This Labor Day, We Need to Pay Attention to the Wage Crisis

This weekend, amid the days at the beach and barbecues and last-minute back-to-school shopping trips, it’s worth remembering what Labor Day is really about: the work that builds this country, and the American tradition of workers coming together to get fair compensation for that work.

Unfortunately, this Labor Day, an ongoing crisis of employment and wages is making it hard for workers to carry that tradition forward.

Harold Meyerson puts the situation into stark relief:

Corporate profits — which comprise a larger share of the nation’s economy than at any time since World War II — are being plowed into share buybacks or dividend payments, but decidedly not into wage increases…The United States leads the industrial world in the percentage of its jobs that are low-wage


This situation has real, and negative, effects on the whole economy, notes Meyerson, as does Timothy Noah.

Part of the explanation is that middle class jobs are vanishing, especially in manufacturing, and the job growth we’ve seen after the recession hasn’t been the re-emergence of middle-income jobs, but their replacement with lower-wage jobs.

In many ways, our economy has become “financialized”: not only has the financial sector swelled to outweigh other industries, but every industry is facing increased pressure from a more-powerful financial sector to “maximize shareholder value:”

The pressure to respond to the short-term demands of Wall Street has paved the way for an economy in which companies are increasingly disconnected from the state of the nation, laying off workers in huge waves, keeping average wages low and threatening to move operations abroad in the face of regulations and taxes.

The result is that for many companies, labor costs start to look like just another input, rather than being actual people who create the value of the company.

And, predictably, that means an economy that distributes its rewards exactly how you’d expect:

Most of the modest growth has gone to the small share of the population that owns the vast majority of the country’s assets…workers only got about a third of the economic growth generated so far this year.

It’s no wonder than an overwhelming majority of low-wage workers, despite wanting to do well at their jobs, are feeling underpaid, frustrated and pessimistic.

Economist Jared Bernstein notes that the usual explanations about education or globalization are insufficient to understand what’s going on. He says that we need to make increasing overall employment levels a major priority, because that will increase working people’s leverage to demand more in wages.

And yesterday’s fast food strikes show that, for many working people, enough is enough. They’re ready to take action—at some risk to their own jobs—to speak out about how they aren’t getting paid enough to live on. And you can make your own day at work better using our website

As Teresa Tritch, writing in the New York Times, puts it:

There’s no intrinsic reason that service jobs at profitable corporations, say, in restaurants and big box stores, should pay so little. What is missing today is employee bargaining power…Corporations benefit from the status quo. Workers don’t. That’s why they want a new bargain.

More Than Just Fried Snickers at the Minnesota State Fair

Yesterday at the Minnesota State Fair, Working America was highlighted at the AFL-CIO Labor Pavilion. Working America members worked the booth and informed fairgoers about the importance of raising the minimum wage in Minnesota and launched our new Fair Scheduling Campaign that focuses on retail workers and service employees.

“Fair and predictable scheduling is important for so many reasons,” said Avita Samuels, a Working America member who is a retail worker at the Mall of America. “It really ties into this whole ‘Raise the Wage’ Campaign, as it really applies to somebody’s ability to make decent living for themselves.”

Working America members collected petition signatures from those who believe that all workers deserve a job with a schedule that guarantees they are able to work enough hours to provide for their families. All signatures will be taken to the Minnesota Department of Labor to commission a study, which could then lead to legislation that supports predictable scheduling, particularly in the retail and service industries.

“If workers don’t have fair scheduling, they are not able to  really plan ahead for the future, they are not able to get a second job if necessary,” Avita continued. “They are unable to do things like care for their kids because they can’t find babysitters as things are constantly changing. And it’s also just really important to know how to budget these days.”

A workplace troubleshooter was also at the Working America booth talking to visitors who expressed concerns with particular aspects on the job and highlighted the new web tool.

“This is why and the Dear David column are so necessary,” said member Leann Bosques. “People have real concerns out there and don’t know how deal with them. These tools give suggestions and solutions in areas and even some laws that pertain to workers, so it’s all very helpful.”

Ultimately with Working America Day, members sought to pass on a bigger message about using collective action to make changes. “Working America is so important and I think the labor movement is something that everyone should be involved in,” Leann said, “There’s strength in numbers and we have to make sure that the economy is improved but we can only do that if we do it together.”

To join our campaign for fair scheduling in Minnesota, email Chase at [email protected]

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Workers to Walmart: Act by Labor Day or Pressure Mounts

The growing group of Walmart workers across the country who are demanding justice and a decent wage have given the giant retailer a Labor Day deadline to meet their demands or face intensified and widespread actions.

Since Walmart workers began speaking out last fall through strikes and other actions spotlighting Walmart’s miserably low-wages, benefits, poor working conditions and, what they say is, abusive treatment by management, they’ve paid a price.

According to the worker group Our Walmart, 20 workers were allegedly fired and another more than 50 disciplined after they took part in a strike against the retail giant in June. Reinstatement of those workers and increased wages are the key demands.

Last week in Washington, D.C., nine workers who lost their jobs at Walmart after participating in a strike and one current employee held a sit-in in Walmart’s Washington, D.C., offices. The 10 were arrested for their civil disobedience.

One of those arrested workers, Brandon Garrett, who says he was fired after taking part in a June strike that included a demonstration outside Walmart’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters, says:

We’re not backing down…it’s time to draw a line in the sand. Let’s send Walmart a clear message: If you fail to act by Labor Day, actions will intensify around the country.

Read more about Garrett. See profiles of other fired Walmart workers here and here.

Show your support for Walmart workers by signing a petition calling on Walmart to respect workers’ rights and pay a living wage. Find out more at Our Walmart and at Making Change at Walmart.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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14 Worker Struggles To Pay Attention To This Labor Day

Sure, to some people #LaborDayIs about barbecues and fashion rules. But #LaborDayIs also about, you know, labor. Today, workers across the country are struggling for decent wages, safe workplaces, affordable healthcare, and even basic civil rights.

North Carolina’s Moral Monday

North Carolina's Moral Monday

Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) and the North Carolina legislature have passed huge cuts to state unemployment insurance, an overhaul of the state tax code, big education cuts and the nation’s strictest voting restrictions. Lead by the NC NAACP’s Rev. William Barber, North Carolinans of all stripes have gathered by the thousands to for huge weekly “Moral Monday” protests to stand up to Gov. McCrory’s agenda.

Learn more about Moral Monday and check out some sweet protest photos.

Oh and thanks to @sherierb for the thumbnail photo.

The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers

The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers
After the huge protests in 2011 against Wisconsin’s new collective bargaining restrictions, Gov. Scott Walker and his allies changed the rules at the state Capitol Building in Madison, requiring protesters to have permits. His reasoning? Um, none.

The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers had been gathering in the Capitol every day to protest the Walker agenda through song, and suddenly their gatherings were illegal. Singers started getting arrested. In response, hundreds of Wisconsinites joined their singing brethren to stand up to the ridiculousness of the arrests and the broader anti-worker Walker agenda.

Learn more about the Solidarity Singalong and read more intrepid reporting on the protests from John Nichols.

The fast food strikers

The fast food strikers

On August 29, fast food workers in 58 (!!!) cities went on strike for better wages and a voice at the workplace. Learn more from Josh Eidelson and check out some awesome strike photos on our Tumblr.

Walmart associates seeking respect

Walmart associates seeking respect

Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, pays low wages, inconsistent schedules, and little to-no health benefits. But across the country, Walmart workers are organizing primarily for respect at the workplace.

Learn more at

Philadelphia teachers, students, and parents

Philadelphia teachers, students, and parents

First, Gov. Tom Corbett cut over a billion dollars from public education in Pennsylvania. Then Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and school officials demanded $133 million in concessions from school employees. Philadelphia teachers, students, and parents are marching, striking, and even fasting to call attention to their city’s school crisis.

Houston wage-earners fighting against theft

Houston wage-earners fighting against theft

Houston workers are fed up with employers committing wage theft – not giving a last paycheck, making employees work after punching out, etc. – and are pushing the Houston City Council to pass a wage theft ordinance.

Learn more from the Down With Wage Theft campaign.

Washington, D.C. retail workers

Washington, D.C. retail workers

The D.C. City Council passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) in July, which raised the minimum wage for big box retail workers to $12.50/hour. Walmart responded by freaking out and threatening to cancel construction of their D.C. stores. Mayor Vincent Gray has still not made up his mind about whether to cave to Walmart’s wishes or stand up for D.C. retail workers at stores like Walmart, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Target.

Learn more about the LRAA and D.C. retail workers.

Albuquerque minimum wage workers

Albuquerque minimum wage workers

In the 2012 election, Albuquerque voters passed a minimum wage increase with 66 percent of the vote. But in 2013, Albuquerque’s Republican Mayor Richard Berry and members of his city council refused to enforce the new law.

No joke, they are actually telling workers who make as little as $4 or $5 an hour to hire private lawyers to sue their employers. That’s their solution.

Needless to say, Albuquerque workers aren’t taking this lying down. Working America and allies have launched a “Got Your Raise?” campaign to pressure city officials and educate workers about their rights. Learn more about the situation in Albuquerque or click here if you prefer your news in “Breaking Bad” form.

Concert tour dancers and choreographers

Last year, music video performers won a groundbreaking union contract after, establishing workplace standards for the industry after decades of advocacy.

Now, the Dancers’ Alliance and SAG-AFTRA are launching #theUNIONIZEtour to ensure that performers on concert tours have workplace protections, access to affordable health care, and a fair shot at gigs.

Watch the video above and learn more here.

LGBT workers in 29 states

LGBT workers in 29 states

Thanks to the activists who came before us, we have federal laws saying that you can’t be fired for being old, female, pregnant, or disabled (yay!). Unfortunately, in 29 states, there are no such protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender workers. That’s why workers’ rights and LGBT groups are organizing to pass a strong Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Learn more from Pride at Work.

Transgender workers in 33 states

Transgender workers in 33 states

Add Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire, New York to the map above. Pride at Work has great information on this too.

Domestic workers

Domestic workers

Millions of domestic workers, mostly women, are employed by households and businesses across the country. Most of them have little to no worker protections – no minimum wage, overtime pay no nothing.

State by state, domestic workers and allies have worked to pass “Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights” to establish basic protections. Ai-Jen Poo, founder and director of theNational Domestic Workers Alliance (and Working America board member #plug) toldThe Nation that President Obama might soon bring domestic workers under the protections of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which would be “one of the most significant victories for low-wage workers of this administration.”

Learn more about the Ai-Jen and the NDWA.

Mississippi auto workers

Mississippi auto workers

Auto workers at Nissan in Mississippi have been trying to exercise their basic right to form a union, but are getting blocked by the company. Lethal Weapon/workers’ rights star Danny Glover has been active in calling attention to the situation. Not only that, but Nissan workers in Brazil, France, and South Africa have expressed solidarity. Learn more at

Danny Glover: He’s not too old for this. #LethalWeaponJoke

Solidarity in Brazil.

No big deal, it’s just Common. (!!!)

Finally: 11 million undocumented workers and their families

Finally: 11 million undocumented workers and their families

Establishing a path to citizenship isn’t just about immigration. It’s about bringing millions of undocumented workers out of the shadows, where they are currently vulnerable to every employer abuse imaginable.

Learn more about the connection between workers’ rights and immigrant rights here.

What did we leave out?

What did we leave out?

There’s a lot more going on that we didn’t cover. Feel free to keep the list going in the comments below, and visit for more information on how you can get involved.

Respoted from BuzzFeed

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What #LaborDayIs All About: Punching In

14 worker struggles to pay attention to this Labor Day.

The myth of drug testing and welfare. It’s pervasive. But it’s a myth.

Martin Sheen reminds us what Labor Day is all about.

What Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh get wrong on wages.

Scott Walker blames Syrian unrest for lack of jobs in Wisconsin. #presidential

Also, Walker’s office tried to stop the reporting about him breaking his jobs pledge.

The labor movement is making inroads in Texas.

Why the civil rights movement needs to make room for young people.

Michigan “right to work” law going to the state Supreme Court.

Finally: Use #LaborDayIs on your social platform of choice to talk about what Labor Day is about for you.

Fast-Food Strike Supersized!

Fast-food and other low-wage workers in more than 60 cities—from major metropolises like New York City to smaller cities such as Missoula, Mont.—walked off the job Thursday as the fight for a living wage and the right to join a union without retaliation continues to grow.

Shaniqua Davis, who works at a Bronx McDonald’s and is the mother of a two-year-old, tells the New York Daily News:

I’m not going to stay quiet. I’m going to continue to fight….I’ve got a daughter to take care of. I struggle to make ends meet.

In Kansas City, Mo., more than two dozen workers demonstrated at a Church’s Chicken restaurant, while fast-food workers in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., marched on Arby’s, Burger King, Jimmy John’s, Papa John’s, Specialty’s Café and Bakery and Wendy’s.

Garrett McMahon, a worker at Specialty’s (a mostly West Coast chain), tells The Seattle Times:

It was definitely scary walking out. But I feel if I don’t do something, countless people are going to be stuck in the same rut I am.

The strike comes a day after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Among the demands of the 1963 march was for a minimum wage of $2 an hour, which would translate into $15.50 today—50 cents more than what today’s worker are seeking.

Check out the latest from Salon’s Josh Eideleson for an in-depth look at the fast-food movement.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Fast Food Strikes in 58 Cities, More Than 1,000 Stores: Punching In

More than 50 cities will see fast food strikes today as workers demand higher wages.

Ten reasons fast fast food workers deserve a raise.

The March of Washington wasn’t just a historic day–it was a triumph of organizing.

50 years later, the fight for full voting rights goes on.

Some Republican leaders come right out and admit it: voter suppression laws are designed to tilt elections in their favor.

Robert Reich has some good news and some bad news.

Wall Street’s greatest enemy? Not who you’d expect, writes Dave Dayen.

Um, Scott Walker is still arresting people for singing.

Finally: Check out the Chicago Public Schools walkout…lead by students.

At The Minnesota State Fair? Come Visit Our Booth.

It’s one of my favorite times of year here in Minnesota – time for the annual State Fair! This year, along with all the great food and sights, Working America will be there. We’re looking forward to meeting you-and we’re excited to help you make your job better!

Thursday is Working America Day at the State Fair, so don’t miss out.

Our focus at the fair will be on helping improve your day at work:

  • We’ll have information and activities to help you identify the biggest challenges on the job-and learn how to fix them.
  • We’ll introduce you to, our innovative new website that will give you the tools to solve tough issues and make the most of your work.
  • We’ll be campaigning in support of a higher minimum wage and fair scheduling for retail workers.
  • From 12 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, we’ll have a workplace troubleshooter to help answer your questions about how to fix problems on the job.

You can find us at the Minnesota AFL-CIO Labor Pavilion, at the corner of Cooper Street and Dan Patch Avenue in St. Paul.

Hope to see you soon!

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Workers Win Voice with AFL-CIO Unions

Emergency medical workers, massage therapists, bus mechanics and home health care workers are among the latest workers to choose a voice on the job with AFL-CIO unions.

In California and Arizona, some 240 emergency medical services professionals voted recently to join United EMS Workers-AFSCME.

Employees of First Responder EMS in Sacramento, Calif., won their election with 76% of the vote. EMTs at River Medical Ambulance-AMR in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., voted 90% in favor of AFSCME.

Crystal Forschen, a paramedic at First Responder EMS, says:

We’re standing together because we want EMS to be seen as a real profession, not just a stepping stone. The way we get it done is by having a strong, democratic and accountable union.

More than 3,000 workers in Northern California and New England joined United EMS Workers last year.

In Seattle, licensed massage practitioners at Massage Bar Inc. voted to join Office and Professional Employees (OPEIULocal 8. The 40 employees work at Sea-Tac Airport and the Washington Convention Center. Tom Tanouye, a 17-year employee, says:

We lack the basic benefits many health professionals enjoy, like access to affordable health care or paid sick leave. We hope to work in partnership with management to make improvements that will benefit employees and the company.

Earlier this year, Massage Bar employees at Sacramento International Airport voted to join OPEIU.

Workers at Reliable Home Health Care Services in Greensboro, N.C., joined Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 3607. The 37 certified nursing assistants and home health care workers won their union after they and Local 3607 President Chris Myrick negotiated a majority sign-up agreement with the employer.

More than two dozen diesel bus mechanics at the Delaware Transit Corp. voted to join Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2270. The workers reached out to the union after one of their longtime workers was unfairly fired.

Steve Rockafellow, IBEW regional organizing coordinator, says, “All of a sudden, the guys said, ‘Maybe we aren’t as secure as we thought we were.’”

Read a detailed account of the victory here.

Resposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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At Long Last, Medicaid Expansion Will Come to Michigan: Punching In

Michigan Senate clears the way for Medicaid expansion.

470,000 more Michiganders will get coverage.

More GOP-controlled states could still enact Medicaid expansion before the deadline.

Harold Meyerson: The link between civil and economic rights.

Minimum wage fight comes to the Minnesota State Fair.

What Scott Walker is doing with $500,000 of Wisconsin taxpayer money.

Finally: 50 years later, a modern march for newer dreams.