Standing Up for North Carolina Schools

Joyce, a Working America member, is from Greensboro.

Here in North Carolina, a very regressive Republican-controlled legislature has proposed big changes in our public education system. Their plan could result in our state having the most extensive voucher program in the nation, up to $50 million in public tax dollars for vouchers over a 2 year period.

In addition to this, the legislature wants to cut back on money spent for teacher assistants, textbooks, and technology. It’s a double whammy: the legislature’s plan will end up privatizing and weakening our public schools.

Our state needs just the opposite – it needs a strong public education system that is fully integrated, with each classroom having a diverse pool of students to reflect our state’s diverse population—and every school having the steady funding it needs.

I’m not going to sit back and let it happen. As a Working America member, I took action. I led a forum at my church on the proposed changes to NC’s school vouchers and charter school program. I helped circulate petitions on public education. I wrote a letter to the editor to my local newspaper and I called the office of my state senator to express my views.

Your voice can make a difference, too.If you live in North Carolina, please contact your state senator and state house representative about these public education issues.

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In A Little Seen Move, County Commissioners Make Life Better for Thousands of New Mexicans

This week in Bernalillo County this first phase-in of the new minimum wage increase begins. Now 10,000 low wage workers and their families will be making $8.00 an hour instead of $7.50. Next year, it will increase again to $8.50.

Working America held a thank you event for Commissions Art De La Cruz, Debbie O’Malley and Maggie Hart Stebbins who took measures to ensure that the law was enforceable.

Our New Mexico State Director Chelsey Evans spoke:

“This is really just an incredible day for us to celebrate the fact that 10,000 workers an increase in their paychecks, an increase in what they can spend on food, an increase on what they can spend on just their family in general so overall it’s just a really great day. We also want to take the time to than elected officials who stood up for those 10,000 workers and for our entire community.”

These commissioners included stronger enforcement mechanisms in the law such as a criminal penalty and revocation of business licenses for employers who do not comply.

At this event Working America, OLE and ProgressNow New Mexico members delivered flowers with thank you cards to the commissioners and spoke on the importance of this increase. Brenda Rodriguez, our Member Coordinator in Albuquerque, spoke next about the human impact of the increase:

“This is making a huge impact in the lives of our members, who couldn’t be here today because they are at work.

Lorenzo Pino, who lives in Bernalillo County, is grateful to have county commissioners who stand with workers and make sure that enforcement language is added to the law.

Alma Alvares, who works at McDonalds just outside the city, can now say she will receive a raise just like the rest of Albuquerque. A raise that translates to a little extra cash in her pocket, but more importantly a peace of mind that if her employer decided not to pay her, there is enforcement language that will hold consequences for her employer.

This is not something all of our members can say for Albuquerque, where some folks are getting paid as little as $5 per hour.

We are very honored to have such amazing county commissioners taking a stand for all workers in Bernalillo County and this new minimum wage law is a definitely a step in the right direction for the rest of New Mexico.”

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley spoke on behalf of her colleagues and thanked progressive groups in New Mexico for their hard work.

“This is a very good day for the county and on behalf of commissioners Art de la Cruz and Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins I am here to say thank you all for the work that you put into this initiative, the work from folks like yourself, volunteers and labor who are all here today on behalf of the working people in this region in this county. I wouldn’t have happened.

You know we’re getting the credit but really the credit goes to the community, first the city of course, the initiative and approving that with an overwhelming majority, then of course it came to the county commission.

It was our honor to do this again on behalf of working families, people who work every day preparing our food, sometimes not doing the most pleasant of jobs but this says more than anything that we value families in Bernalillo county. So we very much appreciate this. Thank you very much.”

Though Bernalillo County workers got their raise, Working America is still committed to ensuring that city council members in Albuquerque and Mayor Richard J. Berry carry out the will of their constituents and enforce the minimum wage increase using similar measures to these county commissioners.

The next phase of the minimum wage increase in Bernalillo County will take place on January 1, 2014 and workers will make $8.50 an hour.

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Albuquerque Workers on Mayor Berry: “He’s Basically Ignoring a Law and That’s Wrong”

On Thursday night, Working America held its first of many Workers Clinics in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lawyers from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty came in to answers questions on workers’ rights in the workplace.

During the discussion members had questions on wage theft, unjust firing, and filing harassment and discrimination complaints against their bosses. Attendees also asked about what to do when your boss wants you to sign papers without telling you what they say, and how to deal with an employers who pressure workers into quitting to avoid paying unemployment benefits.

Member Ricardo Gonzales talked about why events like the Workers Clinic are important:

“I came to this event because there are many state laws we aren’t aware of. Here they give you options on how the laws work and we become familiar with these laws and can better apply them and ourselves to our workplaces.

I recommend that all citizens, residents, and all the people that live here know this because it is with the knowledge that you can gain from people who do know the law you can better defend yourself.

This would be good to have in the state, Santa Fe, the capital, and all of Albuquerque so that people aren’t being discriminated or abused as they currently are.”

Member Gilbert Armijo agreed:

“Tonight I hope to learn more about what the requirements are for businesses to make sure they paying right. Here in Albuquerque we’ve got a problem because we’ve got a Mayor Richard Berry who in my mind has been derelict in his duty as a public official to carry out laws that have been enacted, and especially ones that have been enacted by the people’s vote.

This was not passed by the City Council or anyone else, this was the people’s vote and Mayor Berry has said, “Screw them,I’ll do what I want to.” And he’s basically ignoring a law and that’s wrong.

And we don’t just need words of compassion, we need action and the minimum wage is one of the most important, fundamental unpinning of helping people become economically self-sustaining.”

Our members will continue to speak out during Working America’s “Got Your Raise Yet?” summer education campaign. Organizers will educate low wage workers on their rights, and continue to pressure the city council and Mayor Berry for the law’s enforcement.

Join us Monday, July 1 at 11:00am in Civic Plaza for the Bernalillo County Commissioners Thank You Event. To get involved text RAISE505 to 30644.

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Low Wage Workers Celebrate a Special Anniversary at the White House

Edgar became involved with Working America during our work on an Anti-Wage Theft campaign on Auraria Campus. He is a father, a husband, a part time student, an intern,  and a valet attendant.  He has since developed into a spokesperson on behalf of low wage workers everywhere.

In April, the Department of Labor facilitated a series of minimum wage round tables across the country. In Denver, Edgar’s participation and story struck the hearts of those who attended. He explained the difficult choices he is forced to make as a low wage worker, providing the only source of income for his family while his wife is on unpaid maternity leave caring for their newborn baby. He would love to be able to invest in his daughter’s future, but said it’s tough with his current income.

After this event in Denver, Edgar was invited to participate in the celebration for the  75th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act and a Senate committee hearing addressing the effects of raising the federal minimum wage in Washington D.C..

At this event, Edgar and three other participants were chosen out of close to 20 low wage workers to tell their stories to Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris and other top economic advisors. Vice President Biden spoke on behalf of raising the minimum wage with Edgar and other workers filling in the stage behind him: “The people behind me have an incredible amount of self-respect. They deserve to be paid in a way that reflects the dignity that they exude.”

President Obama has suggested that the federal minimum wage be increased to $9.00 an hour. A bill by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.55 an hour.

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This Mayor Doesn’t Like His City’s New Minimum Wage Law, So He’s Ignoring It.

This past November, 66 percent of Albuquerqueans voted in favor of raising the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50, and from $2.13 to $3.83 for tipped workers.

Despite this being the new law of the land, Albuquerque’s Mayor Richard Berry and members of the city council have refused to enforce it.

At the latest City Council Meeting on Monday June, 24th, Working America member Lorenzo Pino spoke out about the minimum wage increase and why it is the city council’s job to enforce the law.

“The minimum wage that the citizens of Albuquerque voted on has happened. One problem still exists. Have you been made aware of in the past some of the businesses here have not wanted to comply with this ordinance and some of them feel like they have a choice?

We know of some people that still have not received the minimum wage increase that went into effect on January 1, 2013. The county passed similar legislation that has language that would ensure the compliance.

So the question is: what mandate are you willing to take to ensure that they are met herein the city as well.

I have always been led to believe that we live in a democracy and that the majority rules. Well the majority spoke with the only voice they have in government, and it’s their vote. We spoke and you are ignoring our decision.”

Our members will continue to speak out during Working America’s “Got Your Raise Yet?” summer education campaign. Organizers will educate low wage workers on their rights, and continue to pressure the city council and Mayor Berry for the law’s enforcement.

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Hey Albuquerque – Got Your Raise?

On Monday, June 24, Working America will launch the “Got Your Raise Yet?” campaign to educate Albuquerque workers about the new minimum wage increase that took effect at the beginning of this year. Though the law has passed with overwhelming support, Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry and the City Council have publicly stated that they will not enforce the law, as thousands of low-wage workers continue to struggle. The voter-approved wage increase, raising the hourly wage from $7.50 to $8.50 and $2.13 to $3.83 for tipped employees, positively impacts a total of 40,000 Albuquerque workers.

“Albuquerque voters have spoken. This measure passed with the support of two out of three Albuquerque voters to raise the wage last November,” said Working America State Director Chelsey Evans. “Albuquerqueans understand that increasing the minimum wage isn’t just good for low-wage workers, it’s good for the city’s economy. We are only asking that Mayor Berry and the Albuquerque City Council give their constituents what they have asked for, and enforce this law.”

As part of the effort, Working America organizers will distribute education materials such as tip cards in restaurants where workers are eligible for the raise. These cards will inform workers about the raise and provide them with tools to get more information and share experiences. During the “Got Your Raise Yet?” campaign, organizers and members will also actively pressure the city council and mayor’s office for enforcement through worker testimonials.

Upcoming events include:

  • Worker testimonials at Albuquerque City Council Meeting: Monday, June 24, 2013
  • Workers Clinic to discuss wage theft and workers’ rights: Thursday, June 27, 2013
  • Thank you event to Bernalillo County Commission for raising the minimum wage after the Albuquerque raise passed: Monday, July 1, 2013.
  • Workers’ Fair: Saturday, July 20, 2013
  • Worker testimonials at Albuquerque City Council Meetings: Monday, August 5, and Monday, August 19, 2013

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What You Can Do to Celebrate This July 4th

The 4th of July is coming up! Along with the cook-outs and fireworks, it’s a time to reflect upon and celebrate our country. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest qualities of the USA that Americans celebrate is our democracy.

But considering the strain Americans are under, keeping up on current issues and participating in the political process can be a challenge.  We’re juggling multiple jobs.  We’re caring for children, and sometimes parents.  We’re rearranging our lives to try to make ends meet as everything gets more expensive. We’re helping out family members who are looking for work. Or we’re scrambling to find work ourselves. And some politicians make participation in our democracy even more challenging with misleading rhetoric and voter suppression laws.

If we’re squeezed out of our democracy, how much will the American government be “of the people, by the people, for the people”?

This is where Working America comes in.  We help folks have a say in our democracy.  Our teams of neighborhood organizers talk with people at their doors, update them on issues and policies that impact their lives, and engage them in quick and meaningful actions to improve things. Becoming a member of Working America is an opportunity to make a difference.

Through our member program, folks can choose from an incredible array of opportunities to participate in our democracy:

-          Get updated on policies our politicians are considering that will impact our economy, schools, jobs, health care, etc. Our Pittsburgh Community Action Team members have learned about concrete solutions we can promote that will ease the widely-felt pain caused by Gov. Corbett’s recent state budgets.

-          Learn how to write letters to the editor that can educate the community. One of our Pittsburgh members – a former Head Start teacher – had his letter published in our local major paper today.  Another Pittsburgh member – a local restaurant employee – got word this week that his letter will be published soon.   It’s estimated that letters to the editor in our major local paper can reach hundreds of thousands of people (yes, hundreds of thousands).  They’re an excellent way to educate community members about issues that our elected officials will be making decisions about.

-          Sit down and talk with your elected officials about what they should do to best represent you, your family, or your community.  Really. Here in Pennsylvania, Working America has about half a million members, and when we tell an elected official how many members we have in his or her district, he or she is often willing to sit down with us and hear what our members have to say.  Recently, Working America members in the Pittsburgh area met with 4 state legislators (and the staffers of another) to highlight how their families and communities would benefit from better public schools, more affordable higher education, stronger social services, and greater corporate accountability.

This 4th of July, along with enjoying the fireworks, celebrate our country by taking a step to strengthen our democracy.  Connect with your local Working America office , and bolster our country’s ability to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.”


Reel Working America Members Taking the Lead

In New Mexico, people from across the film industry have come together through REEL Working America. Their goal: to expand opportunities for the film industry in the state and advocate for people who work in film.

Six of our members have stepped up to form an Advisory Board for REEL Working America. These six volunteers will each take on a role advocating on different issues in film. They’re eager to take the practical steps that will mean more jobs and better working conditions for people who work on all aspects of film production.

With a strong, energetic Advisory Board in place, REEL Working America is ready to make New Mexico’s film industry the best it can be. We’re proud to introduce the new Advisory Board:

Top row:

Actors Outreach Chair: Ross Shaw’s passion is acting. He has been fortunate enough to have been found a path in film and television acting in his own backyard. His great new career also includes theater and commercials. For him, being the Actors Outreach Chair means exploring the acting community and striving to help aspiring actors succeed.

Fundraising and Membership Chair: Actress Dalisa Marlene Contreras has been in the film industry since 2009. She was born and raised in Albuquerque. She was first introduced to New Mexico Films with her first role as a background performer in Terminator Salvation. She has been involved in shows like Breaking Bad, Scoundrels, In Plain Sight and The Odds ,as well as many films. She joined Reel Working America so that way we could make a difference not only in our film community but also to increase opportunities for those who want to become actors. She joined the Advisory Board to bring people together to help New Mexico Film grow and make it better.

Events and Publicity Chair: Catharine Pilafas received her Bachelor of Arts in Acting and minor in Dance from the University of Northern Colorado. After making her New York theatre debut in Victory Garden’s off-broadway production of “Conviction,” Catharine shifted her career focus to film and television in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Catharine has appeared in: Longmire, In Plain Sight, Fatal Encounters, Void, Dead Billy, and Billy Shakespeare. Also, a member of New Mexico Women In Film, Catharine is excited to continue to contribute to the film industry in New Mexico, and bring her passion for event producing to Reel Working America. An avid athlete, and practitioner of yoga, Catharine loves to be active along side her husband, writer, Adam James Jones, and their pug, Tobey.

Bottom row:

Political Chair: Patrick Wier is a screenwriter and college instructor living in Albuquerque. A New Mexico native and graduate of the University of New Mexico, he worked as a journalist for newspapers and magazines in Texas and Oregon for about 25 years before entering graduate school, where he was awarded an M.A. in literature. He is a self-described life-long political junkie.

Independent Filmmaking Chair: Shelley Carney is the producer of New Mexico Media Makers at UPublic TV as well as an 8-part web series called “Joysticks”. She is an actor and screenwriter and she is working on the team producing the Albuquerque Film and Media Experience. She is excited to take part of the Advisory Board as Independent Filmmaking Chair.

Background Performers Outreach Chair: J. Nathan Simmons is originally from Oklahoma but has worked in the film industry in New Mexico since ‘91. He founded in 2000 and now he is writing and producing his own work, with the help of talented friends and colleagues. He is excited to take part as the Background Performers Outreach Chair for Reel Working America.

Ohioans Take the Fight for Working Families to the Statehouse

Patrick McCarthy is a Working America member from Cincinnati.

Waking before the dawn and departing at sunrise on the morning of Wednesday, May 1st, a contingent of Working America members left from Cincinnati to drive two hours to the Capitol in Columbus, determined to make a difference in the fight for workers’ rights and the formation of the 2013 Kasich Budget. Some of us had canvassed with Working America during the crucial 2012 election season, working to get progressive legislation passed and progressive candidates elected. On the first of May – a day to honor workers’ rights – we fought yet again on behalf of workers and marginalized people. Standing in solidarity with union members, we met with our state representatives and their aides.

Upon arrival, our group met up with our Columbus counterparts for the Legislative Conference at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Columbus. The morning session would help prepare us for the day of lobbying and rallying ahead. At the conference, several speakers – including Cincinnati-area state Sen. Eric Kearney – talked about the budgetary injustices proposed by Gov. John Kasich and his allies in the Ohio state government:

  • His plans to hand over rewards to the oil and gas lobbies without getting fair tax revenue in return;
  • $313 million in additional cuts to already-struggling poor public schools;
  • Unwarranted and unnecessary tax cuts, the lion’s share of which would go to the top 1% of Ohio earners with slim pickings to the rest;
  • The separation of the Medicaid expansion provision from budgetary discussions, an expansion that would have been completely funded by the federal government for the next 3 years and expand coverage to over 275,000 Ohioans who would not otherwise get the care they deserve;
  • Efforts to suppress the student vote by limiting voting to those students who could pay in-state tuition rates, and;
  • Measures for outside private companies to hijack control of school budgetary decisions should a school fall under “academic distress.”

Afterwards, we were prepared for our meetings with legislators, then headed to the Ohio Statehouse.

On the corner of State and High streets right across from the Ohio Senate building, a sizable crowd gathered to speak out on the important issues. Three people at the rally let us know how some legislators were proposing an attacks on workers’ rights, and how it would affect them personally. The first, an electrician, spoke at length on how so-called “right to work” legislation serves only to push the company bottom line for additional profit at the expense of Ohioan livelihoods. Tracy, a firefighter from Youngstown, decried the disturbing results of so-called “right to work” in states where it has been enacted: 36% higher workplace mortality rates and damaged workplace safety due to the inability of workers to voice their concerns. Jim, a steelworker from Canton, noted how “right to work” states saw lowered wages, decreased household income, increased poverty, and a 15% increase in infant mortality.

The message was clear: so-called “right to work” actually hurts workers, and the same must not happen here in Ohio as well. That’s why we came together this week.

At the offices of Ohio senators, we delivered hundreds of hand-written letters from the many Working America members who wrote to have their voices heard. We met with aides to Senators to tell them how we felt about issues like Medicaid, taxes and workers’ right to organize.

I told one aide my own story of health care. My girlfriend’s mother – a working-class independent – was finally able to get adequate care and medication for her broken leg after a week in the hospital by finally getting onto Medicaid. In addition, Medicaid allowed her to afford physical therapy for her decades-long back pain that she was not able to afford on private insurance.

In addition, I explained how, due to fears of medical costs, I had delaying examination for several years for recurring chest pains. Then, despite being in-network, my insurance company refused to cover my basic preventative care and attempted to charge me $6,500 afterwards. To this, the aide simply shrugged and mentioned how healthcare is simply expensive and that, similar to eating at an expensive restaurant, I can simply go elsewhere for cheaper treatment. In other words, instead of paying for food, I am paying to live, so tough luck. Although leaving feeling slighted, the experience informed me as to the callousness of some those who were meant to represent me and could otherwise take a stand to make a difference as public servants.

In contrast, Rep. Denise Driehaus spoke to me in person outside her office. She voiced her support for full Medicaid expansion and the need to speak directly with the opposition on matters such as Medicaid expansion and fairer taxation.

After lobbying visits wrapped up, we Working America members joined the May Day rally that was gathering then on the corner of Broad and High Streets. More than 100 Ohioans came together to honor workers’ rights and commit to continuing the fight.

The experience was long and tiring, yet a positive and eye-opening one. While one can read about the Kasich Budget in the headlines, it’s an entirely different – and deeper – experience to meet with legislators, aides and fellow activists to talk about these issues in person.

Numbers and data alone cannot fully convey the raw emotions and lives affected by the legislation that is passed or pushed aside in the Ohio General Assembly. By bringing not just facts and data but real stories of real people to the table, we’re able to make a difference.

They’re Not Only Expanding Corporate-Run Schools, They Are Making Them Less Accountable

Working America members are in the midst of a fight to protect public education in North Carolina.

Since 2011, the state’s public school budget has been cut by $450 million, leading to overcrowded classrooms and outdated textbooks. Now the state legislature wants to continue weakening our public schools through the expansion of charter schools and voucher programs.

Both charters and vouchers take public money to send children to private and sometimes for-profit corporate-run institutions. These corporate run schools have little accountability, and make large profits by underpaying teachers.

Do we really want corporations teaching our students – and using tax-payer money to do so?

Working America member Joyce Mers is taking a stand against privatizing education. Joyce organized a church forum to discuss issues surrounding public education and promoted the event though her church newsletter. She even enlisted the help of education policy expert Dot Kearns to answer questions.

When discussing the immediate threats to public schools, Joyce referenced a bill that would restructure the oversight of charter schools. Under the proposal, charter schools would no longer be held accountable to the State Board of Education, which oversees all K-12 public schools.  Rather, charter schools would have a separate board, whose members would be appointed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory and the legislature. The bill also has provisions to eliminate certain charter school requirements.

“Right now only 50 percent of teachers in charter schools are required to have a teacher’s license and this bill would do away with that requirement completely,” said Joyce, “Also, the schools would not be required to perform a background check, which just doesn’t make sense to me – especially when there is a bill in the legislature trying to put armed guards in schools.”

Under this proposal, corporations have even more power to use taxpayer money to create and oversee charter schools.

When discussing public school funding, both Joyce and Dot noted that despite past cuts, student performance is high. “It’s a popular thing now to say everything is failing, but that just is not the case,” said Dot. She then cited the increase in North Carolina’s graduation rates. However, it will become difficult to maintain this success if more charters and vouchers drain public education resources and are held to different accountability standards.

The forum ended with Joyce collecting a dozen petition signatures from the group, which urge Governor McCrory to protect public school funding.  But we need to continue this pressure. Our state needs to fully invest in public schools. If you’re in North Carolina, email me at to find out how you can help.

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