Dec 8, 2009

Voting for the 2009 “Scrooge of the Year” award for the greediest, most cold-hearted company or person of the year is underway

The nominations are complete and voting for the 2009 “Scrooge of the Year” award for the greediest, most cold-hearted company or person of the year.

National Jobs with Justice was seeking nominations for its 2009 “Scrooge of the Year” award until Dec. 7, and the voting is underway for the top enemies of working men and women.

The nominees are Bank of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Hyatt Hotels, Publix Supermarkets, Student Loan Companies Sallie Mae & Citibank or if you are not happy with those enemies of working people, you can write in your own candidate. There is a great field of scumbag candidates.

Bank of America
Bank of America had a hand in the worst of the subprime lending excesses, providing financing to the four of the top five largest subprime lenders during the years prior to the crash including Countrywide Financial, Ameriquest, New Century Financial Corp, and First Franklin. Between them, these four firms issued over $320 billion in subprime loans from 2005-2007. As a result of these kinds of abuses, Bank of America helped crash the economy and then needed a bailout.

Bank of America accepted bailouts and backstops totaling $199.2 billion, with taxpayers still on the hook for $57.8 billion, plus an unknown amount from the Federal Reserve's $8 trillion in emergency programs. This money was supposed to help the banks get the economy going again, but little of this money has gone to relieve struggling homeowners and increase the flow of credit to small businesses.

In spite of receiving all this public assistance, Bank of America continues to work against the public good. During 2008 and the first half of 2009, BofA opposed bills which would directly benefit consumers, Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights and the Foreclosure Prevention Act, Helping Families Save their Homes Act, Truth-in Lending Act, Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act.

To carry out its agenda, Bank of America has hired any number of unsavory lobbyists, including, in 2009, Andrew Barbour of the Smith-Free Group. Prior to working for Bank of America, Barbour represented the Financial Services Roundtable in its fight against legislation to restrict payday lending to the military because it would have capped interest rates on loans extended to soldiers and their families at 36 percent. Bank of America also opposed the bill.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
This Scrooge likes you to think it is the voice of American business. But in reality, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- and its CEO Tom Donohue -- are pushing a narrow, radical agenda. It's becoming increasingly clear that the Chamber has become a front group for a few narrow interests, not a membership association that represents the voice of mainstream American businesses. And it is increasingly at odds with both small and green businesses. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce often says it speaks for 3 million members, businesses both large and small," notes the New York Times. "What it doesn't promote as readily is that 19 supporters last year provided a third of the trade group's total revenue."

It is no surprise that the Chamber opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, or even paid sick days for swine flu. But it doesn't stop there. Members of the U.S. Chamber have been dropping like flies. Not only major corporations, but many local chambers of commerce, have quit or distanced themselves. One of the top concerns? The Chamber's extreme stance on environmental issues, including a call for a "Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" on climate change. There is also broad disagreement with the U.S. Chamber on health insurance reform, especially after it was caught red-handed trying to raise $50,000 to hire a "respected economist" to "study" (read: attack) health reform.

The bottom line? The Chamber is the ultimate Scrooge. Not only will Tom Donohue fight hard to put a lump of coal in your stocking at taxpayer expense, but it will claim that the lump of coal represents the "voice of American business" and is good for you.

But don't take our word for it. "They don't represent me," says Mark Jaffe, CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce. He adds, "they are playing games" with their membership numbers. "They don't have half the businesses in America as registered, dues-paying members." And he also notes that, "you have to be selfish, blind, or stupid not to want everybody to be required to have health care." Rob Black, vice-president of public policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, says "we take a fundamentally different approach than the U.S. Chamber... we support a market-driven cap-and-trade system. It's good for business, but it's also a good way to try to spur innovation and new technologies."

system. It's good for business, but it's also a good way to try to spur innovation and new technologies."

Hyatt Hotels
Hyatt deserves a lump of coal in its stocking this year for its treatment of hotel housekeepers. A recently released academic study of worker injuries at 50 major hotels found that in the hotels studied, Hyatt housekeepers faced a greater risk of injuries than housekeepers at other hotel companies, and more than twice the risk of injury of other service sector workers.

In Boston, Hyatt fired the entire housekeeping departments of its three non-union hotels, replacing longtime employees making around $15/hour with subcontracted workers making the minimum wage. To add insult to injury Hyatt required Boston area housekeepers to train their replacements before they were fired.

At union Hyatts in San Francisco and Chicago, Hyatt is using the recession as an excuse to roll back healthcare and other hard-won contract standards. In Indianapolis, San Antonio, Long Beach and elsewhere Hyatt is fighting its own workers as they seek a fair process to organize a union.

While workers get the short end of the stick, Hyatt and its owners enjoyed a $1 billion pay day on November 5 when they cashed in on the initial public offering of Hyatt stock.

Publix Supermarkets
Publix Supermarkets is the 9th largest privately-held corporation in the US with 2008 revenues of over $24 billion. Since 2007, Publix has resisted calls to be a part of the solution to the human rights crisis in Florida's fields. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their allies are calling on Publix to pay just one penny more per pound for its tomatoes to directly improve worker's wages, and to work with the CIW to implement a code of conduct to protect farmworkers' basic human rights. Other corporations including Taco Bell, McDonald's, Subway, and Publix competitor Whole Foods have already agreed to these terms.

Publix, on the other hand, continues to purchase tomatoes from two of the growers tainted by last year's modern-day slavery prosecution, sends out videographers to tape farmworkers and their families at peaceful pickets, and refuses to support the growing partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and retail food giants aimed at ending decades of farm labor abuse in Florida. For more, read Publix vs. Publix, a must-read analysis on the two faces of Publix.

Student Loan Companies Sallie Mae & Citibank
An increasing number of students rely on private companies to finance their college educations, yet these loans get very little oversight from government regulators. Private student loans are expensive, mostly variable-rate loans that cost more for those who can least afford them. They lack the flexible repayment options of federal student loans, functioning more like a credit card than a student loan.

The federal government is considering regulating these loans, and the companies who sell them are fighting back. Unsavory Sallie Mae alone has spent millions on lobbying this year, and has already contributed $125,500 to federal candidates for the 2010 cycle. By USSA's estimates, they've spent at least a quarter million on ads in Politico and other DC are newspapers. Lenders (we are not yet sure who) have also hired Qorvis communications, a controversial PR firm, to astroturf on the issue. Apparently, Qorvis sees this as one of their specialties. Some lenders, like Citi, have even emailed their borrowers and urged them to take action against reform, without, of course, letting them know that it could mean an investment in student aid, early learning, community colleges, etc.

You can vote now, and the loser will be announced on Dec. 21.

Jobs with Justice is a national organization with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights and struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice and worker‘s rights.

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