The investigation revolves around Seminole County, Florida, and its Seminole Virtual Instruction program, provided by K12 Inc., a for-profit company that is the nation’s largest virtual school provider. A series of internal emails sent to Seminole County by a former K12 Inc. employee suggest the company tried to skirt state teacher certification rules to use less-qualified—and, in turn, less-compensated—teachers, according to the report, by John O’Connor and Trevor Aaronson. Those emails sparked the state’s investigation, the report said.
This investigation comes after years of K12 Inc. using its influence and enormous cash reserves (it made $522 million in profit last year) to push their mo del of for-profit education across the country, including states like Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, the Michigan legislature sought to pass SB 619, a bill to lift the cap on the expansion of online charter schools, also known as “cyber schools.” The expansion of cyber schools would come at the expense of Michigan’s already cash-strapped public school system – with the potential to siphon as much as $7.2 billion away from public education. The bill was heavily pushed by K 12 Inc., a for-profit online school company and member corporation of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Working America and community members rallied against the bill, which ended up passing by only one vote.
In schools operated by K 12 Inc., students are receiving an inferior education, and dropping out at a higher rate. According to a study from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) only 28 percent of K12 Inc. schools reporting meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards, and only half of parents intended to keep their children in a K12 Inc. school for more than two years. “Part of K12’s problem seems to be that it skimps on special education spending and employs few instructors, despite having lower overhead than brick-and-mortar schools,” said the NEPC Director Kevin Welner.
As we stand in solidarity with Chicago teachers striking for better schools for their students, we should remember that the attack on public education is broad, well-funded, and comes from multiple directions. K 12 Inc. is just part of the story.
Last year, the Florida legislature passed numerous laws trying to make it more difficult to register and vote. Yesterday, a federal court blocked Gov. Rick Scott’s and the legislature’s attempts to cut down on early voting days.
Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) has been relentless in his push to restrict the right to vote. He’s pushed an illegal voter purge that will disproportionately impact the minority citizens in his state. And a federal court blocked his attempt to suppress voter registration last May. Yesterday, a federal court in Washington, DC concluded that another part of Scott’s anti-voting agenda cannot take effect because the state’s new restrictions on early voting negatively impact minority communities.
The Florida legislature last year cut early voting from 12 days to 8 days. But the court’s decision means that those reductions won’t happen in five minority-heavy Florida counties: Collier (Naples, Immokalee), Hardee (Wachula), Hendry (Clewiston), Hillsborough (Tampa), and Monroe (Key West).
We conclude that we cannot preclear Florida’s early voting changes at this time because the State has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters if the covered counties offer only the minimum number of early voting hours required under the new statute, which would constitute only half the hours required under the prior law.
It’s been a big week for voting rights news. On Wednesday, a judge in Pennsylvania refused to block that state’s draconian voter ID law that could keep as many as 750,000 citizens from voting. On Thursday, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted chose to restrict weekend and night voting hours in every single Ohio county, rather than have different hours for different counties.
George R. R. Martin, the best-selling author of the fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” which HBO adapted into the “Game of Thrones” series, broke from his usual topics to blog about the corporate-backed, Republican-lad nationwide effort to restrict voting rights:
It is one thing to attempt to win elections. But trying to do so by denying the most basic and important right of any American citizen to hundreds and thousands of people, on entirely spurious grounds… that goes beyond reprehensible. That is despicable.
Martin also reminded his readers something important – the Republican Party wasn’t always like this.
“There were once many Republicans I admired, even I disagreed with them: men like Everett Dirksen, Clifford Case, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Scranton… yes, even Barry Goldwater, conservative as he is,” he wrote. “I do not believe for a moment that Goldwater would have approved of this…”
He continued: “They were conservatives, but they were not bigots, nor racists, nor corrupt. The Vote Suppressors have far more in common with Lester Maddox, George Wallace, John Stennis, and their ilk than they do with their distinguished GOP forebears.”
More recently, former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer has pulled back the curtain on his party’s attempts to keep minority voters from the polls. “There’s no doubt that what the Republican-led legislature in Florida and Governor Scott are trying to do is make sure the Republican Party has an advantage in this upcoming election by reducing early voting and putting roadblocks up for potential voters, Latinos, African-Americans to register and then to exercise their right to vote,” Greer told Al Sharpton on MSNBC. “There’s no doubt. I was in the room. It’s part of the strategy.”
As the election approaches, Working America will be educating voters about the new laws so they will be prepared to vote on Election Day, particularly in Pennsylvania where the law could affect as many as 750,000 people.
We are heartened by the increasing chorus of voices, from both parties and across cultural and political boundaries, who are speaking up against these politically-motivated, unconstitutional laws that even the most ardent conservatives of yore, as Martin wrote, would find unacceptable.
Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, wrote a piece for the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine called “Six Rules for Dining Out.” The article is meant to be a Freakonomics-type guide to getting good deals at restaurants, but we balked at Rule #2: “Exploit Restaurant Workers.”
Cowen writes under that heading:
Quality food is cheaper when cheap labor is available to cook it. In a relatively wealthy country like the United States, cheap labor can be hard to find. We have a high level of labor productivity and a minimum wage; in some cases even illegal immigrants earn more than the legal minimum…The upshot is that these restaurants tend to offer good food buys.
The polar-opposite case is when you see a restaurant replete with expensive labor. There’s a valet-parking attendant, a host to greet you, a person to take your coat, a sommelier, a floor manager, a team of waiters, and so on. If you go, for instance, to the Palm, a fancy steak-house chain, you’ll see a lot of people at work. Everyone is scurrying around, and you have the feeling that management puts a lot of time and effort into coordinating the large staff…I like quality service, but only when I am steered toward better items on the menu or when I reap some other concrete benefit rather than just feeling fancy. I’m not sure what I am getting from the service at the Palm…
Now, we want to give Professor Cowen the benefit of the doubt, that he just wants to give some consumer tips and slipped up with his wording. But this column displays some basic inhumanity to restaurant workers that bears examination.
“Exploit restaurant workers?” Don’t worry, Professor, they are already being exploited. A lot. And the exploitation of those workers endangers their health, your health, and the economy at large.
Those people at the Palm restaurant who Cowen sees “scurrying around” are, according to statistics, struggling a great deal no matter how much he pays for his steak. The federal subminimum wage for tipped workers, many of whom work in restaurants, is $2.13 an hour – and it has not gone up in 21 years. George H.W. Bush was President last time that number moved.
Some states have instituted slightly higher figures, but even those are slipping: there was a recent effort in Florida, strongly backed by the restaurant lobby, to decrease the subminimum wage of $4.65 back down to the federal level. It’s no wonder that 7 out of the 10 lowest paid jobs in the United States, according to DOL data, are in the restaurant industry.
What if one of those little “scurriers” gets sick? Too bad. 87 percent of restaurant workers can’t earn sick days, and 90 percent don’t have health insurance through their employer. It’s no wonder that t 63 percent of restaurant workers report cooking, preparing, or serving food while sick. As Meghana Reddy of the Restaurant Opportunities Center writes: “if exploiting restaurant workers is how you get a cheap meal, then you should know you are also putting your health as a consumer in jeopardy for a cheap meal as well.”
By almost any metric – the ability to seek recourse for sexual and racial discrimination, workplace safety, job security – restaurant workers are already some of the most exploited workers in the United States. These workers are less able to support families, pay back loans, and participate fully in the economy. It costs the taxpayer too – restaurant servers are twice as likely to be on food stamps.
Rather than seek out restaurants with cheap labor, consumers should care that the people preparing and serving their food are treated fairly, paid well, and have the ability to stay home if they get sick. We strongly recommend to Professor Cowen the ROC-United Diners’ Guide, which empowers us to support responsible restaurants when we dine out. We’ve had enough exploitation. Let’s have some new rules for dining out.
SB 2106, the bill to reduce the subminimum wage for Florida’s tipped workers down to 1985 levels, has stalled in committee.
“When we put the bill together, we just realized it was realized it was riddled with problems,” said Nancy Detert (R-Venice) the Chair of the Senate’s Commerce and Tourism Committee. She also said: “It’s a complex issue because these truly aren’t minimum wage workers, and some are making as much as $20 an hour.”
Gasp! The horror of a worker making a decent wage!
This is the same legislator who called the effort to reduce servers’ wages “bold” and “brave,” as if taking on waitresses and bartenders at the behest of powerful restaurant lobbyists was an act of valor.
Indeed, Detert fully admits that SB 2106 was written and pushed “at the request of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association,” according to the Bradenton Herald. The FRLA is the special interest group whose powerful members include Chili’s and Outback Steakhouse. Take heart, Floridians! The interests of Chili’s and Outback are well represented in your state government.
Thankfully, the final question might not be left to the Senator Detert (R-Chili’s). Taking wages back down to $2.13 an hour might not be legal under Florida’s constitution. Besides, as the Bradenton Herald points out, the definition of “tipped worker” could open up loopholes to allow for car washers, hotel workers, and taxi drivers to also receive only $2.13 an hour.
So the brilliant plan of the Florida legislature and their corporate sponsors is this: make sure people already struggling the most struggle even more – that will create jobs and get the economy back on track, right?
Every day for these guys is opposite day.
If the restaurant industry is worried about their profit margin, here’s a bright idea: don’t back policies that take money out of the pockets of your best customers! Don’t stand idly by while their unions are busted, their healthcare coverage is threatened, and their public services are slashed to the bone. No one will be there to buy your Southwestern Egg Rolls if they can’t even pay the electric bill, and they can’t even get to your restaurant if they can’t fill up the gas tank.
The Florida legislature is considering SB 2106, a bill that would return tipped wages to 1985 levels.
Many of our readers have at some point worked in the restaurant industry, but let’s quickly review: there’s a federal minimum wage for most workers, but also a federal sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. That’s $2.13 an hour, and it’s been that way since 1991.
These guys are so out-of-touch and so beholden to their corporate sponsors that they actually think they are being “bold and brave” by taking money away from those who make the least:
State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said at a committee meeting last week — during which the bill passed — that the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association brought the idea for the bill to the Senate committee in an effort to make sure restaurants survive, noting that the bill makes the new minimum wage optional.
Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Restaurant and Lodging Association, said that “during the last week there have been many reports that misreported” about the bill. Dover said restaurants want to keep employees, but the 118 percent increase in their wage since 2004, when voters approved a constitutional amendment to tie minimum wage increases to the inflation index, is hurting the industry.
Okay, quick economic lesson for Senator Detert and her corporate sponsors. Florida made the decision to tie the sub-minimum wage to inflation because they actually wanted tipped workers to be able to survive in this economy. If the restaurant industry is “hurting,” it’s because consumers don’t have the discretionary cash to eat out as much as they used to. It’s not rocket science: busting unions, lowering wages, canceling job-creating construction projects, slashing public services, and doing your best to nullify health coverage means people have less money to spend. And that is ultimately what hurts businesses, including restaurants.
But no, say Senator Detert and her corporate sponsors at the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. The real problem is that waitresses and bartenders make too much money.
Think, folks. Do you know any waitresses, servers, bartenders, or really anyone who works in a restaurant who makes too much money – or even a decent wage, for that matter?
While this is a Florida state fight, it’s emblematic of the policies being implemented by right-wing legislatures across the country. They are wasting your taxpayer money on useless crusades, making sure you and your family gets paid less money, stripping your ability to bargain with your employer, funneling as much as they can to the already uber-wealthy, and then wondering why no one can afford to eat at a restaurant.
As Susan wrote, a report from the Restaurant Opportunities Center United called “Tipped Over the Edge” is shining a light on the unfair treatment faced by servers, cooks, and other restaurant workers. The banner headline is this: the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour – and it has been that way since 1991.
This comes on the heels of news out of Florida, where a GOP-run Senate committee has approved SB 2106, a bill that would return the state subminimum wage for tipped workers to 1985 levels.
It should be common sense, but let’s spell it out for the so-called legislators who think this is good policy: paying working people less hurts the economy. Less money in the pockets of those most likely to spend instantly means less money going to grocery stores, gas stations, utility companies and other small businesses. Less money for businesses means fewer hires. That kills jobs. Get it?
Our members sure do. When we posted this news on Facebook, Working America members reacted strongly. Many of them work or have worked in the restaurant industry:
I was a restaurant chef for over 20 years. Everyone in the restaurant business is generally under paid and over worked. All restaurants are sweatshops, pure and simple… Jerry – Utica, New York
$2 an hour now? I made that as a waitress in the 80′s. Rita – Wabasha, Minnesota
I put up with a lot of hours on my feet….The tips were good on some days and near zero on other days. When the economy is bad, so are the tips. –Sherry
Years ago I worked as a waitress at the local campus PIzza Hut…got paid barely $1/ hr (this was the early ’70′s!) – the frat boys were the worst tippers and kept me running constantly. Ever since, I’ve always tipped, no matter what. –Mary
Many of my friends have worked in restaurants and my mother worked for 60 cents an hour back in the 1950′s as an assistant cook and waitress. Wages have not come very far in all these years, have they? –Susan – Fall River, Wisconsin
I think it’s disgraceful that employers are allowed to pay 2.13 per hour!! A tip should be an added bonus for a job well done – not money to make up what the employer doesn’t want to pay!! That’s always been ridiculous to me!! I always tip above and beyond because I appreciate good service! Having to pool and share tips is ridiculous too yet happens at many places! -Terri
However, when business owners take it upon themselves to pay their servers a fair wage, the results are good for staff – and good for the economy as a whole. Amber from Tallahassee, Florida writes:
I gave up on waitressing because I was sick of management using servers at slave wages to do hours and hours of un-tipped labor every week. Got a job next to a small diner with very low prices and delicious food, they pay their servers minimum wage plus tips and they do all the same work I did for $2.13/hr at other restaurants. The owner is frequently around also, she lives comfortably but not high on the hog.
Not all bosses are like Amber’s. Without federal legislation mandating the first increase in the tipped subminimum wage in 20 years, servers in states like Florida will continue to scrape by and be subject to their ALEC-influenced, anti-worker state legislators and cash-strapped managers.
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) has introduced the Workers for Adequate Gains for Employment in Services, or WAGES Act, which would increase the hourly subminimum wage to $3.75 after 90 days and $5.00 after a year. We don’t think that’s asking for too much, and would help some of our lowest-paid workers have a better life.
Unfortunately, the committee that will consider the bill is dominated by Republicans, none of whom have co-sponsored or stated their support for the WAGES Act.
This is a 40 page report, and I’ve just skimmed the surface of it. All of this is very familiar territory to me–I worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years.
There are over 10 million restaurant workers in the United States. Approximately 52% of them are women. 66% of tipped workers are women. Tipped workers can be payed a sub minimum wage, which creates legalized gender inequity. From the report:
The restaurant industry is one of the only sectors in which predominately male positions have a different minimum wage than predominately female positions: non-tipped work- ers (52 percent male) have a federal minimum wage of $7.25, while tipped workers (66 percent female) have a federal subminimum wage of $2.13.
The federal rate is $2.13, though some states have a higher rate. Alaska, Montana, Minnesota, and California have eliminated the sub minimum wage. The federal sub minimum wage of $2.13 has been the same since 1991.
Female restaurant workers are paid less than their male counterparts for two primary reasons. First, they are concentrated in lower-paying segments such as quick-serve and family style, and second, they are not able to access the highest-paying positions in the industry. Women fill only 19 percent of chef positions, one of the highest paying restaurant positions with a median wage of $19.23. And at the lowest end of the pay scale, women are highly concentrated in four of the ten lowest paid occupations of any industry: host, counter attendant, combined food prep and serving worker, and server.
(Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards has filed the Wages Act, which would increase the federal minimum wage for tipped employees. The subminimum wage has been frozen at $2.13 for 21 years. An increase would provide a little more financial security for tipped employees in a bad economy.)
Then there’s health care, or lack thereof:
These wage inequities are exacerbated by lack of benefits that prevent restaurant workers from properly caring for their health and their families.Of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers ROC surveyed across the country, 90 percent lack paid sick days and 90 percent do not receive health insurance through their employers. One third of all female restaurant workers (33.4 percent) lack any kind of health care, whether provided by their employer or otherwise. More than a quarter (26.8 percent) of all female restaurant workers are mothers,and more than one in ten are single mothers,25 so the lack of paid sick leave and workplace flexibility creates an additional burden for women in the industry.
Sick people who can’t afford to take a day off go to work, where they prepare and serve food.
The low pay isn’t the only problem:
A recent MSNBC review of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data revealed that from January to November 2011, almost 37 percent of all EEOC charges by women regarding sexual harassment came from the restaurant industry, even though less than 7 percent of employed women work in the restaurant industry.
The EEOC has identified the restaurant industry as the largest source of sexual harassment claims.
What I’ve seen in the report confirms what I learned from my own experiences in restaurants. I started out as a server, but quickly learned where the real money was, and learned to bartend and cook.
The flexible schedule worked fairly well for me as a single mother, but restaurant scheduling is often subject to last minute change, which can be` a real problem for women who have child care or elder care responsibilities. Many restaurants consistently overstaff the dining room, in case it gets busy. It’s not unusual to get sent home halfway through a shift, having made very little money. That subminimum wage paycheck doesn’t pay the bills.
Sexual harassment is certainly plentiful, as is discrimination. I worked in one kitchen where postcards of bare chested women adorned the walls. The chef had giant posters of scantily clad, silicone enhanced women in his office. To call it a hostile work environment doesn’t really do the situation justice. He didn’t want women working in his kitchen, and I didn’t stay long.
To be fair, I’ve also worked in a few great restaurants where the staff were treated like family, and even a few that offered health care benefits, which is a rarity.
As a server, getting sent home on a slow night, with little or no tip money was both painful and frightening. The industry is able to pay substandard wages because servers are tipped. Relying on the whims of the public for a paycheck can also be painful and frightening. One can provide excellent service and still receive no tip. The type of restaurant one works in is also a big factor. The tips are better in fine dining – but that isn’t an option for everyone.
The restaurant industry isn’t just “able” to pay substandard wages. They RELY on paying substandard wages, and they lobby fiercely for their right to do so. Right now in Florida, the legislature is considering a bill that would cut the subminimum wage for tipped employees in half. From Raw Story:
A Florida Senate committee has followed the advice of a restaurant association and passed a bill that would cut the minimum wage for tipped workers by more than half.
The bill, SB 2106, would slash the current Florida tipped minimum wage of of $4.65 an hour to the federal standard of of $2.13 an hour.
“We are being brave and bold and being statesmen and not politicians,” Republican state Sen. Nancy Detert, the committee’s chair, asserted, adding that the bill had been requested by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce have also expressed support for the bill.
I wasn’t aware that cutting the subminimum wage qualified one as a “statesman.”
One of those restaurant employees, Charles Spencer, is working at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant in Orlando to pay for his education. He told the Sentinel that the $11 or $12 an hour he currently makes barely pays the bills.
“It’s a lot of canned vegetables and grilled chicken and ramen noodles,” Spencer explained. “I was rather appalled by the fact they’re going to try to cut a wage standard in this economy.”
The Florida AFL-CIO’s Rich Templin said that the bill would effectively mean a more than $2.50 an hour pay cut for a waitress currently making $14 an hour.
This is shocking – in a bad economy, they would cut an already substandard subminimum wage? How very Dickensian.
To bring it back to the original topic; that cut in the subminimum wage in Florida would disproportionately hurt women, who make up the majority of tipped employees. At a time where people are dining out less, and tips aren’t as big as they once were, it’s a remarkable show of greed on the part of the restaurant industry, to try to cut an already criminally low wage.
A scheme to privatize Florida’s prisons failed (19-21) in the state Senate yesterday after a huge public outcry led by Florida working families, community and civil rights groups. The plan was backed by extremist Gov. Rick Scott (R), private prison companies and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), one of the key players in the drive to privatize prisons throughout the nation.
The corporate takeover would have cost 3,800 workers their jobs, and Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams says it would have “devastated small communities, working families’ economic stability and safety.”
The privatization bill was one of the largest efforts so far to give private corporations control of a state’s prison system. It would have turned over control of 27 state prisons and work camps in 18 south Florida counties to the GEO Group—formerly Wackenhut Corrections.
GEO is a major sponsor of ALEC, The Nation reported in August. ALEC has led the charge to privatize prisons by writing model legislation for its right-wing state legislature members to push in their states.
ALEC has also worked to pass state laws to create private for-profit prisons, a boon to two of its major corporate sponsors: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group, the largest private prison firms in the country. An In These Times investigation last summer revealed that ALEC arranged secret meetings between Arizona’s state legislators and CCA to draft what became S.B. 1070, Arizona’s notorious immigration law, to keep CCA prisons flush with immigrant detainees. ALEC has proven expertly capable of devising endless ways to help private corporations benefit from the country’s massive prison population.
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken J. Mascara says prison privatization puts the public’s safety at risk. In a letter to state Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R), he writes:
In the continued race to the bottom, private prison contractors reduce pay, benefits and quality of personnel in the interest of slashing budgets; but as in most other areas of life, you get what you pay for. I know when protecting our families from the most heinous individuals in our society, I don’t want the guard who will work for the least pay—I want a professional who receives proper training, a reasonable wage and benefits and the security of knowing that the people of Florida, and its elected leaders, appreciate the value of the often thankless job they do.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature are moving fast to privatize all 29 prison facilities in 18 counties in southern Florida.
Last year, the GOP prison privatization proposal was ruled unconstitutional because it was wrapped into a budget proposal, a violation of Florida laws that requires policy changes be in separate laws. Tallahassee Judge Jackie Fulford ruled that the lawmakers rushed the process.
The privatizers aren’t making the same mistake this time. Not only are they proposing to privatize the prisons but they are changing the law to be able to privatize any service as fast, as easily and as secretly as possible. Under the latest proposals, an agency would not have to report its privatization of a program or service until after the contract is signed. And they also would eliminate a current legal requirement to do a cost-benefit analysis before privatizing any government function.
In other words, don’t let the public know what you’re doing and don’t bother to find out the costs.
Scott, former CEO of hospital giant Columbia/HCA, came into office on a mission to privatize Florida government. Scott left HCA as the company was being investigated for the “biggest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history.” Columbia/HCA ultimately paid a record $1.7 billion in fines, penalties and damages.
Scott has already proposed privatizing the state’s Medicaid system, state parkcampgrounds, the state’s three remaining public mental hospitals, three centers for the developmentally disabled and six veterans’ homes.
The two largest prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut), are poised to strike, in what Judith Greene, director of Justice Strategies calls, “an unprecedented” expansion of the use of private prisons that no other state has undertaken.
GEO has been a consistent force within Florida politics. GEO Group alone gave more than $400,000 to the party in the past election cycle. Geo Group‘s lobbyist, Brian Ballard, hosted Scott at his Tallahassee home to watch the Super Bowl. GEO Group and CCA donated nearly $1 million toward the Scott’s inauguration celebrations.