The 2013 legislative session in Minnesota will certainly go down in history, as that state became the first in the Midwest to approve marriage equality through the legislature.
However, relief for over 300,000 minimum wage workers in Minnesota was kicked to the curb, as the session ended Monday at midnight with no action on HF 92, the bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $9.50 and tied it to inflation.
Legislators arrived at an impasse after the Senate passed its own minimum wage bill, which raised the wage to only $0.50 above the federal minimum and had no ties to inflation – meaning years upon years could pass without another increase.
Outside the capital, support for a minimum wage increase is broad. A recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed nearly 70 percent of Minnesotans support an increase in the state minimum wage, with 41 percent supporting the House’s $9.50 per hour increase.
Republicans were uniform in their opposition the increase in both houses. Unfortunately, too many DFL senators also fell prey to the influence of restaurant industry lobbyists and other special interests like ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce. Rumors suggest that the minimum wage increase may have been used as a bargaining chit in negotiations on other issues.
“We’re talking about a pay increase for 350,000 Minnesota workers that would help the economy and make a big difference in their lives,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), the sponsor of HF 92 in the House, “And if the people who say they’re Democrats aren’t willing to do that then I question whether they’re being honest about their own values.”
“Hard work should pay for all Minnesotans and a minimum wage increase would ensure that low-wage workers are part of Minnesota’s economic recovery,” said MN AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson, “We’re not going to give up on them.”
Working America, along with the Minnesota AFL-CIO and other allies, will continue to advocate for a minimum wage increase over the summer and into the 2014 legislative session. In the meantime, we can recognize some of the 2013 session’s other accomplishments including: the extension of unemployment benefits for locked out workers, improvements to workers’ compensation, an infrastructure bonding bill, the passage of an MN “Dream Act,” and an incredible investment in education that includes universal all-day kindergarten.
Thanks to what Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller calls a “historic, robust bipartisan effort,” the Texas Legislature approved on Monday a “Buy American” provision for water projects that establishes a preference for iron, steel and manufactured goods produced in the United States. Says Moeller:
For the first time in memory, Texas, under this legislation, will give strong priority to American goods and products in the course of major construction projects. The Texas Legislature deserves high commendation from working families for sending a message that buying American creates jobs. This bill will benefit our economy.
The Buy American provision included a major water development bill (H.B. 4) and includes a requirement that iron and steel products and manufactured goods used in the project be produced in the United States. The bill received overwhelming support, passing 141-4 in the House and 30-1 in the Senate.
Earlier in the session lawmakers approved a “Buy Texan, Buy American” bill that applies to state purchases of manufactured goods. Texas AFL-CIO Communications Director Ed Sills says both bills ”have the potential to create jobs in Texas and in the U.S.”
The labor movement has always been about good jobs. In a legislative session that had the look of potential disaster on several fronts at the start, seeing two “Buy American” ideas succeed in bipartisan fashion is a signal accomplishment that is at the core of what we do.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is expected to sign the bill.
On March 29, 2013, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez vetoed a bill passed by both the House and Senate increasing the minimum wage to $8.50. That was Good Friday – obviously Gov. Martinez wanted to do veto our raise on a day when very few were paying attention.
New Mexico’s low-wage workers, who number about 84,000, are getting restless. As the video shows, several workers with the group OLE New Mexico tried to contact Gov. Martinez to ask what her reasoning was behind the veto, but were blocked at every turn. Not a single staff member could give justification for this action, and most frequently got an answering machine or were asked to submit a request through the website.
Gov. Martinez lack of transparency on an issue that affects so many New Mexicans is disturbing. As the only person standing between 84,000 workers and their raise, she owes the state a better explanation of her actions.
Journalists are fixated on union members’ donations to the Los Angeles mayoral race to elect Wendy Greuel, Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, writes in a Los Angeles Times column. But one issue is being largely ignored: the working poor.
“But if the discussion about the role of unions in the campaign is going to focus almost exclusively on money, shouldn’t we talk about money in its entirety?” writes Durazo. “What motivates me and so many others in L.A. labor when it comes to money are the hundreds of thousands of our fellow workers in Los Angeles who don’t earn enough of it.”
Los Angeles is the low-wage capital of the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau‘s American Community Survey. L.A. has more workers who struggle to survive on poverty pay than any other metropolitan area in the country.
During 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, 822,244 people working at full-time, year-round jobs earned less than $25,000 a year. That represented 28% of the labor force. These figures are for Los Angeles County.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its corporate backers and extremist Missouri lawmakers may have won the first round in their drive to silence working people with a paycheck deception bill, when the House gave it final approval (86-69) earlier this week.
But thanks to a strong mobilization by Missouri working families and their unions and allies, the close vote—that included several Republicans who voted against the bill—means that Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) expected veto cannot be overridden. It takes a two-thirds majority vote to override.
Paycheck deception laws, like the one proposed in Missouri, create burdensome restrictions that interfere with union members’ rights to participate in the political and legislative process. These laws also weaken the ability of working people to advance working-family issues such as legislation that would create jobs and stop job outsourcing.
After the bill’s passage, Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, told reporters:
This bill is all politics. Not one Missouri worker testified in favor of S.B. 29, and that’s because this bill has nothing to do with helping working people. Public workers in this state have faced an uphill fight for collective bargaining rights and are 50 in the nation in pay.
In fact, dozens of Show-Me State workers created a Tumblr blog, Working Voices, and recorded video messages speaking out against paycheck deception. Union, community and faith activists were a major presence at the state Capitol in Jefferson City during hearings and votes and helped shine a spotlight on the anti-workers’ legislation through actions in several cities and towns.
Bradley Harmon, the president of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 6355, said:
This law is about protecting right-wing extremists and their corporate buddies, not about protecting anyone’s paycheck. That’s why we call it ‘paycheck deception.’
HR 1406, the hilariously named, “Working Families Flexibility Act,” would replace time-and-a-half pay for hours worked past 40 hours with a “comp time” system that favors the employer. As the video above explains, “comp time” sounds like you’re getting time off to spend as you see fit, but in fact allows your boss to decide when you take your days off – and when you don’t.
If your boss decides that your request for days off “unduly disrupts the operations of the employer” they have the right to reject it. If your boss decides that your request was not made “within a reasonable period,” you can’t take your vacation.
So instead of getting paid extra for working more than 40 hours a week, as we’ve done for decades, you get some days off that your employer has complete control over. And yes, you can still take the option of overtime pay, but what’s to stop your boss from treating you differently because of it? (Nothing.)
To review: The Working Families Flexibility Act provides less flexibility to working families. Classic bill naming!
What’s sickening about this vote in the House is that three Democrats voted for the bill along with all but 8 Republicans: Tim Matheson of Utah, Henry Cuellar of Texas, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota. The House Republican caucus has continuously demonstrated their lack of concern with American workers (33 votes to repeal Obamacare, anyone?) and it’s a shame that these three so-called “representatives” decided to cross the aisle on this harmful, misguided bill.
But in general, we should keep this vote in mind next time those 223 members of Congress come back around asking to get “rehired” in November 2014. After all, Congress operates less than half of the year, and yet they earn an exorbitant salary for their troubles – paid by you, the taxpayer.
They might think that our bosses should completely control how we spend our time. Don’t forget, though: we are their bosses. And if they don’t change their attitude and their work ethic, a pink slip might be in order.
In a perfect gift for mothers, just short of Mother’s Day, House Republicans have once again introduced legislation with a charming title and a potentially devastating impact for working women and families. According to the bill’s sponsors, the “Working Families Flexibility Act,” or H.R. 1406, would give employees the “freedom” to determine work schedules and time off. In reality, this bill would provide more work and less pay.
Working families need and deserve greater flexibility in meeting family and work needs. However, the “Working Families Flexibility Act,” on the floor of the House of Representatives this week, doesn’t do anything to promote greater flexibility for working families. This legislation, proposed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Rep. Martha Roby, would allow employers to pay their workers nothing extra for overtime work, other than the potentially empty promise of compensatory time—”comp time”—that can only be used at the employer’s discretion. H.R. 1406, cloaked in the positive language of “choice,” is really just another attempt by Republicans to get rid of paid overtime.
Backers of the bill are proudly calling this legislation “family friendly” and touting its benefits for working women. But we fear they are underestimating women’s ability to know a falsehood when they hear one. The supporters of this bill claim that employers need more “flexibility” to manage work schedules and give workers time off. But employers already have the flexibility to schedule any kind of flexible work hours and to give their employees paid or unpaid leave whenever they want. By giving employers the flexibility not to pay overtime, this “comp time” bill is just another Republican gimmick that would ultimately erode hourly workers’ ability to both pay their bills and care for their families.
At least 63 million private-sector workers are required to be paid time-and-a-half for hours worked beyond the 40-hour workweek. Under H.R. 1406, workers who work overtime would never see a bump in their paycheck and would earn less take-home pay. The “choice” to take time off sounds nice, but as many working parents and people of color know too well, calling something a “choice” assumes there are viable options. For many working families, taking home less pay at the end of the day means less money to cover rent, education costs, medical bills and other living expenses. The “choice” to take unpaid time off is not a choice at all.
The 40-hour workweek, as we know it, came from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. To ensure that workers can spend more time away from work, the FLSA discourages employers from demanding overtime by making overtime more expensive. By contrast, H.R. 1406 would encourage employers to demand longer hours because overtime is made less expensive. That’s because employers would be able to pay workers nothing at all for overtime work at the time the work is performed and could schedule comp time off at no extra cost to them (for example, during less busy periods when co-workers can pick up the slack). So, when employees request comp time, they essentially become lenders to employers. For example, a worker earning $12 an hour and banking the maximum amount of hours (160) would be giving an interest-free loan of $1,920 to his or her employer.
At a time when workers are already working harder for less, those who rely on overtime to make ends meet could face even more financial challenges. The kind of support that working families are looking for would be available by strengthening their ability to collectively bargain on the job for higher wages, safer workplaces, better health care and paid time off options. Working families deserve better than H.R. 1406.
Last week, Walmart said it would speed up its plan to hire returning military veterans that it had announced in January. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says Walmart’s latest move “is more about public relations than honoring our heroes.”
We owe it to our returning veterans to make sure they are treated as the heroes they are, rather than as symbols used to ‘greenwash’ Walmart’s eroding brand. After facing enemies abroad, is an $8.81 an hour part-time job the best we can offer returning veterans?
It’s been a good few years for taxi drivers gaining a voice on the job. Today in Austin, Texas, the National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA) granted its first local chapter charter since it joined the AFL-CIO. The NTWA was chartered by the AFL-CIO in 2011, with New York City and Philadelphia locals as the founding members.
Austin taxi drivers founded the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin (TDAA) to organize and collectively address drivers’ concerns, from economic hardship to harassment and physical safety on the job. TDAA says drivers work up to 15 hours per day, seven days a week and yet earn less than minimum wage on many days and have no job security. While income is tightly regulated by the city through the meter, owners regularly increase lease fees charged to drivers that eat up much of their earnings.
Today at a ceremony welcoming the chapter, Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, told KUT News the affiliation will allow the drivers to “Speak with one voice, whereas before they would speak and we would assist them. And now they’re actually part of organized labor, and we’re excited about that.”
Merga Gemada, vice president of the TDAA, said:
The bare minimum protections required for a taxi driver to have a dignified life are not available to us today because of the economic instability we work under. At the same time, drivers are not covered by workers’ comp or disability and have no insurance to protect themselves in the case of an accident. Today’s affiliation is also the launch for the TDAA’s campaign for economic rights and dignity, in which drivers are demanding greater job security and a safety net against their precarious working conditions.
Bhairavi Desai, president of the NTWA, added:
Austin joining the national Alliance is just the beginning of a much bigger change in Texas.