5 Things that Have Changed Since the Federal Minimum Wage Was Last Increased

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The federal minimum wage was last increased on July 24, 2009, and since then, a lot has changed (don’t forget tipped workers haven’t seen a raise since 1991). There have been so many attacks on working families since that time that it would be difficult to catalog them all. But workers and their allies haven’t taken the attacks sitting down, and many are finding new ways to organize and stand up for their rights. Here are five things that have changed since the last time the federal minimum wage was increased:

1. Republicans Took Control of the House and Promptly Did…Nothing: In the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and then proceeded to engage in historical levels of obstructionism, and this 113th Congress is on pace to go down as one of the least productive Congresses in history. Congressional Democrats have tried to raise the minimum wage, butRepublicans blocked the legislation. Not to mention Republicans also shut down the government in 2013.

2. Working Families Turned to State and Local Governments: Not content to wait for Republicans in Congress to act, working family advocates turned their attention to state and local governments. On June 1, 2014, Delaware became the 22nd state (as well as the District of Columbia) to raise its minimum wage above the 2009 level. Four more states are set to increase on Jan. 1, 2015, while at least four more will consider ballot measures to increase their minimum wage in November 2014. At least a dozen cities or counties also have passed minimum wage increases in the past five years as well. Much of the state and local action has been in the last year or so, showing a growing momentum across the country for raising the wage despite Republican opposition.

3. Worker Productivity Has Risen, While Wages Have Stagnated: One place you can’t lay the blame for the economic crisis, stagnant wages and other economic problems is on workers. Between 1973 and 2013, worker productivity had risen nearly 65%. Meanwhile, wages for those same workers had only increased 8.2%.

4. CEOs, on the Other Hand, Have Gotten Much Richer: While workers are much more productive and not being fairly compensated for it, CEOs are making out like bandits. The average S&P 500 company CEO received $11.7 million in 2013, or 774 times a full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage. The ratio of CEO pay to production and non-supervisory worker pay has gone from 46–1 in 1983 to 331–1 in 2013.

5. The Value of the Minimum Wage Keeps Getting Eaten Away by Inflation: Stagnant wages are a real problem for working families and they are barely keeping up with inflation. A few examples make this problem clear. In January 2009, the average price of gas was $1.84 a gallon, now it’s $3.59 a gallon. The price of beef has risen 74% since 2009 to a record level. In 2009, a gallon of milk could easily be purchased for under $3, now the price is more than $4 in many places. Overall, food prices have risen 9% since 2009, with many individual staples rising much faster.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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12 Ways the State Policy Network Could Assault the Rights of Working Families in 2014

new article from the Guardian reveals that the State Policy Network (SPN) is planning a significant assault on the rights of working families in 2014 state legislative sessions. Through the Searle Freedom Trust, a foundation it created in 2011, SPN plans to offer sizable grants to supposedly independent, non-partisan think tanks in the states. SPN collected 40 grant proposalsfrom these think tanks and will grant funding through Searle to 20 of them. The proposals are for numerous extreme right-wing policy options, very similar to those proposed by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the think tanks already receive funding from the typical extremist anti-working family funders like the Koch brothers.

While SPN claims tax-exempt status that limits their lobbying efforts and the group says that it and the groups it funds don’t engage in lobbying, those claims don’t quite pass a commonsense examination. As the Guardian notes:

Most of the “think tanks” involved in the proposals gathered by the State Policy Network are constituted as 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from tax by the Internal Revenue Service. Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are subject to strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they are allowed to perform. Several of the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents propose the launch of “media campaigns” aimed at changing state laws and policies, or refer to “advancing model legislation” and “candidate briefings,” in ways that arguably cross the line into lobbying.

Depending on which 20 proposals it chooses to fund, here are 12 ways that SPN could assault the rights of working families in 2014:

1. Alabama Policy Institute: Requested $25,725 to fund the “spark plug” for eliminating the state income tax. Such a plan would lead to the cutting of services for working families. (Also requested for tax cuts or elimination: Advance Arkansas Institute, $35,000; Georgia Public Policy Foundation, $40,000; Nebraska’s Platte Institute for Economic Research, $25,000; New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, $30,000; Ohio’s Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, $40,000; and Opportunity Ohio, $35,000).

2. Delaware’s Caesar Rodney Institute: Requested $36,000 to fund strategies to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which would lower wages for working families.

3. Florida’s James Madison Institute: Requested $40,000 to fund efforts to promote vouchers (which they call Education Savings Accounts), which would reduce funding for public schools. Lower public education funding would lead to worsening student performance and teacher layoffs. (Also requested on this topic: Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute, $40,000.)

4. Georgia Center for Opportunity: Requested $65,000 to fund opposition to Medicaid expansion, which would mean fewer residents have health care. (Also requested on this same topic: North Carolina’s J.W. Pope Civitas Institute, $46,500; Texas Public Policy Foundation, $40,000; Utah’s Sutherland Institute, $50,000.)

5. Illinois Policy Institute: Requested $40,000 to fight to change Chicago’s public employee pension system to a defined-contribution plan, which would mean less retirement security for working families. (Also requested on cutting public employee pensions: Arizona’s Goldwater Institute for Public Policy, $40,000; Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment, $40,000; Missouri’s Show-Me Institute, $25,000; Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation, $35,500.)

6. Maryland Public Policy Institute: Requested $40,000 to push for cuts in corporate tax rates, which would lead to the cutting of services for working families.

7. Maine Heritage Policy Center: Requested $35,000 to fund a campaign to eliminate state and local income taxes and institute “right to work” for less in one county as a model for future endeavors. If the campaign succeeds, working families will face service cuts and lower wages.

8. Mississippi Center for Public Policy: Requested $30,000 to oppose gas tax increases and privatize the state Department of Transportation, which would lead to weakened services for state residents and lower accountability on transportation issues. (Also requested on privatization: Massachusetts’ Pioneer Institute, $40,000).

9. Common Sense Institute of New Jersey: Requested $50,000 for a campaign to eliminate the compensation of public employees for unused sick leave, which would lower the overall compensation package for employees and encourage public employee absenteeism.

10. Nevada Policy Research Institute: Requested $35,000 to fund a campaign to get union members to leave their unions, which would weaken the collective bargaining rights of working families.

11. Empire Center for New York State Policy: Requested $36,500 to fund efforts to eliminate the estate tax, which would lead to service cuts for working families and shift the tax burden in the state from the wealthy toward working families.

12. Washington Policy Center: Requested $35,000 to launch a campaign to require local governments to have a super-majority to raise taxes, which would cripple local governments and lead to cuts in services for working families.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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10 Ways Working Families Are ‘Kicking Ass’ for the Middle Class

Sure, working families have been under attack for years, but people across the country are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back to protect workers’ rights and raise living standards for everyone. Here are 10 ways they’re doing it:

1. Increasing the Minimum Wage

Four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island) have increased their state minimum wage in 2013, and on Nov. 5, New Jersey voters will vote on a ballot measure to increase their minimum wage.

2. Passing “Buy America” Laws

Three states (Colorado, Maryland and Texas) passed laws in 2013 to ensure that the goods procured with public funding are made in the United States.

3. Ensuring Paid Sick Days

Portland, Ore., Jersey City, N.J., and New York City became the latest three cities to adopt standards for paid sick days in 2013.

4. Protecting Immigrant Workers

In 2013, six states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont) have enacted protections for immigrant workers, including access to driver’s licenses and education.

5. Cracking Down on Businesses That Cheat Workers

Texas passed legislation in 2013 to crack down on businesses that cheat employees by treating them as “independent contractors” who lack worker protections (such as minimum wage and overtime protection, and eligibility for unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation).

6. Giving Workers the Right to a Voice on the Job

In 2013, some 15,000 home care workers in Minnesota won collective bargaining rights through state legislation, as did 10,000 in Illinois and 7,000 in Vermont. Thousands of other workers around the country have enjoyed organizing wins, too: 7,000 electrical workers, more than 5,000 Texas public school teachers, taxi drivers in New York and other cities, telecom workers, college and university faculty, EMS drivers, hotel and casino workers and domestic workers, to name a few.

7. Protecting Your Privacy on Social Media

Nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have passed legislation in 2013 to prohibit employers from requiring access to your social media passwords or information as a condition of employment.

8. Fighting for LGBTQ Equality

Five states (Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont) have passed legislation banning workplace discrimination or recognizing marriage equality.

9. Protecting the Rights of Domestic Workers

Two states (California and Hawaii) have passed legislation in 2013 to protect the rights of domestic workers. California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will benefit about 200,000 domestic workers, and Hawaii’s will benefit some 20,000 domestic workers.

10. Protecting Voting Rights

Twelve states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation protecting voting rights in 2013, while voting rights legislation was vetoed by the governors of Nevada and New Jersey.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Workers Win Voice with AFL-CIO Unions

Emergency medical workers, massage therapists, bus mechanics and home health care workers are among the latest workers to choose a voice on the job with AFL-CIO unions.

In California and Arizona, some 240 emergency medical services professionals voted recently to join United EMS Workers-AFSCME.

Employees of First Responder EMS in Sacramento, Calif., won their election with 76% of the vote. EMTs at River Medical Ambulance-AMR in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., voted 90% in favor of AFSCME.

Crystal Forschen, a paramedic at First Responder EMS, says:

We’re standing together because we want EMS to be seen as a real profession, not just a stepping stone. The way we get it done is by having a strong, democratic and accountable union.

More than 3,000 workers in Northern California and New England joined United EMS Workers last year.

In Seattle, licensed massage practitioners at Massage Bar Inc. voted to join Office and Professional Employees (OPEIULocal 8. The 40 employees work at Sea-Tac Airport and the Washington Convention Center. Tom Tanouye, a 17-year employee, says:

We lack the basic benefits many health professionals enjoy, like access to affordable health care or paid sick leave. We hope to work in partnership with management to make improvements that will benefit employees and the company.

Earlier this year, Massage Bar employees at Sacramento International Airport voted to join OPEIU.

Workers at Reliable Home Health Care Services in Greensboro, N.C., joined Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 3607. The 37 certified nursing assistants and home health care workers won their union after they and Local 3607 President Chris Myrick negotiated a majority sign-up agreement with the employer.

More than two dozen diesel bus mechanics at the Delaware Transit Corp. voted to join Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2270. The workers reached out to the union after one of their longtime workers was unfairly fired.

Steve Rockafellow, IBEW regional organizing coordinator, says, “All of a sudden, the guys said, ‘Maybe we aren’t as secure as we thought we were.’”

Read a detailed account of the victory here.

Resposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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When Jobs Leave: The Story of Marcus Hook

by Ruth Oditt – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Marcus Hook is a town teetering on the edge of destruction.  Last year, Sunoco Oil announced that it would shut down its refinery in Marcus Hook.  This refinery has employed residents for generations; it provides a tax base for the community, and directly funds part of the school district.  As horrible as it is, I wish this were an isolated event; but Sunoco is also closing its South Philadelphia refinery, and ConocoPhillips is closing one in nearby Trainer, Pennsylvania.  In total, 2,500 Pennsylvanians will be laid off, and thousands more will see their livelihoods affected as more residents struggle with unemployment and the tax base disappears.

Throughout the last six months, elected officials across the political spectrum have joined together to help find a buyer for these refineries and save the community.  There has been one notable exception:  Governor Tom Corbett.  Our Governor has refused to attend important meetings with stakeholders, speak to the press about the issue, or even meet with the workers facing layoffs.  We were heading out to Marcus Hook that day to collect letters from the community demanding that the Governor help save their jobs.

As we rode out to Marcus Hook I kept finding myself distracted.  It must have been the factory town, with the factory closing, that drew my mind back.  I couldn’t help thinking of my own hometown.

I’m not from anywhere all that special to the rest of the world. Just one of those small factory towns in Ohio; one of the many with no factories left. I remembered the guy I dated just after high school that worked at one of the plants. I remembered hearing that he’d moved away after the shut down, and being glad for him. I remembered being just 18, looking for a job just to make ends meet while I started off at college. I remember competing with laid off factory workers for a position at a service station. I remember moving away, because I couldn’t find enough work to pay the bills. I remember those who didn’t; some have kids, and others have moved back in with their parents.  Most of them still haven’t found full time jobs. One way or another, they manage to feed their own kids.

I knew what today would be. The men would have those expressions – the ones that say, “I have to figure out how to make this work, but I don’t think there is a way anymore.” The women usually look sad, and scared. Everyone is angry.

I knew what would come next from what happened in my town. Families couldn’t keep their houses. Some young workers moved away and some moved back in.  The rising crime rate, desolate downtown streets, and closed up shop fronts follow quickly. The children don’t have safe schools, or the activities they need to learn to be the leaders the town needs. The playgrounds start to rust.

I was right.  Everyone I met had the grim sadness I expected. Some were vehement, angry, and ready to act. Some were scared, and quiet; a sense of hopelessness hung about them. Resignation reflected in their eyes as they glanced over their shoulders to the dead end of the street where you can still see the light from the burn off of the oil refinery, for now.  No one was too busy to write a letter to the Governor about this. One after another the heartbreaking stories poured onto the pages. Christine said “Dear Governor Corbett…our families, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren depend on us to provide for them.” She knew what a lasting impact this time would have on her town. Jay said simply “Dear Governor …I believe you need to stand up.”  Theresa started her letter by saying that she is “struggling as it is.”  Each face, each voice bracing for the impact of the work that their Governor has not done for them.

I was prepared for all of this. I have seen these things before. They always make me sad, and so, I fight to make things better where I can, with what small voice I have alone, and with a lot of organizing. Still, I wasn’t prepared.

As the night drew to a close, I met a kindly woman with a quiet about her. She had an injured leg which caused her trouble while standing at the door, so she invited me in promptly and sent her grandson to get me some tea.  I glanced around, saw three happy dogs, a younger and an older child, a neat, but lived in home.  I sipped the tea while she told me about choosing to move to Marcus Hook because it was such a fine place to raise a family. The tea was sweet tea, and tasted just like the kind my mother made.  I was reminded of home now more than ever.  She told a few stories about friends and family, the older child was an 18 year old student at the local high school. They both were writing letters to the Governor when the older woman’s head popped up and she broke the quiet asking very plainly “What’s going to happen for the kids?” My mind raced back to all of my friends who had moved away, or stayed, and all of the choices they should never have had to face. I couldn’t bring myself to answer her.

Just then, the younger girl piped up. She was not subtle. She told of kids who were 11 and 12 smoking cigarettes outside the classroom windows, and how when she was that age she was only thinking about soccer practice, but that funding has already been cut. She said that she knew the pizza shop was closing, and that none of her friends could find jobs. She also said she knew it was all going to get worse. I knew she wasn’t wrong.

As I finished my tea and they finished their letters, the older woman, Ellen, didn’t say a thing.  She looked at me, and her eyes got very sad. My tea was done, and so were their letters, so Ellen showed me to the door. As my hand stretched out for the doorknob, she said, quietly, “The mayor would be glad to know about your work. His house is that one there. He’s a nice man. You should visit him.” With that, I stepped out the door, took a deep breath, composed myself, and went to see the mayor.

The faces I had seen this evening shared a certain intensity as soon as I brought up Sunoco. The face of this man, the mayor, was intense before I said anything at all. He looked profoundly exhausted. When we spoke, his voice quavered, showing the same exhaustion. He was, as Ellen had suggested, heartened to know of the work we were doing. Mostly though, he was tired. I invited him to write a letter and his eyes lifted under heavy lids to catch mine as he said that he has met with President Obama three times about this, but that Governor Corbett hasn’t had time to see him once. “Do you think it will work?” I struggled to find the words to answer. He finally obliged me.  When I glanced at the letter later the second line caught my eye: “maybe this time you will…accept my offer for a meeting”

We pay our legislators, and our senators, and our governors. Their paychecks always arrive on time. The job they are doing to earn these checks is to represent the people, to act in our best interest. There are going to be a lot of folks In Marcus Hook whose paychecks won’t arrive on time or at all. They will be performing the tasks they are paid to do until they are asked to leave. Dear Governor Corbett, can you say the same?

Photo by Dougtone on Flickr, via Creative Commons

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How Seven Elected Officials Are Standing Up to the Banks

“You have really been fantastic!” wrote William from Bearsville, New York, “Rarely have I been able to write that someone I voted for has actually acted as I would act…truly representative government! I love it!”

Congress is at record low approval, and distrust of government is at record highs. Occupy protesters have taken to the streets across the country to voice their anger at the current political system. In this day and age, what would possess William from Bearsville to gush over an elected official?

Turns out William was writing to Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York state. Schneiderman, elected in 2010, is one of a handful of state officials resisting a proposed “50 state settlement” with big banks that would amount to a slap on the wrist for years of unethical and sometimes illegal foreclosure practices.

The first reaction we all have to a politician doing anything we even remotely approve of is: What’s their game? What do they have to gain from this? Given what we’ve seen the last few years, it’s a fair question. Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, gave his answer in an August blog post:

I’ve known Schneiderman for a few years, back when he was a state Senator working to reform the Rockefeller drug laws. And my answer to this question is pretty simple. He wants to. That’s it. Eric Schneiderman is investigating the banks because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. So he’s doing it. This guy has thought about his politics. He wrote an article about how he sees politics in 2008 in the Nation, and in his inaugural speech as NY AG he talked about the need to restore faith in both public and private institutions. Free will still counts for something, apparently.

But the New Yorker isn’t the only one stepping up to the plate. Joining Schneiderman are Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Jack Conway of Kentucky, Beau Biden of Delaware, Kamala Harris of California, and Lori Swanson of Minnesota. “Thank goodness Lori Swanson is standing up for homeowners and holding financial companies accountable,” wrote Elizabeth from Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

It’s true that these seven AG’s happen to be Democrats. But foreclosure fraud is not – or at least it should not be – a partisan issue. Even our most conservative, rabid anti-Obama friends and relatives would probably agree that those who used dirty tactics to make a killing while millions of families lost their homes should be brought to justice.

The biggest reason that there are seven AG’s standing up to the banks instead of 50 is that the price for messing around with those large financial institutions – literally trying to extract more restitution and deny blanket legal immunity – can be very high. A bunch of these guys are up for reelection, and some of them have ambitions for higher office. In an age of Citizens United, tangling with the likes of Bank of America and Citigroup can put a huge pair of crosshairs on your political career; the banks don’t care whether there is a D or an R next to your name if you vote their way.

That’s why it’s even more important to laud these seven for standing up to the banks. Take action here and send a message to your state Attorney General that an investigation into fraud isn’t just good for our economic future – it’s the right thing to do.

Photo of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from the Office of New York Attorney General.

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