Several dozen Washington, D.C., community, faith and worker activists brought concrete evidence to Mayor Vincent C. Gray that district voters believe workers deserve a living wage, when they delivered 31,917 signatures on a petition urging Gray to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA).
In late June, the D.C. City Council passed the LRAAthat calls for a $12.50 an hour wage for workers in big-box stores such as Walmart. But Gray has yet to say if he will sign or veto the living wage bill. Today’s petition is the latest in the campaign by district residents that has included email messages and phone calls to urge the mayor to listen to voters, not Walmart lobbyists and lawyers.
In a press conference on the steps of the city’s Wilson Building, the Rev. Virginia Willis (see photo) said district workers need jobs:
But minimum wage isn’t enough. We’re talking about a living wage. We’re not going to be pushed around by out of town corporations. Sign the bill, Mr. Mayor.
Gray has previously expressed support for a living wage law and Metropolitan Washington Council President Jos Williams told the crowd that while running for office, Gray endorsed such a law when he sought the council’s support.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made himself a household name when in 2011 he worked with his legislative allies to strip collective bargaining rights from public workers. At the time he said this would help the state create jobs, but later told his donors it was part of a “divide and conquer” strategy to destroy his opposition.
At Working America, we hypothesized that maybe Gov. Walker was confused about what Labor Day was. Labor Day celebrates all that has been accomplished by workers who have banded together for a better life; accomplishments like fair wages, sick days, health care, voting rights, and corporate accountability. Accomplishments that Gov. Walker has made a career of rolling back.
We decided to respond to Gov. Walker’s Labor Day tweet by borrowing a phrase from The Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya. Retweet if you agree.
In a victory for some 3,100 retired Mine Workers (UMWA) members and a setback for Peabody Energy and its attempt to duck its health care obligations, a U.S. Court of Appeals’ bankruptcy appellate panel todayreversed a lower court’s ruling that would have allowed Peabody to shed its responsibilities.
The retirees worked for Heritage Coal before Peabody spun it off to Patriot Coal. The UMWA says Peabody created Patriot solely for the purpose of ducking health care and other obligations for miners and retirees.
A bright ray of good news in what has been a long, dreary period for the retirees, their dependents and widows who have been desperately worried about what’s going to happen to their health care.
The union has been engaged in a Fairness at Patriot campaign to win justice and protect the pensions and health care for the workers and retirees at Patriot and to hold Peabody accountable to its obligations. Says Roberts:
Peabody has spent years trying to get rid of its obligations to the thousands of retirees who made it the richest coal company in the world. This decision foils part of that plan. And it makes us even more determined to keep fighting to make sure the company lives up to its entire obligation to these miners.
UMWA members at Patriot Coal operations in West Virginia and Kentucky last week ratified a settlement the union reached with the company that makes significant improvements in terms and conditions of employment over a federal bankruptcy judge’s order from last May. But says Roberts:
We are now able to turn our full attention to securing the lifetime health care benefits Peabody and Arch Minerals [which also was involved in the creation of Patriot] promised these retirees. If those companies thought our public effort to highlight their poor corporate citizenship was over, they will quickly find out otherwise. We’re moving into a new phase of that effort, and soon. We fully intend to hold Peabody and Arch accountable.
The following is a post from Maine Rep. Diane Russell
The most memorable moment I have in my political life, by far, is leaving the Maine House in tears, stunned that the majority party had repealed four decades of Election Day Registration – all so they could win elections. It was the moment when I truly questioned whether our democracy would survive, or whether people were even listening.
We had been blindsided by the sudden and unexpected onslaught of anti-voter rhetoric. OpEds and FAQ sheets circulated faster than we could imagine. Those of us fighting the bill in the Legislature were outmaneuvered even when we exposed the hypocrisy and even lies that were being put before us. For every legislative aid in Maine, there are about ten to twelve lawmakers – so how was such a coordinated push even possible? We couldn’t catch up, let alone respond.
Thankfully, the people were listening. In fact, it was the people of Maine who restored my faith in our future. One by one, they picked up petitions and in under a month had collected enough signatures to put the question to the ballot. On Election Day, 60 percent of Mainers resoundingly voted to protect the voting rights for themselves, their neighbors and even students.
But where did this even come from? This was four decades of sacred ground, upended overnight with a well-coordinated legislative and public relations offensive.
The source, it turns out, was the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). While our registration laws were under attack in Maine, a chorus of cries began to erupt from across the country as newly red states pushed restrictive voter ID bills effectively disenfranchising voters. At one point, the Brennan Center estimated 5 million people would be left behind under the new laws. It was only when Ari Berman outlined what was happening in his Rolling Stone article, “The GOP War on Voting,” did the tide finally begin to change – and the truth finally get told.
We now know, of course, that it’s not just voter rights that ALEC had set its sights on. They were pushing the castle doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws; rollbacks to environmental protections; opposition to women’s rights; anti-worker legislation and the list goes on. They worked with the GOP to effectively gut Maine’s model public campaign financing laws – enacted by the people through referendum – that open doors for good people to run for office, devoid of the potential for quid-pro-quo donations. Citizens are again picking up pens to put Clean Elections back on the ballot and to restore it.
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, people and companies began piecing together the connection between castle doctrines and voter suppression – and the blatant racial bias inherent in both. Under unprecedented pressure from the public, companies began canceling their ALEC memberships. ALEC, itself, even dismembered its notorious task force that tied public safety with voter laws, formerly chaired by the NRA. (Yes, the NRA actually chaired the committee that approved the vigilante and voter registration model bills.)
Flash forward a bit, and it turns out tech companies such as Yelp are now partnering with ALEC. Let’s set aside the intelligence of climbing on board the Titanic after even the rats have left, and analyze their rationale for a moment.
Yelp, a highly popular online consumer review company, has stated that its support is related specifically to so-called SLAPP legislation which uses lawsuits to effectively undermine free speech. If consumers write negative reviews about a company and then are “slapped” with a frivolous lawsuit, they might become less inclined to write said reviews. In legal terms, this is known as “chilling speech.” On the point of protecting Free Speech in this one legal area, Yelp and ALEC agree. Working with the other side is just part of politics, right?
While this generally is true, the problem in this case is that it ignores all the other rights that are being stripped from people because of this organization. It ignores the fact that a young kid was gunned down because he was armed with a hoodie, some skittles and an iced tea. It ignores the fact that they are the architects of laws that suppress voting rights for minorities. It ignores their work to write and pass (with the Corrections Corporation of America) legislation like Arizona’s SB1070 that used racial profiling to target undocumented workers.
On a simply pragmatic note, it ignores the fact that countless other companies – who had previously aligned with ALEC to work on their own “very specific” issue areas – canceled their memberships as soon as they realized the host of other laws with which their name was now being associated. For a company like Yelp who has built its brand entirely on the consumer reviews of other brands, this concept should be rather self-evident.
It was pretty self-evident to Yelp’s members who, in just one day, posted more than 2,500 reviews (nearly all negative) about ALEC and Yelp’s new relationship – on the company’s own web platform. Further, @Yelp was peppered all day with outraged tweets from across the country.
If Yelp – and other tech companies – are serious about protecting First Amendment rights then I’m all in and will commit to working with them to do just that. However, there are better, more ethical means to accomplish this goal than joining an organization who helped lay a foundation for the “he was armed with Skittles” defense.
We found out this week that Yelp, the popular online reviewing company, has joined up with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is the organization behind bad legislation like “Stand Your Ground” laws and the anti-immigrant policies in Arizona. Yelp customers were horrified, but then responded in really creative ways. The fight isn’t over though: join us and tell Yelp to cut all ties with ALEC.
This week, we found out that Yelp had joined ALEC
Don’t know ALEC? They bring together corporations and legislators to write “model bills.”
The legislators can then take the bills home to their states and try to pass them into laws.
You’ve probably heard of some of these bills…
Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law.
Wisconsin’s union-busting law.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Florida’s Shoot First aka “Stand Your Ground” law.
So people were kind of mad when they found out Yelp had joined up with ALEC.
Then Maine State Rep. Diane Russell had an idea.
“Why not tell Yelp how we feel about ALEC by reviewing it on Yelp?”
In 24 hours, over 2,400 people had reviewed the American Legislative Exchange Council on Yelp.
Some compared ALEC to a restaurant.
Others asked why Yelp hadn’t taken the route of 40+ other corporations and left ALEC.
Some just listed ALEC’s more infamous members.
But the truth is, a lot of us like Yelp. We don’t want them to support ALEC.
Because no matter your intent, when you give ALEC money, you are supporting their agenda.
That’s what North Carolinians have been trying to tell the country every Monday for the past three months by turning out in the thousands for Moral Monday protests.
One of the main grievances of the Moral Monday protesters is this bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory that restricts early voting, enacts narrow photo ID requirements for voting, and keeps individual cities and towns from dealing long lines.
But it’s not just the one bill. As Rachel Maddow describes above, it’s a systematic, years-long effort to transform democracy in North Carolina, down to the local level.
The two most egregious examples cited by Maddow are:
-The combining of three voting sites around Appalachian State University into one, as well as the deliberate removal of campus voting, creating a situation where 9,300 people must vote at one location that has 35 parking spots
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said the Chicago vote “proves that retail workers are ready and willing to stand up and demand change.” He added:
Retail workers at Guitar Center nationwide are reaching out to the union because they understand that when they unite and stand together, their voices will be heard.
The Guitar Center chain is owned by Bain Capital and is the world’s largest musical instrument retailer with some 220 stores in the United States.
Brian Webb, a sales associate at the Chicago store, told Rolling Stone that he struggles to survive on his pay of roughly $11 an hour.
I make exactly as much as I did when I started here seven years ago. Anyone who works a hard, 40-hour week should be able to earn an honest living. This isn’t just about our store—it’s part of a larger effort to revive the middle class in this country.
Many of the company’s employees are musicians themselves. Webb plays guitar and sings in a local band called Jonny Rumble. After Guitar Center workers and the RWDSU launched a petition drive to build support for their campaign, a number of prominent musicians and members of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) signed on, including Steve Earle, Tom Morello, Billy Bragg, Ted Leo and Kathleen Hanna.
In 2012, music video performers won a landmark union contract through SAG-AFTRA. The victory represented the culmination of over 20 years of advocacy, lead by an alt-labor group called the Dancers’ Alliance.
This year, the intrepid performers and organizers of the Dancers’ Alliance are looking to expand those protections to dancers and choreographers on tour. Their campaign? #TheUnionizeTour.
While big stars like Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake rake in big money with their massive nationwide tours, the members of the Dancers’ Alliance will be fighting to make sure their backup performers have access to health insurance, get treated decently on tour, and have recourse if they aren’t paid the wages they are owed.
Most fast-food and other low-wage workers are back on the job after a series of rolling strikes earlier this month demanding a living wage and the right to join a union without employer retaliation. More strikes are planned around Labor Day. But the struggle continues for economic justice for the workers who earn the minimum wage ($7.25) or just above.
Two articles you may have missed show that boosting the workers’ pay to $15 an hour just might not cut into the profits of companies like McDonald’s or cost consumers much more for their favorite burger.
Jordan Weissmann, writing for The Atlantic, takes a look at Australia, where the minimum wage for adults is $14.50 an hour and a new agreement exists between McDonald’s and the workers’ union—the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association. Not only does the new deal include a 15% wage increase, but many McDonald’s workers Down Under already were earning more than the minimum wage.
In a country where the two key elements of the U.S. workers’ demands are met—a living wage and a union—McDonald’s 900 or so restaurants are turning a tidy profit. By the way, McDonald’s earns more revenue from its European operations, where minimum wages are significantly higher, than the burger giant does in the United States.
What would it cost you if U.S. fast-food chains woke up one day and decided that paying workers a living wage was the right thing to do? Not a whole lot, according to economists Jeannette Wicks-Lim and Robert Pollin who have studied the relationship between wage increases in the fast-food industry and the cost of doing business.
Using their research, the good folks at The Daily Beast developed a “McPoverty” calculator that shows you what just a few cents more out of your pocket for a burger would mean for the paychecks of fast-food workers. Click here to take a look.
Immigrant construction workers in Austin, Texas, have a fierce advocate fighting for back pay, safety on the job and basic workplace rights.
The Workers Defense Project, profiled by Steven Greenhouse in this weekend’s New York Times Business section, is an example of a worker center that is highly successful in its campaigns.
As worker centers go, the Workers Defense Project in Austin has racked up an unusual number of successes. It has won more than $1 million in back pay over the last decade on behalf of workers alleging violations of minimum wage and overtime laws. A report it wrote on safety problems spurred the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate 900 construction sites in Texas—leading to nearly $2 million in fines.