'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, November 30th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
November 30, 2013
Guest: Colby Harris, Dorian Warren, Allison Kilkenny, Ed Ott, Michael
Saltsman, Carmen Wong Ulrich, Dr. Drew Ramsey, Yolanda Pierce, Gretchen
Rubin, Mary Ellen Bernard, Maria Maisto
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. On Friday on the
biggest shopping day of the year, workers at the world`s largest employer
stepped out from behind check-out counters and out of the loading docks,
too, as they chanted "Stand up and live better!" According to organizers,
hundreds of retail workers walked off the job across 46 states were joined
in protest with union members an activists to call for a living wage and
improved working conditions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. That was last year. When beginning in October Wal-Mart
workers in alliance with organized labor unions, and labor activists
launched the first ever coordinated work stoppage against Wal-Mart in U.S.
history. That effort continued to build momentum and culminated with last
year`s historic black Friday`s protest, in which Wal-Mart employers and
their supporters demonstrated at more than 1,000 stores. Hundreds of Wal-
Mart workers in 46 states walked off demanding a living wage and better
Here we are, a year later. Bringing you the same story yet again. Because
for those Wal-Mart employees, not much has changed. This year those
workers and their labor allies made good on their promise to make Black
Friday strikes, quote, "a new permanent reality for Wal-Mart." Organized
by Our Wal-Mart, an organization backed by the United Food and Commercial
Workers International Union, Wal-Mart workers made history again with an
even bigger protest on Friday. Our Wal-Mart reported 1500 protests that
resulted in more than 110 arrests of Wal-Mart workers and their supporters
in cities across the country. Their demands remain the same. Better
working conditions, more full-time jobs, and minimum living wage of $25,000
a year. Currently, the average salary for the lowest paid Wal-Mart
employee working a 40 hour week is still just less than $19,000 annually.
And that`s only if that employee works five days a week, 52 weeks a year
without paying any taxes.
According to our Wal-Mart given the hourly wages and part-time hours put in
by most Wal-Mart workers, the average salary really amounts to much closer
to just over $15,000 a year. Which still leaves many Wal-Mart workers
needing to rely on collective government benefits to survive on their
salaries. A report released in May from the U.S. Health Education and
Workforce Committee looked at how much Wisconsin taxpayers spent on Wal-
Mart employees who needed to use public benefit programs. And they found
that in just that one state the cost to subsidize Wal-Mart employees at a
single store was up to $1.7 million each year. Closing that wage gap would
still allow Wal-Mart to uphold their pledge of everyday low prices even if
Wal-Mart passed on part of the cost to consumers. Shoppers would only
expect to pay 7 to 15 cents more per shopping trip in order for the firms
to recuperate the cost of the wage increase. That`s according to a study
But Wal-Mart`s response to decades of demands and attempts to organize its
workers has been to pretty much ignore them. The official company line on
the protest has been to brush them off, as primarily the work of outside
union agitators, joined by a small minority of Wal-Mart employees. Except
if you`ve seen some of Wal-Mart`s advertising over the last year, you might
have noticed a distinctly different message. The company may not be acting
on the workers` demands, but they have clearly been paying attention. And
more importantly, they realize everyone else is paying attention, too.
When you think of Wal-Mart employees, the company`s commercials want you to
think not of workers walking off in protest, but of workers like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UM: I`m the next American success story. Working for a company where over
75 percent of the store management started as hourly associates. There is
opportunity here. I can use Wal-Mart`s education benefits to get a degree.
Maybe work in I.T., or be an engineer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This ad is part of a larger campaign launched by Wal-Mart in
May, which focuses on feel good messages about Wal-Mart workers, its
business model and how Wal-Mart customers benefit from shopping the store`s
low prices. In fact, you probably already have seen the commercials.
That`s because Wal-Mart wanted the ads to air primarily during the, you
know, Sunday morning news shows, suggesting that they may be less
interested in influencing the buying habits of people who shop at Wal-Mart
and more interested in affecting what we think about those workers. They
want to change the minds of many who, in fact, don`t actually shop there.
Joining me today are some familiar faces that you`re going to remember from
our Black Friday Wal-Mart discussion last year. Dorian Warren, associate
professor of political science and international and public affairs at
Columbia University. Allison Kilkenny, co-host of Citizen Radio at
WeAreCitizenRadio.com. Also a reporter for "The Nation." She was out
yesterday covering the protests. Also, Ed Ott, former executive and
political director for New York City`s Central Labor Council, who has been
active in the labor movement over 40 years. And our friend Colby Harris, a
former Wal-Mart employee who was fired by the company and who was just
arrested yesterday while participating in Wal-Mart Black Friday protests.
Thanks to all of you for being here.
Ed, I want to start with you, because we are in certain ways just where we
were last year. But then in other ways, it does feel like there has been
movement. How would you assess the last year in Wal-Mart organizing?
ED OTT, NEW YORK CITY`S CENTRAL LABOR COUNCIL: I think several things have
changed. One, Wal-Mart resorted to some retaliation against some of the
workers who participated last year. The workers stood up to that, the
National Labor Relations Board has established the fact that they have
rights. I think the clear message from the workers is we`re not going
away, we`re back this Black Friday and we`re staying here.
This is not a short-term action. This is a long-term siege.
I think the other thing that they established is that they are not alone.
The workers have a lot of support, a lot of friends. The media, including
the mainstream media, has begun to pay attention to the needs of these
workers in different ways. Bloomberg News, Fortune, have all said that in
fact, Wal-Mart could afford to pay more.
OTT: Last year that wasn`t possible. So I think this has become a real
movement. This is the economic justice movement of the 21ST century and
this is the new civil rights movement.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ed, I so appreciate you in part bringing up the media
question. Colby, you have been with us multiple times to talk about this.
When you very first were with us, you were still a Wal-Mart employee. You
are now, you know, you have discussed being let go, you believe in
retaliation for your participation in organizing. How has the year been
COLBY HARRIS, FIRED BY WAL-MART: To be honest, it`s been great. I`ve been
able to still be inside the stores and be able to talk to associates and
let them know what their rights are. As you mentioned, I was illegally
fired September 30 for participating in those concerted activities over the
course of the past year and a half. It just goes to show that, you know,
when we speak out for things, this is the reality of it. Workers get
retaliated against, they get fired, they get their hours cut, and there is
thousands of other associates who would love to speak out, but they are too
scared of what might happen and they might get fired, like myself.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you have pending legal action about your claim that you
were fired in retaliation in a way that was illegal?
HARRIS: Yes, and there are several other workers who also are part of
their charge with the labor board. And as of last week, the general
counsel actually ruled in our favor and found that Wal-Mart was wrong in
firing those workers who were participating in those activities over the
past year, in particular the extended strike that we had in June when we
went to Bentonville, Arkansas to try to meet with the executives to talk
about fixing the things within our job, like increasing the hours, giving
us better benefits and a livable wage.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the things that has -- always sort of a tension I
guess for me is on the one hand we`ll cover these stories, on the other
hand Wal-Mart will advertise, sometimes during the hours of this show,
saying things that are -- that seem to be completely contrary. So that ad
that we just saw where we see a young African-American man saying okay,
because of Wal-Mart I`m going to go to work and I am going to potentially
be able to pay for school and become an I.T. person. I keep thinking you
know, sort of what do we do about the fact that they have an enormous
capacity to get their own messaging out there about what kind of store they
ALLISON KILKENNY, CO-HOST, CITIZEN RADIO: I think it`s telling that they
actually have not been able to successfully switch their PR campaign. In
fact, this year, talking about a difference between last year and this
year, we couldn`t even get inside the store this year. They don`t want
people to see the protesters at all. So clearly they lost a little bit of
control of their messaging, and the labor board finding that they have been
in violation. It`s sort of the snowballing effect, where they are losing
control of the messaging.
HARRIS-PERRY: So yesterday, speaking of messaging, you were at the Wal-
Mart protest in Seacaucus. Colby was arrested. What were the arrests for?
KILKENNY: So it was sort of an orchestrated event, you know, where some
workers and some activist supporters blocked traffic nearby the Wal-Mart.
So it was technically, the charges were for blocking traffic, even though
there really weren`t that many cars around. So yes, it was an orchestrated
event to bring attention to the movement.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this is similar in that sense of sort of using the
arrests as a way of demonstrating sort of just how problematic, and
bringing attention to it. We`re seeing that in North Carolina, Moral
Mondays, where we know protesters are going knowing that they are going to
be arrested. I keep wondering, though, whether or not there are lessons to
be learned by this labor organizing, from kind of a history of labor
organizing. Does this resonate with what we saw for example in the early
20TH century or is this something different?
DORIAN WARREN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, POLITICAL SCIENCE: This is very much
similar to what we saw in the early 20TH century. So there are protests
and there are strikes. And I want to remind viewers, a strike is when an
individual forgoes a day`s pay to make a point. So Mr. Harris and his
colleagues, they passed up a day`s pay of, you know, we know two-thirds of
Wal-Mart employees make $25,000 or less. That`s significant. That`s a
sacrifice, not only for their co-workers but for all Americans.
When did we see this before? In the 20th century, when the largest
employer was General Motors, workers went on strike in the `30s and in the
`40s to create ladders of opportunity into the middle class. So those
became crappy jobs, frankly. They were made into middle class jobs, with
benefits, with a pension, with health care, that then other employers in
the economy had to replicate, which created the broad middle class we had
in the 20TH century.
So this is the equivalent of those really radical strikes in the `30s by
General Motors workers and other workers to create a middle class for all,
to create an American dream for all Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is such a good point, that there may be sort of a
direct benefit for workers, for example, who end up with a living wage, but
that the impact of labor organizing or the death and truncation of labor
organizing is for all workers, and particularly in the context in which
Wal-Mart isn`t a player, they are the player. They set at this point the
OTT: I think they are no different if you want to go back to the previous
reference, when we were organizing companies like Ford and General Motors,
they set the standard for what work was about. And industrial work was low
paid, insecure and dangerous. And here we have, again, Wal-Mart, part of
the reason why we talk so much about them, they are the largest, they talk
about their million employees. Well, they set a certain standard, and when
workers stand up and challenge them, they are pulling a lot of other
employers with them. So this fight while, you know, a lot of the publicity
is about Wal-Mart, there is a huge struggle going on in this country of
low-wage workers across the board, who finally said look, for 40 years you
guys have suppressed wages, this generation is not going to take it. We`re
making a fight.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, because what Wal-Mart does, if it depresses them, it
goes for everybody; if they raise them, it becomes for everyone. Stick
with us, because when we come back, let it never be said that I will not be
fair here. We`re going to bring a very different kind of voice into this
conversation, making the case for Wal-Mart and its corporate practices.
We`re going to hear from the other side next.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth echoed Wal-Mart`s
dismissal of the Our Wal-Mart workers organization, writing for
RealClearMarkets.com that, quote, "the workers center`s goal is for 500
Wal-Mart employees to strike, to join the protest. Wal-Mart employs 1.3
million workers in the United States, so 500 workers constitutes less than
one half of 1 percent of the Wal-Mart work force. This is far from a
grassroots, worker-driven movement. Call it Astroturf."
Joining me now from Washington, D.C. is Michael Saltsman, research director
for the Employment Policies Institute. Nice to see you, Michael.
MICHAEL SALTSMAN, EMPLOYMENT POLICIES INST.: Good to be back.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you make of Diana`s argument that this is simply
SALTSMAN: I think she`s right. You said at the top of the piece that this
was sort of a case of deja vu from last year, and I mean, it is. It is the
same sort of hype about the protests, the same staged arrests. And if you
believe some of the write-ups we`ve seen out of Reuters and LA Times, it`s
the same lack of actual Wal-Mart employees. The only thing that`s changed
this year is sort of that the rhetoric and the press release coming out
from the UFCW has been amped up. Right? They`re calling the company`s
business model indefensible. And I think it`s clear that the only thing
here that is indefensible is this kind of Astroturf campaign against the
company that has done far more for the middle and working class than the
UFCW ever will.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, Colby. How do you respond to that argument?
HARRIS: Good to see you again, Michael. What I like to say in response to
that is, as a worker here, there`s more than thousands of protesters who
have been out that are workers, and the fact that there are thousands more
who are just scared of the retaliation. That`s why they don`t come out.
The reality is that at most of our rallies, there is always Wal-Mart
workers. So to me, I find it highly offensive that you would make a
comment that this is just union based, when every rally I`ve been to, there
has been hundreds of workers there. And yes, we do have supporters. But
most of the people there are workers. And it`s entirely offensive to me as
someone who has worked for the company and was retaliated against and
HARRIS: -- ask you what do you think about the labor board ruling on the
fact that Wal-Mart was illegally -- wrong for firing those workers? I`d
like to hear your comments as to that.
SALTSMAN: Colby, I think the fact that Richard Griffin, who was previously
the general counsel of the Operating Engineers Union, you know, that what
he thinks about Wal-Mart, it`s like asking Richard Trumka what he thinks
about NAFTA, right? There is no surprise there. And I`m sure this thing
is going to work out. But to your point about this not being a union
thing, I mean, that`s not my opinion. That`s the opinion of Reuters, the
L.A. Times, people who have written this up. There was a great anecdote
about the protest in Chicago where they brought in busloads of people to
the Wal-Mart in Chicago, and there was only actually one employee of the
500 store employees who actually showed up for the protest. I think we`ve
seen this elsewhere too.
So this is entirely union organized. You have sort of union backed PR
flacks too, who are sort of putting the same people in touch with the same
reporters. It`s all meant to sort of be part of this public pressure
campaign to try and make Wal-Mart seem like a bad employer. But the point
is, lots of people want to shop at Wal-Mart, lots of people want to work at
Wal-Mart. We had Wal-Marts open here in D.C., 20,000 people applied there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael, let me pause on that. Ed, when I hear Michael say
that, I have to say I get taken back to this moment in the 1960s, the `50s
and `60s, when the civil rights movement, you similarly heard this
argument, that it wasn`t local people, it wasn`t the people of Birmingham,
it wasn`t the people of you know, of Montgomery who were agitating, but it
was these outside agitators, you know, union people sometimes, who were
coming in and telling them what their interests were. And I mean, I got to
say, it seems hard to imagine that workers don`t notice that wages at this
level create for them a circumstance where they then have to rely on SNAP
benefits. So why would it take an outside agitator to explain this?
OTT: Two things here. First off, in terms of who participates in these
kinds of things, there`s risk. For him to say that is like saying first
we`re going to break your legs, and then we`re going to laugh at you
because you can`t dance. They terrorize workers, they fire people who did
participate in protests, and then they are going to challenge how many
people are actually outside.
Second point. Wal-Mart is the welfare queen of the 21TH century. Their
business plan -- you know the wages are low because when they hire people,
they coach them on how to access public social welfare plans, including
food stamps. Right there is the boldest admission that they don`t pay
enough. And their whole strategy for making profit is predicated on
taxpayers subsidizing low-wage workers, and it`s ridiculous for them to
then challenge who is on those picket lines. Taxpayers have a vested
interest in challenging Wal-Mart and supporting these workers, and that`s
what this movement is developing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on, Michael.
KILKENNY: It`s such a paternalistic thing to say these workers aren`t
protesting because they actually want to better their lives. Like the
bogeyman unions coming and telling them what to do.
I have spoken to the workers, they understand what the issues are, they
want living wages, they cannot survive on their wages. They are organizing
because they need to survive, not because the SEIU and the UFCW came in and
told them to do it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on one second. Michael, I want you to listen quickly,
because Wal-Mart`s CEO Bill Simon was on the "Today" show Friday. I want
to play him in response to this and then get your quick response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIE GEIST, NBC: Your employees have come out and said, I like working
at Wal-Mart. I think it`s a good place, but I`m not making enough money,
I`m not getting enough full time hours that I can feed my family, that I
can go to Wal-Mart and buy a bicycle or a toy for my kid this holiday
season. Doesn`t that bother you a little bit?
BILL SIMON, CEO, WAL-MART: We have the largest, one of the largest
percentages of full-time work force in retail, and we pay in the top half
of retail. Our industry is, you know, is a good industry, it`s a great way
for people to start. You can enter our company at any level, at any age,
from 16 to 66, and we have a lot of opportunity for people to work their
way and progress as you move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So Michael, you know, is that -- I hear Bill Simon
responding in a way that doesn`t quite sound to me like a response to
Willie Geist, which is saying you do have workers who are saying, I do like
working here, Wal-Mart is a good company, I enjoy working as an associate,
but I`m not earning enough money.
SALTSMAN: I think his point is, I mean it`s the same point whether you`re
Wal-Mart or you are a unionized grocery store like a Safeway. Not everyone
is going to be able to make 25,000 or $30,000 a year when you have customer
demand for low prices and you have a service-intensive business model.
That`s not even all that`s being asked for here. They are asking for sort
of guarantees of full-time work. When you`re in a retail store and you
have 30 or 40 people on the floor, and no one in the store, I mean, that`s
a problem. That`s kind of an existential crisis. So it`s kind of rich
getting management advice. These are the people who 20 or 30 years ago
would have been telling us that 500 pages of work rules was a good way to
run an auto company.
HARRIS-PERRY: We got to go to break, but just before we go, since Colby is
leaving us, I just want to give you 15 seconds to have your last word here.
HARRIS: What I want to say to you, Michael, is first of all, there was a
store in Canton, Ohio recently, (inaudible) where they had some food bins
for the workers to donate cans to other workers. And that`s just a clear
statement there that they are trying to push it off to us and have poor
workers take care of poor workers. This is a company that made over $17
billion in profits, and we`re asking for the bare minimum. Full-time work
and $25,000 is the minimum that they can do for their workers. They can
actually provide more than that. And we`re not asking for anything crazy,
to have good benefits, affordable health care and a living wage, is not too
much to ask for in America, especially when this is the largest private
employer in the world.
HARRIS-PERRY: Colby Harris, thank you for being with us today, thank you
for your continued work. Michael, stay with me. I`ll let you in as we
come back. Up next, the Wal-Mart paradox. Why despite the negative
publicity, the shopping stampede continues.
HARRIS-PERRY: Protesting workers and their supporters may have made it
difficult to get into 1,500 Wal-Mart locations yesterday. But in the vast
majority of Wal-Mart`s 4,000 U.S. retail locations, getting in the door
meant running the gauntlet of Black Friday shoppers looking for a deal.
Yesterday, 22 million cost-conscious customers went to Wal-Mart looking for
the retailer to deliver on its promise of everyday low prices. They didn`t
mind bypassing workers marching outside Wal-Mart stores to get at those
Joining the table now is Carmen Wong Ulrich, who is host of American Public
Media`s "Marketplace Money." Carmen, I wanted to specifically to respond
to part of what Michael said earlier. Michael is still with us. That
customers want -- not only do associates want to work at Wal-Mart, but
customers want to shop at Wal-Mart. Those kind of images --
CARMEN WONG ULRICH, HOST, "MARKETPLACEMONEY" ON APM: Because of the low
HARRIS-PERRY: Makes it look like yeah, people clearly want to shop at Wal-
ULRICH: Let`s understand, this is not how business runs, right? It`s not
one to one between getting those low prices and wages. So for example,
there`s all sorts of ways to put more money into wages in terms of a long-
term play. So instead of spending billions on buying your stock back, what
you could be doing is putting those billions in the long-term investment of
your employees, who a third of Wal-Mart customers are employees. So that
money goes back into the system. So there is a real disconnect, and it`s
very -- you used the word condescending earlier -- to think that you can
say this is because it`s all your fault. You want low prices. It`s your -
- this is why we have low wages. It`s not a one-to-one relationship. You
don`t get your money to pay people strictly from sales.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I do -- part of I guess what I`ve been wondering then,
if you are a Wal-Mart shopper, and particularly if you are a captured
audience, Dorian, and you live in a rural community where Wal-Mart is the
place where you can get groceries and a scrabble board and you know -- and
your guns and bullets, right, all of that.
So if you are a captured audience, but you for example want better labor
practices, what choices do you have except to go and shop there? What is
the role of the consumer in this effort to get sort of more fair living and
working conditions for workers?
WARREN: There are high road employers out there that show the world it
doesn`t have to be the Wal-Mart way. Costco and Trader Joe`s, for instance,
have a high road model that pays their workers a living wage, offers
benefits. They are more profitable, they have less turnover from their
employees, so there is another model out there. But let`s go back --
HARRIS-PERRY: And look. I love Costco. I mean, I could -
HARRIS-PERRY: I have a Costco situation in my household. So I love
Costco. But I also -- I have the wherewithal to purchase a membership to
get in, which is not Wal-Mart, right? With Wal-Mart, you can be driving
through any old rural town, and there is one, and you can stop and get gas
WARREN: You can support your local owned business that Wal-Mart tends to
drive out whenever they move into a new place.
WARREN: If they`re still there. You can show up to one of these protests.
But here is a funny thing, and this is related to what Carmen said. Wal-
Mart`s same-store sales in the U.S. have been flat the last three quarters.
And we know from leaked company e-mails they are concerned, and they don`t
understand why they don`t have more sales. And all they have to do is look
at their own labor practices. If they paid their workers a living wage,
the workers would buy more from the store, which would create demand, which
would actually, according to one report, create 100,000 new jobs. So there
-- even if Wal-Mart just went a different route, it`s not radical change
that anyone is asking from Wal-Mart. It`s be fair, do the right thing, and
actually it`s good for business.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael, so let me ask you about that. One of the thoughts
I`ve been having a little bit here is, so you made a claim that this is in
part a P.R. issue, but even if it is, so let me -- let me put that on the
table. Let`s say it is. But if you think about for example, the civil
rights movement and what happens with the Woolworth lunch counters, and the
extent to which the Woolworth lunch counters become the emblematic example
of segregation and of inequality -- does Wal-Mart want to become the
Woolworth lunch counter of contemporary wage inequality?
SALTSMAN: I just think Wal-Mart is -- what Wal-Mart is doing is providing
opportunities for people. What we`re talking about with Wal-Mart is far
more sporadic than any kind of grassroots movement we had seen in the past.
Listening to some of the comments there, the suggestion that sort of the
way the economy grows is that Wal-Mart just needs to be forced to pay more
and then people have more money and sort of this virtuous cycle. If that`s
the way to grow the economy, then we need to create a $25 or $30 minimum
The reason it doesn`t work and the reason there is no evidence to support
that idea is because when you force wages up like that, you are also going
to force other consequences. The math is easy. Wal-Mart has 1.4 million
employees. You multiply a wage increase across a work force like that, and
it`s either going to mean fewer jobs for people or it`s going to mean that
always low prices become sort of sometimes low prices.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s both not true that there is no evidence, there
certainly is evidence. I think you could make a choice to dispute it, but
you can`t say that there isn`t evidence. There actually are a number of
reports that suggest that the kind of increase in wage that is being asked
for, would actually generate a stimulative effect on the economy, including
for Wal-Mart`s own coffers, in addition to the generation of additional
jobs in the economy, because what we know is that people who are living at
the margins, when you pay them marginally more, don`t take that money and
put it in a savings account, right? They take it and they spend it. And
that spending in the economy is stimulative.
SATLSMAN: So it really - just to push back on that a little bit. The
study that everyone goes to from the Chicago Federal Reserve to sort of
support this point, only found that an increase in the minimum wage boosts
actually debt-fueled purchases of automobile vehicles, I mean, it`s a very
limited finding, and people have sort of used it to suggest that you can
somehow kind of create a $25 minimum wage and it`s going to boost the
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael, nobody is asking for $25 -- that`s a red herring.
SALTSMAN: We`re talking about $15 minimum wage, right? So at this point,
and a couple of years ago we were talking about an $8 or $9 minimum wage.
There is continued I think upward pressure here, and some day we`re going
to be sitting there wondering where the jobs have gone when we`re checking
ourselves out at the cash register.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michael, as always, I appreciate you joining us. The folks
at my table are about to jump out of their seats, and the folks in my
Nerdland control room are about to kick me off the air, because we`ve got
to go take a break. Michael, thanks for joining us this morning. When we
come back, we`re going to stay on this issue, because the folks at my table
have something to say about everything that was just said.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yesterday Wal-Mart released a statement in response to Black
Friday protests which read in part quote, "of course we have entry level
jobs and we always will. The real issue isn`t where you start, it`s where
you can go once you started. Retail is one of the few industries that has
jobs at all levels and ongoing advancement opportunities. Wal-Mart
promotes on average more than 430 associates a day. By year`s end, we`ll
have promoted 160,000 associates, including 25,000 this holiday season
alone." You can read that statement in its entirety without laughing on
our show website, msnbc.com/melissaharrisperry a little later on this
I want to let you in on this one. I could feel the tension on some of the
claims that were being made.
OTT: Look. He sits and talks about the danger of raising the minimum
wage. They have been suppressing wages for 35 years. And they can`t
explain why there are so many people unemployed and underemployed in this
country. The truth of the matter is it`s the low-wage strategy of large
employers like Wal-Mart are manufacturing poverty as our largest product in
this country. It`s unacceptable. And frankly in the long term, it`s
HARRIS-PERRY: And less social mobility. This point of like, having a
country where people can move, I think Americans get entry level jobs. We
understand that. Americans are the sort of people who are in our own sort
of sense of self. You start -- but then you are supposed to be able to
KILKENNY: Even within Wal-Mart, their opportunities for advancement are
virtually nonexistent if you talk to the employees. The entry-level
position is the position they are stuck with their entire career at Wal-
Mart. That`s the whole problem.
ULRICH: One of the biggest ideas I hope that people can understand and take
away from this is that we are all subsidizing Wal-Mart`s growth and income
and money, and we are supporting it because so many Wal-Mart employees are
on public assistance. How does America feel about the fact that we are
paying or co-paying Wal-Mart employees? I think we all would like to not
HARRIS-PERRY: And not just Wal-Mart. I want to point out this is about
low-wage work in general. There`s online now I constantly get both from
the left and the right all kinds of things, just to keep myself ahead of
what social media is up to. And there is a McDonald`s petition, suggesting
the same kind of thing about McDonald`s, and suggesting it`s not right to
impoverish your employees while sailing above them at a rate of $2,500 an
hour. It`s immoral to do it with a taxpayer subsidy. So this is about the
fact that McDonald`s was buying a luxury jet while its employees are not
making much. So Wal-Mart is the standard setter, and yet we see this kind
of across the (inaudible).
WARREN: It is the emblem of the American economy today. We`re creating
more low-wage jobs than any other kind of jobs, and that`s what we see
projected out to 2020, is the rise of low-wage jobs as the norm in America,
not the exception.
You pointed to studies and social science about the lack of social
mobility. We are the least mobile society, meaning if you are born poor,
what are your chances of working to the middle class or even becoming rich?
We`re at the lowest point on social mobility than we`ve been in decades.
This is a direct result of the creation of these low-wage jobs. So we have
studies that show this in social science, we have studies that show there
is a negligible impact on the minimum wage. And just to ground ourselves,
because you use examples from the civil rights movement. Let`s not forget
that 50 years ago in the march on Washington, one of the demands was for a
$2 an hour minimum wage. That would be $14 today. The minimum wage is
$7.25. So for Wal-Mart and others that defend Wal-Mart and these low-wage
(ph) employers to be able to say with a straight face workers don`t deserve
a living wage is not only as Colby said, offensive but it is immoral.
ULRICH: They also don`t deserve any more entitlements, as they call it.
They want to keep wages low, but they also don`t want to take care of the
poor. So you`re going to have to give somewhere. Something`s going to
have to give.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we end up with this narrative that somehow the poor, who
are in need of the social safety net, are not working, when in fact they
OTT: That`s the whole point. The basic strategy is that you will work
your entire life and live in poverty. Then if that`s not unacceptable in a
democracy, then what is unacceptable?
The whole thinking that`s gone on in this country now for decades is that
somehow working people are supposed to carry around corporations and
profits on their backs. And we`re not going to subsidize it. What this
movement is about is we finally caught on and we`re not playing this game
anymore. This fight is not going away.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that image. I want to leave us on this image of this
whole class of working people, of working Americans who are actually
carrying these companies, and you know, again, if you look, I talked about
this on the show before. You look at that Forbes 100 list, which is my
favorite 1 percent (inaudible), the number of Walton family members that
are in that top 10 is just -- these aren`t just wealthy business people.
These are - this is the tiny -
WARREN: The Walton family alone is worth, they have more wealth than
42percent of all Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s -
KILKENNY: On their backs.
HARRIS-PERRY: On their backs. Stunning. Allison Kilkenny, thank you for
being here, always. Dorian and Ed, I`ll see you in the next hour. And
Carmen is coming right back. But up next is my letter of the week. It`s
an unusual request. All that I`m asking is that the recipient doesn`t do
HARRIS-PERRY: There is nothing like being home for the holidays with your
loved ones. I can only imagine this Thanksgiving is particularly
bittersweet for Marissa Alexander, who was granted a special pretrial
release at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thanksgiving eve, after spending more
than 1,000 days in jail and Barely seeing her youngest child, who recently
But my letter is not to Marissa. Sis, I`m saving that one for when you are
finally free for good. No, my letter this week is to the woman that worked
to put Marissa in jail in the first place. Florida state attorney for the
fourth judicial circuit, Angela Corey.
Dear Angela Corey, it`s me, Melissa. Angela, there are a few times in life
when we actually get chances, second chances, to right our wrongs. Angela,
this is your chance. You have been called a fierce victim`s advocate. So
it`s way past time that you start acting like one. Because a woman who was
hospitalized in 2009 after being shoved into a bathtub and hitting her
head, she`s a victim. A woman whose estranged husband has admitted to
abusing all five mothers of his children, she is a victim. And when that
woman, that victim, who has just recently given birth, fires a warning shot
near the man that has cornered her in her home, she`s a victim who feels
she has no other recourse.
But that`s part of the problem, Angela. You never saw Marissa as a victim.
You saw Marissa as the aggressor, and even justified why the infamous
stand-your-ground law was not applied in Marissa`s case. Because as you
put it, she was not fleeing from an abuser. Even though Rico Gray, her
estranged husband, has admitted to telling Marissa that he would kill her
if the she ever cheated on him.
Now, you have said that the shot was fired, but it was not consistent with
a warning shot because it was at the height of an adult`s head. But
Marissa is three inches shorter than Rico Gray. And according to you, she
didn`t even have to get 20 years in jail. That also was her fault, right,
Angela? Because you said to NBC`s The Grio back in May, "she didn`t have
to get 20 years. Because I took into account their prior domestic history
and her lack of criminal record, we offered here the three-year mandatory
Angela, Marissa is a mother of three. And she`s a victim of abuse, and any
mother knows that one day away from her child is 24 hours too long. When
you`re an abuse victim, you have to believe that the courts are finally
going to free you from the cycle of violence, instead of criminalizing you
for trying to protect yourself.
If nothing else, the last two years should have shown you that an
aggressive prosecution is not always the best one. So, while I know that
Marissa is thankful this holiday to be home with her family while she
awaits her new trial on March 31, 2014, maybe you, Angela, should spend
this holiday being thankful that you have a second chance, a second chance
to right this obvious wrong. Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain
unalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
Certainly you recognize those words from the Declaration of Independence,
and we`ve heard them so often we probably take them for granted. But let`s
not lose sight of this aspect, this uniqueness within the American project.
That the very notion of happiness is enshrined in our founding document.
That Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues in 1776 saw as a formative
doctrine of this nation an individual`s right to strive to be happy. Not
necessarily to be happy, but at least to try, to pursue it. And since
1776, the debate has raged on as to what trying really means, and what
happiness really is anyway.
So, right here right now, we`re going to try to work on solving that
question. Joining me now is Gretchen Rubin, the author of "The Happiness
Project" and "Happier at Home." Also Yolanda Pierce, associate professor
of religion and literature at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Drew
Ramsey, author of "50 Shades of Kale" and "The Happiness Diet." An
assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, Columbia University. And still
with us, Carmen Wong Ulrich, the host of "Marketplace Money" on APM.
I want to start with you, Gretchen, in part because the story of that
founding document is that pursuit of happiness was meant to be
interchangeable basically with property. This idea that we can buy, we can
consume our happiness. From what you know about happiness, how good is
consumption, purchasing it, to actually make us happy?
GRETCHEN RUBIN, AUTHOR, "THE HAPPINESS PROJECT": One of the things is,
money cannot buy happiness. That`s clear, but it`s also true that money
can buy a lot of things that contribute mightily to happiness.
HARRIS-PERRY: It can cushion the blow.
RUBIN: It can cushion the blow. It`s like health. We feel it more in the
negative than we feel it in the positive, so it`s when you lack money.
Also money can buy things like a pet, it can allow us to travel, it can buy
services for our family if somebody needs something, it can allow us to
have travel, to have great experiences. So there`s a lot of ways in which
money, used wisely, can contribute mightily to a happy life. But if you
are just buying a new pair of boots or an extra pair of jeans, it`s not
going to do much for you.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting. I wonder, Carmen, if there is kind of a
threshold, so if we were graphing happiness and cash, right, would we get
to a point where each marginal dollar doesn`t make you much happier, but
that kind of from zero to whatever that threshold is, you would be a lot
ULRICH: You would be a lot happier. You need your basic needs to be met.
Most of the research shows that between $70,000 and $80,000 a year in
earnings across the country -- on average, in New York it would probably be
like double, triple that -- but once those needs and just above are met,
happiness with more money remains completely flat. And we know that lotto
winners, for the most part, the majority of them end up in bankruptcy, so
do successful sport stars. There is all that other in there, but the money
actually does not make people happier beyond a certain point.
What it is more of, I think, is people are looking for the freedom to do
what they want to do in terms of work. They want the freedom to not have
to worry about if they get sick, they lose everything. They want their
kids to be able to go to a good school. Beyond that, how much can money
buy you happiness, not so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s worth pointing out that you made the health and wealth
ULRICH: It`s huge.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m wondering in part about that, Doctor, that you know, if
the lack of money is in part what makes us feel that deficit of sadness, is
that also true around health, so that maybe there is sort of a threshold
that once we got to a certain level of health, it doesn`t make us feel any
happier to be thinner or something.
DR. DREW RAMSEY, AUTHOR, "50 SHADES OF KALE": I would agree. I think you
want to get a basic base line of health, but then as you move on to more
(inaudible), optimal wellness, getting really, really buff, that doesn`t
make people that much happier. I think it`s this notion of you want a base
line of health, a base line of feeling good, just like with money. You
need a foundation, and then that`s the hard work of happiness. What are
you going to do with that foundation.
HARRIS-PERRY: The last 10 pounds might not make you any happier.
RAMSEY: It`s going to make you miserable worrying about those last 10
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank God you said that the day after Thanksgiving. I want
to have -- one last thing before we go to break here, and then we`ll
continue this conversation. But so as much as I love this and I want to be
able to sort of put a pin that poverty is a real barrier to happiness, I
also in part - part of the reason I want to do it at this table is because
I know that your work tells us that people actually are able to find a
level of joy and happiness in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
YOLANDA PIERCE, PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Absolutely. So on one
hand, I hear about happiness connected to money and social class, but some
of the happiest people I know are people who have very little, are people
that have very little in terms of material objects, right, but have a sense
of community, a sense of family, a sense of purpose that makes them
extraordinarily happy, and if not happy certainly joyful. For me, the
question is what makes middle class wealthy folks so unhappy, (inaudible) a
whole school of people who have very little and are much happier. And
that`s where I want to dig a little bit.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we`ll dig into all of that. As well as into how
commuting makes you unhappy. This was very stressful to me as someone who
commutes between New York and New Orleans. So stay with us. We`re also
going to talk about why online dating is big business at this time of the
year. Do you really need love to find happiness? And why you should care
if your college professor is still living in their parents` basement to
make ends meet. There is plenty of Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
And we`ve been talking about happiness and particularly the pursuit of
happiness enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.
Here is how "Schoolhouse Rock" illustrated the phrase in 1976.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): The Declaration of Independence in 1776
Continental Congress said that we were free, said we had the right of life
and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Did you catch that? Did you catch that? Right? The
pursuit of happiness was apparently the pursuit of love or lust, colonial
lust. I don`t know, at least.
Now, many of us are thinking about love around the holidays as we count our
blessings and take stock and online dating tends to spike after the
holidays. Match.com says it typically sees a 25 to 30 percent bump in new
members between Christmas and Valentine`s Day.
Maybe that happens because well-meaning relatives spend the time pestering
unmarried family members, or because holidays are a time for love and
family, or maybe just because snuggling weather.
But research into what exactly makes for a happy life has been expanding in
recent years. The biggest oldest study of its kind, the Harvard Grant
Study, has been following 268 men since 1937 to find out what would make
them happy. The director of the study, George Valiant, summed up his
findings in five words: happiness is love, full stop.
But as we all know it can be a bit more complicated than that.
Again, here at the table: Gretchen Rubin, author of "The Happiness Project
and Happier at Home", Yolanda Pierce, associate professor of religion and
literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. Also, Dr. Drew Ramsey,
author of "50 Shades of Kale" and "The Happiness Diet." And Carmen Wong
Ulrich, host of "Marketplace Money" on APM.
So, I wanted to ask about this idea of online dating in part connected to
or any kind of dating, right? This idea that to pursue happiness is to
pursue love, attachment and particularly like romantic love. That`s how we
define what constitutes happiness.
DR. DREW RAMSEY, ASSISTANT CLINICAL PROFESSOR, PRINCETON: What feels
better than love? I mean, when you work with people clinically and you see
them get in a relationship, the first few months it`s almost psychotic.
People are so happy. They feel so good, everything`s better. People say
it`s like I get down to the subway station, the subway just shows up now.
I`m in love.
And it does drive us. It`s a primary desire. And people love
relationships because the companionship. You mentioned the holidays,
right? Holidays are about being with people and being with your loved
And all of the things that happen when you have a partner, right? You go
and you see your in-laws, it`s difficult. But you`re there and you`re
HARRIS-PERRY: But then I guess part what if I wonder if there is a way we
end up redefining that version of love and we miss all of the other aspects
that might also be deeply fulfilling to us. So, it`s true that in those --
CARMEN WONG ULRICH, MARKETPLACE MONEY: -- on the psychosis.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. Exactly.
URLICH: Psychosis, that`s what romantic tend to be. It tends to be crazy.
So I`m someone who prefers, actually and finds a lot more love in family
and friends and my child. It`s one of those that yes, it`s great to be in
love but there is this idea that that is what happiness where happiness is.
And I can tell you as a divorcee that you can find happiness in all sorts
of love. And this treasure, this love that follows you throughout life, no
matter what your romantic situation is.
GRETCHEN RUBIN, AUTHOR: But it`s true when they look at why are happy
people happy, one of the things they have more relationships, we need to
belong, we need to feel like we confide, we need to feel like we have long
term intimate relationships. Just as important we need to be able to give
And just as important for happiness, we need to be able to give support.
So, we need to feel like we`re connected, that we`re part of something
bigger than ourselves and that we`re exchanging love and attention with
other people. This is absolutely crucial to happiness.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, but part of what I love about what you said this
interconnection of multiple relationship, kind of a web of relationships,
because, Yolanda, honestly, you know, in part as an African-American woman,
you know we know we get a ton of messaging from the media that says that
kind of love is off-limits to us, that we`re never -- no man wants us,
we`re never going to find that. We`re the most unmarried group.
And so, you know, I do wonder if there is an expectation that romantic love
is the only kind but we may be deeply engaged with each other as friends,
as parents, as sisters, as daughters.
YOLANDA PIERCE, PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: So, I worry about that,
putting the emphasis on the romantic love versus thinking seriously what it
means to feel isolated or alone or without a community, because what I
think people are longing for is connection. They are longing for touch.
They`re longing for hugs. They`re longing to feel like they belong.
They`re longing for a sense of community.
And you can find that in multiple ways. And for all of the generations we
were living in multigenerational households that we were living right near
our families, down the street instead of thousands of miles, we live in a
modern situation of isolation and loneliness. So, I think people, you
know, look at the romantic as one venue to help them resolve that, but the
truth of the matter is that we need more people who love us in all kinds of
ways surrounding us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is that why commuting makes us sad? I mean, is it because
it takes us more of those many hours outside of our web and network of
RUBIN: Well, part of it is that definitely like that time that you`re
spending on a train and the car you`re not with your family. But it`s also
that it`s unpredictable. Some days it might go fast. You`re not in
control. You`re -- and, in fact, they have shown that recently people seem
to be less bothered by commutes because of all are our devices.
Some people feel like they can use that time better, they can listen to an
audio book, they can read the paper. They can get work done. And so, it`s
not bothering as much. But, definitely, one of the easiest things that you
can do is to try to cut out that, make that time shorter.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, that --
RUBIN: Find a way to use it better as part of your every day life.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. That research that an extra hour of commuting time
you would need to be compensated with the massive 40 percent increase in
salary in order to make it worthwhile.
I keep thinking, Carmen, in part, people end up with long commutes because
they think the big house will make me happy. You can only afford the big
house as you get further and further out from the job. But, in fact,
actually living in the smaller house closer by. Does that tell us
something about our consumption patterns and our feelings of happiness?
ULRICH: Absolutely. And we saw a shift in the average square footage of
homes before the housing bust, it was huge.
You know, in the `50s and `60s, we used to live in houses that were around
1,500 square feet.
HARRIS-PERRY: We shared bedrooms as children.
ULRICH: We shared bedrooms. We had family around. All of this idea about
disconnect, you really address. Like this is really about disconnecting.
What is commuting? The happiest commuters that I find are the ones that
make commuting fun, they make friends with the people around them that they
see every day, right? Like yes, those guys. Or you`re doing something
The thing with commuting is so frustrating is you mentioned devices --
you`re actually going from point A to point B, but there is no purpose in
between. Yes, you get to work and those purpose. And there is home, there
is purpose. What are you doing between that time? And the longer the time
that goes, you`re not doing anything the worse you`re going to feel.
So, you have to do something during that time. Write a book, make some
friend, anything but sleeping.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, which is why I commute on an airline that as in flight
wireless and I talk to the nerds the whole time. In fact, they always know
when I`m on my flight, like, o, Lord, here come 453 e-mails for Melissa.
She must be on the flight.
But let me ask a little about that. I heard you say I ride my bike to do
the commute, is -- you know, one of the things we did on Thanksgiving
morning, my husband may never forgive, is we did a turkey trough, we did a
5-mile run as the thing that started our day.
And for me, I was just on endorphin high the rest of the day. There are
literally physiological things we can do that will make us feel happier.
RAMSEY: There`s physiological things we have to do. Happiness is a
biological phenomenon, right? It starts here. All happiness, all feeling
comes out of your brain. Then, you have to take care of your brain.
So, what you do -- you went on a run, right? You got moving. You did
something different, that`s one of the reason commutes stink because it`s
the same. And you mix up, your both -- your biology and your psychology.
So, you felt good all day. And that is very much a biological phenomenon.
That`s one of the keys of what I try to teach people about happiness, is
building this foundation. It`s about food, it`s about community, and it`s
about -- we were talking about romantic love. I think it`s intimate love.
Not just sexual intimacy, right?
Love is -- I know you, right? It`s not that you`re my sexual partner, we
share secrets, we support one another, we help one another. That`s what
makes people happy.
HARRIS-PERRY: So that love that you have with your best friend, that joke
you all can tell, you know, across a room to each other because you have a
sense of intimacy and shared stories.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yolanda, I want to ask, because there`s one other kind of
love we haven`t talked about here and that is the agape love, the sense
that one is held and loved in a religious sense. And, you know, we talk
about the holidays as food and fun and family. There are also often
worshipful times t time of Hanukkah. We`re going to the time of advent.
PIERCE: Right. You know, it doesn`t matter what religion the person is,
at the end of the day, what I think attracts people to these spaces of
worship, these spaces of piety, these spaces of religion, is that they feel
tied to not only a community but something outside of themselves.
Something bigger than themselves, that they are loved with an eternal
everlasting love that isn`t subject to the whims of time or distance or
moving or jobs or shifts.
And that kind of sense that I am loved, I`m cared for, I am cherished with
something that is eternal is a powerful force. And then, to be in the same
space with other people who feel that, people get a lot of joy from singing
together in church, sitting next to each other, in the synagogue, praying
with one another in the mosque, I think it just targets the same thing.
The need to be connected but also the need to know that there is something
bigger than you are, something outside of yourself.
HARRIS-PERRY: The world didn`t give and the world --
PIERCE: Can`t take it a way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there because when we come back, there is a
happiness thing going 24 hours a day, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last week, Ferrell Williams released a 24-hour long music
video to go along with his song "Happy." This video stars 400 people.
Some are celebrities like Jamie Foxx. But mostly, they`re just regular
people dancing and lip syncing along the streets of Los Angeles.
Take a look.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, this song has been making -- there she is. I`m sorry.
Nerdland has been happy. In fact, one of our producers there, Tracy,
listened to that song on a loop all day yesterday.
And not only did she not get tired of it but her joy was palpable. She was
making all of us dance. Which got me to thinking, do you all have songs
that make you feel happy? So I asked Twitter, Twitter gave me a few of the
songs that make Nerdland happy, including "This Christmas" by Donny
Hathaway which came to us from Love Shenglum (ph), that this Christmas
makes her happy. Salty pepper told me "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers, never
ever, ever fails to make her happy.
And that is one that my husband loves and plays when I hear "Lovely Day" I
know my husband is in a great mood. But I was thinking about this in part
on the physiological question of happiness, right, that certain kinds of
songs, or certain food, the smoothies, that can impact physically make you
RAMSEY: Yes. You`re talking about with what can we do external things we
can do. We can change what we eat. We can eat more whole food. We can
eat more kale. We can --
HARRIS-PERRY: That makes you happy.
RAMSEY: Kale is, yes, if you put kale as a foundation of your diet, you`re
eating something that everybody agrees is good for you, all right? It`s
packed with nutrients. It`s versatile which, is why kale makes me happy
because I`m not doing the same thing with it. I`m making a chip, I`m doing
a smoothie, I`m making kale chocolate chip cookies, right? So --
HARRIS-PERRY: You are.
RAMSEY: Yes. You can do all fun different things, and then like music.
Where you shift your state, if you`re in a bad mood, people asked me, what
do I do in a bad mood? You pull out your favorite song, go for a quick
run, get those endorphins going, cook a quick meal, connect with a friend.
Those are the things we can do that we can influence our happiness.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, then, let me ask about that, because I like all of
those, and those things all feel like mood boosters to me, but I wonder if
that`s what we mean when we mean I`m trying to be happy, because it does
seem like what we want is more enduring and less ephemeral.
ULRICH: Right. Well, this is what -- happiness is a lot of perception,
right? So, the tenet of a cognitive psychology, right, are that you just
change your thoughts and that makes you more happy. So, instead of saying
something like he`s making me crazy, you say he`s crazy, and that simple
shift in how you see things can actually change your levels of happiness.
And your perception of it -- so, for example, in personal finance, we say,
you want to feel rich, want less. So, the idea that you can frame --
truly. You can just frame --
HARRIS-PERRY: What is under it, right? There is some level of less -- it
is important to point out that the Founders on the one hand said we have
this fundamental and unalienable right to pursue happiness, but they were
also like, and also not to be taxed without representation and also to be -
ULRICH: Absolutely. There`s all different levels. Give me an example.
So, my mother was young her father was kidnapped and tortured. So, for her
American children, when we would complain about something, she would say --
oh, he made me or this person made me. Really, they made you? Did they
have a gun to your head?
HARRIS-PERRY: My face.
ULRICH: Now, her point was is that how happy you are and how you feel
really depends on how you are looking at it. So, she had an extreme view
but she really spoke to -- you made the point about poverty and people
being happy. They don`t take for granted stuff. When you have too much
stuff, you take happiness for granted.
PIERCE: I think you`re making here the distinction for me that`s crucial.
PIERCE: Happiness can do with mood, but there is a state of contentment,
right? There`s a state of experiencing joy and contentment that I think is
beyond just the mood of happiness, because I also want us to have space in
our culture for when you`re feeling sad, when you`re grieving, when you`re
We actually want people to be happy all the time. Why aren`t you smiling,
why aren`t you happy? Because I`m having a bad day. I don`t have to be
happy all the time. But I can --
PIERCE: Exactly. Negative emotions are important too. But I also can be
content. I can also still experience some joys even if I`m having negative
emotions, because I want to experience happiness, sometimes I have to
experience the sorrows as well. We have to connect those.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love this, in part because you hear me say often the
struggle continues, that`s what my father used to sign on our birthday
cards. Not "Love, daddy," but "The struggles continue, daddy." I`m not
Right. I didn`t know what he was talking about. I didn`t know what he was
talking about at 5 yet part of that struggle -- I mean, I want you to play
this out for me. The way in which, again, some of the moments we can think
of as the happiness -- happiest aren`t like just sort of placid but, in
fact, moments when we have struggled and pushed and sometimes even failed,
and yet have a sense of contentment and joy.
RUBIN: One of the critical aspects of happiness what I call an atmosphere
of growth, where you feel like you`re helping or you`re making something
better or fixing something or you`re learning something or you`re
struggling to accomplish something. And an atmosphere of growth often
brings failure, frustration, resentment. It`s hard to grow, it`s hard to
move forward. But that`s really a source of happiness for all of us.
It doesn`t always make us feel happy. It doesn`t always give you that
feeling of like you know, of skipping down the street because you`re
struggling or you`re trying hard, learning. You are helping somebody,
maybe that`s not so fun but it makes you happy because you know it`s the
right thing to do. You`re living a life that reflects your value, you`re
pushing yourself forward, and that brings a kind of enduring long term
foundational happiness that transcends -- a foundation that also transcends
HARRIS-PERRY: I love this. It is, in fact, a challenge but one that
Americans are into from 1776 right on forward.
Gretchen Rubin, Yolanda Pierce and Dr. Drew Ramsey, thank you all for being
Carmen, thank you for being here. You always have the best parent stories.
I got to do an interview with you just on that.
Up next, that giant tuition check that you`re writing isn`t going where you
think it is. Stay with us.
HARRIS-PERRY: This Thanksgiving is the first time many students returned
home during their first semester at college. Undoubtedly, regaling family
with stories about philosophy 101 over dinner on Thursday. College is
great, but not cheap.
The National Center for Education statistics reported that in 2011, the
average annual cost of college education at a 4-year institution was more
than $22,000. To cover these costs, the college board estimated that in
2011, about 57 percent of public four-year college students graduated with
debt averaging $23,800, and two thirds of the private school counter parts
got degrees and a bill for nearly $30,000 in education debt.
Most students and their families have no idea that a growing proportion of
those teaching these expensive classes are subsisting on poverty wages,
multiple jobs and living without health insurance, retirement savings or
job security; 78.3 percent is how much of all instructional faculty in 1969
was tenured or in tenured track positions, while only 33.5 percent were
tenured or in tenured track positions in 2009. With 66.5 percent of
faculty ineligible for tenure at all.
Tenure is not a lifetime guarantee of employment in the face of mediocrity.
Tenure ensures due process, a vote in how your institution is governed and
the freedom and responsibility to pursue innovative research.
It is the foundational core of American higher education. But as colleges
rely ever more heavily on adjunct professors, this foundation is eroded;
75.5 percent of faculty members and instructors are in contingent positions
off the tenure track, and 54 percent of contingent faculty teach in more
than one institution, 29 percent teaching in at least two institutions.
So, instead of long hours engaging students in debate about issues raised
in class or helping guide students through assignments, instructors commute
between institutions and hardly prepare lectures in coffee shops because
they have no office of their own. A recent report by the coalition on the
academic workforce entitled a portrait of part-time faculty members, shows
a situation is not getting any better; 49.2 percent of all faculty members
are part-time, and make up the largest single category in the academic
And despite the high cost of college and their own significant student loan
debt from earning their own graduate degrees, these college instructors
make very little. $2,700 is the median pay per 3-credit course that a
part-time faculty member makes at a college or university. And only 22.6
percent of those surveyed said they have access to health benefits through
their academic employer; 56.7 percent of part-time faculty reported an
annual personal income of less than $35,000, that`s a fraction of what full
time tenured faculty at the same universities earn.
This is not a professoriate characterized by bearded men with elbow jackets
on their -- elbow patches on their tweed jackets and smoking pipes and
wandering across the quad, quoting Shakespeare. These are highly educated,
overworked, underpaid professionals who exist as second class citizens on
And when we come back we`ll talk about how their job conditions are
changing the character of American higher education and why all of you
students, parents and future employer should care about what is happening
HARRIS-PERRY: My first college teaching job was as an adjunct instructor.
I was finishing my PhD and teaching a few classes at a local college. In
two years, I defended a dissertation and transitioned to a tenured track
position, which ultimately led to tenure and a full professorship. So,
that means I`ve made a good salary and had health insurance and been able
to vote on campus issues.
But mine is an increasingly rare story within American higher education.
Dramatic shifts in college hiring practices mean that a majority now
teaching on our campuses are adjunct professors who don`t enjoy
opportunities for security, advancement and fair pay.
But there is a growing movement by adjunct professors, many of whom are
women, to fight for better pay by organizing themselves and joining unions
like the Service Employees International Union or SEIU. SEIU alone
represents more than 18,000 members at 10 colleges and universities, that
number is increasing and making a difference.
Part-time faculty with no union representation are in a median pay of
$2,475. But pay for part time faculty with union representation increases
to a median of $3,100.
And adjunct professors are not waging this fight alone. Students are
joining with their teachers because they know that the conditions their
professors endure directly affect their own learning environment.
At the table, Dorian Warren, associate professor at Columbia University,
Mary Ellen Bernard, an adjunct professor at Pace University, and former
corresponding secretary of the Union of Adjunct Faculty at Pace. Ed Ott,
former executive and political director at the Central Labor Council in New
York City. Maria Maisto, who is the president of the New Faculty Majority:
The National Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity.
Nice to have you all here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So I, Maria, have been pushing my executive producer to do
this forever. And he keeps saying to me, why should anybody care about all
poor college professors who don`t make enough money? I keep saying, no,
no, you should really care.
So, make the case, why should people care about this inequity on campus?
MARIA MAISTO, PRESIDENT, NEW FACULTY MAJORITY: Well, the primary reason is
we`re now 75 percent of the faculty on American college campuses and as we
say at NFM and, you know, throughout the adjunct movement, faculty working
conditions translate into student learning conditions.
And as a parent of three future college students, that makes me very, very
HARRIS-PERRY: And particularly I think when we look at the skyrocketing
cost of tuition, in part because of state-based disinvestment in colleges,
and you -- I think in part because colleges are still kind of these ivory
towers and behind these walls and gates, people in their communities, don`t
always know, and they think -- oh, these overpaid college professors are
the reason that my tuition is so high.
But that is, in fact, not the case at all.
MARY ELLEN BERNARD, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, PACE UNIVERSITY: No, really not. I
mean, there are a lot of reasons why tuition is high, there is a lot of
infrastructure the schools have to support, and a lot, a lot of other
reasons. They are trying to build programs, trying to attract students to
the schools, and of course they do have bureaucracies to support as well,
which for us is probably the most frustrating aspect of it. Because we`re
in that world but you know, we`re not -- we`re not sort of considered part
of that bureaucracy that`s being paid all of the time to do work of the
school, whereas we are doing the teaching of the school, which is you know,
really what we consider the most important part.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, so this point is such an important one. Dorian, as we
were preparing for this, I said to you earlier, the most depressing thing
for me was realizing how much the business I engage in. I think my primary
job in the academy looks like the Walmart segment we were having earlier,
where there is the inequity for folks who are full time or tenured track
faculty that is so different than the working conditions.
And on more than anything else, on governance, that people who are adjunct
faculty almost never have a vote in the decisions that are being made on
DORIAN WARREN, ROOSEVELT INSTITUTE: This is an example of one of the
institutions, higher education and we`re seeing the Walmartization, I just
made that up. But we`re seeing the Walmartization of higher education,
I mean, what we`re seeing in terms of the economy is affecting every kind
of institution. So, greater reliance on part-time and adjunct faculty with
no benefits, and it does affect student learning conditions. If you are
running around trying to prep for this course, meet with student, grade
papers, teach a course 20 miles away, another -- at another school 30 miles
-- this has an effect.
It gives a myth. I mean, it punctures the myth that all we got to do to
solve our economic problems is get as much education as possible. These
are people with PhDs and they cannot find full time work. So, there have
to be other kinds ever solutions we discuss to this broader problem. Not
only facing adjuncts but all workers in this economy.
HARRIS-PERRY: I like to point out we talk about you may not know next
semester whether or not you have a job in order to teach because of the job
insecurity. That also means students that if you took a class, for
example, with you this semester you may not be around next semester to
write a letter of recommendation. And I think it`s mostly invisible to
students. They see us standing up there and giving assignments, right?
And they don`t realize the differences in how people are experiencing their
What then can unionization do to help create a more fair set of labor
ED OTT, CUNY: If you have a collective bargaining agreement in place you
at least have some representation at a table where you can begin to
struggle out these issues. But the truth of the matter is you always spend
the first part of today talking about the private sector. You go through
40 years of wage suppression in the private sector and begins to look like
-- well, people in education in general, particularly in higher ed, why
should you be the only people with decent wages and benefits?
So, to the taxpayers, there is downward pressure on resources that
legislators are willing to put into the institution. So what happens?
What happens is someone who has gotten their education, gotten a higher
degree, developed a lot of experience in their field, ends up cobbling
together three or four jobs at the city university at different locations
trying to eke out a living and maintain benefits, which is something that
shouldn`t be lost.
The uncertainty you talked about -- for an adjunct they may go from the end
of August to December, and they have a job and they are eligible for health
care. Then no one`s fired by the way, they are not renewed. And when they
are not renewed, they not just lose their employment. They`re losing their
eligibility for benefits.
So, it has a tremendous impact on the community and the family.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, then, how does it feel to be on a campus where you are a
faculty member, where you have education, experience, as you point out,
you`re actually teaching the classes, but then you don`t end up at the
table or having any security around whether or not you`re coming back in
BERNARD: Well, that really is a major problem for me when -- particularly
when I first started and many years into that. Part of the issue is really
that I was very isolated from other adjuncts. I mean, teaching one course,
going from semester, rather from campus to campus as many people do, I was
coming from an outside profession, so this was just was one course that I
teach, bringing my professional experience to that.
But I never really saw any other adjuncts, never got to sort of trade
stories, get information, sort of see what the lay of the land is. And so,
there is really a sense of disunity among adjuncts and a sense that you
have really no perspective on what your employment situation is.
So, you don`t really know. Am I making you know, the right amount,
comparable to a full me professor? Am I being underpaid, overpaid? What
are the conditions that I even should expect? You know, it`s hard to
figure that out when you can`t really speak to anybody.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I want to ask more about the question of
allies. I ask this about Walmart. What should consumers do to make sure
there are living wages?
So what should parents and students and full time tenured faculty be doing
to make sure we`re not in these circumstances of inequality? When we come
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back and talking about the inequality in the
professoriate and the ways in which on our current campuses, a majority of
the people teaching the classes at your kids came home and talked to you
about over Thanksgiving dinner, a majority of those folks are not on the
So, Maria, we were talking in the break about this idea of having
colleagues and allies, and so, what those students and those parents who
are hearing this for the first time and folks who are tenured or untenured
track what should they be doing to create more egalitarian campuses.
MAISTO: Well, the first thing that people should do is really demand that
colleges disclose how many adjuncts are on their campuses, what their
working conditions are, do they have offices where they can meet privately
with students because that`s a federally protected right.
Another thing they can do is support adjuncts when adjuncts try to speak
out. A lot of adjuncts don`t because lacking academic freedom and due
process protections, they`re not going to -- they`re not going to feel that
they are safe enough to speak out.
And then, another thing that we can do -- one of the things we`ve done in
the movement is we`ve adopted this scarlet A, which is you know again for
those of us many of us English professors is a way to connect to get over
the stigma of being an adjunct and be proud of who we are and the work that
we do and help educate people about the importance of the work we do.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to push on this a little bit, Maria, because it does
seem to me there are reasonable and ethical ways to use adjunct labor as
part of a college education. So again, you know, when I was finishing my
PhD, it gave me great skills to learn teaching. It makes sense someone is
a professional, you know, perhaps a congressman who is going to teach a
class, right. But they are not making their living doing that.
What are the labor practices that are problematic versus the reasonable use
of adjunct member?
MAISTO: Right. Well, again, part of what we say is that it shouldn`t be
the -- whether or not a person coming in to teach as adjunct has access to
resources aside, apart from the university. It`s the nature of the work
that should determine the pay and the working conditions and so you show
respect for the work by paying a fractional percentage, prorated fractional
percentage what if a full time person should get.
And that`s what -- that`s how we support students because students pay
exactly the same tuition for courses taught by adjuncts as for courses
taught by full time faculty so they should get the same support.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ed, as you`re thinking as the labor organizer here then,
and I`m hearing, OK, there`s the same fear that we heard when we were
talking with Colby Harris about the idea someone could be fired or rather
not renewed. How do you start to build on a campus from the folks who do
have relative privilege and voice? I`m thinking about tuition paying
students, I`m thinking about tenured faculty. How do you get them on the
OTT: Well, it really depends. I`m a member of the Professional Staff
Congress, which is part of the American Federation of Teachers. You know,
what we realized and what I had to learn once I got out of the private
sector and into the university, was that once you go down this road of
fragmenting your professors and your teachers and breaking them down into
part-time parts, it`s very, very hard to dig out of it.
Right now, the union has been pressuring the university and the university
has turned back towards getting more full timers, but it`s going to take
years and years to dig out of that hole. It`s unfair to the faculty but
also as you pointed out before, it`s very unfair to the students.
And from an organizing perspective if you are running around New York City
on three different campuses, four different campuses, getting a job, you
don`t have time for anything else.
OTT: Your main goal is to get home to your family and do what else you got
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And that feels to me, Dorian, like it undermines the
other key aspect of what we were meant to be up to in universities, which
is the production of knowledge through research. How can one possibly be a
productive researcher in this context?
WARREN: You can`t. If you are teaching five courses and running from
campus to campus, as Ed just said, you don`t have time to do your research,
to write, to read, to stay up on the latest scholarship. You are only
teaching. What we`ve seen this split in higher ed so people like me and
you, we get to focus, we have the luxury to focus on our research.
HARRIS-PERRY: Before I took this second job. Yes.
WARREN: Because adjuncts and graduate teaching students are doing the
teaching that we should be doing. So we benefit from the subsidy of
teaching assistants. And so, it`s our job to say no, this is not right
said university. We need more tenured track lines, we need to go back
actually in many ways to the way higher ed -- we have the best system of
higher education in the world or we used to at least, primarily because of
the model of full time faculty being able to have time for teaching and
So, we need to get back to that and what`s exciting is much like Walmart
workers and other low wage workers, adjuncts, graduate teaching assistants,
are organizing and winning. And so, it`s up to us to support them.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask you this -- if we were to say look, we need
more Dorians and Melissas and full time tenured faculty and that sort of
thing. Does it do exactly the kind of concern people have around Walmart
to push out people who need jobs, who -- if that is the only model, then in
fact, we don`t have professionals with experience who are on campus who may
don`t have PhDs, or there are fewer sort of courses to be taught and
therefore sort of less to go around. That tends to be the counter
BERNARD: Yes -- well, that`s probably, that would be an argument but I
think there would probably be some sort of a transitional phase, because I
am of the old school of adjuncts, professional who is coming into this
world without any knowledge of the academia per se, but bringing my
professional experience from the performing arts, from the music business.
So that certainly I would think that there would still be a place for
people like me and like my husband who teaches with me.
But again, going back to what Maria said before, I think that value should
be placed on our knowledge and our expertise and experience than saying
this is just a supplement for their other income. The idea should be well,
they are bringing all of this information and knowledge that we don`t have
in this world. So they should be paid on that basis.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s valuable. It is the thing you know, the thing that is
meant to distinguish the system of higher education is that it`s not meant
to be profit driven, it`s not to be about how to get to the bottom line.
It is meant to be this other process and I like so much again your point,
Dorian, that we always say, education -- education is the key to being out
of this but not if even at the top of education we`re doing the same thing.
Dorian Warren, Mary Ellen Bernard, Ed Ott and Maria Maisto -- thank you so
When we come back, starting a new business and giving others a new lease on
life. You`re not going to believe what our foot soldier is doing with
lobster. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanksgiving is America`s traditional time to express
gratitude for family and friends and community. It`s also a time to give
back and to eat well.
Now, imagine combining all of these.
Kyle Murdock, our foot soldier this week, is giving back to his community
in an unconventional way, with lobster -- lobster processing to be exact.
Kyle was a senior at Worcester Polytechnical Institute when he was inspired
to create an industrial lobster and seafood processing plant in Maine
called Sea Hag Seafood.
While he knew the business would help provide jobs to the local community
and cut processing costs, he did not know it would become a spring board
for people who have served prison time to be re-immersed into the
workforce. Just before Sea Hag Seafood launched in August of 2012, a work
release program in Maine encouraged Kyle to hire incarcerated workers
through its restitution program. Kyle said he jumped at the opportunity
after seeing how a similar program helped his brother to get back on his
feet after a stint in prison.
Kyle told us that he wanted to provide others with the same opportunity
that his brother had upon release. His $10 million a year business is now
a large employer for the Saint George Maine area, hiring 65 people during
peak season, two-thirds of whom are work release participants from the
local correctional facilities. The other employees are residents of Maine,
where 17 percent of citizens live below the poverty line.
And the impact Kyle`s company is having goes beyond the paychecks that it
provides. For employees, there`s also a restoration of pride.
Here is Sea Hag Seafood floor supervisor Roson Candell (ph).
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I came from the work release program. I had other jobs
before and just the atmosphere was inmate, inmate. You`re treated
differently than the people that were civilians.
But when you get here, all of that changed. Like that`s frowned upon here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That`s right. That`s how our day starts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Though his company has made a significant difference in the
St. George community, for Kyle, it was all just part of the job. He told
us, `When we started working through some of these programs, it wasn`t out
of a sense of altruism. We thought that`s kind of what we should do
anyway. I definitely think it`s become part of our core philosophy.
Kyle`s application of that philosophy has expanded since 2012.
After noticing other barriers that people with criminal records face when
rejoining the workforce, he decided to help his employees surpass one of
those obstacles. In early 2013, Sea Hag Seafood acquired a property
specifically for employee housing.
In order to better aid workers who don`t have access to transportation,
foreseeing the potential in processing lobster claws to help get people
back on their feet, Kyle Murdock is our foot soldier of the week.
And that is also our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching.
Now, I`m going to see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for a
comprehensive look at one of the very best things about the holiday season,
and about America, and all that good stuff. P-I-E, pie.
And if you baked a delicious pie for your holiday celebration, show us.
Tweet us a picture of what you made through @MHPShow and use the #nerdpie.
We`re going to be putting some of the best photos on TV all throughout the
show tomorrow -- and, of course, talking about pie. That`s on tomorrow`s
Right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2013 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2013 Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
WATCH 'THE MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY SHOW' SATURDAY AND SUNDAY AT 10:00 A.M. ET ON MSNBC.
MORE FROM MSNBC
Add msnbc headlines to your news reader: