23 Things Poor People Have to Worry About That Wealthier People Never Even Have to Think About

A recent Reddit thread discussed experiences people had while experiencing poverty, with a particular focus on those things that people are forced to buy or do that people who aren’t poor never have to think about, much less worry about. In thousands of comments, people recounted hundreds upon hundreds of stories of trying to find ways to maintain a minimal lifestyle in the face of extreme poverty.  One of the things that labor unions were created to do, and a key focus of the AFL-CIO’s Raising Wages campaign, was to prevent workers from having to suffer through these hardships and in states where union density is higher, wages for both union and nonunion workers are higher, meaning fewer people have to live through such experiences.

Here are 23 examples of things that people in the discussion described having to worry about that wealthier Americans never even have to think about. These are some of the key things that working families and labor unions are fighting to reduce.

1. Staying in an extended stay housing, a motel, or a hotel (and paying the higher rate) because you can’t qualify to get an apartment because you don’t have proof of income.

2. Digging through the trash to find uneaten food.

3. Scavenging the ground for change to buy a meal.

4. Searching everywhere for coupons to make necessities affordable.

5. Stealing products like toilet paper from public restrooms so you can actually have them at home.

6. Selling plasma in order to afford groceries or pay rent.

7. Buying clothes on layaway.

8. Driving on tires so bald they could cause an accident at any moment.

9. Pulling your own tooth rather than pay for a dental visit.

10. Doing laundry in the sink with dish soap.

11. Buying antibiotics and other medicines meant for animals because you couldn’t afford the pharmacy.

12. Learning when things like meat, fish and bread get marked down in price because they are going to spoil soon, so they are reduced for quicker sale.

13. Living in pain because you can’t afford prescriptions.

14. Paying hundreds of extra dollars to obtain furniture through rent-to-own stores.

15. Buying cheap plastic toys at the dollar store so your children have birthday presents.

16. Stretching peanut butter or other staples by diluting them.

17. Washing and re-using plastic spoons, forks, knives and storage bags.

18. Visiting a store or public building to get a few minutes of air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter.

19. Enduring the seemingly never-ending cycle of payday loans with exhorbitant interest rates that are hard to repay.

20. Dropping out of school to help your family pay the bills.

21. Using candles to keep electricity bills low.

22. Splitting two-ply toilet paper to make two rolls.

23. Buying lottery tickets to have some hope of a better future.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

A series of recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) make clear the case for why wages have stagnated in the United States.

Before digging into the details, it’s important to note a few things. First off, wage stagnation is not a small problem, it’s something that affects 90% of all workers. As one of the authors of these reports, Lawrence Mishel, says: “Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009 and 2013, real wages fell for the entire bottom 90 percent of the wage distribution.” Second, while the Great Recession made things worse, the problem goes back 35 years. And third, and most importantly, wage stagnation is a matter of choice, not necessity.

Here are five real reasons why wages have stagnated in the United States.

1.  The abandonment of full employment: For a variety of reasons, policy makers largely have focused on keeping inflation rates low, even if that meant high unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers means companies are under less pressure to offer good wages or benefits in order to attract workers. Since the Great Recession, austerity measures at all levels of government have made this problem worse. EPI says excessive unemployment “has been a key cause of wage inequality, since research shows that high rates of unemployment dampen wage growth more for workers at the bottom of the wage ladder than at the middle, and more at the middle than at the top.”

2. Declining union density: As extreme pro-business interests have pushed policies that lower union membership, the wages of low- and middle-wage workers have stagnated. Higher unionization leads to higher wages, and the decrease in unionization has led to the opposite effect. The decline in the density of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements not only has weakened the ability of unionized workers to fight for their own wages and benefits, but also their ability to set higher standards for nonunion workers. EPI notes: “The decline of unions can explain about a third of the entire growth of wage inequality among men and around a fifth of the growth among women from 1973 to 2007.” Read much more about the connection between the decline of collective bargaining and wage stagnation.

3. Changes in labor market policies and business practices: EPI argues: “A range of changes in what we call labor market policies and business practices have weakened wage growth in recent decades.” Among the numerous changes they describe include: the lowering of the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage, the decrease in overtime eligibility for workers, increasing wage theft (particularly affecting immigrant workers), misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and declining budgets and staff for government agencies that enforce labor standards.

4. Deregulation of the finance industry and the unleashing of CEOs: The deregulation of finance has contributed to lower wages in several ways, including the shifting of compensation toward the upper end of the spectrum, the use of the financial sector’s political power to favor low inflation over low unemployment as a policy goal, and the deregulation of international capital flows, which has kept policy makers from addressing imbalances, such as the U.S. trade deficit. EPI adds: “Falling top tax rates, preferential tax treatment of stock options and bonuses, failures in corporate governance, and the deregulation of finance all combined to increase the incentive and the ability of well-placed economic actors to claim larger incomes over the past generation.”

5. Globalization policies: Decades spent in pursuit of policies that prioritized corporate interests over worker interests led to lowering of wages for middle- and lower-income workers in the United States. EPI concludes: “International trade has been a clear factor suppressing wages in the middle of the wage structure while providing a mild boost to the top, particularly since 1995.”

EPI has also provided nine charts that lay out the picture of U.S. wage stagnation very clearly.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFL-CIO to Take Raising Wages Campaign to States and Cities

At the AFL-CIO’s National Summit on Raising Wages last week, President Richard Trumka announced two important new parts of the labor federation’s agenda.  This spring, the federation will sponsor Raising Wages summits in four key states. Additionally, the AFL-CIO will organize projects in seven cities to focus on raising wages in those locales.

Trumka explained the reason for the stepped-up efforts:

American workers are beginning to say “enough.” We are beginning to rise up, to come together, to reject the idea that there is nothing we can do about falling wages. We are tired of people talking about inequality as if nothing can be done. The answer is simple—raise the wages of the 90% of Americans whose wages are lower today than they were in 1997.  Families don’t need to hear more about income inequality—they need more income.

AFL-CIO’s state labor federations in the first four presidential primary states—Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina will take place in the spring. These summits will bring together diverse voices to lay out the entire raising wages platform and establish state-based standards of accountability. Trumka talked about the significance of those states: “Raising wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged. That means accountability, and it starts with something we all understand—presidential politics.”

After working with affiliates and community partners, the AFL-CIO identified the 10 cities for raising wages campaigns where they could have the most significant impact. The cities include Atlanta, Columbus, District of Columbia (Metro), St. Louis, Philadelphia, Minneapolis & St. Paul, Houston, Miami, Dallas and San Diego. In each city, the labor movement will stand together with those already at work and bring important energy, ideas and resources to critical battles.

These new campaigns are the beginning of the federation’s efforts to expand the raising wages agenda.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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8 Things You Need to Know About Trade Deals This Year

8 Things You Need to Know About Trade Deals This Year

A lot of the buzz about the new Republican-controlled Senate is about international trade deals, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and so-called Fast Track authority. As we previously discussed, the problems with Fast Track and TPP are plentiful. They aren’t good for working families. They cost jobs and increase inequality. Here are eight things you need to know about TPP, Fast Track and other potential trade deals this year:

1. Trade deals are confusing enough, but they’re made worse by the alphabet soup of acronyms needed to figure out what’s going on. TPP stands for “Trans-Pacific Partnership,” and is a trade and economic policy deal being negotiated in secret between the United States and 11 other countries, including labor and human rights violators such as Vietnam, Brunei and Mexico. Allowing human and labor rights violators into the agreement gives them a free pass (why work any harder to raise standards when they have the access to the U.S. markets they want?) and accelerates the race to the bottom in wages that is already hurting U.S. workers like you and me. The deal also could increase corporate control over our economy and weaken our ability to respond to a recession. The TPP could still be fixed, but none of the negotiators seem interested in challenging its corporate power agenda—and how can working people have a real influence when the actual text of the deal is secret?

2. TTIP, which stands for “Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” a trade and economic policy deal being negotiated in secret between the United States and the 28 countries of the European Union. Unlike the TPP, the TTIP’s main goal isn’t to send more U.S. jobs overseas and turn them into sweatshop jobs (though some of that could happen). What the TTIP is really about is eliminating “regulatory barriers” to trade. The problem is, one person’s regulatory barrier is another person’s essential standard (whether that means lead in lipstick, or reporting requirements for big banks, or the right of local governments to protect their drinking water supply). So the TTIP still poses risks if it’s not negotiated correctly.

3. TISA, which stands for “Trade in Services Agreement,” a trade and economic policy deal being negotiated in secret between the United States and 49 other countries. The biggest risk of the TISA is that it hands over essential public services to the private sector—who will squeeze out every last dime of profit from the taxpayers while degrading services and turning decent jobs into minimum wage, no benefit, dead-end jobs.

4. The deals are being negotiated in secret with important people who will be affected by the deal, most notably working families, not represented in the negotiations. (While some labor unions do get to “advise” the president on trade policy, business advisers outnumber labor advisers by about 15 to 1. And we do not get to participate in the negotiations or see the negotiating texts.)

5. If Fast Track is approved, Congress must vote on the TPP within 90 days of the date the president submits it to Congress, which means that there will be little time to read the agreement to find out what’s even in it.

6. Fast Track would limit the ability of anyone to fix the agreement to make it better. The vote will be all or nothing with no chance to add amendments.  Meanwhile, supporters will try to round up votes by predicting dire consequences if the deal doesn’t pass.

7. Fast Track will also prevent senators who oppose a trade deal to filibuster it.

8. But the most important thing you should know about trade in 2015 is that the story isn’t written yet. The battle for jobs is not over, and you can make a difference. Most of the mainstream media isn’t reporting much (if anything) on the TPP, TTIP, TISA or Fast Track. And they certainly aren’t highlighting the risks.  So you have to speak up. Be the voice of the news for the people who don’t know the risks. Call your member of Congress and sign the petition here to stop Fast Track in its tracks.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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#ChangeZara Campaign Shows Results for New York Retail Workers

#ChangeZara Campaign Shows Results for New York Retail Workers

The #ChangeZara campaign began for workers at the retail clothing chain’s stores in New York City last May, with employees asking for more pay and for the company to treat them with dignity and respect. The efforts finally paid off when the company texted the workers that they would be receiving a wage increase this January. Zara also is increasing the number of full-time positions in its stores. For many employees, the raise is significant. Valery Jourdan, for instance, will see her salary increase by $2.50 an hour.

The campaign, sponsored by the Retail Action Project and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), was started by Zara employees, who began organizing because they said that too many of them were part-time and couldn’t afford to buy the clothes that they sold. They asked for more hours, better pay, advanced notification of schedules and opportunities for professional growth. Nearly a year later, their organizing efforts paid off.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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7 Reasons Right to Work Is Wrong for Warren County, Ky. (and Everywhere Else)

7 Reasons Right to Work Is Wrong for Warren County, Ky. (and Everywhere Else)

In Warren County, Ky., a fiscal court has given preliminary approval to a local “right to work” for less ordinance. The measure is worded as to prevent any worker covered by the National Labor Relations Act from being required to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. Since it is already illegal in the United States to require workers to join unions, the real focus of the measure is to weaken workers in negotiations with employers for decent wages and benefits. Instead of passing illegal ordinances that are a big waste of time and resources for the county, those efforts should be spent in other ways like focusing on raising wages for Warren County residents.

If you’re in Kentucky, call the fiscal court today and tell them you oppose the right to work ordinance: 1-855-721-3304

Here are seven specific ways that this measure would hurt workers in Warren County, most of which would apply to workers in other Kentucky locales (and elsewhere) if the process were repeated elsewhere:

1. It’s illegal and will create an administrative nightmareA Kentucky court already has said that right to work laws can only be made at the state level. If it goes into effect, it will lead to legal wrangling and make compliance very difficult for companies that work in more than one Kentucky county.

2. The law is being pushed by rich extremists from out of state: The Bluegrass Institute, a Kentucky “think tank,” that is pushing local right to work laws like this one receives massive amounts of funding from out-of-state interests that won’t be affected by the negative impact of such laws on Kentuckians. A shadowy network of groups, many of them connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, and the billionaire Koch Brothers, pushes these laws across the country, with little concern about the local impact and without revealing their funding and broader agenda.

3. The law is being advanced with little input with a high level of secrecy: On Dec. 11, the court voted to pass the law. The right to work measure was part of a bill called Promotion of Economic Development and Commerce for Warren County and it was handed out 15 minutes before the vote, a vote that was held 19 out of 20 during the meeting. Where was the public input? Who proposed the measure? Who supported it? What economic impacts would it have on workers? Were any questions asked or answered during the process?

4. It hurts working families: There is a pattern of right to work laws decreasing wages, lowering household income, increasing poverty, undermining workplace safety and failing to improve access to health care.

5. These laws don’t actually boost the economy: A significant body of research backs that claim, and even some conservatives, such as Stanley Greer, a spokesperson for the National Right to Work Committee, have admitted it: “We’re not purporting to prove that right to work produces superior economic performance.”

6. Voters don’t want it: In November, Kentucky voters rejected candidates funded by out-of-state interests with extreme agendas, including right to work.

7. Kentucky residents have other priorities: The state’s hardworking families need a raise, more good jobs and more investment in education. This measure will accomplish none of that.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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NLRB Rules Employees Can Use Work Email for Organizing

Workers were given a potentially significant tool when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that employees can use work email accounts in union organizing activities, as long as they do it on their own time. The decision reversed a 2007 decision. Workers also are allowed to use work email to discuss wage and other workplace issues. The three Democrats on the board voted yes on the ruling, while the two Republicans abstained.

Bernie Lunzer, a vice president for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which filed the case in 2012, said the ruling was: “A big victory for workers in general.”

CWA pursued the case after Purple Communications in Rocklin, Calif., refused to allow workers to use company email accounts in a union organizing drive.

The NLRB reasoned:

By focusing too much on employers’ property rights and too little on the importance of email as a means of workplace communication, the Board (in its earlier ruling) failed to adequately protect employees’ rights…and abdicated its responsibility ‘to adapt the Act to the changing patterns of industrial life.’

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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7 Reasons Fast Track Is Off Track

During the secret discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, extreme corporate interests are pushing for a Fast Track process that would not only hurt working families in the United States, but in the other countries involved in any final deal. Here are seven reasons why Fast Track is off track.

1. People oppose it: More than 60% of voters oppose Fast Track for the TPP free trade deal.

2. It doesn’t reflect modern values: Fast Track is a copy of the approach to trade taken by President Richard Nixon, pursuing the passage of trade deals regardless of the effects a deal might have on wages, jobs, small businesses and the environment.

3. It’s a job killer: Past trade deals have cost American jobs in large numbers. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement led to the loss of more than 682,000 jobs.

4. It makes it harder for workers to get a raise: Previous Fast Tracked deals have depressed wages and weakened the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain.

5. It increases inequality: Previous trade deals have greatly exacerbated CEO-to-worker pay disparities, so that the current ratio is 354-to-1.

6. It’s undemocratic: Fast Track limits debate and prohibits amendments and doesn’t give the public the opportunity to influence the process.

7. It gives corporations more power: By including “investor-to-state dispute settlement” provisions, foreign investors in the United States and U.S. investors operating in foreign countries can skip traditional methods of complaining about laws they don’t like and sue nations directly in private arbitration tribunals made up of for-profit arbitrators. This would give corporations and foreign interests an influence over our economy that the rest of us don’t have.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Chicago to Raise Minimum Wage to $13 Per Hour

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In the wake of federal and state inaction, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) recently proposed raising the minimum wage within the city limits to $13 per hour. A key City Council committee advanced the measure on a 16–3 vote Monday and the broader council passed it 44–5 Tuesday. The current wage of $8.25 will move to $10 early next year and will rise in increments until it reaches the full $13 in 2019.

The increase could affect more than 400,000 workers in the city. Emanuel fast-tracked the higher wage out of fears that the legislature and governor might pre-empt local increases. A bill to raise the statewide minimum wage recently stalled.

Emanuel said:

A higher minimum wage ensures that nobody who works in the city of Chicago will ever struggle to reach the middle class or be forced to raise their child in poverty. Today, Chicago has shown that our city is behind a fair working wage.

Action Now, a local working families organization that championed the measure, applauded the measure and noted that it included domestic workers, unlike previous laws:

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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San Francisco Leads the Way on Fair Scheduling with Retail Workers Bill of Rights

Photo courtesy Jobs With Justice

The city of San Francisco has taken a big step in the right direction by passing the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, which will end abusive scheduling practices and improve work environments for more than 40,000 workers at 1,250 locations in the city. The bill still has to be signed by the mayor, but workers and advocates are confident it will become law. By taking this big step, nearly half of the city’s workers in the related industries will have their lives improved.

The new rules will apply to retail stores, hotels and restaurants with at least 20 employees and at least 20 or more locations worldwide.The proposal would require employers to:

  • Tell workers their schedules at least two weeks in advance.
  • Pay workers extra if they change the schedule with less than 24 hours notice.
  • Offer extra hours, if available, to current part-time workers before hiring new workers.

Additionally, if a company is sold, current employees who have worked for six months or longer are guaranteed to work for at least 90 days. Employers also are prohibited from discriminating against part-time workers when it comes to pay or promotions.

Congressional Democrats have offered a similar bill that probably won’t move forward in a Republican Congress. The Schedules That Work Act would:

  • Protect workers against employer retaliation for schedule requests.
  • Require employers to use a process for schedule requests that meet the needs of workers, not just the company. In particular, requests that are based on caregiving duties, health conditions, education, training or a second job must be approved, unless there is a legitimate business reason not to approve them.
  • Pay workers for at least four hours if they arrive at work for a shift of at least four hours and are sent home early.
  • Require companies to provide schedules at least two weeks in advance and pay employees extra if schedules change with less than 24 hours notice.
  • Make employers provide extra pay to employees who are scheduled to work non-consecutive shifts on the same day.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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