On Thursday, December 19th, 2019, labor leaders from all across Montana visited the Federal Reserve Bank Branch in Helena, Montana with the MT AFL-CIO to learn more about the Fed’s dual mandate for managing inflation and maximizing employment. After a brief history of the branch building told over the sound of gunshots from the law enforcement practice range downstairs, the group made their way up to the board room to meet with Assistant Vice President Casey Lozar.
Lozar, who grew up in Polson, told some history of Montana’s involvement in the creation of the Federal Reserve. It was Copper King Augustus Heinz’s greed that caused the Knickerbocker panic of 1907 on Wall Street after trying to short squeeze the stocks of his company to drive up prices. The panic bankrupted Manhattan and put the US Treasury at risk. J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller bailed out the municipalities and secured the Treasury, but the panic resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913.
Montana’s influence on the Federal Reserve does not stop there. It was in fact, the Helena Branch that piloted and developed electronic checking, eliminating the need for the physical movement of thousands of paper checks. Montana having a strong influence on the nation’s economy is a point that Lozar drove home. He said that one Montanan can make a difference in Federal Reserve policy. He hears from the District President that “a man in Havre told me” and that his vote and input during decision making meetings are influenced by engaged individuals in our state.
This is one of the main reasons labor leaders are developing a better relationship with the Federal Reserve. Labor cares about the buying power of wages and maximum employment. We believe that people need one good job, not three that don’t make ends meet. What should the maximum employment really mean, and how do we get there while making sure wages go up enough to pay for necessities while maintaining the buying power of the dollar?
Leaders asked great questions at the meeting like, “Why aren’t wages increasing if unemployment is so low?” and “Have you done any research on the impacts of a $15 minimum wage?” “Are you looking at other economic impacts to workers, like childcare and housing?” The conversation was powerful and informative. Montana AFL-CIO and labor around the state looks forward to having more of these conversations and making sure the working people of Montana have input on federal economic policy.