Houston Workers Celebrate Passage of Wage Theft Ordinance

After months of door-to-door organizing, petitioning, phone calls to lawmakers and mobilizing by a coalition of more than 30 community, faith and labor groups including Working America and Fe y Justicia Worker Center, the Houston City Council today passed a historic city wage theft ordinance that restricts the city from doing business with wage theft offenders. Houston is the first city in Texas to do so.

The ordinance provides a process to bring wage-theft claims forward and calls for the city to build a public database to track and bar wage theft offenders from getting city contracts, permits or licenses.

“The Houston City Council’s passage of this ordinance proves that the voice of the people is stronger than the checkbooks of special interests,” said Working America member Elisabeth Johnson. “I’m excited to be part of this amazing movement and look forward to the next fight.”

Johnson collected letters in favor of the ordinance and spoke at the recent city council meeting where the ordinance was considered.

“We went door-to-door talking to thousands of Houstonians, mobilizing them to call, write and push the City Council to stop allowing a few businesses to take advantage of working families,” said Durrel Douglas, Working America Texas State Director. “We called on our lawmakers to listen to the people—and they did.”

The ordinance goes into effect immediately.

For more information, contact: Durrel Douglas, 832-857-5737; Aruna Jain, 301-461-9576

Photo by @SenatorSylvia on Twitter

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Statement on Election of Martin J. Walsh as Mayor of Boston

marty_victory

Today, working families across Boston celebrate the historic election of Marty Walsh to be the next mayor of Boston, succeeding outgoing Mayor Thomas Menino.

Voters cast their ballots for Walsh, who has dedicated his career to improving our public schools, creating good jobs, expanding options for affordable housing and fighting unfair foreclosures, and creating a Boston that embraces all its communities.

Across the city, people mobilized in vast numbers, reaching out to their neighbors and friends about the importance of electing a candidate to represent working-families.

“In all my conversations with people, one thing was clear: They want to see better jobs, better schools and a better Boston,” said Working America organizer Michael Conway. “I’m excited about what this means for my hometown.”

Conway and other Working America Boston organizers had more than 45,000 face-to-face conversations with people across the city, from Roslindale to Roxbury, from Jamaica Plain to Mattapan. In the preliminary election, four out of five voters Working America spoke with voted on Election Day.

We congratulate mayor-elect Marty Walsh and the people of Boston on this historic victory—a victory for all working people.

Working America is the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO for people without the benefit of a union on the job. It has 11,000 members in Massachusetts.

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Minnesota Senate and House Pass Divergent Minimum Wage Bills, So What’s Next?

The Minnesota Senate on Thursday stood up for workers and voted to increase the minimum wage to $7.75 without penalizing tipped workers. This vote comes on the heels of the Minnesota House voting to raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 indexed to inflation. That legislation better helps working families secure a more stable economic future.

The Senate bill does not go far enough and we urge our lawmakers as we move to the conference committee process to stand with the thousands of working people who want a strong increase in the minimum wage to $9.50, indexed for inflation.

“People are struggling to piece together two or three jobs at $7.25 an hour and they still aren’t making ends meet,” said Working America State Director Bree Halverson. “We need to support an increase to $9.50, so low-wage workers can stop the juggling act.”

Despite old, debunked arguments by opponents of the bill, it is clear that raising wages speeds economic recovery, is good for small businesses and would help more than a half-million Minnesotans, many of whom are Working America’s nearly 300,000 members in Minnesota. The bill includes raising the wage for tipped workers – who often are left behind in discussions on minimum wage.

So what’s next? The bills will be reconciled by a conference committee made up of three members from each house: Senators Eaton, Hayden, and Tomassoni, and Representatives Winkler, Metsa, and Poppe. Rep. Metsa, as you remember, took our Minimum Wage Challenge and lived for 5 days on a minimum wage budget to call attention to the issue.

The main concern is that the Minnesota Senate won’t accept a bill that raises the minimum wage beyond $7.75, which is far from adequate. That’s why we need you to call your senator and tell them: Raise the minimum wage to $9.50 and index it to inflation.

You can use our call tool or text MN to 30644.

Statement by Working America on Recent Events in Bernalillo County, NM

On Tuesday night, at a hearing to consider a minimum-wage raise in Bernalillo County, a Working America staff member and a Working America member were subjected to several smears on social media by prominent figures in New Mexico politics.

The member, a 19-year-old college student from Albuquerque, and our staff member, who has advocated for workers in New Mexico for more than five years, were offering testimony about why a raise in the wage is critical to thousands of families and to the health of the county’s economy.

These degrading comments have no justification and are not fit for public discourse. We thank the community and our allies who have defended our organizers and workers over the last few days amid a frenzy of activity and attention. We have received a direct apology from one of the offending parties and the other has been suspended from his position.

While we are saddened by these comments, it is clear that a few unfortunate choices have neither dampened the victory we feel for the 10,000 working people in Bernalillo County, nor has it diminished our resolve to continue to fight for working families in New Mexico. Now, 50,000 people in Bernalillo County and Albuquerque will have a wage increase that will pour money directly back into New Mexico’s communities, businesses and economy.

We congratulate these two women for their outstanding work. We stand proudly with them and with the working families who represent the best of New Mexico.

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Largest New Mexico County Raises Minimum Wage – Despite Governor’s Opposition

Yesterday, working people in Bernalillo County won a hard-fought victory as county council members passed a minimum-wage increase by a vote of 3-2. The minimum wage will go up from $7.50 to $8.50 – an increase that will help approximately 10,000 people.

This victory was built on a similar one in Albuquerque last November, when a whopping 66 percent of voters passed a minimum wage increase in that city. As a result, over 40,000 workers got a raise at the beginning of this year.

Less than a month after Gov. Susana Martinez’ “Good Friday” veto of a statewide minimum wage increase (and her subsequent scrubbing her website of all mention of the bill), the people of Bernalillo county spoke loud and clear. Now, low-wage workers in the most populous county in New Mexico will get a modest increase in their wages – money that will be put back into the local economy, help reduce turnover, increase productivity and improve the health of small businesses and communities.

The implementation will take place in two phases: an $8.00 increase on July 1st and another increase to $8.50 on Jan. 1, 2014.

There was, and remains, overwhelming support for a living wage in New Mexico and throughout the state. Both the New Mexico House and Senate passed the one-dollar increase before Gov. Martinez vetoed it, calling it a “gimmick.”

We will continue to work diligently to ensure the wage increases will be implemented.

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50 States in Five Years

On Thursday, Working America will kick off its 10th anniversary celebration by announcing plans to expand into all 50 states in five years as well as new efforts to organize workers at their workplaces.

“Every day, we talk to people struggling to support their families or piece together a living with their current jobs,” said Working America Executive Director Karen Nussbaum. “These are people who want to see changes in their communities or on the job. This expansion allows working people to make a difference in new states and communities.”

On Thursday, Working America will host a “50 in 5” launch event, featuring AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President Emeritus John Sweeney, American Bridge 21st Century President Rodell Mollineau, U.S. Sens. Al Franken, Tim Kaine, Martin Heinrich, Bernie Sanders and other guests.

As Working America expands nationally, it will continue its year-round community organizing and electoral and legislative work, as well as pilot different methods of organizing workers on the job. Those models and tactics include a workplace organizing site launching in May called fixmyjob.com.

Currently, Working America is in a dozen states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan and Oregon. It recently opened offices in Texas and North Carolina.

“Working America is an example of the way the AFL-CIO’s door has to be—and will be—open to any worker or group of workers who want to organize and build power,” said Trumka. “Its expansion into 50 states means that every week, at front doors, workplaces and community gatherings all over America, thousands of people can build power locally.”

“Working America’s impact has already been felt here in Texas,” said Richard Shaw, secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO Council. “It brings an entirely new outreach dynamic to our labor movement in Houston, and it will do the same in all the communities it expands into.”

Press Contact:

Aruna Jain: 202-637-3952, 301-461-9576, ajain@workingamerica.org

Christian Norton: 202-637-5368, cnorton@workingamerica.org

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Minnesota Lawmaker Will Live On Minimum Wage

As legislation to raise the minimum wage to $9.95 makes its way through the Minnesota State Legislature, Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) is taking up Working America’s challenge to live on Minnesota’s current minimum wage for five days.

“I can’t possibly know the reality of the day-to-day struggles faced by people living on minimum wage, which is currently $7.25/hour,” he said. “But as HF 92 is considered by my fellow lawmakers, this is an attempt to better understand an economic situation most of us have never been exposed to.”

Despite old, debunked arguments by opponents of the bill, it is clear that raising wages speeds economic recovery, is good for small businesses and would help more than a half-million Minnesotans, many of whom are Working America’s nearly 300,000 members in Minnesota. The bill includes raising the wage for tipped workers—who often are left behind in discussions on minimum wage.

“It’s been very difficult to live on minimum wage,” said Working America member Avita Samuels, who works at Mall of America and lives in Saint Paul. “I appreciate these efforts to highlight what it’s like for workers like us.”

Using the JOBS NOW Coalition’s cost-of-living expenses breakdown for an individual with no children living on minimum wage, Metsa will spend the week going to work, planning a budget, grocery shopping, meeting with constituents and figuring out how to budget his transportation costs. His experiences will be documented through regular updates on social media and elsewhere.

“People are struggling to piece together two or three jobs at $7.25 an hour and they still aren’t making ends meet,” said Working America State Director Bree Halverson. “We’d like to raise awareness about this issue in a way people will pay attention to.”

For regular updates, follow the hashtag #mnwage, @workingamerica and @jasonmetsa on Twitter, and our Facebook page

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Statement by Working America Executive Director Karen Nussbaum on Re-election of President Barack Obama

Working families across the nation, including our 3 million members, celebrate President Barack Obama’s victory last night and the countless other candidates and ballot measure victories in places like Massachusetts, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia that will move working Americans forward.

The issues our members care most about—jobs, education, Medicare—are the issues that won these elections across the country. Actions spoke louder than words. Obama’s rescue of the auto industry and millions of jobs prevailed over Romney’s record at Bain Capital; Elizabeth Warren’s record as the “sheriff of Wall Street” was more important than Scott Brown’s claims of bipartisanship; Sherrod Brown’s lifetime of siding with working people swamped Josh Mandel’s support of the Ryan budget. A measure to increase the minimum wage for the people of Albuquerque won resounding support over corporate campaigns to defeat it.

In these and other key battleground areas, Working America reached 3 million swing, undecided, low-turnout and leaning voters—1.5 million through direct contact and 1.5 million through voter-to-voter contact.

Two-thirds of Working America members—largely working-class moderate and conservatives—voted for President Obama. Nearly three-quarters voted for our endorsed Senate candidates, such as Sherrod Brown, Tim Kaine and Elizabeth Warren.

Today, we will take the electoral gains we made and the vast relief we feel—and we will build, organize and continue the fight for good jobs, a just economy and a new opportunity to hold our leaders—new and old—accountable.

It’s up to us to make our lawmakers listen to us. This is a daily, year-round task. And it starts right now.

Working America Connecting Work, Unions and Communities

Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

While many know of the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate Working America as a high-level field operation that wins on issues and in elections, it has evolved into much more. Employing new tools and strategies, Working America is working with dozens of unions and progressive allies to strengthen ties between communities and local labor to build progressive infrastructure for the long haul. We’re in it to win it. Below are some examples.

  • In New Orleans and Vermont, Working America is teaching teachers how to go door to door to sign up Working America members interested in the issue of education to build strong community support for local teachers.
  • In Montana, Massachusetts and Texas, Working America is collaborating with central labor council leaders to train union and volunteer activists to build their power locally by recruiting friends and neighbors into Working America.
  • In Portland, Ore., Working America is partnering with the immigrant rights organization Causa for a May Day celebration for working families and signing up new members.
  • During door-to-door conversations in North Carolina, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Working America is facilitating voter registration—using iPads to let people know if they aren’t registered or their information is outdated and offering registration applications and instructions, if needed.
  • In Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota and more, Working America is generating thousands of hand-written letters and personal phone calls from working families to legislators and media to defeat “right to work” for less and other anti-worker initiatives.
  • Working America is helping a dozen different unions build community and workplace support during certification efforts and contract fights. We do this by providing an organizational home for pro-union workers who don’t have a union on the job…yet.
  • Workers who want to join the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) who haven’t won an election at their workplace can now join the Food and Tobacco Workers Committee within Working America and stay connected to the labor movement.
  • On college campuses in Atlanta, Austin, San Antonio and New Orleans, including Spelman, Morehouse, Texas State and Xavier, we are recruiting students, young workers and organizers to work for the labor movement.
  • When Minnesota lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, Working America organizers began going door to door in working class neighborhoods, talking about the need to focus on jobs rather than social wedge issues—inoculating people otherwise vulnerable to divisive, right-wing messages.