Low Wage Workers Celebrate a Special Anniversary at the White House

Edgar became involved with Working America during our work on an Anti-Wage Theft campaign on Auraria Campus. He is a father, a husband, a part time student, an intern,  and a valet attendant.  He has since developed into a spokesperson on behalf of low wage workers everywhere.

In April, the Department of Labor facilitated a series of minimum wage round tables across the country. In Denver, Edgar’s participation and story struck the hearts of those who attended. He explained the difficult choices he is forced to make as a low wage worker, providing the only source of income for his family while his wife is on unpaid maternity leave caring for their newborn baby. He would love to be able to invest in his daughter’s future, but said it’s tough with his current income.

After this event in Denver, Edgar was invited to participate in the celebration for the  75th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act and a Senate committee hearing addressing the effects of raising the federal minimum wage in Washington D.C..

At this event, Edgar and three other participants were chosen out of close to 20 low wage workers to tell their stories to Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris and other top economic advisors. Vice President Biden spoke on behalf of raising the minimum wage with Edgar and other workers filling in the stage behind him: “The people behind me have an incredible amount of self-respect. They deserve to be paid in a way that reflects the dignity that they exude.”

President Obama has suggested that the federal minimum wage be increased to $9.00 an hour. A bill by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.55 an hour.

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Don’t Forget That the Supreme Court Just Allowed Workplaces to Become More Hostile

While the focus in the past week has been on Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, voting rights and affirmative action, two other rulings released this week have made it easier for employees to be harassed in the workplace and reduced the legal recourse those workers have to end harassment. In two separate 5–4 rulings, in which the conservative justices sided against workers, the court made it harder to take recourse against a supervisor who is harassing a worker, and made it easier for bosses to punish workers who complain about discrimination.

In the first case, Vance v. Ball State University, the court ruled workers only are protected against a supervisor who has the power to make “significant change in [your] employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits” or if the company ignores the fact a supervisor without this power is engaging in harassment. This very narrow definition of “supervisor” makes remedying harassment more difficult and ignores the reality that many supervisors without hiring and firing power have the ability to make an employee’s life much more difficult.

The second case, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, eliminated so called “mixed motive” retaliation claims under existing anti-discrimination law. Employees who pursue discrimination claims now will have to prove that discrimination was the sole thing on their boss’s mind when they were fired or demoted. Previously, discrimination only had to be one factor involved in punishing an employee and bosses were required to reveal what they were thinking at the time of the punishment. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, that standard is almost impossible to meet, since few people in the real world are motivated by a single cause.

Ginsburg called on Congress to adopt legislation to fix both of these rulings and restore protections for workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Photo by stephenmasker on Flickr

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Here’s a Bright Idea: Let’s Expand Social Security

In a Progressive Leaders Forum Town Hall meeting that will air Wednesday on SiriusXM 127′s “The Agenda” radio show, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) joined Nancy Altman of Social Security Works, Edward Coyle of the Alliance for Retired Americans and host Ari Rabin-Havt to discuss the future of Social Security, including Harkin’s proposed legislation that would expand Social Security benefits. The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 (S. 567) would raise the monthly Social Security benefit by about $65 and would measure inflation not with the chained CPI (a benefit cut), but using a more accurate measure of inflation for seniors (the CPI-E). The CPI-E would increase COLAs. The bill also would eliminate the Social Security tax cap so the wealthiest people would pay the same rate the rest of us pay. Under this bill, Social Security would be able to pay out full benefits to the year 2049.

Social Security should not be part of any deficit reduction debate, says Harkin. But Republicans are injecting Social Security into those debates because they want to cut the program—even though Social Security adds nothing to the deficit.

Nothing contributes more to keeping the middle class out of poverty than Social Security, Harkin says. The real solution to strengthen Social Security funding for the long term is to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share. The future projected Social Security shortfall is very manageable, Altman says, but an enormous amount of money is being spent in an effort to privatize the program so Wall Street bankers can profit from seniors’ retirement funds.

In recent years, the importance of Social Security has become greater than ever. When Harkin first came to Congress in 1975, half of America’s workers had pensions. Now that figure is closer to 20%. Harkin said 52% of people have less than $10,000 in savings. (As reported last week, the United States faces a retirement security crisis.) That’s why he wants to increase the benefits that Social Security pays out each month. The AFL-CIO also supports expanding and improving Social Security benefits.

Coyle says Alliance members are as angry as he’s ever seen them. They recognize that no amount of cutting to Social Security will affect the deficit. Altman reminded everyone that Social Security is completely self-sufficient; it currently has a $2.7 trillion surplus and it is extremely cost-effective, with administration costs amounting to less than 1% of the program’s budget.

Panelists and audience members discussed ways in which Social Security has helped them personally. Coyle says his father passed away when he was seven years old and his family waited for their Social Security check each week to survive. Audience member Diane Fleming says Social Security was vital to her family after her father passed away when she was three. When Harkin’s father became ill with black lung and could no longer work in the mines, his family also needed the benefits. “It was Social Security that kept our family together,” Harkin says. Social Security is the country’s largest children’s program, Altman adds. “It’s meant to protect the whole family,” she says.

Panelists strongly opposed raising the retirement age and forcing people to “work until they die.” They also opposed dividing people by basing benefits or treatment on income or job type. “We’re all in this together,” Harkin concludes.

If you think Social Security benefits should be expanded and not cut, sign the petition at StrengthenSocialSecurity.org.

For more information on Social Security, go to RetiredAmericans.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Photo from Senator Tom Harkin on Facebook

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NY City Council Overrides Bloomberg Veto to Enact Paid Sick Days

On Thursday morning, the New York City Council overrode a veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) to pass a new paid sick days requirement for businesses with more than 15 employees. Employees at those businesses will earn five paid sick days each year. The law will be implemented in 2014 and initially it will apply to companies with 20 or more employees; after a year and a half it will apply to businesses with 15 or more workers. Smaller businesses will be required to provide their employees with five unpaid sick days.

The victory for both workers and consumers makes New York the fifth city and the largest with a paid sick days requirement. More than 1 million New York City workers will gain access to paid sick leave, joining workers in Portland, Ore., Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The state of Connecticut also requires paid sick days.

Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, said:

For far too long, the notion of taking a day off to care for a sick child or tend to personal health issues was financially unfeasible for many New Yorkers. In a time when so many are living paycheck to paycheck, the thought of losing a day’s pay, or the threat of being fired, was enough to make them go to work regardless of whether or not they were well enough to be there.

This legislation will help the sales associate who can now take a sick day, instead of helping customers while battling a long-term illness. This legislation will help the barista fighting the flu to stay home and recuperate, instead of showing up to work sick, for fear of losing wages.

A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, and I commend the City Council for its decision to allow New Yorkers to protect public safety by protecting their health.

Opponents of the new law say it puts too large a burden upon businesses, but in places where the laws already exist, the opposite has proven to be true:

A recent audit of the paid sick leave law in Washington, D.C., foundno negative impact on businesses, while a study of San Francisco found little negative impact and strong support among businesses, and another of Connecticut found a small cost with big potential upsides. San Francisco’s law was found to have spurred job growth.

Despite the law’s passage, 40% of private-sector workers still do not have access to paid leave nationally. Eighty percent of low-income workers lack paid sick days.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Photo by wilhelmja on Flickr

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Minimum Wage Hike Would Boost Kids and Workers Out of Poverty

Two new studies succinctly lay out the need for and the broad economic benefits of raising the federal minimum wage.

The Kids Count Data Book finds that the number of children living in poverty jumped by 3 million from 2005 to 2011—years marked by stagnant wages—and now 23% of the nation’s children live in poverty.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation report on child poverty, 26% of kids younger than 3 are poor and the rate for African American children is 39%. Yet two-thirds of children living in poverty have at least one parent with a full-time, year-round job and many of those are minimum wage jobs. Read the full report here.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United shows that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, as legislation in Congress would do, would boost more than half of the working poorin the United States out of poverty.

The ROC United report shows that some 6 million of the more than 10 million U.S. workers living below the federal poverty level would be raised out of that category by such an increase.

The working poor are defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as those who had jobs or were looking for a job for at least half of the year and still fell below the poverty line. The current national minimum wage is $7.25, but President Obama called for an increase and bills were introduced in both houses to increase the wage to $10 or more. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also proposed legislation to tie the minimum wage to prices in the economy.

Also of note are these graphics that show the inaccuracy of stereotypes about minimum wage workers: More than 70% of minimum wage earners have a high school diploma or higher and 75% of minimum wage earners are adults.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Why the Senate’s Immigration Reform Vote Matters, A Lot

Late yesterday, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It’s not a perfect bill, but if it were to become law, it’d be a big step towards an immigration system that respects and protects everyone.

The bill passed with a 68-32 majority—a bipartisan vote that managed to get past the usual Senate roadblocks.

This reform will be good for millions of undocumented people who could gain legal status and a path to citizenship, but it helps everyone else, too.

You’ll hear a lot of misleading talk about how this represents a big influx of low-wage labor that will drag down wages. That’s a claim that ignores some key points. First of all, undocumented workers aren’t working for lower wages and in tough conditions because of who they are; they’re in that position because, in their precarious position, they are often afraid to assert their rights or unaware of what those rights are. Corporations pay them what they can get away with, rather than what the law would require. Those workers are already here, and the mistreatment they’re subject to is the downward pressure on everyone in the workforce. It’s the undocumented status that’s the problem, not the people themselves.

Bringing people out of the shadows, into our communities, means that they’re more likely to get a fair wage and safe conditions, because they won’t have to put up with the fear and isolation. This bill would make it harder for companies to exploit these workers. Raising standards for currently-undocumented workers raises standards for the rest of us, too.

As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka puts it, the bill

…allows people who are American in every way except on paper to come out of the shadows, lift themselves out of poverty and be recognized as contributors to our communities and our country.

That’s why this bill was necessary—so we can rein in companies that try to exploit workers and lower wages, and so we can lift everyone up together.

The next step is for the U.S. House to act. Unfortunately, Speaker John Boehner and key Republicans have said that they won’t even give the Senate’s bill a vote. The responsibility is on them to move this process forward—and, if they don’t, they’ll need to be accountable for ending this shot at reform. Boehner has a lot of excuses and explanations, but in the end, the decision is in his hands.

Dear David: Train in Vain?

Question:

At the company I work for, employees are expected to attend training, usually four hours per day, Monday to Friday, for 30 days (without pay). Once training is completed, they may or may not get a chance to work, because the company has brought on so many people that most of the time only 10 percent can be on the schedule at one time. There are over 3,000 of us with the same job title working for this company all over the country. So many people are getting taken advantage of every day by this company. I know at least 90 percent of us feel the same way. A lawsuit has already been started, but I feel we need to organize and create a union to stop the abuses and manipulation of this company in its tracks. Where do I go from here?

— One in 3,000, Georgia

 

Answer:

Five days a week, four hours a day, for a month? That’s a huge investment of your time, especially when the odds are that it won’t pay off. What an incredibly disrespectful way to treat people who want to work for you.

While there are certainly times when seeking a legal solution is the right way to go, many workplace problems can’t be resolved that way. So it’s good that you are already thinking about another way to address your situation. Organizing with your coworkers, as you seem to understand already, is a smart way to hedge your bets.

Determining whether an individual must be paid for “training” turns on whether the training is for the benefit of the individual or the employee, whether the individual is doing work that otherwise would be done by an employee, and other factors. While the way these workers are being treated sounds terribly unfair, unless there is a contract in place and/or the employer made guarantees based on completion of training, an employer has no obligation to schedule employees for any minimum number of hours, or at all. However, even if this is bona fide training under the standards put out by the Department of Labor, the workers should look to consumer protection laws – such as laws against false or deceptive advertising – to see if this employer’s practices run afoul of the law.

There is a silver lining to the situation you’ve described. If 90 percent of you are feeling the same way about what needs to be changed, you’ve got fertile ground for organizing. Not sure where to start? That’s why we put together FixMyJob.com and OrganizeWith.Us. Check it out, and follow the steps together.

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Start Spreading the News, I’m Taking A Sick Day Today: Punching In

Senate passes immigration bill, all Democrats and 14 Republicans vote in favor.

Borrowing is cheap for banks and big institutions–but hugely expensive for poor people. Why?

A great interactive guide to the Supreme Court’s voting rights decision.

New York City finally passes sick days legislation.

And that’s big, because they’re now the largest city with a sick days ordinance.

Nurses fight to save the hospital they work at.

Learning opportunity: Philadelphia teachers try to organize at a charter school.

IBEW apprentices save seniors from a Pittsburgh fire.

Cartoon of the Day: Very appealing.

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka On Senate Immigration Bill

The United States Senate today moved our country a big step closer to building a common sense immigration system that will allow millions of aspiring Americans to become citizens.

Now it is up to the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead by allowing a majority of House members to vote on a bill with a path to citizenship.

Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team face a decision that will have ramifications for a generation: Block a roadmap to citizenship vote, obstruct the will of overwhelming majorities of working people and face a generation of electoral decline—or support citizenship and embrace America’s diverse future.

There is much that works for working people in the Senate bill. Most of all, it allows people who are American in every way except on paper to come out of the shadows, lift themselves out of poverty and be recognized as contributors to our communities and our country.  Unfortunately, the bill has become less inclusive, less compassionate and less just since it emerged from the Gang of 8’s bipartisan compromise.  We will work to see the bill offer even more protections to workers, more access to needed benefits, a far less militarized, more sensible border security program and fewer obstacles to aspiring Americans. Clearly, no further compromise to the roadmap to citizenship can be tolerated by the labor movement or our allies.

As this bill goes forward, we renew our call to President Obama to ease the deportation crisis that is wrecking workforces, families and communities.  More than a thousand aspiring Americans are being deported every day for no reason other than the absence of a working immigration system in the United States of America.

Now it is time for action.  Working people are more committed than ever to enacting meaningful, common sense immigration reform with a real path to citizenship.

For information: Jeff Hauser (202) 637-5018

Statement via AFL-CIO.org

This Mayor Doesn’t Like His City’s New Minimum Wage Law, So He’s Ignoring It.

This past November, 66 percent of Albuquerqueans voted in favor of raising the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50, and from $2.13 to $3.83 for tipped workers.

Despite this being the new law of the land, Albuquerque’s Mayor Richard Berry and members of the city council have refused to enforce it.

At the latest City Council Meeting on Monday June, 24th, Working America member Lorenzo Pino spoke out about the minimum wage increase and why it is the city council’s job to enforce the law.

“The minimum wage that the citizens of Albuquerque voted on has happened. One problem still exists. Have you been made aware of in the past some of the businesses here have not wanted to comply with this ordinance and some of them feel like they have a choice?

We know of some people that still have not received the minimum wage increase that went into effect on January 1, 2013. The county passed similar legislation that has language that would ensure the compliance.

So the question is: what mandate are you willing to take to ensure that they are met herein the city as well.

I have always been led to believe that we live in a democracy and that the majority rules. Well the majority spoke with the only voice they have in government, and it’s their vote. We spoke and you are ignoring our decision.”

Our members will continue to speak out during Working America’s “Got Your Raise Yet?” summer education campaign. Organizers will educate low wage workers on their rights, and continue to pressure the city council and Mayor Berry for the law’s enforcement.

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