker Willietta Dukes said she was proud of doing her job well and said the industry’s wages have fallen over time.

“I am good at what I do," she said, saying she raised two children working at fast-food chains for 20 years. “It hasn’t always been this way.”

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ray Kelly aka “The Hatchet Man” -- Bad Choice for Homeland Security from An Insider

Sep. 24, 2013

By Cathy Harris, Former Customs Whistleblower

Ray Kelly, New York Police Commissioner, is a top contender for the position of the Secretary of Homeland Security. However, many critics are calling upon the President through circulated petitions and contacts through their legislators for the President to reconsider appointing Kelly to such an important position.

Kelly has a long history of allowing racial profiling to take place against minorities. Even in New York where racial profiling has always been a hot button issue, Kelly has made statements in the past that minorities especially African Americans commit more crimes, therefore, they need to be stopped and frisked more often than anyone else. These types of practices and policies have allowed New York police departments to stop and frisk African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities at a disproportionate rate over the years.

As a former U.S. Customs Inspector, now called Customs and Border Protection Officer (, I personally watched Ray Kelly take over the U.S. Customs Service as the Customs Commissioner from 1998-2001. They sent Ray Kelly into the U.S. Customs Service to stop the racial profiling of African American travelers especially black women who were undergoing abusive and invasive pat-downs and strip-searches as they traveled back into this country (C-span clip

After forming my own organization, “Customs Employees Against Discrimination Association (CEADA),” to monitor what was happening in the agency against employees and travelers, I blew the whistle in 1998 “The Cathy Harris Story” ( and wrote the book “Flying While Black: A Whistleblower’s Story.”  The book has been revised into two books “The Cathy Harris Story: A Whistleblower’s Victorious Journey to Justice” (available as paperback and e-book at and “The Failure of Homeland In-Security: The Government’s Dirty Little Secrets from an Insider” (available as e-book only).

Other steps I took to blow the whistle besides forming my own organization was I went to the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) who published articles every 2 weeks to 200 black newspapers and a media attorney who gave my story to a Fox 5 Investigative News Team in Atlanta, who later won the Peabody Award for my story “Singled Out by U.S. Customs.”

In Chicago, Attorney Ed Fox filed an historic class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Customs Service when over 1300 black women international travelers -- judges, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. and other professional women said they were subjects of U.S. Customs intrusive searches. The lawsuit resulted in a 2 million dollar settlement with only 87 of the women being able to join because of the statute of limitations.

A March 2000 General Accounting Office ( report proved that the U.S. Customs Service purposely went after black women international travelers and subjected them to these  humiliating and demeaning examinations. Not only were black women international travelers forced to strip naked in Customs search rooms but they were taken to hospitals, even when pregnant, and shackled to hospital beds for up to 4 days by U.S. Customs Inspectors.

They were then forced to drink a laxative “go litely,” even when pregnant. The Customs Service tried to say these women were drug mules bringing drugs into the country, but we found out later that all the searches and detentions were conducted so that U.S. Customs Inspectors could make more overtime money especially supervisors even though many were already making over $120,000 a year.

Instead of stopping the racial profiling, these are just some of the steps Ray Kelly took as Customs Commissioner:

  • He changed the word “strip-search” to “body-search” in the Personal Search Handbook to lessen the effect of the searches.
  • He fired over 100 whistleblowers including GS-12 Supervisors from Miami and was even called “The Hatchet Man” because he axed so many employees.
  • He told high-ranking managers in a meeting in DC (Headquarters) to go after anyone that files an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint and at that time I had 6 pending EEO complaints.  So anytime anyone would file a complaint, their names went on a "blacklist" or "hit list" to be forced out of the agency.
  • Kelly created a new harsh Table of Offenses which violated the rights of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers. Many CBP Officers who were prior law enforcement stated that these new harsh Table of Offenses were for law enforcement not CBP Officers. CBP Officers are not law enforcement! They do not have 20 year retirement; 24 hour gun-carry; 24 hour protection; or receive 25% extra pay.
  • Disciplinary Review Boards (DRBs) were introduced by Kelly and have continued to violate DHS employees. According to many former employees and whistleblowers, all the employees who were terminated because of these boards should be brought back to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or compensated for wrongful terminations.

Managers used the personnel system to go after good, hard-working employees by falsely disciplining them. First time offenses are now consisting of suspensions. Second offenses or another suspension means terminations. In the past first time offenses called for oral or written reprimands.

Positive changes that took place during Kelly reign because of whistleblowers and traveler’s complaints include:

  • The entire Personnel Search Handbook was rewritten several times.
  • Two bills were introduced to protect international travelers “The Reasonable Search Standards Act” by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) (1999 & 2001) and the “Civil Rights for International Travelers Act” by Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) (1999 & 2001).
  • New and updated brochures, signs and other informational material including the Customs declaration were rewritten and reproduced.
  • The decision to conduct a personal search of a passenger must now be decided by a supervisor rather than a non-supervisory Officer, including a brand new Officer.
  • The Customs Managers at the GS-14 or GS-15 levels must now approve all x-ray examinations or detentions of a passenger at hospitals.
  • If a personal search of an individual lasts longer than two hours, a Customs supervisor will make a phone call to a person of the passenger’s choice.
  • Customs now requires that all Secondary Data collections include race.
  • CBP Officers are now wearing name tags so they can be easily identified for complaint letters.
  • Body scan machines can now take the place of pat-down inspections.

My organization, CEADA, which has been abolished, ultimate goals were to form “Citizen Review Boards” which should look at the following actions:

  • Urge the Senate and Congress to take immediate action and order GAO investigations and conduct hearings into the internal practices of the agency especially the new harsh Table of Offenses under DHS.
  • Urge legislators to hire sociologists and psychologists to study the personal search procedures as suggested by the June 2000 Independent Panel Report.
  • Urge legislators to hire outside contract workers to give mandatory training (integrity, sensitivity, cultural diversity, EEO Awareness - Sexual Harassment, Sexism, Sex and Race Discrimination) as suggested by the 2000 Independent Panel Report.
  • Ensure minority female supervisors (front-line, first-line) are recruited throughout the agency.
  • Review body scanner machines which are showing the private parts of travelers and are only manned by supervisors which are usually males.
  • Ensure that the two hour rule is enforced giving travelers the right to contact a person of their choosing after they have been escorted into search rooms.
  • Form an independent panel to delete outdated and illegal records from government computers (blacklists).
  • Rehire and compensate all former Customs employees that were terminated under the reign of Customs Commissioner Ray Kelly aka “The Hatchet Man” (over 100 whistleblowers and others).

With the entire nation being in an uproar because of all the spying by NSA, this appointment of Ray Kelly would be extremely bad for the entire nation. If Ray Kelly is appointed, I am pretty sure this country will enter into a total police state. We can’t allow Ray Kelly to take over this important position as the Secretary of Homeland Security so we need to act now before it is too late!

We need everyone to continue to reach out to their legislators from the ground up and reach out to progressive activist and news groups and give your opinions. Let’s use, and other means of communications to voice our opinions and sign the below petitions:

Cathy Harris is a former U.S. Customs Service Whistleblower, Author, Speaker and Coach. She can be reached through her empowerment company, Angels Press, P.O. Box 5288, Atlanta, GA 31107, phone: (770) 873-2072, website:, email: