The challenges of surviving on minimum wage are unfortunately too common.
Many workers who earn minimum wage are providing for not only themselves but also for families. Some are students trying to increase their odds in the job market while taking on mountains of debt. Some have to work more than one job to make ends meet.
Those who we have met while talking about the difficulties of living on minimum wage are hard workers; some are extremely qualified in terms of today’s labor market, and almost all of them are determined to help change the system.
We met Edgar while organizing on a local college campus around the issue of wage theft. He had been personally affected by wage theft, working as a valet attendant and getting paid just above minimum wage. A month ago, Edgar was getting paid an hourly rate below the state-mandated minimum wage, but he was lucky enough to get a promotion because of his hard work. Edgar gets sixty percent of his income from tips, and works in the busy Lower Downtown district of Denver, but unfortunately has very little say about what days he works, and makes significantly fewer tips when working on a slow week day.
His company makes almost $10,000 in profits every month.
Edgar is a student. He is majoring in Social Work, and is hoping to land a job as a counselor. He is set to graduate in a few short semesters. He has been lucky to get some loans and scholarships, but with the rising cost of tuition and supplies, he often feels buried by the burden. He is carefully balancing both school and work, in order to succeed at both.
Edgar is also a husband, and the father of a newborn baby girl. His wife is staying home to care for their baby and is not receiving any paid maternal leave. They have been fortunate enough to receive help from Medicaid to cover health expenses.
Since Edgar’s benefits at his job are so poor, he has chosen to pay for the health insurance that the college offers. In order to be able to do this, he must fulfill a certain number of class credits, which dictates how much additional time he will have to spend away from his family. Because of his low-wage status, Edgar and his wife are using their savings to pay for basic expenses.
Recently Working America participated in a low-wage roundtable hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor. Representatives from the Department of Labor were on a tour of a few different cities around the country to get input on President Obama’s proposed increase to $9/hour, and find testimonies as to how this would impact the lives of Americans. Edgar went to represent Working America and others who are in similar situations.
“If I were able to get paid just a few dollars more, I would be able to save money for a house and a car. I would not have to spend as much time away from my family,” Edgar told us, “I would be able to save for my daughter’s future, and make sure that she has a fair shot in life.”
Tags: Colorado, Denver, Health Care, Jobs, labor, minimum wage, Rights At Work
The legislative session in Colorado is now three weeks in, and all of our newly and not-so-newly elected officials are running around the capital trying to make their marks. What does that mean for Denver’s Community Action Team? We get a chance to do what we do best: strengthen our movement to hold our politicians accountable and stand up for working families across the state.
Many of our activists have never had the opportunity to be involved with an organization like Working America. Some became interested only after an organizer knocked on their door to talk about issues affecting the middle class. A few were actually former organizers that felt impacted by the work they were doing and the folks they got a chance to interact with. In each case, a small, moving conversation touched on a personal note for each of our activists, and inspired each person to take a step forward towards making a difference.
Fast forward to now and we have a group of diverse, smart, passionate, hardworking activists who can rely on each other and the organization to the keep the movement going. We are young, old, professional, retired, unemployed, parents, students, and everything in between. It is understood that it is not the differences that keep us coming back month after month, but our common bonds and experiences. Most importantly, we all agree on the same goals: to help strengthen the middle class in whatever ways that we can.
While the friendships and sense of community are powerful in themselves, our Community Action Team realized that if we really want to feel empowered and pass that empowerment onto our communities, we needed to challenge ourselves to become leaders. At our meeting in January, Working America facilitated an Organizing 101 training to give our activists the tools necessary to organize our individual communities. We developed a training that highlighted the power to fight with people versus that of money or weapons. We discussed having that very first conversation that might inspire someone to get involved, and some of the best practices for making those conversations effective. Part of the training was a fun interactive skit where we demonstrated the power of cooperative leadership. It illustrated what we want our leadership model to be; one where everyone relies on one another to build stability, motivation, creativity, and accountability and coordination keeps it together. We ended by agreeing to practice having those conversations by gathering petition signatures for an upcoming labor bill.
One member, Dave, is well on his way to becoming a leader of his own community. “My attitude is one of finding the infinite value and worth of every person and creature. That said, however, I repeat my sincere thanks to the whole team. I was deeply inspired by each and every team member. And, mostly, by the special magic of the simple fact that ordinary working people have once again come together to act out the promise of our common humanity. This simple fact of coming together elevates and inspires us all–and, we must hold on to and protect our common efforts.”
To get involved in the Denver Community Action Team, contact Alice Gardner at (303) 935-9300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Colorado, community action team, Denver, Jobs, Right to Work, Rights At Work
In the age of Citizen’s United, it’s easy for a young voter to feel small and overshadowed. While politicians shake our hands and tell us they care about the average American, we know better – that all too often, they are listening more intently to the pocketbooks of the wealthiest than the issues that affect young people in this country.
Between our role in the presidential map and our several crucial House races, it’s no surprise that Colorado will help decide the outcome of the 2012 election. On the traditional political red-blue color wheel, our state is often a confusing shade of purple. Every week there is another national political figure stopping by Colorado with hopes of tugging the minds of the voters one way or the other. Even so, issues facing young workers in our state – job creation, access to education, and corporate accountability – continue to fall by the wayside.
In Denver, young Working America members have set out on a path to bust the myths about our generation and show that we are hard workers and successful students who care about the issues and – above all – vote.
Every month, a small but growing number of young Working America members get together over $1 tacos to discuss the most effective ways to organize our community and our generation. There’s a common understanding that while we love Taco Tuesday just like any other 20-something, we do not fit the stereotype of apathetic youth.
Mike Rael and his wife Christine are two of the members of this group. They have offered their home tp host house parties to socialize and educate their neighbors, and they are eager to go door-to-door talking about the most important issues.
Mike puts our shared experience eloquently. “Working In the corporate world, I have come to notice that nearly all of my colleagues are summarily dissatisfied with not only the political system but also with their careers,” he says, “The common thread, as I see it, is corporate dominance over our politics.”
“Nowadays we middle-class Americans go to the office to work more for less and when we come home are asked to settle for home loans instead of home ownership, settle for student debt instead of quality education and a fair wage. All the while corporate America continues to enrich itself…”
“Since I can’t afford to buy a politician to represent my interests, I choose to fight. I choose to throw my passion and abilities behind an organization and millions of other Americans that share my concerns. I choose to join Working America and millions of others in the fight to restore the middle class because ‘united we stand but divided we beg!’”
Perhaps this year, the election will not be all about money but instead about reminders. Reminders that young people care about who decides our future. Reminders that working men and women, no matter how many jobs they have to work, will continue to stand up and speak up – until the politicians decide to sit down and listen.
To get involved in our growing community of young workers in the Denver area, contact me at email@example.com or (303) 935-9300.
Photo by denverjeffrey on Flickr
Tags: Colorado, Corporate Accountability, Denver, Jobs
by Ali Cochran – Denver, Colorado
Federal emergency unemployment benefits will expire March 6th unless they are renewed. Under a costly and burdensome Republican proposal, supported by Mike Coffman, unnecessary cuts and barriers would make it even harder for jobless Americans to look for work. An estimated 2.8 million Americans face the prospect of going hungry and getting thrown out of their homes due to changes in the program. In Coffman’s district alone, approximately 11,000 people would lose unemployment benefits.
That is why working families around Colorado called on Congressman Mike Coffman and Congress to extend unemployment insurance at his congressional office in Lone Tree, Colorado. “Today we dropped off nearly 11,000 fliers for how people could obtain emergency assistance once their unemployment insurance ends; One flier for each potentially effected constituent,” said John Fleck, President of the Denver Area Labor Federation. “We are asking Rep. Coffman to extend the benefits for Coloradans and all Americans who are looking for work.”
The flyer of “Emergency Numbers for Constituents Losing Unemployment Insurance” has phone numbers to help people through an undoubtedly difficult time. There are numbers for the Salvation Army, the Food Bank of the Rockies, House of Hope, the Colorado Foreclosure Hotline, child care assistance, and bankruptcy lawyers, among others.
With so much at stake, it’s no wonder people are worried about whether their elected officials will do the right thing and stand up for those in need. “Shame on every politician who’s willing to use a jobless worker as a political pawn to payback corporate donors. It’s time to fully renew unemployment insurance for 2012 – there should be no cuts, no barriers that make it even harder to find work and to navigate a bureaucratic system, and with no cheap political points attached,” Kevin Pape, Colorado State Director of Working America said. It’s time for Congress to take action to help working people who just need the chance to succeed.
Fourteen million people are unemployed, many in the job search of their lives. And according to the December 2011 Department of Labor Jobs Report, there are nearly 5.6 million people in the U.S. who have been jobless for six months or more – that’s more than 40 percent of all jobless Americans. Another staggering statistic is the average duration of joblessness – 41 weeks – is higher than at any time in 60 years. At the same time, there are at least four jobless workers per job vacancy.
It’s clear that we need to spur the economy and keep it growing. Maintaining the unemployment insurance program does that. Jobless benefits go straight back into the economy – they support local businesses, help create jobs, reduce the demand for public services and cost taxpayers less in the long run. Congress has to put politics aside and do what’s right for Americans who’ve lost their jobs and are struggling to survive, and protect the communities that depend on the economic boost unemployment insurance provides.
Working families must reach out to their U.S. Senators and call on Congress to fully renew unemployment insurance for 2012 – with no cuts and no barriers. Please reach out to your elected officials and let them know how you feel. If you have any questions about how to contact your elected official or if you’d like a copy of the flyer we delivered this morning, please don’t hesitate to contact Working America at www.workingamerica.org.
Tags: Colorado, Denver, unemployment benefits extension
Tuesday afternoon State Rep. Joe Miklosi of Colorado State District 9, a small business owner, and members of the community gathered at the Fletcher Post Office branch in Aurora to urge lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), to support common sense legislation to save the post office, stop the closing of over 3,700 branches of which the Fletcher branch is one which would cause the potential firing of over 100,000 workers.
Working America member, and small business owner, Taylor Poole said at the event, “If Rep. Coffman doesnt fight to save the post office, Ill have to drive to the next town over, get and pay for a new PO Box, change my address for everything at home for my family and change my address for everything at work.”
The U.S. Postal Service is a critical part of the American economy that delivers mail, medicine, and packages on time and at an affordable price – without a dime of taxpayer money. The group gathered to send Rep. Coffman an early holiday present in the form of letters from his constituents, all urging him to save the Post Office and over 100,000 jobs.
Cindy Kirby of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said, “Congress needs to act to save the Post Office! If they dont, the American people risk losing the services that they have taken for granted over the past 100 years. The solutions put forth by Congressman Coffman and others in Congress are not reasonable and will devastate working class communities like the one we are in today!”
Rep. Coffman’s constituents understand that the Post Office’s financial issues are a result of a Congressional mandate to prefund future retiree benefits for 75 years. This is a burden that no other government agency has to face. Reasonable legislation will deal with the pre-funding mandate and does not have to involve the closing of branches and processing centers, the ending of six-day delivery and the firing of over 100,000 workers. Rep. Coffman has the authority to step up and pass reasonable legislation that addresses the pre-funding issue but he has said nothing and has indicated that he supports the radical proposals put forth by the Post Master General last week. Working America hopes that hearing from his constituents will change his mind.
Tags: Colorado, Denver, Mike Coffman, Postal Service
Ali Cochran reports from Colorado.
Around the country, working people are standing with over 45,000 employees at Verizon. In August, Verizon workers went on strike to demand a fair wage and good benefits. Now, in December, they are still in contract negotiations, fighting to keep the middle-class jobs they have worked hard for.
Even after returning to work from a two week strike, Verizon hasn’t budged on their greedy demands. Despite $19 BILLION in profit over the last four years alone, Verizon is demanding to offshore more jobs, makes retirees pay $6,000 a year for healthcare coverage they have already earned, cut healthcare for current workers and dozens of other concessions from the very people who have built the company and who create its profits.
Snow Deaton Schaefer, a member of Working America, spoke passionately to the crowd about the importance of keeping good, middle-class jobs here, at home. “NO MORE OFFSHORING. NO MORE OFFSHORING,” she chanted into the megaphone as more and more people joined in.
Here in Colorado, labor, faith, community, and student/youth groups are standing up to corporate greed and rallying to support middle-class jobs. Members of Working America’s Young Worker Community Action Team arrived at the Verizon store on the 16th St. Mall on Saturday morning to stand in solidarity with Verizon workers. When asked why she came, Romina Halabi said, “It’s the right thing to do. These workers have to know that they are not alone in this”.
Tags: Colorado, Denver, Jobs, Rights At Work, Verizon
Facing overwhelming corporate opposition, an initiative to provide earned paid sick days to Denver workers was defeated last night.
Initiative 300, which proposed one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work, received 37,000 votes in last night’s off-year election. Unfortunately, this was not enough for the measure to pass, leaving 100,000 Denver workers with no sick leave.
“The people of Denver lost today – people like home health care nurse Patricia Hughes who was fired after calling in sick with pneumonia,” said Erin Bennett, spokesperson for the Campaign for a Healthy Denver. “The people of Denver were unable to overcome the money and power of big business interests from the National Restaurant Association and other lobbyist groups…”
Bennett pointed out that the opposition’s campaign committees, Keep Denver Competitive and the Hospitality Industry PAC, spent over $837,000 to defeat Initiative 300. That’s about $12.54 for every person who voted against it.
Unlike the restaurant industry, citizens like Amber Minogue don’t have their own campaign committees and lobbyists. “The outcome is really disappointing for Denver families,” said Minogue, mother of a preschooler in Denver, “Not providing paid sick days to caregivers and preschool teachers is a safety issue and a public health risk. My family is just going to have to be hyper-vigilant everywhere we go…to protect our health.”
Barista Laura Baker, a Working America member, was also dismayed. “I never want to go to work sick and risk getting my co-worker, and even worse, my customers ill but the reality is, I can’t afford to miss one day of work,” she told us, “If I had paid sick days I wouldn’t have to make that choice.”
It was because of folks like Amber Minogue, Patricia Hughes and Laura Baker that Working America went door to door in Denver talking about the issue of paid sick days. Over the last few months, Working America organizers knocked on 18,000 doors and had nearly 8,000 conversations with Denverites about paid sick days, as well as over 6,000 knocks and 3,000 conversations about Initiative 300 specifically.
Our goal was to ensure that the workers of Denver – the folks choosing between staying home sick and having enough money for groceries – had a voice. Despite the opposition of industry lobbyists, not to mention the Democratic Governor of Colorado and the Democratic Mayor of Denver, the people we talked to on front porches and stoops supported earned paid sick days as a commonsense issue of economic fairness and public health. Across the country, in 50 percent of the workforce doesn’t have sick days, momentum is growing as states like Connecticut and cities such as San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle have instituted provisions like I-300 with only positive effects.
In the face of huge amounts of corporate money and corporate-backed politicians, Working America and the coalition members of the Campaign for a Healthy Denver performed a valuable service of educating and organizing the city of Denver around this issue. From all of us, thank you so much for all your hard work!
Tags: Colorado, Denver, Health Care, Jobs, Paid Sick Days
Ali Cochran – Denver, Colorado
Two servers, a barista and a bartender recounted personal experiences of themselves and co-workers reporting to work sick at Denver restaurants today at an event on the west end of Larimer Square to highlight the public health risks connected with workers’ lack of paid sick days. Afterward, the Campaign for a Healthy Denver introduced “Sick Rick,” a six-foot tall germ who will educate Denver restaurant diners about these risks over the next three weeks until Election Day.
“I interact with hundreds of people every day—and when I’m sick at work, you better believe that my coworkers and our customers are going to get sick too,” said Eric Love, a bartender at a popular Denver restaurant and bar. “I wash my hands constantly, but if I’ve mixed your cocktail while I have a bad cold, you just might get more than that margarita you ordered.”
Compared to other Colorado counties, Denver County has had a high rate of food-borne disease outbreaks in the last decade. Last year, 24 “disease outbreaks” were reported in Denver, including five in food establishments. Outbreaks tend to be underreported, so the real number of disease outbreaks in Denver was likely higher. Sick workers are often the source of disease outbreaks in restaurants.
“I feel bad about showing up for work sick because the customers who come in for coffee are going to be exposed to whatever illness I have but I don’t have much choice if I’m going to pay my bills,” said Laura, a barista at a coffee shop with outlets across the city. “Not that long ago, a coworker came to work with pinkeye and served coffee all day because he couldn’t afford to miss a shift. I just know that some of our customers caught pinkeye from him.”
Restaurant employees go to work sick because their wages are very low and they simply cannot afford to take the hit from their paycheck and still pay the bills at the end of the month.
“What am I supposed to do?,” asked single mother and waitress Stasia. “I might not be able to pay the rent, put gas in the car or put food on the table for my three kids if I miss even one shift’s pay.”
Initiative 300 would not prevent “shift swapping.” “I’m still losing money by staying home if I’m too sick to get on the phone and swap a shift because most of my money comes from tips,” said Joel, a server at a hip central-Denver restaurant. “I’d only be paid the tipped minimum wage when I’m sick but at least it’s something to help pay my bills.”
After the restaurant employees spoke, the Campaign for a Healthy Denver introduced Sick Rick, a six-foot tall germ who visited Larimer Square restaurant lunchtime diners to tell them about the risks of sick restaurant workers and the need for Initiative 300 to protect the public health.
The Campaign for a Healthy Denver – a coalition of more than 120 community organizations, labor groups, faith leaders and organizations, public health groups, elected officials and businesses – seeks to pass Initiative 300, the Denver ballot initiative to protect public health by guaranteeing a basic standard of paid sick days for employees in all Denver workplaces.
Tags: Colorado, Denver, Health Care, Paid Sick Days
(Guest post from Arlene Holt Baker, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO)
Right now in Denver, Colorado, there is both a jobs and public health crisis.
Parents are sending their sick children to school. Working adults are unable to take time off and care for elderly parents. Small businesses and taxpayers are spending too much on emergency care. And in restaurants and coffee shops across the city, waitresses and cooks are preparing and serving food while sick.
This fall, the people of Denver have a chance to change all of this by voting yes on Initiative 300.
Initiative 300 is a very simple proposition:
- For every 30 hours of work, hardworking men and women in Denver can earn one hour of paid sick leave.
- This leave is only usable after 90 days of employment.
- Businesses with 10 or more employees can only accrue a maximum of nine earned sick days, while employees of smaller businesses earn a maximum of five earned sick days.
This proposition is not partisan or ideological. It is in response to the fact that over 100,000 Denver workers cannot afford to stay at home when they, or their child gets sick. . It is in response to parents having to choose between losing their job and staying home to care for a sick child. It is in response to two out of every five of workers in Denver – including hospital workers, baristas, and food service workers – going into environments and potentially infecting hundreds of others because they can’t afford to miss a day’s wages.
Seniors, who are already facing increased medical costs, are at risk as well. When nursing home workers and other healthcare professionals work with elderly citizens out of economic necessity, they endanger our most vulnerable – not to mention the workers who don’t have the ability to take time off to care for an elderly relative.
Denver isn’t the only city facing these conditions. Nationally, 2 out of every 3 restaurant workers don’t have access to a single day of earned paid sick leave. What’s even more disturbing? An incredible 90 percent of restaurant workers report cooking, preparing, and serving food while sick. Not just a little sick either – I’ve heard individuals talk about going into work with incredibly contagious diseases like the flu and H1N1!
It’s no wonder that cities like Seattle and San Francisco and states like Connecticut are passing reasonable earned sick leave provisions. And it’s no wonder that in those cities, earned sick leave laws are receiving support from all sides of the political spectrum. Whether you are a Democrat, Independent or Republican, we’ve all experienced the worry and heartache of taking care of a sick loved one. And I bet neither liberal nor conservative diners want a waiter sneezing in their soup.
I know for a fact that all moms – no matter their political stripes – don’t want to send their child into a school full of sick classmates.
The best news about Initiative 300 is that it’sgood for businesses. Studies show that with an earned sick leave provision, between reduced turnover and lower emergency medical costs, Denver businesses will save $1.4 million annually if voters say “Yes” to Initiative 300.
Luckily, we’re finding that Denver citizens support Initiative 300 once they understand it. Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has been going to door to door about earned paid sick days and how the measure could help the city. Last week, after knocking on nearly 18,000 doors, they gathered 3,000 postcards from Coloradans in support of paid sick days and healthier future for our community.
The simple proposition of 1 hour of leave for 30 hours of work is nonpartisan, reasonable, fair, and good for Denver. It reflects our shared values of family, responsibility, and the drive to make Denver an even better place to do business, go to school, and live healthfully. Initiative 300 is good for families, good for public health, and good for businesses.
This fall, say yes to a healthy Denver, and vote “Yes” on Initiative 300.
This year’s election in Denver is an all-mail election. In order to have your ballot counted, make sure you mail it in by Thursday, October 27th.
Tags: Colorado, Denver, Health Care, Paid Sick Days
Working America organizers and members gathered at the Downtown Denver Post Office yesterday to send over 3,000 postcards to members who support paid sick days for workers – an issue that the majority of the country supports for its importance to public health, families and thriving businesses.
Working America member Laura Baker, a food service worker, shared her experience.
“I never want to go to work sick and risk getting my co-worker, and even worse, my customers ill but the reality is, I can’t afford to miss one day of work. If I had paid sick days I wouldn’t have to make that choice,” she said.
Baker is not alone. In this continuing economic crisis workers face extraordinary pressures on the job, including the fear of losing their job should they fall ill. Working America has knocked on over 18,000 doors and had nearly 8,000 conversations with the workers of Colorado about the issue, finding overwhelming support; now they are returning postcards which members filled out themselves, to remind them of why they support paid sick days and amplify the issue across the state.
Support for paid sick days is nonpartisan and overwhelming across the country. Half the workers across the country, and 75 percent of the low wage workforce, don’t have paid sick days – and each day, millions face the same predicament as Baker.
“We want to make sure that the voices of the workers of Colorado are heard and they are saying loud and clear that they want earned sick days,” said Working America Colorado Director Kevin Pape. “There has been a lot of noise coming from politicians and corporate lobbyists but no one is hearing from the workers, we want to make sure that their stories are heard.”
Baker’s experience demonstrates that workplace policies have not caught up with modern realities. Working America is encouraging members to ask their local restaurant if their staff has paid sick days, to ask their local school how many kids are forced to go to school sick because their parents couldn’t afford to take the day off and to urge their local businesses who don’t have paid sick days to invest in their employees’ health like they invest in other aspects of their company.
Tags: Colorado, Denver, Health Care, Paid Sick Days