Your Congressman is in Your Neighborhood. Have They Heard from You on Immigration?

Immigration reform is the kind of issue that brings people together from all walks of life. Although immigrants stand to benefit the most from a path to citizenship, we are all affected by the multilateral tangents connected to our broken immigration system.

Last  Saturday, our North Carolina Community Action Team met so that we could raise awareness about the immigration fight and use our strength in numbers to pressure elected officials to act. The U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that establishes a path to citizenship, but the U.S. House has yet to take it up.

Our members came to the meeting eager to discuss what they wanted to happen with immigration reform, and to take action. We decided to target Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee and ask him to vote in favor of bringing the Senate bill to the House Floor for a vote.

Our members wrote postcards to their friends, family members, and neighbors residing in the 6th District, asking them to call Rep. Coble and to urge him to move this bill forward. We were able to generate 66 postcards in the time that we met, and several folks took some home to send out later as well.

On Wednesday, I went with our member Erin West, to a lobby meeting with Rep. Coble organized by SEANC (State Employees Association of North Carolina) and the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. Erin told Congressman Coble about her experience as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in the district, and how her students would be affected by immigration reform. “Of over 100 students that I taught, all were eager to learn, and came from loving, hard-working families. Some are now entering high school, and on top of dealing with normal high-schooler problems, they worry every day about losing their parents, or being taken away from the only country they know as home,” Erin explained. “We can’t afford to lose these promising students, and it would be nothing short of a tragedy to see them separated from their families.”

Rep. Coble responded positively, but in a noncommittal manner, that he too believes it is time to do something about immigration reform, but that he doesn’t know what that is going to look like when he goes back to Washington, DC.

It’s moments like these, when members of the faith community, labor, and concerned citizens like Erin come together, that our politicians begin to listen. While we are still unsure about how Rep. Coble will vote and what the ultimate fate of the bill will be, but we will continue to make our voices heard until the House takes action.

To get involved with the North Carolina Community Action Team, email me at dgarcia-diaz@workingamerica.org.

Photo by @AFLCIO on Twitter

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Albuquerque Officials Still Refuse to Enforce Minimum Wage, Suggest Exploited Workers Bring Lawsuits

“You are asking minimum wage workers to bring litigation?” That was Israel Chavez’s question to the Albuquerque City Council after they said they could refer workers who aren’t receiving the current minimum wage to private attorneys.

Chavez and other Working America members attended the City Council meeting on Monday, August 5 asking councilmembers to enforce the minimum wage increase of $8.50 per hour and $3.83 for tipped workers that went into effect on January 1, 2013. Two thirds of Albuquerque voters voted in favor of this initiative.

Mr. Chairman, over the past six years I have witnessed and experienced business taking advantage of low-wage workers. We are waiting for you to enforce our mandate. By not enforcing the current minimum wage, democracy by definition is being subverted and favors business interest over voters.

Enforce this minimum wage on behalf those who need it the most. Include enforcement language just like Bernalillo County Commissioners have done. There are people right outside this building not being paid the current the minimum wage. It is right and it is what will help the people of Albuquerque.

The current response from the city attorney is to refer people to private attorneys. However, this is not a feasible option for many minimum wage earners.

“This is a public issue, not a private issue. They should not be forced to take on private attorneys,” said Chavez, who has been a server for six years in Albuquerque. City Councilor Rey Garduño agrees with Israel Chavez “I think it is the city’s job to enforce this.”

Working America members in Albuquerque will continue to hold the City Council accountable to enforcing the current minimum wage.

To become involved in the “Got Your Raise Yet?” campaign in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, contact Brenda Rodriguez at brrodriguez@workingamerica.org.

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Lobbying Group Trying to Roll Back Albuquerque’s Minimum Wage Laws

A Las Cruces-based lobbying group has filed a petition in Albuquerque that could drastically affect the thousands of tipped employees who fought for and won a raise in their minimum wage. Effective since January 1, 2013, tipped workers have been making $3.83 an hour, up from the original $2.13. Under this deceptive new proposal, workers will be penalized when their tips raise their take-home pay higher than $9.50 an hour.  When that happens they will see their non-tip wage lowered to $2.13 an hour.

This new bill punishes employees who, by providing excellent service to their customers, earn more in tips. Under this lobbyist-driven proposal, customers could inadvertently trigger a pay cut if they tip their waitress well for good service.  This idea penalizes great service, forces customers to worry if their tips are helping or hurting, and undermines the voters who passed the original wage increase in overwhelming numbers.  It’s legalizing wage theft and it’s wrong for Albuquerque.

Israel Chavez, who works as a server in Albuquerque, responded by saying, “It’s terrible to see people actively working to subvert a minimum wage increase that Albuquerque citizens overwhelmingly support.  These tactics would effectively steal the wages of many citizens who are already below the poverty line.  The citizens of Albuquerque voted for a minimum wage increase and it’s the municipal government’s duty to enforce that.”

Last November 66 percent of Albuquerqueans voted to have the minimum wage increased. Working America will continue talking to people at their homes and in their communities about why this is a setback for tipped employees and for the Albuquerqueans who spoke with their votes on what the city needs.

Photo by Raise the Wage on Facebook

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Viva Las Vegas…New Mexico: We’re Ready to Boost Local Film Industry

In the beautiful small city of Las Vegas, New Mexico, Reel Working America members are ready to improve the local film industry.

When Reel Working America members in Las Vegas first started meeting as a Community Action Team back in May, they had a lot of unanswered questions about the film industry. Nancy Upthegrove-Jaramillo wondered if there was a local film directory and if it was up-to-date. “Where can we look for this film directory? Can we create our own?” asked Jaramillo, a long-time educator and background performer.

Another member, Diego Romero, an independent filmmaker and actor, wondered where independent filmmakers could seek resources to make low-budget films in his hometown.
Kerry Loewen, currently a professor at New Mexico Highlands University, said he’d like to get the word out about Las Vegas as a reliable workforce of background performers and crew members to attract more films and TV series.

Collectively, they decided they needed answers to these questions. This past Tuesday, Reel Working America members and the Las Vegas Film Commission met to discuss current projects and priorities. During this meet-and-greet, our members prepared a set of questions they wanted to ask the commission, including how Reel Working America can support the commission’s work. This question sparked a dialogue about potential projects like the creation of a local film directory, background etiquette workshops, film opportunities and training.

“One of our priorities is to get the community more involved in helping film grow in Las Vegas,” said film liaison Lindsey Hill. Reel Working America members in Las Vegas embrace this invitation enthusiastically. They are eager, talented, and ready to make Las Vegas the best place for film and TV productions.

If you are currently in New Mexico and you are interested in learning more about Reel Working America, contact Member Coordinator Brenda Rodriguez at brrodriguez@workingamerica.org.

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Working Coloradans Mobilize to Hold Rep. Mike Coffman Accountable for Privatization Efforts

Working America members will be launching the “Rep. MikeCoffman: Who Do You Work For?” campaign to educate their fellow Coloradans about the representative’s radical legislative agenda to privatize programs like Social Security and Medicaid, and most recently, his efforts to privatize the work of the Department of Defense.

“Rep. Coffman seems to feel that it’s more important to give tax breaks to corporations and focus on unnecessary privatization than try to bring jobs to his district,” said Working America State Director Kevin Pape. “He’s not looking out for Coloradans, and it’s time we let constituents know who he really works for.”

During the campaign, members will be collecting petition signatures fromCoffman’s constituents telling him that they do not support his privatization efforts and will hold a public event for petition delivery. They will also be hosting media events and submitting letters to the editor educating Coloradans about Coffman’s attempts to sell off public assets and shift tax dollars to the huge corporations that funded his campaign.

Working America has more than 125,000 members in the state of Colorado.

For updates, follow @WorkingAmerica on Twitter.

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Why Immigration Reform Matters to North Carolina

Katie Gregg reports from North Carolina.

Amid a flurry of last minute activity in the North Carolina General Assembly, including a truly awful voter-suppression bill, our members are thinking ahead to the August recess. We’re looking forward to the return of the folks who represent us in the U.S. House of Representatives, so we can tell them, face-to-face, that now is the time to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Christin, a Working America member from Greensboro, NC, is all too familiar with the urgency of immigration reform. Her parents were immigrants to the US Virgin Islands from St. Lucia decades ago. She and her five siblings were in their teens by the time their parents had finally completed the United States’ lengthy immigration process—one that had begun more than two decades earlier. “The process to get legal status in the US or become an American citizen should not take decades. We need to allow those who are here to get their documents sooner, so that they can start paying taxes and contributing towards building a better economy,” said Christin.

By most estimates, North Carolina has roughly 300,000 undocumented workers. Large corporations take advantage of the status of these workers and pay them under the table, often in very poor conditions and for desperately low pay. As a result, they have little incentive to hire more workers or pay much above minimum wage. Christin has friends who have applied for work only to be told they would be hired at $7.25 per hour. She and so many others know that’s not nearly enough on which to raise a family. Clearly the only winners here are these corporations, which continue to make record profits and hold record power while we suffer the effects of record unemployment.

Christin says her parents came to the US because they wanted to make sure their kids had better opportunities in life than they themselves had. Passing comprehensive immigration reform in Congress is one thing we can do to make sure all workers are able to provide that same opportunity for their children, and we know the only way this will work is if we stand together and let our elected officials know with a unified voice, “The time is now.”

Lobby meetings, petitions, phone calls, and letters are just some of the ways you can get involved with pressuring our politicians to support a pathway to citizenship. If you’re in North Carolina, email me at kgregg@workingamerica.org to find out how you can help.

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Person to Person, Working for Fair Wages in Texas

Alavaro Rodriguez, Jr., reports from Texas.

Yesterday, a group of volunteers including my father (Alvaro Rodriguez Sr.) and I got together at the Harris County AFL-CIO for a phone bank party. We called fellow Working America members to invite them to a rally to raise the minimum wage this week and tell them about what Working America is working on in Texas.

This morning, some of us are heading to Houston City Hall to speak in support of an ordinance that would punish those that commit wage theft. Workers deserve their hard-earned wages. We’ve been collecting letters of support from Houstonians like me who support the ordinance. It feels great to get work with others on these important issues.

After calling through our lists, we agreed to meet monthly for phone bank parties. Next time, we’re going to turn it into a potluck with everyone bringing a dish. If you’re in the Lone Star State anytime soon, join us!

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“Moral Monday” Spreads Across North Carolina

Since the end of April, Moral Monday protests have occurred every Monday in front of the state legislature in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Moral Monday rallies have gathered thousands of supporters, and over 900 have been arrested through civil disobedience actions. These massive protests have been centered on issues of economic justice and basic fairness—cuts unemployment benefits, the failure to extending Medicaid for 500,000 uninsured people, cuts to public school funding, voter suppression, and other issues.

This Moral Monday protests have begun to spread across our state. This past Monday, in conjunction with the Raleigh protest, a Moral Monday march was organized in Greensboro. Since many people couldn’t travel to Raleigh to voice their support, activists organized a Greensboro Moral Monday rally to focus on voter ID laws and looming cuts to early voting.

Over 200 people marched and chanted, toted signs saying “Save Early Voting,” “Voter ID = Voter Suppression,” and “Keep Sunday Voting”.

“I thought it was wonderful,” said Working America member Carol Tweede, who attended. “Turnout was more than I ever expected. I feel very happy at these demonstrations, because everyone pulls together. It’s one great big body of people trying to help each other. It is so inclusive and nice to be around people who believe the same way you do, the right way.”

Across North Carolina, folks are standing up against the right-wing state legislature, not just in Raleigh.

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The Attack on North Carolina Voting Rights Will Not Go Unanswered

As the bill expected to disenfranchise 318,000 North Carolina voters, heads to the Senate Floor, protests are growing as people at the capitol and all over the state take action against this massive assault on one of the basic functions of a democracy.

“HB 589  which will eliminate same day registration, shorten early voting, eliminate state-supported voter registration drives, purge voter rolls and empower vigilantism at the polling place,  is another example of the avalanche of anti-worker bills proposed since Gov. Pat McCrory took office,” said Working America State Director Carolyn Smith. “North Carolina is at the heart of the battle against an extremist takeover of the state by politicians who do the bidding of corporate executives, and seek to dismantle the most basic components of a democracy.”

The law comes on the heels of the recent destruction of the state’s unemployment insurance system, massive cuts to public schools and a tax plan that promises to shift more of the burden from the rich to the poor.

Working America, which has nearly 30,000 members in North Carolina, has launched a petition and is talking to people at their homes and in their communities about the effect this and other bills will have on North Carolina’s democracy. It is organizing lobby days and have delivered several thousand petitions calling for an end to the attack on voting.

“We are watching, we are mobilizing and this will not go unanswered,” Smith said.

More details on the law can be found here and here.

Photo via @kristinrawls on Twitter

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Pursuing Economic Justice in Ohio

Emma Godsey writes from our Columbus office.

A lot of people here in Ohio are fed up with the way they’re being treated by Gov. Kasich and the state legislature—but there’s a way to step up and work for justice. Through Working America, people here in Ohio are forming community action teams to focus on the economic issues that are most important to them. As a member Coordinator for Working America, I’ve had the privilege of getting involved with community action team meetings in Franklin County.

Ohio’s community action teams are focused on a few critical issues, including Medicaid and the state budget. Brynette, a community leader in Franklin County, sees accepting expanded federal Medicaid funds as a key issue for Ohio families. “One thing expanded Medicaid funds will do is give full coverage to older adults, specifically senior citizens who are uninsured. Some seniors who need around-the-clock attention will be finally able to afford 24 hour care,” Brynette said. Expanding Medicaid to 600,000 Ohioans will also cover single adults without children, people with disabilities, and low income households. It will also bring billions of dollars into state revenue. Gov. Kasich supports the expansion of Medicaid, so we’re hopeful that we can get to a victory soon.
Where Kasich hasn’t been helpful, though, is on the recently passed state budget, which has a number of flaws that hurt working-class families. When the budget was first introduced, members were horrified to see Gov. Kasich’s proposed tax changes, which would hand the richest 1% $10,000 a year, leaving the working class to pay the difference. Members immediately took action, writing well over 3,000 letters to State legislators to let them know that they’re paying attention to what they did on the budget. They were able to get the word out about the problems with Kasich’s budget by writing letters to their local newspapers, too. With this pushback from members and our allies, we were able to rein in Kasich’s big tax giveaways to the rich by almost half. Another great accomplishment was getting $250 million dollars put back in the education budget.

We’re glad about what we were able to accomplish on the state budget, but we know we have a long way to go—we want to make sure the biggest corporations and the very rich pay their fair share, so that our schools and the services we depend on get the funding they need. If Kasich thinks we’re just going to accept the policies he’s pushing, he’s got another thing coming.

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