AFL-CIO and Working Families Lead Efforts Across the Country to Raise the Minimum Wage

Photo via All-Nite Images/Flickr

While Republicans in Washington, D.C., are doing their best to stop a federal increase to the minimum wage, working families and their allies across the country are fighting to increase the minimum wage at the state and local level. America’s working families consistently support a minimum wage increase, supporting the idea that jobs should lift workers out of poverty, conservatives continue to rely upon disproven criticisms of increasing the wage. But Americans aren’t buying the conservative lies and are demanding that Congress and the president raise the wage for millions of workers, including tipped workers. And many of them aren’t waiting for Washington to get the job done, they’re taking action across the country. The federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 an hour since 2009 and wages for tipped workers have been frozen at $2.13 an hour since 1991. Here’s the latest news on the push for a higher minimum wage across the nation:

Alaska: More than 43,000 signatures were collected in favor of an August ballot initiative that would raise the wage to $9.75 over two years, with an annual increase for inflation.

Arkansas: Labor and community groups are pushing for a ballot measure that would raise the the state minimum wage to $8.50 over the next three years.

Connecticut: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) proposed increasing the wage to $10.10 an hour. The legislature is now considering the bill.

Idaho: Labor and community groups are working on legislation that would increase the wage in the state that has the highest percentage of minimum wage employees in the nation.

Iowa: With the rallying cry “We can’t survive on $7.25!” working families in Iowa are pushing for a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.

Los Angeles: The Raise L.A. campaign is working on raising the minimum salaries of hotel workers to $15 an hour while the L.A. County Federation invited Pope Francis to visit the city to help champion economic equality for low-wage workers.

Maryland: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has joined with Raise Maryland in calling for the state’s wage to be raised to $10.10 an hour. They also are calling for tipped workers to earn at least 70% of the minimum wage.

Massachusetts: The Raise-Up Massachusetts campaign is collecting signatures to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot and is organizing a low-wage worker listening tour.

Minnesota: Working families and their allies are pushing to raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, with future increases tied to inflation.

Missouri: Low-wage and tipped workers organized and testified at a critical committee hearing for a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The bill is active in the state Senate.

Nebraska: The legislature is considering a package of bills backed by local labor groups that would raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and require employers to provide paid sick days.

New Hampshire: The state’s labor movement and community allies have made raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour one of their top priorities for 2014.

Pennsylvania: A community coalition launched a campaign to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Seattle: Working families in Seattle are trying to recreate the success of allies in SeaTac in an effort to raise the local minimum wage to $15 an hour.

South Dakota: The South Dakota AFL-CIO and allies successfully placed a minimum wage increase on the ballot that will be voted on in November, raising the state’s wage to $8.50 with an annual cost-of-living increase.

West Virginia: The legislature passed a bill championed by the West Virginia AFL-CIO that would raise the minimum wage to $8.75 and would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Do you think America needs a raise? Sign the petition

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Not-So-Fun Facts About the Minimum Wage

It’s time to raise the minimum wage. The majority of America’s working families (80%) agree. Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Here are 10 facts about the minimum wage from the National Employment Law Project:

$10.55
How much the federal minimum wage would be if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years. Instead, it’s $7.25. Learn more.

$15,080
The annual income for a full-time employee working the entire year at the federal minimum wage.

0
The number of states where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40-hour week. Learn more.

3
The number of times Congress passed legislation to increase the minimum wage in the past 30 years.

19
The number of states (including the District of Columbia) that have raised their minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25.

10
The number of states that annually increase their state minimum to keep up with the rising cost of living.

67
The percentage of Americans who support gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.00 an hour, according to an October 2010 poll.

64 in 100 vs. 4 in 100
What are the chances an adult minimum wage worker is a woman vs. the chances a Fortune 500 CEO is a woman? Learn more.

76
The percentage of Missouri voters that voted to increase and index the Missouri minimum wage in the 2006 ballot initiative.

$2.13
The federal minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waiters and waitresses, nail salon workers or parking attendants.

Photo by Raise the Wage on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear David: Hydration Frustration

Question:

I work at a hospital as an office clerk. We currently have an interim director. There are many changes happening in our department, which has been stressful, but I’ve been “rolling with the punches.” Last week our director had a meeting in which he stated that we are not allowed to have water to drink at our check-in reception area per hospital policy. This has never been a rule in the past. While this probably would not be an issue normally, I take certain medications that require me to drink plenty of water. I went to see my doctor and got a note saying that I could have water at my desk. Now I’m worried that if I give my director the note, I will be on his “bad side” or be labeled a troublemaker. What should I do?

— Not a Camel, Iowa

 

Answer:

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), all workplaces must provide drinkable water to employees, but that doesn’t mean that workers have a right to drink water at their desk.

While requirements for breaks while working to eat lunch, use the restroom, etc. vary state by state—from “no breaks for you” (which, unfortunately, is the case in Iowa) to minimum standards such as a 30-minute meal break and paid rest periods in some states—your health condition could offer you additional protection. Your health condition may be serious enough to be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and if so, your employer may be required to provide you with a reasonable accommodation to allow you to perform your job. Health conditions that constitute a “disability” under the ADA and the type of accommodations that are “reasonable” are determined on a case-by-case basis, but more information can be found here.

Even with protections in place for individuals who have health conditions, you’re smart to consider how your employer will react to you. The first thing to consider is whether to involve another co-worker. Is there anyone else with similar needs or concerns about access to drinking water, breaks or the like? If so, try to meet with him or her first and see if he or she will agree to go with you when you talk with your boss. A larger group would be even better. That way, it’s not just about you, but about the quality of everyone’s workplace. Not only are you less likely to be singled out, but the law provides additional protections from retaliation when two or more employees join together. This is called “protected concerted activity.”

Still, your approach matters. With another co-worker or in a group, strike a collaborative tone when speaking to your director. You could say that you understand what the rule is, but that a couple of you—or many of you—feel like the workplace would be better for everyone if you knew that when it was necessary, as in your situation, you could expect some flexibility to go to the water fountain, break area or restroom to take medication or address personal needs.

Getting together with your co-workers isn’t just about protecting yourself from retaliation. It’s also how you can shape your workplace to be happier and healthier for everyone who works there. I’m for raising the bar for everyone. Don’t you think we should set our sights higher than just meeting the minimum standards of the ADA?

Got a workplace question for David? Ask it here.

Tags: , , , ,

99 Stories and More to Come: Job-Killing Sequester Cuts Hurt Families Across the United States

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Forget the silly fluff pieces mainstream media are reporting about sequestration’s effect on White House tours—there is real pain happening all over the United States.

Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel of The Huffington Post cover 99 stories of the job losses and pain felt in states across the country in Sequestration Effects: Cuts Sting Communities Nationwide.

Here are the first 10 stories:

1. Air Force base jobs lost in Tullahoma, Tenn.—The Aerospace Testing Alliance announced it is cutting 128 of 1,809 civilian jobs at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma starting April 19. It also has put in place a 20% pay cut and weekly furloughs for workers at a research facility. [Link]

2. Loss of jobs in Rock Island, Ill.—The U.S. Army garrison, Rock Island Arsenal, announced it is firing 175 employees, 44 of whom are temporary workers, 131 of whom will see their jobs unrenewed when their terms expire. [Link]

3. Medical response times lengthened in central Nebraska—Medical responders have had response times lengthened because of the closing of a control tower at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport. [Link]

4. Food pantry closed in Murray, Utah—The Salt Lake Community Action Program closed its food pantry, one of five locations that serve more than 1,000 people every month. Executive Director Cathy Hoskins told The Huffington Post that in addition to the closure, the organization has stopped paying into employees’ retirement plans, won’t fill an open job and told some staffers to take a week’s unpaid leave. “I’ve had one person retire, we’re not replacing them. We’re not doing any hiring at all,” Hoskins said. “We’re trying very hard to boost our volunteers, but this is hard work working in a pantry. And if you get a volunteer, usually it’s a short-term volunteer because it’s just very, very difficult work…. No raises, no increases, none of that stuff. We’re cutting everything we possibly can.” [Link]

5. Research employees lost in Durham, N.C.—The Duke Clinical Research Institute is planning to “downsize” 50 employees. [Link]

6. Contractor jobs lost in southwest Oklahoma—Northrop Grumman Information Systems’ Lawton, Okla., site issued 26 layoff notices. The defense contractor CGI is anticipating that sequestration would affect 270 workers at its Lawton site. [Link]

7. Health care jobs cut in Hampton Roads, Va.—Officials at Hampton Roads Planning District Commission announced that 1,600 jobs in the region’s health care sector would disappear. “It won’t be job cuts,” said James A. Clary, an economist with the group. “It will be not filling the positions.” [Link]

8. Health care workers laid off in Saranac Lake, N.Y.—Adirondack Health, a medical center at Lake Placid, announced it was laying off 18 workers after firing 17 in December. [Link]

9. Rehabilitation center for Native Americans closed in Sitka, Alaska—The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium announced that on April 30, it is closing the Bill Brady Healing Center, a residential drug and alcohol treatment center for Alaska Natives. Michael Jenkins, communications director, said the approximately 20 people who work there will be transferred to other positions in the organization, furloughed or fired. “For the most part, because of our location here in Southeast, alcohol and drug abuse has a very high incidence. So taking this away is going to make it difficult,” he said. [Link]

10. Education jobs lost in Sioux City, Iowa—The Iowa Early Intervention education program is bracing for the loss of 11 teaching positions, while the Sioux City Community School Board is looking at potentially 30 staff positions being eliminated. [Link]

Read the rest of the 99 stories on The Huffington Post.

Remember, the sequester is a completely made-up, dumb idea and can be easily repealed by Congress. This year alone, 750,000 people will lose their jobs because of the sequester.

Working families are calling on Congress to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts (i.e., raising the retirement age and the “chained” CPI), repeal the sequester and close tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthiest 2%.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Senator Harkin’s Rebuild America Plan

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin announced a new economic plan he’s calling the “Rebuild America Plan.” From The Nation:

The legislation is divided into three basic categories: the first is proactive federal spending an action meant to boost the flagging economy. It includes:

$300 billion for roads, bridges, energy efficiency systems and other infrastructure

$20 billion in school modernization funding

Boosting funding for agencies that regulate trade, to better enforce fair trade policies

Funding to states to hire teachers, public safety workers and other public employees.

To help workers and families:

Increased child care subsidies for working parents

Ensuring that workers, particularly white-collar workers categorized as independent contractors, earn time-and-a-half overtime pay

Raising the minimum wage

Strengthening the National Labor Relations Act, making it easier for workers to join unions and increasing penalties on employers for blocking unionization.

To pay for the increased spending:

Raising the capital gains rate and closing the carried interest loophole

A Wall Street speculators tax, of three basis points on common financial securities trades

Ending tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs.

Senator Harkin is aware that such a proposal wouldn’t fly in the current Congress. He does think that we need to stop thinking in Paul Ryan terms:

“I firmly believe that anyone running for election this year to the House or the Senate—if they take up this bill, if they take up the direction of this bill… I believe that will be a winning formula,” he said. “I think the American people are hungry, looking for some way out of this mess that we’re in and I think they’re saturated [with] these sort of quick-fix type things—that we can’t be bold, we can’t grow, we’ve got to, as the Ryan budget says, just keep shrinking and shrinking and shrinking.”

There are some options here that would create jobs by investing in fixing our broken infrastructure. There are options that would help struggling families get back on track.

We certainly need to discuss choices other than the current menu of attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and middle class while continuing to shovel tax breaks at the wealthy.

Photo of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis by US Department of Labor on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

Tags: , , , , ,

New Bill Aims to Help Older Workers Fight Workplace Discrimination

In 2009, the Supreme Court eliminated something called “mixed motive” lawsuits against employers who discriminate against older workers, in the Gross v. FBL Financial Services decision. From Think Progress:

Employment discrimination cases are difficult to prove because the plaintiff ultimately must show what their boss was thinking at the time they were fired or demoted–it is illegal for an employer to fire a worker because they think the worker is too old or too black or too female, but not because they think the worker is incompetent or poorly dressed. Since workers don’t have ESP, the Supreme Court long ago put certain procedures in place to make sure that laws banning discrimination amount to more than just empty promises.

“Mixed motive” suits are an example of these procedures. To win a mixed motive case, a plaintiff had to prove that discrimination was one of the reasons behind their boss’ decision to fire or demote them. It was then up to their boss to prove that they would have made the same decision regardless of the worker’s race or gender or age. Workers are spared the nearly impossible task of having to prove that that their boss was thinking only of bigotry when they lashed out at their employee; and employers are given a fair chance to prove that discrimination is not the real reason why the worker was cast aside.

With the Gross decision, older workers suddenly have been forced to become mind readers. At a time when older workers face an uphill battle trying to keep or find jobs, this decision has made life even more difficult for them, while making it easier for employers to discriminate.

This week a bill was filed to attempt to remedy that decision. From Think Progress:

A bill introduced Tuesday by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) will overturn Gross and restore to older workers the same ability to fight discrimination that they agreed before a 5-4 Supreme Court took it away from them. Although many Senate Democrats have long supported undoing the justices’ mischief in this way, this is the first time a Republican has signed on to the effort — Grassley’s endorsement of the bill is a hopeful sign that it could become law.

Overturning the Gross decision would make it easier for older workers to fight discrimination in the work place. It’s certainly a hopeful sign that this is a bi-partisan effort, which certainly makes it more likely that the bill could actually pass. This is worth keeping an eye on.

Tags: , , ,

November 8, 2011: The 99 Percent Strike Back

For political newcomers, here’s what you need to know: the good guys won.

Not only did we win. We won big. We won in friendly territory and difficult terrain. And the credit for our victories belongs firmly to the working men and women – union and non-union alike – who were fighting for their rights, their jobs, their values, and their future.

Ohio
When John Kasich was sworn in as Ohio’s Governor at the beginning of this year, he didn’t immediately focus on job creation, as he had promised during the 2010 campaign. Instead, he launched a full scale attack on the rights of Ohio’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public workers. Senate Bill 5 was signed into law, restricting the collective bargaining rights of over 350,000 workers in Ohio.

What happened next was incredible. Working Ohioans joined petition drives all across the state to get a repeal of Senate Bill 5 on the November ballot. Among them were Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, and moderates who were outraged over Kasich’s overreach and callousness toward the working people of the Buckeye State; the idea that public workers should serve as an ATM while corporations saw tax reductions offended them. Many police officers and firefighters who traditionally voted for Republicans joined the effort against SB 5; they knew that public safety workers, not politicians, know best about the staff and equipment they need to protect Ohio’s communities.

In June, 1.3 million signatures to repeal SB 5 were delivered to the Secretary of State in Columbus. It became Issue 2 on the ballot.

John Kasich’s allies, including the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, and a host of other shadowy out-of-state groups, poured millions into Ohio to protect Senate Bill 5. They tried every dirty trick in the book. But in the end, Issue 2 was defeated by a massive 21 point margin. In fact, more people voted to repeal Senate Bill 5 than to elect Governor Kasich. We’ll have more on what this Ohio victory means later today.

Maine
In June, Maine Governor Paul LePage signed LD 1376, which banned the practice of registering to vote on Election Day. Same-day registration had been in place in Maine for 38 years without any problems, but backers claimed it would “cut down on election day mistakes,” and “cuts down on voter fraud.” Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster was less subtle, saying same-day registration allowed Democrats to “intentionally steal elections.” Did Webster fail to notice Maine’s two Republican U.S. Senators and Republican Governor? This was just another attack in the nationwide war on voting rights, which has spread to Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and many other states.

Luckily a collection of organizations including the Maine People’s Alliance and Working America formed Protect Maine Votes, and gathered 70,000 signatures to restore same-day registration. Question 1 on yesterday’s ballot passed by a wide margin, with nearly 60 percent of the vote. With last nights victory, the people of Maine have started the fight back against the war on voting.

Pennsylvania
In Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, Democrat Rich Fitzgerald defeated Republican D. Raja to become the next County Executive. The election was not close – Fitz was up 25 percentage points when they called it.

Why does this matter? County Executives often become candidates for statewide office. The Democratic candidate for governor in 2010, Dan Onorato, was Allegheny County Executive. In Wisconsin, a certain Mr. Scott Walker held the seat of Milwaukee County Executive from which he launched his gubernatorial campaign.

Michigan
It’s what Chris Savage calls “the little recall that could.” Of all the races last night, it was the recall of anti-teacher Michigan Rep. Paul Scott that faced the steepest climb.

Paul Scott is the kind of politician we all wish we could remove from office: Ambitious, ideological, and a outspoken opponent of his state’s teachers and teachers’ union. His attacks on education as the Chair the House Education Committee lead to a grassroots campaign to unseat him. Of the 47 attempts to recall Michigan legislators this year, only Paul Scott’s succeeded.

The story then has a lot of legal twists and turns. But for us, the most amazing part of this story happened last night, when the recall passed by 197 votes out of 24,371 cast. Talk about “every vote matters!”

Iowa
Iowa has a Republican Governor and a rabidly conservative House. The lower chamber in Iowa has passed measures attacking the state healthcare system, making huge cuts in education, and restrictions in collective bargaining rights.

The only reason Iowa hasn’t become the next Wisconsin or Ohio is because of the Democratic-controlled State Senate, where they have a margin of one. Last night, that majority was preserved when Democrat Liz Mathis won a special election for the decisive Senate seat with 56 percent of the vote, despite some really gross tactics on the part of her opponents.

Arizona
State Senate President Russell Pearce was known as a key mover and shaker behind Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070. He was also an opponent of workers’ rights, once “joking” that he wanted to throw union protestors in desert tent prisons. We didn’t find that joke very funny, and neither did the people of Arizona. By a seven point margin, voters removed Pearce from office and replaced him with moderate Republican Jerry Lewis.

Did we miss any races? What were you watching last night? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @WorkingAmerica.

Image courtesy of Progress Ohio.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Election 2011: Races to Watch – Iowa


Remember Wisconsin? I’m sure you do. The extremist policies of Governor Scott Walker, from ending collective bargaining rights for teachers to tax hikes on those Wisconsinites who can least afford it, were possible because of the Republican Majority in the State Senate. The recall effort was successful in reducing that majority by two; but it’s clear that if the pro-worker legislators controlled the chamber, even by a slim margin, Walker could have been stopped in his tracks.

We mention this recent history because Iowa is inches away from becoming the next Wisconsin.

Democrats had a 26-24 majority in the State Senate until September, when Swati Dandekar (D-Marion) resigned to accept a position on the Iowa Utility Board. The winner of the special election to replace her will decide control of the Senate, since the Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds would break a tie. With a Republican and Tea-flavored lower house, a GOP Senate takeover could bode horribly for Iowans.

Why do we fear complete Republican control of every branch of Iowa’s government? All we have to do is look at Wisconsin and Ohio for what lies ahead.

The anti-worker House has already passed Iowa File 525, a veritable clone of Walker’s “budget repair” bill and Kasich’s Senate Bill 5, which would limit collective bargaining rights for thousands of Iowa workers. Like both Walker and Kasich, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has proposed “reforms” in the way teachers are assessed and paid. Like both Wisconsin and Ohio, Iowa’s lower house has passed cuts to education, with a bill allowing zero percent growth in education funding for the next two years. Like Walker’s cuts to Wisconsin’s BadgerCare health insurance program, Iowa Republicans have attacked Hawk-1, Iowa’s health care program for children.

And like Ohio and Wisconsin, despite claims that these initiatives are for the fiscal health of the state, Iowa Republicans have passed tax cuts, including a $47.7 million property tax cut that favors Iowa’s wealthiest.

In November 2010, many voters turned to the Republican candidates because of their rhetoric on jobs and employment. 12 months later, we’ve seen what they are really about. After 12 months of Scott Walker and John Kasich, we know we can’t allow our Hawkeye friends to suffer the fates of the Badgers and Buckeyes. We won’t get fooled again.

Democrat Liz Mathis and Republican Cindy Golding will square off for Iowa’s tie-breaking Senate District 18 on November 8th.

Tags: , ,