Connecticut Jumps Ahead of the Pack, Will Raise Minimum Wage to $10.10 by 2017

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More than 227,000 Connecticut workers will see raises in the next 3 years, thanks to a bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy on Thursday.

Connecticut legislators passed a bill by wide margins raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. In many respects, the bill mirrors federal legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (I-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over a similar period and indexing it to inflation.

President Obama, who supports the Harkin-Miller proposal, praised the Nutmeg State:

“I hope members of Congress, governors, state legislators and business leaders across our country will follow Connecticut’s lead,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on Wednesday, “to help ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty, and that every American who works hard has the chance to get ahead.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that if implemented nationally, Harkin-Miller would lift 5 million Americans out of poverty and reduce spending on public assistance programs by tens of billions of dollars.

This year, 29 states are considering either legislation or a ballot measure aimed at raising the minimum wage.

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7 Ways Raising the Minimum Wage Will Help Working Women

7 Ways Raising the Minimum Wage Will Help Working Women

Raising the minimum wage would help working women and their families, according to a new White House report. The report also takes a look at how raising the minimum wage for tipped workers, 72% of whom are women, is important in helping working families.

When discussing the issue earlier this month, President Barack Obama said:

Most people who would get a raise if we raise the minimum wage are not teenagers on their first job—their average age is 35. A majority of lower-wage jobs are held by women. These Americans are working full-time, often supporting families, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with our economy’s productivity, they’d already be earning well over $10 an hour today. Instead, it’s stuck at $7.25. Every time Congress refuses to raise it, it loses value because the cost of living goes higher, minimum wage stays the same.

Here are seven ways that raising the minimum wage, including the tipped wage, would help working women:

1. Of the workers who would benefit from raising the minimum wage to $10.10, 55% are women.

2. Workers in tipped occupations, such as restaurant servers, bartenders and hairstylists, are 72% women.

3. One-fourth of all workers who would benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 have dependent children, including 31% of the female workers who would be affected.

4. Nearly 3 million working single parents would benefit from the increased minimum wage, 80% of whom are women.

5. Research shows that raising the minimum wage reduces child poverty among female-headed households.

6. Research shows that raising the minimum wages helps women work their way out of poverty and into the middle class.

7. The Council of Economic Advisers estimates that raising the wage to $10.10, and indexing it to inflation, would reduce the gender wage gap by 5%.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Obama Seeks to Restore Overtime Pay for Millions of Workers Denied Under Bush-Era Rules

Pete Souza. The Official White House Photostream/Wikimedia

In 2004, President George W. Bush, at the urging of business groups, used his executive powers to change overtime eligibility rules and allow businesses to deny overtime for millions of workers. Tomorrow, President Barack Obama is expected to announce that he will direct the U.S. Department of Labor to update overtime eligibility rules to restore overtime protection that workers have lost to inflation since 1975.

Under federal overtime regulations, workers who earn less than a certain salary level are generally entitled to overtime protection. For decades after enactment of the federal overtime law in 1938, this salary threshold was updated every few years as a routine matter. However, the last regular adjustment to the salary level was made by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975. No further adjustments were made for the next 29 years, and as a result, workers’ overtime protections have been steadily eroded by inflation.

Obama is expected to announce tomorrow that the Labor Department will update the salary threshold for overtime eligibility. Above this salary level, workers may be denied overtime protection if they are considered executive management, administrative management or professionals. Below this salary level, workers cannot be denied overtime protection for these reasons.

However, it is not clear how much the president will propose to increase the salary level. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has recommended an increase to $970 per week ($50,440 per year), which would restore all of the overtime protection lost to inflation since 1975.

New York and California already require companies to pay overtime to anyone earning less than $600 and $640 per week, respectively. Those salary levels are set to increase to $675 and $800 per week by 2016.

The current federal threshold of $455 per week—or $23,660 per year—is ridiculously low. It is barely above the federal poverty level for a family of four. A White House official explained that overtime protections have eroded to such an extent that millions of workers who should not be denied overtime protection are being left unprotected.

For example, a convenience store manager or a fast-food shift supervisor or an office worker may be expected to work 50 or 60 hours a week or more, making barely enough to keep a family out of poverty, and not receive a dime of overtime pay.

EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey says many of the workers who would benefit from restored overtime protection are insurance clerks, secretaries, low-level managers, social workers, bookkeepers, dispatchers, sales and marketing assistants and employees in scores of other occupations.

As the rules stand now, an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant who spends 95 percent of his (or her) time cooking fries, running a cash register, sweeping floors and moving supplies into and out of the freezer can be denied any overtime pay and work 60 or 70 hours a week if his salary is at least $23,660 a year. Because he is exempt [from overtime protection], the hourly rate of his salary can fall below the minimum wage; “executives” are excluded from minimum wage protection, too.

Last December, President Obama called attention to growing economic inequality in America and declared that making sure the economy works for working people is the defining challenge of our time and drives everything he does as president. With Republicans blocking the legislative agenda he campaigned on in 2012, the president has vowed to act within his executive powers to make sure the economy workers for everyone. Today’s announcement follows on the heels of his January executive order requiring federal contractors on all new or renewed contracts to pay their workers at least $10.10 an hour.

Also Democrats in Congress and the president are attempting to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. If you think workers deserve a raise, sign this petition.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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What Millionaire Is Behind the Cynical Campaign to Keep the Minimum Wage Down?

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Raise the minimum wage? Psshh, let’s lower it.

Arguments against raising the minimum wage are getting sillier and sillier. Recently Steve Forbes, who is worth $430 million, said raising the minimum wage is a “job killer” and wants us to hear the hardship stories of employers in hopes that the American people will be persuaded against a much-needed raise.

We’re much smarter than that. It’s obvious that the wealthiest people in America have sucked up all the pay raises, writes AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a column in The Guardian. “Since 1997, all income growth has gone to the wealthiest 10%. Most of those increases have gone to the richest 1%.”

A recent national survey conducted for the National Employment Law Project (NELP), by Hart Research Associates, finds just 25% buy the claim that raising America’s wage floor so working people can live in decency costs jobs.

Trumka writes:

And the public would be right. Recent respected academic research has determined that raising the minimum wage does not result in job loss—even during bad economic times. Forbes, a two-time unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, is on the wrong side of the public in more ways than one. The NELP-commissioned survey shows that 80% of the public—including 62% of those in Forbes’ own party—supports raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and adjusting it for inflation in the future, as President Obama and congressional Democrats propose.

Read the rest of Millionaire Steve Forbes Has a Cynical Campaign to Keep Working People Down in The Guardian. 

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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House Republicans Draining at Least $600 Million a Week from the Economy

At the end of 2013, an emergency unemployment compensation extension program that started in 2008 under President George W. Bush expired, meaning 1.3 million jobless workers lost benefits that helped them house and feed their families. President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have made it clear they want the program to go on, but House Republicans are refusing to act. Now Harvard economist Lawrence Katz says the “fiscally irresponsible” decision is costing America’s economy at least $600 million a week.

“It is actually fiscally irresponsible not to extend unemployment benefits,” Katz said. “The long-run cost to the taxpayers will be much higher from disconnecting people from the labor market.”

The program provided an average weekly payment of $305 to people who have been unemployed for longer than six months. The end of the program directly harms the economy because unemployed workers spend most, if not all, of the income they have as soon as they get it. The failure to extend the program not only is a major problem for the families directly involved and a drag on the economy, it will cost over 300,000 jobs if a solution isn’t found, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez explained the need for the emergency program to continue:

When Congress first passed this version of emergency unemployment compensation in 2008, and the president [George W. Bush] signed the law, the unemployment rate was 5.6%, and the average duration of unemployment was 17.1 weeks. Today, the unemployment rate is 7%. The average duration of unemployment is now 36 weeks.

The administration also noted that the long-term unemployment rate, the percentage of the workforce that has been looking for work for 6 months or longer, is more than 2.5%, well above the 1% economists say we should expect during normal times.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka and Bishop Blaire Urge Congress to Pass Immigration Reform, Ask Obama to Halt Deportations

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Stephen Blaire, Catholic bishop of Stockton and a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic policy committee, wrote the following Op-Ed, which appeared in the Sacramento Bee last week.

Unions and Catholic leaders have long found common cause in advocating for policies that defend the dignity of workers and protect immigrant families. Over the past several years, we have worked together to win congressional approval of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Although such legislation has passed the U.S. Senate in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, the U.S. House of Representatives is now delaying consideration of either the Senate bill or its own version of reform.

While we commend President Barack Obama’s strong commitment to humane and responsible reform, we now stand together again to urge him to halt the deportations of immigrants who would achieve legal status and eventual citizenship under the Senate bill. It is inconsistent to advocate on behalf of immigrants and their families on one hand—including giving them an opportunity for citizenship—and devastate and separate their families through enforcement actions on the other.

A philosophically diverse coalition of business, faith and labor leaders has joined Obama in a clear call for making urgent legislative changes to a broken system, and we remain committed to achieving passage of comprehensive immigration reform. We must not allow extreme positions outside the American mainstream to define the debate and hinder the achievement of the common good, which calls for comprehensive immigration reform.

Despite our optimism that Congress will eventually do the right thing, we remain deeply troubled that the number of undocumented immigrants deported since Obama took office five years ago will soon surpass 2 million people. This represents a moral and political failure. Simply put, tearing apart tens of thousands of children from parents is morally unacceptable.

We are a nation of laws, but also a nation guided by enduring principles and the practical sense to fix what is broken. A strictly punitive approach to immigration is an imprudent and impractical response that ignores the root causes driving migration, such as trade policies that benefit multinational corporations over workers. Global poverty and unstable governments all contribute to complex challenges that will not be solved by higher walls or tough rhetoric.

Moreover, the economic case for an immigration overhaul is strong. Despite the ugly myths and fear stoked by anti-immigrant groups, the fact is that comprehensive reform will be good for America’s workers, families and our economy.

Most immigrants work hard, pay taxes and contribute to our communities. But in New YorkLos Angeles and Chicago alone, low-wage workers in immigrant-heavy industries lose about $56 million per week in wage theft from unscrupulous employers. The best defense against workplace exploitation is bringing immigrants out of the shadows.

In this regard, we support immigration policies that offer immigrant workers a fair and just path to citizenship, so that their human rights are protected and the wages for all workers rise.

The low wages and fear that trap many immigrants and U.S. citizens in dead-end jobs have only gotten worse with declining union membership and growing income inequality. Fixing our broken immigration system will help all workers, strengthen a shrinking middle class and set our nation on a more stable path to compete in a diverse global economy. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that immigration reform with a path to citizenship would generate an additional $1.5 trillion to the economy over the next decade.

It’s time to reject false choices and inconsistent and immoral enforcement policies. Let’s secure our borders at the same time that we provide an earned path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. We can protect both American-born workers and aspiring Americans by fixing an immigration system that encourages manipulation and abuse by employers. The status quo is unacceptable.

As labor and faith leaders, we urge all people of good will not to rest until the fight for a fair and just immigration system is won.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Obama Discusses Plan to Grow Economy by $1.4 Trillion; Cut Deficit by $1 Trillion

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In a speech from the White House today, President Barack Obama discussed his support for a plan to boost the economy by more than a trillion dollars while also cutting the deficit by $1 trillion. The legislation, which already has passed the Senate, would create a new immigration system for the United States, one that includes a road map to citizenship for aspiring Americans and ensures they have access to workplace rights. Independent economists, Obama noted, project that over the next two decades, the law would boost the economy by $1.4 trillion and drastically reduce projected deficits.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka applauded Obama’s renewed call to pass the legislation this year:

Today millions of immigrants received needed reassurance from the President that despite chaos in Washington, immigration reform can get done. We commend President Obama for renewing his commitment to passing immigration reform this year and urging Republicans in the House to act quickly. As pointed out by the President our current system, which allows businesses that exploit workers through wage theft, lack of benefits and intimidation, is unfair to all workers and unfair to responsible businesses that play by the rules. Republicans who support business should be able to get behind this.

The president noted that in addition to providing a road map to citizenship and helping to move the economy forward, the legislation would reduce deficits, improve border security and strengthen the middle class. He did question whether or not the House of Representatives had the leadership to pass the legislation, which had strong bipartisan support in the Senate and in the rest of the country:

Now, obviously just because something is smart and fair and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor—the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done. This is Washington, after all.

Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) plans to take a break from his hectic schedule of investigating made-up scandals to offer an immigration plan that neither Democrats nor Republicans are likely to support.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Obama to Push Immigration Reform Once Republican Hostage-Taking Is Resolved

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President Barack Obama Tuesday told the Spanish-language Los Angeles affiliate of Univision that “the day after” the budget and debt ceiling debacle is resolved, he will push for passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Well, keep in mind this is not just a Latino issue. This is an American issue. We know our economy will grow faster if immigration reform passes. We know businesses will do better if immigration reform passes. We know that the deficits will be reduced if immigration reform passes; because people coming out of the shadows, paying more taxes, growing, the growth accelerating, all that brings down the deficit, so this is important to everybody.

Once the Republican budget and deficit ceiling hostage-taking is over, he said, “…you know, the day after I’m going to be pushing to say, call a vote on immigration reform. And if I have to join with other advocates and continue to speak out on that, and keep pushing, I’m going to do so because I think it’s really important for the country. And now is the time to do it.”

His comments came a week after thousands of immigrants and union, community and faith activists marched and rallied on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., delivering the message: “The time is now” for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship.

The conservative Wall Street Journal delivered a message of its own Oct. 15, in an editorial urging Republicans to end the budget and debt ceiling mess: “It’s time to wrap up this comedy of political errors.”

Resposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Sorry, Mr. President, Amazon Isn’t the Place to Go for Good Jobs

In his speech in Chattanooga, Tenn., yesterday, President Obama rightfully called out for an increase in jobs that pay high wages and offer good benefits, what he called “middle class jobs,” and for a focus on creating manufacturing jobs.  While those are laudable goals, Obama chose to give a speech about these topics at the Amazon Chattanooga Fulfillment Center, a location that neither pays those good wages and benefits nor is a place that offers manufacturing jobs.

According to various reports, many of the 15,000 jobs at the 70-plus warehouses around the world pay $12.50 per hour.  Most workers have no health care (unless they pay for it themselves) or paid leave.  Full-time employees do have health insurance, 401(k) funds and get stock shares, but most employees are not full-time.

Work conditions at the fulfillment centers are widely reported to be horrible.  Workers report walking 10 miles or more on the average day, often in blistering heat. Workers were regularly sent to the emergency room after working in temperatures that sometimes exceeded 110 degrees.  Morning Call reported that at least one location hired a paramedic to wait outside closed warehouse doors to treat employees who fainted or were suffering from dehydration.

Productivity is tracked by a scanner database that automatically issued demerits regardless of how bad working conditions got in the warehouse.  If it got too hot, employees can choose to leave, but the computer gives them demerits for doing so.  Enough demerits would lead to firing and the only way around the heat-related demerits was a doctor’s note and a medical waiver from the warehouse managers.  A doctor’s note is a little harder to obtain when you don’t have paid sick days to visit a doctor and don’t have insurance and can’t afford a doctor on your low salary.

Workers are pressured to keep up dangerous levels of work for shifts that last 12 hours or more.  Workers say they are constantly in fear of being written up or fired for not working fast enough.  Employees reportedly have to participate in phone conferences where there was screaming and constant complaints that production numbers weren’t high enough, regardless of how high they were.  Several former managers said they were retaliated against for complaining about work conditions.

The Seattle Times reported that at a Kentucky warehouse, workers were pressured not to report injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  A Pennsylvania worker filed a lawsuit after allegedly being told to lie about a workplace injury.  Also, the warehouses have such elaborate security procedures to prevent employee theft, Huffington Post reports, that leaving work can be a 25-minute unpaid ordeal.  Employees filed a class-action lawsuit against the practice.

As for “manufacturing” jobs, Amazon fails on that aspect, too.  By their nature, manufacturing jobs in the United States have traditionally paid well and had good benefits, which we’ve already seen don’t apply here.  But manufacturing jobs are supposed to be permanent jobs, as well.  Manufacturing jobs offer job stability, where you know that if you work hard, you’ll always have a job.  That’s not how Amazon works.

According to the Morning Call, many of Amazon’s fulfillment center jobs are temporary jobs hired through Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS).  By hiring the workers as temps, they can, of course, be paid less and not given benefits.  But more importantly, it means that there is no job security.  Amazon reportedly offers the best workers permanent positions, but workers report that isn’t the way things usually happen.  Normally, after a designated number of hours, the jobs expire.  A few are given permanent jobs, but most are let go and have to apply again a few months later.  The permanent job carrot is dangled in front of temp workers to get them to work harder and harder, until the jobs end, people quit or they get injured.  Morning Call was told that turnover was very high at fulfillment centers.

Another key for manufacturing jobs is the right to organize and collectively bargain with management. The Seattle Times notes that unions are unwelcome at Amazon.

Early on, Amazon took a hard line against unions. A high-profile organizing effort by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) at an Amazon call center in Seattle ended in 2001, when the center was shut down and some 400 workers were laid off as part of a larger company restructuring.

Fulfillment center workers say that they were forced to attend a meeting once a year where the company would denigrate unions and warn employees against joining them. The use of a largely temporary workforce also undercuts union organizing efforts, since the workforce is constantly changing and few workers are there long enough to participate in or lead organizing efforts.

So, while it is laudable that the president is pushing policies that would expand good jobs, he should pay a little more attention next time around to where he’s giving such a speech and make sure that the company he’s gracing with his presence isn’t part of the problem.

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka: Perez a Strong Pick for Labor Secretary

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka reacted today to the news President Obama will nominate Thomas Perez as the new secretary of labor:

Working men and women will be well served by President Obama’s choice of Tom Perez to lead the Department of Labor.

Throughout his career, Perez has fought to level the playing field and create opportunities for working people, whether in the workplace, the marketplace or the voting booth. He has worked to eliminate discrimination in housing, provide access to education and health care, end hate crimes, crack down on employers who cheat workers out of wages and expand our democracy by protecting the fundamental right of every American to vote. In the 1990’s, he worked on the front lines of the effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform under the leadership of the great Senator Ted Kennedy—a job that will serve him well in today’s drive for commonsense immigration reform.

At a time when our politics tilts so heavily toward corporations and the very wealthy, our country needs leaders like Tom Perez to champion the cause of ordinary working people. And working families need and deserve a strong advocate as their Secretary of Labor — one who will vigorously enforce job safety standards, wage laws, and anti-discrimination rules, and who will speak out forcefully for working families and their workplace rights, including their right to join together to improve their lives and working conditions.

President Obama has chosen such an advocate in Tom Perez, and we congratulate him on this nomination.

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