Let’s Take the Politics Out of the Minimum Wage by Indexing it to Inflation

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The Minnesota legislature is currently holding up the passage of a bill that would raise our minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015. The key sticking point is that the House and Senate cannot agree on whether or not the state’s minimum wage should be indexed to inflation.

Indexing would allow the minimum wage to keep its value in the years to come, by automatically making small annual increases to the wage based on inflation–not based on the current political climate. It is unclear to many of us who support raising the wage, why our DFL-controlled Senate would not want to take this opportunity to take the politics out of future minimum wage increases.

Minimum wage workers haven’t seen a raise in years, and historically the wage has been woefully behind the rising costs of living. In fact, Minnesota has been even further behind almost every other state, with an abysmally low minimum wage of $6.15 an hour, making us one of only four states that have a lower minimum wage than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. This is largely due to politics getting in the way of past efforts to raise the wage.

It continues to be challenging for many states to do more than marginal reforms to minimum wage when conservative groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association spend big money to lobby politicians, spreading the repeatedly debunked myth that the economy will crumble if the minimum wage is increased. The Minnesota DFL majorities in the legislature have a real opportunity to win a strong victory for working people and break this cycle of letting corporations overpower the voice of working people.

Indexing the minimum wage to inflation is a common sense solution to the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans and has already proved to work well in other states. The state of Washington has the highest statewide minimum wage of $9.32 an hour, which has been indexed to inflation since 1998. Since then, Washington’s economy has not only decreased poverty, but it has created more jobs, including a 21 percent  increase to the payrolls of restaurants and bars.

The Minnesota Senate needs to do the right thing and follow through to raise the minimum wage and include indexing.

Recently, Working America members have been engaged at the capitol to speak directly with members of the Legislature.

Judith Nunez works two part-time, low-wage jobs and got engaged with the minimum wage campaign for the first time at a workers’ roundtable meeting with legislators who were taking the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge.“We are all human beings and it shouldn’t be this hard for any of us to provide the basic needs we all share,” Judith told legislators.

Minnesotans need to tell their state senators to support raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015 and it needs to be indexed. Send a message now.

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Getting the Facts on What a Higher Minimum Wage Means for Minnesota

In Minnesota, we currently have a number of bills in the legislature that propose to raise the minimum wage from between $7.50/hour to $10.55/hour. Yesterday, the JOBS NOW Coalition and University of Minnesota Labor Education Service hosted a panel of experts from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Economic Policy Institute and the University of Minnesota to discuss the relationship between the minimum wage and building a sustainable economy. The panel discussed the many dimensions to this issue and how a larger increase to the minimum wage would have a much more positive impact, not only for low wage workers, but Minnesota’s economy as a whole.

Here are some key takeaways from yesterday’s panel, via the JOBS NOW Coalition.

  • Far from being a national leader, Minnesota is one of only five states or territories whose minimum wage is below the federal. The other four are Wyoming, Arkansas, Georgia, and Puerto Rico.
  • Historically costs rise over time, and a dollar today buys less than a dollar a year ago, ten years ago, or forty years ago. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with inflation and maintained it’s purchasing power since 1968, it would today be over $10.55 an hour, or $21,944 a year for a full-time worker.
  • In Minnesota, raising the minimum wage to about $10.00 an hour would mean better wages for half a million workers. Some 78 percent of those workers are age 20 or older, and 35 percent are married or are parents.
  • A growing number of economic studies show that increasing the minimum wage preserves jobs and may even stimulate small net increases in jobs. A nationwide study shows no job loss resulting from minimum wage increases from 1990 to 2006, even where a county on one side of a state border has a higher minimum wage than a county on the other side.

Near the end of the discussion, economist John Schmitt for the Center for Economic and Policy Research dispelled what he thought was the biggest myth about the minimum wage. He said that too often, people think that if workers are paid a low wage, it’s because that is what they are worth; but this is obviously not the truth. With decades of suppressing the minimum wage, busting unions, enacting unfair trade deals and creating an immigration policy that pits low wage workers against themselves, the decision for what a fair wage should be is almost entirely decided by anyone but the worker. It is this inequity in bargaining power that has lead to increased productivity and profits for employers and stagnant or decreasing wages for workers, as well as many other economic injustices. Ultimately, raising the minimum wage for all workers in Minnesota won’t completely solve this problem, but it’s a great step in the right direction.

Minnesota’s Photo ID Amendment: Common Sense Policy or Trojan Horse?

This November 6th, Minnesotans will voted on a constitutional amendment which will read on the ballot as follows:

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?

While this might seem like common sense, the so-called “voter ID” amendment is just another part of the corporate-backed, nationwide push to restrict voting rights. Here are just three reasons Minnesotans should vote NO on the voter ID amendment:

1.) One thing that the ballot question does not clarify, which the actual amendment does is, “All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot.” This is important, because previous legislation has defined “government-issued” to mean only a Minnesota Driver’s License or State Issued ID Card.  This means Passports, Military ID’s, Veteran ID’s, Student ID’s and Tribal ID’s, to name a few, will no longer be valid forms of government-issued photo ID.

To make matters worse, MN Statute 171.07 requires all citizens applying for driver’s licenses and ID cards have a valid permanent residential address. This means if you are a homeless veteran, victim of domestic abuse living in a shelter or a recent foreclosure victim, you cannot obtain the required ID needed in order to exercise your right to vote.

2.) Many other states that have passed similar laws (including Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kansas, Georgia and Indiana) provided clear provisions for those who cannot vote in person.  By doing this, they made sure that absentee balloting would be protected those who live in nursing homes and deployed military troops, for example, before the public decided to pass the amendments.  Minnesota’s Voter ID amendment offers no provisions for absentee voting, leaving it entirely up to the discretion of future legislatures, and throwing the voting rights of thousands of seniors into question.

3.) This constitutional amendment would effectively dismantle Minnesota’s very popular same-day voter registration system, which has allowed our state to become one of the highest in voter turnout in the country. The question of same-day registration is conveniently omitted from the ballot question, but included in the amendment as follows:

“All voters, including those not voting in person must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.”

This means that showing a valid ID will not be enough to cast your ballot.  Each and every polling place will need to verify that you haven’t had your voting rights revoked, in cases such as felons or documented immigrants.  This check will be required before you are allowed to vote, but will require expensive computer systems in each polling place (which we currently do not have) in order to process this eligibility check on Election Day.  If you register early, this should not be a problem, since the check should be completed ahead of time.  But for all of those who register on Election Day, which is 20 percent of Minnesota’s electorate or 500,000 voters, who are not able to be verified at the polling place are to be given a provisional ballot instead of a real ballot.

The intent of how these provisional ballots will work is described in GOP legislation that Governor Mark Dayton vetoed in 2011, “If a voter does not appear before the county auditor or municipal clerk within 7 calendar days following the election [to verify their identity and eligibility]…the voters provisional ballot must not be counted.” [HF210 – Sec. 24, 204C.135 – subd. 2(b)] The distance many voters will be required to travel to validate their provisional ballots will be over 100 miles round trip, which many eligible voters do not have the resources to make.  Most states with provisional balloting systems do not put this burden on the voter, but the Minnesota legislature has not clearly explained this burden before we vote on the amendment in November.

These issues alone should alarm all voters in Minnesota and raise into question the true intent of this constitutional amendment. Just like similar measures in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, and other states, backers claim to be addressing voter fraud while the real intent is voter suppression. Because the truth is, if less people cast their vote, less people are making their voices heard against anti-worker agendas and the increasing power of corporate money in politics.

Minnesotans may want to think twice before they cast their vote this year, because next year they may not be allowed to.

The Draconian Effort to Impose Restrictions on Unemployment Insurance

by Chase Brandau – Minneapolis, Minnesota

In late 2008, 28-year-old Rochester native Tim Wynn injured his hand on the job while working as a machinist and was eventually unfairly fired due to the injury. “It was at that time I had to file for unemployment insurance,” Wynn recalls. “Which was only a little over $400 a month, but we were able to make it work with one of us still working.”

Wynn had to rely on unemployment insurance for over a year, while looking for a job and simultaneously trying to get the surgery he needed for his damaged hand, but could not afford to pay for. However, if the federal system for unemployment benefits had been overhauled to include new proposals, Wynn would not have qualified for unemployment insurance.

Working America, the grassroots organization for workers whose 250,000 members in Minnesota have expressed great concern about these new requirements, has been bringing awareness to this issue to Minnesotans all over the state. “One of these new state requirements would be to deny unemployment insurance claimants without a high school diploma from receiving benefits, unless they are currently enrolled in a GED program,” says Working America’s Minnesota State Director, Brianna Halverson. “Barriers that would require jobless workers have diplomas are simply unfair and unworkable when the waiting lists for GED programs are sometime years long.”

Wynn, like many, had a family early in life. “I did what I needed to do,” he said, “Which was to take responsibility for my family and go straight into the workforce. I knew my career choices would be limited, but I was willing to work hard to provide for my child.”

“I never thought that I would have been in the situation I was in, but the idea that not having a high school diploma would prevent me from receiving unemployment insurance is outrageous,” exclaimed Wynn. “Actually, it would discriminate about half of the co-workers I’ve ever known, many of whom are currently out of work and would be devastated by this.”

Brianna Halverson adds, “This provision seems part of a larger agenda to stigmatize unemployment insurance by suggesting that Americans are jobless because of their own failings, rather than because our economy still has six million fewer jobs than when the recession started.”

After three years, Wynn prevailed in holding his former employer accountable for unfairly firing him; allowing him to get the surgery to repair his wrist. Wynn now has medical clearance to work again. When asked what would have happened if he had been required to have a high school diploma to receive unemployment insurance, Wynn said: “We would have lost everything. Those benefits were the only thing that kept a roof over our heads and our spirits up.” He added that without the insurance, he would never have been able to get surgery and would have lost use of his hand forever.

Information in a January 26, 2012 statement from Committee of Ways and Means Democrats indicates that if House Republican Bill HR 3630 is enacted, more than 35,000 Minnesotans would lose unemployment insurance.

“I want others in Minnesota to stop looking at unemployment insurance as something that only costs taxpayers money and which can be easily cut,” says Wynn. “When people have money to stay above water, that means they’re spending it into the economy, which keeps many businesses, employees and families above water as well. Congress should not make being jobless even harder than it already is.”

Originally posted on MN2020.

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Working People Still Under Attack In Minnesota

Chase Brandau reports from Minnesota.

Our neighbors in Wisconsin recently turned in an astonishing one million signatures to recall Governor Walker. My fellow Minnesotans and I praise what our brothers and sisters have accomplished in Wisconsin. We are thankful that we are not dealing with the same blatant assault on workers’ rights in Minnesota–but we are careful not to forget why that is. It’s only because of 8,770 votes that Minnesota prevented its public workers from sharing the same fate as the ones in Wisconsin.

Had our new Governor Mark Dayton not won by that small 8,770 vote margin, we likely would have suffered the same attack on collective bargaining here in Minnesota. But it would have been harder to fight back, since we Minnesotans only have the right to recall state officials under very specific circumstances, which make it much harder to trigger a recall election than in Wisconsin. We would have had to prove that our Governor committed “Malfeasance, Nonfeasance or a Serious Crime,” which doesn’t apply to new laws passed by the anti-worker politicians who now control our legislature.

Our hard work in 2010 made a difference. Our Governor has vowed to never support such legislation. However, now we face a different problem. The GOP controlled state legislature has decided to pursue their agenda through constitutional amendment ballot initiatives. This would bypass our Governor’s veto power and put the decisions to the general electorate in November–after millions are spent on misleading ad campaigns, of course.

The house and senate majorities are expected to strongly push the following three amendments: a so-called ‘Right To Work’ amendment, which would undermine workers’ rights and drive down wages and benefits in Minnesota; a voter ID amendment which would disenfranchise students, seniors, and minority voters; and a ‘Supermajority’ budget amendment which would require a 3/5 majority to raise any form of state taxes – ever. These three amendments stand a very real chance of getting on the ballot and would cause catastrophic damage to our state. They have already put an amendment on the ballot in November, to define marriage as only the union of a man and woman. None of these amendments address the primary concern that we hear from our members every day: the need for good jobs in Minnesota.

Working America is currently mobilizing our members to get informed about these constitutional amendments in their community, in the media and at the capitol. We are doing this now in order to educate as many Minnesotans as possible about the issues rather than waiting until November. Members are getting informed, energized and active, which is exactly what we need to stop this anti-worker, anti-social justice agenda.

Last year, we stopped so-called ‘Right To Work’ and the budget supermajority bill before it could even get out of committee. We need to make sure to do even more this year, because Minnesota won’t be able to reverse these amendments, or recall their authors, even with 1 million signatures.

Welcome to 2012!

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