Tag Archives: business

Democrats’ bill would require presidents, nominees to release tax returns

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is cosponsoring legislation introduced by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden that would require the president-elect to release his recent tax returns in order to give the public honest insight into his actions, values and foreign business dealings.

“President-elect Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns makes it clear he has something to hide from the American people, ” Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said in a statement released on Jan. 4. “The public deserves to know if their president has taken advantage of tax loopholes or put his income or profits in off shore accounts in order to pay a lower tax rate than Wisconsin middle-class families.”

She added, “People also deserve to know how President-elect Trump will personally benefit from foreign deals or his own tax cut proposals. Either President-elect Trump releases his tax returns or he explains to the people he works for why he believes he is entitled to keep secrets.”

The Presidential Tax Transparency Act would require a sitting president to release his or her most recent three years of tax returns to the Office of Government Ethics.

The legislation also would require that within 15 days of becoming the nominee at the party convention, presidential nominees must release their most recent three years of tax returns to the Federal Election Commission.

Should a sitting president or future candidates refuse to comply, the treasury secretary will be required to provide the tax returns directly to the OGE or FEC respectively for public release.

For nearly 40 years — since the Watergate crisis — candidates from major political parties have voluntarily released tax returns during the campaign.

Senate cosponsors of Wyden’s Presidential Tax Transparency Act include Baldwin and  Michael Bennet of Colorado, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

On the Web

Click here for a summary of the bill.

The bill text can be found here.

Globalization took hits in 2016; Will 2017 lead to more?

Globalization, the path that the world economy has largely followed for decades, took some hefty blows in 2016.

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union have raised questions over the future of tariff-free trade and companies’ freedom to move production to lower-cost countries.

Borders are back in vogue. Economic nationalism is paying political dividends.

“We want our country back” was the rallying cry of those backing Brexit, a sound bite that had echoes in Trump’s “Make America great again.”

The rise of Trump and the triumph of Brexit had their roots in the global financial crisis of 2008.

Eight years later, the world economy has still not yet fully gotten past that shock to its confidence — people are nervous, some are angry, and many are seeking novel solutions to their problems. Next year, there’s scope for more uncertainty with elections in France and Germany.

Here’s a look at the year’s top business stories for 2016:

BREXIT SHOCK

In what was a sign of things to come, Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June. The decision came as a surprise — certainly to bookmakers and many pollsters who had consistently given the “remain” side the edge — and means Britain has to redefine itself after 43 years of EU membership. David Cameron resigned as prime minister after the vote and the new Conservative government led by Theresa May is planning to trigger the formal process by which Britain exits the EU early next year. There are many shades of potential Brexit, from an outright divorce that could put up tariffs on goods and services, to a more amicable parting that sees many of the current trading arrangements kept in place. The pound’s fall to a 31-year low below $1.20 at one point is testament to that uncertainty.

 

TRUMP CARD

Pollsters and bookmakers got it wrong again a few months later when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election. Whether he translates his “America First” platform into action following his inauguration in January will help shape the global economy for the next four years at least. Trump has railed against long-standing trading agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, and vowed to punish China for the way it devalues its currency against the dollar and to tax U.S. firms that move jobs overseas. He has also laid out plans to bring America’s creaking infrastructure up to 21st-century standards, a new spending pitch that has the potential to boost jobs — but which could also lay the seeds of higher inflation.

MARKETS MARCH ON

Trump’s victory did not cause the bottom to fall out of the stock market rally that’s been largely in place since 2009, when the world economy started to first claw out of its deepest recession since World War II.

In fact, both the Dow and the S&P 500 rallied to hit a series of record highs. Stocks have also benefited from a raft of big corporate deals this year — executives are seeing takeovers as a fast way to generate growth in what is otherwise a low-growth global economy disrupted by non-stop technological innovations.

Notable deals in 2016 included the announcement of an $85 billion merger of Time Warner and AT&T and the $57 billion takeover of Monsanto by Germany medicine and farm-chemical maker Bayer. The $100 billion takeover of SABMiller by Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch InBev was also completed.

FED FINALLY DELIVERS

During his campaign, Trump criticized Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, saying she should be “ashamed” of the way she’s run policy since taking the helm in 2014. A year ago, the Fed appeared set to follow up its first interest rate hike in nearly a decade with three or four more in 2016. But there was no move until Dec. 14, when the U.S. central bank raised its main interest rate to a range between 0.5 percent and 0.75 percent. Many factors explained its hesitation to raise rates, including unease over the global impact of China’s economic slowdown and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. election. But with the U.S. economy continuing to do better than most developed countries — with unemployment below 5 percent and inflation on the way up — the Fed finally delivered another hike. The markets are predicting another three or four increases next year. Those expectations have helped the dollar rally, especially as other major central banks persevere with super-loose monetary policies to breathe life into their economies.

CHINA’S KEY ROLE

As the world’s second-largest economy, China is playing a bigger role in the functioning of the global economy. Nowhere was that more evident than in the early months of 2016, when jitters over the scale of the slowdown in China caused wild swings in financial markets. Stocks took a pounding while commodities tanked, with oil skidding to 13-year lows, as traders factored in lower demand from resource-hungry China. The slump in commodities weighed heavily on economies like Australia that are big exporters of raw materials. China’s economy is ending the year in relatively good health as authorities try to pivot the economy’s focus from manufacturing to more consumer spending. But Trump’s promises to take a tough stance in trade will be of concern to Beijing.

OPEC TAKES A STAND

For the first time since December 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cut its production levels in 2016. November’s cut, soon followed by more cuts by non-OPEC countries like Russia, helped push oil prices sharply higher. At over $50 a barrel, benchmark New York crude is markedly higher than the near 13-year lows around $30 recorded at the start of 2016, when investors focused on high supply and concerns over an economic slowdown. The oil slump helped put several crude-producing countries into severe recessions, including Brazil and Venezuela, and even saw wealthy Saudi Arabia cut back on spending. The question for 2017 is whether OPEC — and non-OPEC — countries can deliver on their production promises. If they do and higher oil prices stick, that will push up inflation in the global economy.

IT JUST GRATES

One of the major reasons why popular sentiment has turned against governments has been a growing distrust of elites. Perhaps nothing illustrated the issue more than the “Panama Papers,” a leaked trove of data on thousands of offshore accounts that helped the wealthy, the powerful and celebrities shelter their cash from the taxman, often without breaking the law. Critics say these tax schemes are the core of a system that gives an unfair advantage to big corporations and the wealthy. Outrage grew in the U.S. when it was revealed that Wells Fargo employees opened up to 2 million bank and credit card accounts fraudulently to meet sales goals. Bank employees also allegedly moved money between those accounts and created fake email addresses to sign customers up for online banking.

It just grates.

Uber, SpaceX, Tesla, PepsiCo execs join Trump team

Elon Musk, the chairman and chief executive of SpaceX and Tesla, as well as Uber Technologies CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick and PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi have joined President-elect Donald Trump’s advisory council.

Trump’s transition team announced the development on Wednesday.

The group, which includes numerous other top business leaders, aims to give industry input on the private sector to Trump, according to the transition team.

spacex

 

pepsi

 

A look at who was expected to attend a gathering of leaders of some of the largest technology companies at Trump’s New York headquarters on Wednesday.

The session was being billed as an introductory meeting.

Those expected to attend include:

* CEO Larry Page of Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company

* Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook

* Facebook Inc COO Sheryl Sandberg

* Amazon.com Inc CEO Jeff Bezos

* Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk

* Microsoft Corp CEO Satya Nadella

* Oracle Corp CEO Safra Catz

In addition, the technology news website Recode reported that Intel Corp executives were invited. An Intel spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported Palantir Technologies Inc CEO Alex Karp would also attend the meeting.

US court blocks overtime expansion pay rule for 4 million

A federal court this week blocked the start of a rule that would have made an estimated 4 million more American workers eligible for overtime pay heading into the holiday season, dealing a major blow to the Obama administration’s effort to beef up labor laws it said weren’t keeping pace with the times.

The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas granted the nationwide preliminary injunction, saying the Department of Labor’s rule exceeds the authority the agency was delegated by Congress. Overtime changes set to take effect Dec. 1 are now unlikely be in play before vast power shifts to a Donald Trump administration, which has spoken out against Obama-backed government regulation and generally aligns with the business groups that stridently opposed the overtime rule.

“Businesses and state and local governments across the country can breathe a sigh of relief now that this rule has been halted,” said Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who led the coalition of 21 states and governors fighting the rule and has been a frequent critic of what he characterized as Obama administration overreach. “Today’s preliminary injunction reinforces the importance of the rule of law and constitutional government.”

The regulation sought to shrink the so-called “white collar exemption” that allows employers to skip overtime pay for salaried administrative or professional workers who make more than about $23,660 per year. Critics say it’s wrong that some retail and restaurant chains pay low-level managers as little as $25,000 a year and no overtime — even if they work 60 hours a week.

Under the rule, those workers would have been eligible for overtime pay as long as they made less than about $47,500 a year, and the threshold would readjust every three years to reflect changes in average wages.

The Department of Labor said the changes would restore teeth to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which it called “the crown jewel of worker protections in the United States.” Inflation weakened the act: overtime protections applied to 62 percent of U.S. full-time salaried workers in 1975 but just 7 percent today.

The agency said it’s now considering all its legal options.

“We strongly disagree with the decision by the court, which has the effect of delaying a fair day’s pay for a long day’s work for millions of hardworking Americans,” the labor department said in a statement. “The department’s overtime rule is the result of a comprehensive, inclusive rulemaking process, and we remain confident in the legality of all aspects of the rule.”

Opponents fought hard against the rule, saying it would increase compliance costs for employers who would have to track hours more meticulously and would force companies to cut employees’ base pay to compensate for overtime costs that kick in more frequently.

“This overtime rule is totally disconnected from reality,” said Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “The one-size-fits-all doubling of the salary threshold demonstrated ignorance regarding the vast differences in the cost-of-living across America.”

The court agreed with plaintiffs that the rule could cause irreparable harm if it wasn’t stopped before it was scheduled to take effect next week.

The Department of Labor could appeal the ruling, which might end up at a Supreme Court that includes some Trump appointees.

But the injunction takes political pressure off the incoming administration at an opportune time, according to labor law professor Ruben Garcia of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law. With no new overtime changes kicking in Dec. 1, Trump can accept the status quo and won’t have to risk angering workers by walking back overtime benefits shortly after employees start receiving them.

His administration could choose to make its own rule changes through the lengthy administrative process. Or Congress could amend labor laws.

The impending rule wasn’t front and center in the presidential campaign, but Trump did tell the news site Circa in August that he would love to see a delay or carve-out for small businesses in the overtime regulation. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was more vocal against it, saying it would be an “absolute disaster” for the economy and was being rushed through by Obama to boost his political legacy.

 

Pot and profit: Business owners replace idealists in marijuana movement

Business owners are replacing idealists in the pot-legalization movement as the nascent marijuana industry creates a broad base of new donors, many of them entrepreneurs willing to spend to change drug policy.

Unlike in the past, these supporters are not limited to a few wealthy people seeking change for personal reasons. They constitute a bigger coalition of business interests. And their support provides a significant financial advantage for pro-legalization campaigns.

“It’s mainly a social-justice movement. But undoubtedly there are business interests at work, which is new in this movement,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, a one-time pot-shop owner and now head of a Denver marijuana consulting firm.

The donors offer a wider foundation of support for the marijuana-related measures on the ballot next month in nine states. The campaigns are still largely funded by national advocacy organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC. But those groups are less reliant on billionaire activists.

On the other side, legalization opponents are attracting new support from businesses as diverse as trucking, pharmaceuticals and even gambling.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana for adults. Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., followed in 2014. The result is a bigger pool of existing businesses that see expansion potential in more states authorizing use of the drug.

Take Darren Roberts of Boca Raton, Florida, co-founder of High There!, a social network for fans of pot. He donated $500 this year to a campaign to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Florida. Roberts is also encouraging his customers to donate to legalization campaigns in their own states.

“I would say it’s a combination of both the philanthropic social interest and the potential financial interest,” Roberts said.

All five states considering recreational marijuana _ Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada _ have seen more money flowing to groups that favor legalization than to those fighting it. The same is true in the four states considering starting or reinstating medical marijuana _ Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota.

The donors who contribute to anti-legalization efforts have changed, too.

Some deep-pocket donors who drove opposition campaigns in years past are opening their pocketbooks again.

Casino owner Sheldon Adelson of Nevada, for example, gave some $5 million in 2014 to oppose a medical-pot measure in Florida. This year, as his home state considers recreational pot and Florida takes a second look at medical marijuana, Adelson has spent $2 million on opposition in Nevada and $1 million to oppose legalization in Massachusetts.

Other casinos are donating to Nevada opposition efforts, too, including MGM Resorts International and Atlantis Casino & Resort. Nevada gambling regulators have warned that marijuana violates federal law.

Some new opponents have also emerged, moving beyond the typical anti-pot base that includes law enforcement groups, alcohol companies and drug-treatment interests.

A pharmaceutical company that is working on a synthetic version of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, Insys Therapeutics Inc., has given at least $500,000 to oppose full marijuana legalization in its home state of Arizona.

The company did not return a message for comment on the donation. Company officials said in a statement last month that Insys opposes the Arizona ballot measure because marijuana’s safety has not been demonstrated through the federal regulatory process.

Other new names popping up in opposition disclosures include U-Haul, which gave $25,000 to oppose legalization in Arizona, and Julie Schauer, a Pennsylvania retiree who gave more than $1 million to a group opposing legalization. Neither returned messages seeking comment on their donations.

Smaller donors to opposition campaigns say they are hopelessly outgunned by the young pot industry, but are giving out of a sense of duty.

“Everyone’s talking about it like it’s a done deal, but I can’t sit by when I’ve seen firsthand the destruction that marijuana does to people,” said Howard Samuels, a drug-treatment therapist in Los Angeles who donated some $20,000 to oppose recreational legalization in California.

Samuels and other marijuana opponents insist that the pot industry cynically hopes to get more people addicted to the drug to line its own pockets, comparing pot providers to tobacco companies.

But marijuana-industry donors insist that they are simply carrying on a tradition started by the tie-dye wearing drug activists who pushed legalization long before there was any business model attached to it. They insist they would contribute financially even without any money-making potential.

“When a movement becomes an industry, of course the advocacy picture gets shuffled,” said Bob Hoban, a Denver attorney specializing in marijuana law and a $1,000 donor to the Marijuana Policy Project. “It shifts away from activists to more traditional business interests, because the skill sets don’t exactly transfer.”

Study: 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies playing offshore shell game

More than 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies maintained subsidiaries in offshore tax havens in 2015, according to “Offshore Shell Games.”

The new study was released this week by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Collectively, multinationals reported booking $2.5 trillion offshore, with just 30 companies accounting for 66 percent of this total.

By indefinitely stashing profits in offshore tax havens, corporations are avoiding up to $717.8 billion in U.S. taxes.

“Corporate tax dodging may be legal, but it’s certainly not good for everyday taxpayers and responsible small businesses,” Michelle Surka, advocate with U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said in a news release. “It disadvantages small businesses that don’t have scores of tax lawyers, creates an economic environment that favors accounting tricks over innovation and real productivity, and forces the rest of us to foot the bill. We’re beginning to see a growing international interest in cracking down on corporate tax dodging, and with $717.8 billion on the line, it’s time for the United States to start doing the same.”

“Every year, corporations collectively report that they have tens of billion more in cash stashed offshore than they did the year before, “ added Matthew Gardner of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. “The hard fact is that the U.S. tax code incentivizes tax haven abuse by allowing companies to indefinitely defer taxes on offshore profits until they are ‘repatriated.’ The only way to end this kind of tax avoidance is by closing the loopholes in the tax code that enable it.”

Key findings of the report:

• 367 Fortune 500 companies collectively maintain 10,366 tax haven subsidiaries. The 30 companies with the most money booked offshore for tax purposes collectively operate 2,509 tax haven subsidiaries.
• 58 percent of companies with any tax haven subsidiaries registered at least one in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands, countries with no corporate tax. The profits that American multinationals collectively claim to earn in these island nations totals 1,884 percent and 1,313 percent, respectively of each country’s entire yearly economic output, an impossible feat.
• The 30 companies with the most money booked offshore for tax purposes collectively hold nearly $1.65 trillion overseas. That is 66 percent of the nearly $2.5 trillion that Fortune 500 companies together report holding offshore.
• Only 58 Fortune 500 companies disclose what they would expect to pay in U.S. taxes if these profits were not officially booked offshore.In total, these 58 companies would owe $212 billion in additional federal taxes, equal to the entire state budgets of California, Virginia and Indiana combined. The average tax rate the 58 companies currently pay to other countries on this income is a mere 6.2 percent, implying that most of it is booked to tax havens.

The study highlights the following companies:

Apple: Apple has booked $214.9 billion offshore — more than any other company. It would owe $65.4 billion in U.S. taxes if these profits were not officially held offshore for tax purposes. A recent ruling by the European Commission found that Apple used a tax haven structure in Ireland to pay a rate of just 0.005 percent on its European profits in 2014, and has required that the company pay $14.5 billion in back taxes to Ireland, where the company was paying significantly less than even the tax haven’s standard low tax rate. A U.S. Senate investigation in 2013 uncovered Apple’s two Irish subsidiaries that were tax residents of neither the United States, where they are managed and controlled, nor Ireland, where they are incorporated.
Nike: The sneaker giant officially holds $10.7 billion offshore for tax purposes on which it would owe $3.6 billion in U.S. taxes. This implies Nike pays a mere 1.4 percent tax rate to foreign governments on those offshore profits, indicating that nearly all of the money is officially held by subsidiaries in tax havens. The shoe company, which operates 931 retail stores throughout the world, does not operate one in Bermuda.
Goldman Sachs: Goldman Sachs reports having987 subsidiaries in offshore tax havens, 537 of which are in Bermuda despite not operating a single legitimate office in that country, according to its own website. The bank officially holds $28.6 billion offshore.
The report concludes that to end tax haven abuse, Congress should end incentives for companies to shift profits offshore, close the most egregious offshore loopholes, strengthen tax enforcement and increase transparency.

Facebook launches app-based Marketplace shop

Facebook Inc launched Marketplace to allow people to buy and sell items locally as the social media network tries new ways to keep users engaged.

The feature will appear as a “shop” icon at the bottom of the Facebook app and will allow users to list or search for items on sale in their neighborhood.

The company will not facilitate the payment or delivery of items and will not take a cut from any transactions, Facebook said.

The new service will be rolled out in the United States, the UK, Australia and New Zealand for iPhone and Android users over the next few days, the company said in a blog post, adding that the feature will be available on the desktop version in the coming months.

More than 450 million people already visit Facebook groups that have items to buy and sell each month, the company said.

Last year, Facebook said it was testing several ad features that allow users to shop directly through its app, an effort to move further into e-commerce.

Facebook’s shares were little changed at $128.39 in morning trading on Monday on the Nasdaq.

How to …

Post Items for Sale in Just a Few Steps

Selling an item in Marketplace is just as easy as browsing for one. Simply:

Take a photo of your item, or add it from your camera roll

Enter a product name, description and price

Confirm your location and select a category

Post

 

AFT: Labor unions and shared prosperity

On the occasion of Labor Day, a message from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on the importance of the labor movement to American workers and communities:

Today is Labor Day—and there’s a good reason it’s a national holiday. By organizing together and fighting collectively, workers have been able to better their lives and the lives of their families. So rather than think about Labor Day as the last gasp of summer or bemoan the loss of union clout, let’s redouble our efforts to re-create an enduring middle class.

Income and wealth inequality rivals levels last seen in the Gilded Age. The American dream has slipped away from those who are working hard to make it. And rather than confronting these realities, many — particularly on the right — turned to union bashing and restricting labor rights that rendered people powerless to address inequities. The result: stagnating wages and stifled hopes for men and women who worked hard and played by the rules.

But we continue to fight — to fight for higher wages, fair contracts, professional development, safety measures, and resources for our members and their students, their patients and the others they serve.

America’s educators, healthcare professionals and public service workers know this firsthand. After the Great Recession, some on the right seized the political moment to vilify teachers and assault the labor movement that gives them a voice. In the aftermath, a study by a University of Utah economist showed that, in the four states that successfully weakened teachers’ right to bargain together, public school teachers’ wages fell by nearly one-tenth. That’s a statistic we as educators and public servants simply cannot afford.

Conversely, robust unions help everyone — not just the people who form them—and a growing body of research demonstrates that. There’s a multiplier effect. Through unions, we lift up our communities, strengthen the economy and deepen our democracy. If unions were as strong today as in 1979, according to a timely new study by the Economic Policy Institute, nonunion men with a high school diploma would earn an average of $3,016 more a year. And the Center for American Progress has found that kids who live in communities where unions are strong have a better chance to get ahead.

Workers in unions earn, on average, 27 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. The National Women’s Law Center has found that unions close the pay gap for women, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research has found that black workers see outsized gains from union representation. It’s a powerful reminder of the link between organized labor and economic success.

You see the union advantage in our advocacy as well. When the recession devastated the construction sector and put millions of Americans out of work, the American labor movement came together with the goal of raising $10 billion to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Five years later, our pension funds have reallocated $16 billion for infrastructure investments, including rehabilitating New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, turning it into a travel hub befitting a great modern city and creating good American jobs in the process.

In hospitals and patient care settings across the country, our members have been leading the fight against workplace violence.

And in the classroom, unions are critical partners in giving kids the chance to succeed. A 2016 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that where teachers unions are strong, districts have a better track record of building the quality of our teaching force — keeping stronger teachers and dismissing those who are not making the grade. Through unions, teachers fight for the tools, time and trust that educators need to tailor instruction to the needs of our children, to help them reach for and achieve their dreams.

Here at the AFT, we take that work seriously—for example, curating Share My Lesson, a free digital collection of lesson plans and resources for educators used by nearly a million people. In fact, Share My Lesson has more than 750 lessons about Labor Day!

Despite years of right-wing attacks on unions, a 2015 survey found that a majority of Americans would join a union if they had the choice. They know what a union offers: a voice in their workplace, the opportunity to negotiate wages and benefits and the ability to retire with dignity and security.

Indeed, despite all the attacks waged against us, the AFT—which celebrated our 100th anniversary at our national convention this summer—has grown over the past several years, with well over 1.6 million K-12 and higher education educators and staff, state and local employees, and nurses and other healthcare professionals as members. And now we are seeing more vulnerable workers — such as adjunct faculty and graduate students, teachers at charter schools and early childhood educators—seeking to join our ranks. In the private sector, tens of thousands of low-income workers have joined the Fight for 15 and the union movement because they know a union will help them get long-denied wage increases.

We have taken on the fight for adjuncts and early childhood educators from Pennsylvania to California — many of whom work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. These are the people who teach our youngest children, and they’re the ones who educate our college students; they deserve to live above the poverty line while doing this critical work.

Graduate students at Cornell University are celebrating the recent National Labor Relations Board decision that reinstates the right of graduate workers at private universities to organize. They are building momentum and talking to hundreds of fellow grad students about the power of collective bargaining, and are excited about the prospect of winning union recognition and joining more than 25,000 AFT graduate employees at public institutions who already enjoy the benefits of a contract.

The aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II led our country to understand we were all in it together. We established the GI Bill and other educational access and equity programs; management and labor respected each other, with unions being the voice of labor; and the middle class thrived.

Now, as income inequality is again at its height, let’s remember on this Labor Day what a strong labor movement has done—and can do again—to help workers, our communities, the economy and our democracy grow and thrive.

Green Gaze: Organic entrepreneur grows fresh food in Ripon

By NATE BECK, Fond de Lac Reporter

In a basement below Bluemke’s appliance shop in downtown Ripon, thousands of vegetables sprout every week, bound for the aisles of one of northeast Wisconsin’s biggest grocers.

Since it was founded two years ago, Ernessi Organics has grown to supply its greens to 16 grocery stores, including 13 Festival Foods locations across Wisconsin, the Fond de Lac Reporter reported.

Basil, amaranth and other veggies grown here can be found nestled in entrees at The Roxy, Primo Italian Restaurant and other eateries in the Fox Valley.

Ernessi’s fast success turns on consumer appetite for fresh and wholesome ingredients prepared locally and retail’s efforts to catch up.

Ripon approved a $60,000 loan to the company last summer that helped pay for custom-made lights and other infrastructure. With a facility that produces 3,000 packages of fresh greens weekly, Ernessi can hardly keep pace with demand so the company recently launched an expansion that will double how much it can produce this fall.

So what does it take to start a blossoming company like this?

It’s about charging forward, head down, at the hurdles before you, said company founder Brian Ernst. “As an entrepreneur, you see a vacuum in the market and you go for it,” he said.

A geologist educated at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Ernst found work after college at a large company, but soon tired of the work. He began tinkering with hydroponics, the process of growing plants without soil, in his basement. Ernst and his friend Tim Alessi began testing how light affects the growth of herbs and vegetables, settling on a combination that tricks plants into thinking that spring has just sprung, causing them to sprout faster.

In 2014, Ernst’s employer laid him off. Rather than shopping his resume around to other companies, Ernst, at the urging of his wife, decided to turn this hydroponic hobby into a company.

But to do that would require cash.

So he and his wife sold everything they could: TVs, furniture, Ernst’s 401(K), all of it. With $10,000, the company was born, three months after he and his wife had their second child, while raising a 3-year-old.

So, no. Starting a business isn’t about safety.

The draw about this breed of farming is that it can be done anywhere. Inside the Ernessi operation, floor-to-ceiling steel racks support rows of budding plants on trays. One four-foot-by-eight-foot palate of veggies yields 576 plants in just 35 days, using much less water than a typical farm would. And here in Wisconsin, with its brutal winters, there’s no end to Ernessi’s growing season.

This latest expansion will allow the company to double its production and deliver its plants faster, with a new refrigerated truck. The company’s business is built on supplying plants to grocery stores or restaurants less than 24 hours after they are cut, for the same price as producers elsewhere.

To meet this, Ernst said expanding the company to different parts of the Midwest will likely require him to franchise the company. These veggies are no longer local, he said, if they travel more than two hours to their destination. So in the next five years, Ernst hopes to start a location in Duluth, Minnesota, for example, that would supply produce to grocery stores and others in that market.

For now though, Ernst is focused on the company’s expansion, and growing new products, lettuce, gourmet mushrooms and more. He plans to use leftovers from the beer-making process at nearby Knuth Brewing Co., a Ripon-based brewery, for the soil to grow mushrooms. Lately, he’s been wheeling a blue plastic drum two blocks up Watson Street to the brewery to collect the stuff.

“If you have the drive, starting a business is not a hard decision,” Ernst said. “Any entrepreneur will tell you, there’s never a good time to start a business.”

The harder you work, the smaller these hurdles seem.