6 Reasons Why Unions Are Essential to Creating Broadly Based Prosperity

At the end of March, the Roosevelt Institute launched a new project, the Future of Work, which takes a look at the changing landscape in the area of workers’ rights and representation in the political and economic system that affects their lives. Author Richard Kirsch does a great job of explaining the economy and discussing potential policy solutions in a report titled The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers and Secure Prosperity for All.

Kirsch said:

The Future of Work is bringing together thought and action leaders from multiple fields to re-imagine a 21st century social contract that expands workers’ rights and increases the number of living wage jobs. The Future of Work is focusing on three areas: Promoting new and innovative strategies for worker organizing and representation; raising the floor of labor market standards and strengthening enforcement of labor laws and standards; and assuring access to good jobs for women and workers of color.

In the report, Kirsch breaks down the issues and solutions into several categories. Read more about each:

1. The New Deal Launched Unions as Key to Building Middle Class

2. The Challenges to Organizing Workers in Today’s Economy

3. National Labor Law in the United States: Scanty Protections for Organizing Leave Out Many Workers

4. How the Weakening of American Labor Led to the Shrinking of America’s Middle Class

5. Labor Law That Would Support Organizing in Today’s Economy

6. Labor Law for All Workers: Empowering Workers to Challenge Corporate Decision Making

You also can read Kirsch’s full report, which goes into more detail on each of these points.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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11 Things Everyone Should Know About Working Women and the Minimum Wage

11 Things Everyone Should Know About Working Women and the Minimum Wage

Women workers are breadwinners. Women workers support their families. Check out 11 facts that show why women would benefit from raising the minimum wage.

1. Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Nearly four in 10 female minimum wage workers are women of color.

2. If the minimum wage were raised to $10.10, 25 million to 28 million workers would get a raise. About 55% of the workers who would benefit, more than 15 million people, are women.

3. Some 24.3% of women workers would benefit from raising the wage.

4. More than three-quarters of women earning the minimum wage are age 20 or older. The image of teenagers making minimum wage while flipping burgers at the neighborhood restaurant is outdated.

5. More than 2.2 million single moms would benefit from raising the minimum wage. One out of four of the workers who would benefit—and 31% of the women workers who would benefit—are parents with children.

6. Some 14 million children, or 18.7% of all kids in America, would benefit from raising the wage.

7. The minimum wage for tipped workers ($2.13 an hour) has not been raised since 1991. About 72% of tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, bartenders and hairstylists, are women.

8. Workers in tipped industries are paid 40% less than other workers on average. They are twice as likely to be poor than other workers, and servers are nearly three times as likely to be poor.

9. About half of all tipped workers would get a raise if the minimum wage bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), was enacted. This includes increasing the tipped minimum wage to 70% of the minimum wage.

10. For every dollar that men earn, women earn just 77 cents. Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and indexing it to inflation could close about 5% of the gender wage gap.

11. The wage gap is even larger for women of color: African American women make only 64% and Latina women make only 54% of their white male counterparts.

Sources: National Women’s Law CenterWhite HouseEconomic Policy Institute

If you think America’s working families need a raise, sign the petition

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Connecticut Jumps Ahead of the Pack, Will Raise Minimum Wage to $10.10 by 2017

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More than 227,000 Connecticut workers will see raises in the next 3 years, thanks to a bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy on Thursday.

Connecticut legislators passed a bill by wide margins raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. In many respects, the bill mirrors federal legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (I-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over a similar period and indexing it to inflation.

President Obama, who supports the Harkin-Miller proposal, praised the Nutmeg State:

“I hope members of Congress, governors, state legislators and business leaders across our country will follow Connecticut’s lead,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on Wednesday, “to help ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty, and that every American who works hard has the chance to get ahead.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that if implemented nationally, Harkin-Miller would lift 5 million Americans out of poverty and reduce spending on public assistance programs by tens of billions of dollars.

This year, 29 states are considering either legislation or a ballot measure aimed at raising the minimum wage.

Image by Raise the Minimum Wage on Facebook

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Boosting Minimum Wage to $10.10 Means a Raise for 6.8 Million Latinos

Courtesy of UFCW.

Nearly 6.8 million Latino workers would benefit if Congress raises the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, according to the new AFL-CIO study Closing the Gap to the American Dream. While Latinos comprise 16% of the country’s workforce, they make up nearly one-quarter of the workers who would be positively affected by raising the minimum wage. According to the report:

Too many Latino workers are vulnerable in this economy. Living in a state of financial insecurity, many workers who are employed full-time are trapped in low-wage positions. These nearly 6.8 million Latino workers would greatly benefit from a raise in the minimum wage. A $10.10-an-hour salary would provide higher take-home income, improved employment prospects and increased opportunities to save for retirement.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says, “Raising the minimum wage is long overdue for all working families in America.” He adds:

Every day, millions of Latinos go to work but struggle to support their families. Many of them are paid poverty wages well below their white and African American counterparts in an economy with ever increasing costs of living. These working families are frequently forced to forgo basics—food, housing, clothing—and rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

Throughout the nation, Latino workers are struggling with high rates of unemployment, low wages and a dire financial outlook for retirement. Latino men are paid just 67.3% of their white counterparts and 89.0% of their black counterparts. Latinas are paid just 73.4% of their white counterparts and 87.0% of their black counterparts.

Yanira Merino, the AFL-CIO’s national immigration campaign manager, says, “Latino and Latina workers are consistently underpaid and underappreciated.”

This is wrong. Latinos work hard every day to build this nation and deserve to be rewarded with wages that can support their families and put food on the table. We stand with Latino families everywhere, advocating for policies that will allow each and every one of us to reach the American Dream.

Read the full report and read more on the minimum wage.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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

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3 Reasons Why We Aren’t at Full Recovery Yet and 2 Ways We Can Get There

Some observers have declared that the United States has reached a full recovery after the Great Recession because per capita GDP growth has rebounded to pre-recession levels. But in a thorough essay at the Economic Policy Institute, Josh Bivens argues that the logic is highly flawed and that we’re far from a full recovery. He also provides several policy suggestions that would get us much closer to that elusive full recovery and on the path to raising wages.

First up, here are three reasons Bivens gives as to why we aren’t at full recovery:

  • The recession led to high levels of unemployment, meaning there are a lot of available workers but few jobs available. In order for that to change, Bivens says you have to have a sustained period of higher than normal growth in order to reduce those numbers. While the United States has had positive growth in recent years, it hasn’t been abnormally high, and thus we’re not only not close to full recovery, we may not even be one-third of the way there.
  • The ratio of adults between 25 and 54 who are employed is still a full 4% lower than it was in 2007. Less than one-third of the losses in this measure (employment-to-population or EPOP) have been regained during the recovery.
  • The ratio of actual GDP growth when compared to potential growth (what growth would be if we were at full employment) has only regained about half of what was lost during the recession. Even worse, much of the recovery in this area has been because the Congressional Budget Office keeps revising the potential growth number downward, not because of increasing employment or growth.

Bivens explains that the key reason we haven’t achieved full recovery is a lack of consumer demand that is tied closely to stagnant wages. Here are two ideas Bivens says will get us closer to full recovery:

  • The biggest reason for the lack of demand, particularly compared to previous recoveries, Bivens says, is the lack of government spending because of austerity measures. He argues that if the federal government spent now the way it did during the mid-1980s recovery, which would be some $800 billion more in spending, we would reach full recovery. He notes that this level of spending isn’t at all extreme or unprecedented, it’s exactly what we’ve done in the past and it worked.
  • Another avenue for spurring recovery would be to reduce the U.S. trade deficit. Increasing net exports and letting the dollar to adjust to boost cost-competitiveness would be a significant boost toward full employment and full recovery.

Bivens sums up the implications of his research:

Given the policy course we’ve taken—particularly the extreme austerity on the spending side of fiscal policy—it’s no real mystery why the U.S. economy remains so depressed even as it enters its seventh year since the Great Recession began. The immediate future does look brighter on this front: Austerity’s grip will be substantially loosened in 2014. But it seems like it would make more sense to use policy to affirmatively boost growth and spur rapid recovery than to just reduce policy’s drag and hope for the best. Full recovery, and full employment, are far too important for this kind of complacency.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Let’s Take the Politics Out of the Minimum Wage by Indexing it to Inflation

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The Minnesota legislature is currently holding up the passage of a bill that would raise our minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015. The key sticking point is that the House and Senate cannot agree on whether or not the state’s minimum wage should be indexed to inflation.

Indexing would allow the minimum wage to keep its value in the years to come, by automatically making small annual increases to the wage based on inflation–not based on the current political climate. It is unclear to many of us who support raising the wage, why our DFL-controlled Senate would not want to take this opportunity to take the politics out of future minimum wage increases.

Minimum wage workers haven’t seen a raise in years, and historically the wage has been woefully behind the rising costs of living. In fact, Minnesota has been even further behind almost every other state, with an abysmally low minimum wage of $6.15 an hour, making us one of only four states that have a lower minimum wage than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. This is largely due to politics getting in the way of past efforts to raise the wage.

It continues to be challenging for many states to do more than marginal reforms to minimum wage when conservative groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association spend big money to lobby politicians, spreading the repeatedly debunked myth that the economy will crumble if the minimum wage is increased. The Minnesota DFL majorities in the legislature have a real opportunity to win a strong victory for working people and break this cycle of letting corporations overpower the voice of working people.

Indexing the minimum wage to inflation is a common sense solution to the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans and has already proved to work well in other states. The state of Washington has the highest statewide minimum wage of $9.32 an hour, which has been indexed to inflation since 1998. Since then, Washington’s economy has not only decreased poverty, but it has created more jobs, including a 21 percent  increase to the payrolls of restaurants and bars.

The Minnesota Senate needs to do the right thing and follow through to raise the minimum wage and include indexing.

Recently, Working America members have been engaged at the capitol to speak directly with members of the Legislature.

Judith Nunez works two part-time, low-wage jobs and got engaged with the minimum wage campaign for the first time at a workers’ roundtable meeting with legislators who were taking the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge.“We are all human beings and it shouldn’t be this hard for any of us to provide the basic needs we all share,” Judith told legislators.

Minnesotans need to tell their state senators to support raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015 and it needs to be indexed. Send a message now.

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The Latest Republican Plan to Outsource Jobs

House Republicans are proposing another enormous tax break for corporations to outsource jobs. The latest Republican outsourcing plan is very similar to the one promoted by former Gov. Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential campaign, which President Barack Obama said would cost 800,000 jobs.

The outsourcing plan was included in a “tax reform” proposal unveiled recently by the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

Poll after poll shows America’s working families strongly oppose tax breaks for outsourcing that already exist under current law. This is hardly surprising, since between 1999 and 2010, U.S. corporations eliminated 1 million jobs in the United States while creating 3 million jobs overseas.

Here’s how the House Republican plan would promote even more outsourcing: it would allow outsourcers to pay almost no U.S. taxes on their overseas profits when they send jobs overseas. To be precise, outsourcers would be taxed at a rate of 1.25% on most offshore profits. Obviously, if outsourcers can pay taxes at a lower rate when they send jobs overseas, they’re going to have more of an incentive to outsource.

Here’s how Obama described this terrible idea during the 2012 campaign:

“There’s a new study out by nonpartisan economists that says Gov. Romney’s economic plan would in fact create 800,000 jobs. There’s only one problem: The jobs wouldn’t be in America. They’d be in other countries. By eliminating taxes on corporations’ foreign income, Gov. Romney’s plan would actually encourage companies to shift more of their operations to foreign tax havens, creating 800,000 jobs in those other countries.”

The technical name for this idea is a “territorial tax system.” Why is it called “territorial”? Because the United States would only tax American corporations on their profits within the “territory” of the United States, not on their profits overseas.

A “territorial tax system” is a terrible idea for lots of reasons. As Obama explained during the 2012 campaign, it would encourage job creation abroad instead of at home, lowering U.S. wages in the process and opening up opportunities for multinational corporations to avoid paying their taxes by playing accounting games to pretend their domestic profits are earned in foreign tax havens.

Camp claims several features of his plan would keep multinational corporations from avoiding their taxes.  However, as Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) explains, “[I]t is impossible to believe they would work since his overall proposal would dramatically increase rewards for any American corporation that can make its U.S. profits appear to be earned in offshore tax havens.”

Unfortunately, the Republican outsourcing plan has not gotten all the bad press it deserves. Why not? Partly because it has been competing for attention with all the other problems with the House Republican “tax reform” proposal. For example, the proposal would increase the deficit over the long term.

In February 2014, the AFL-CIO took a strong position against a “territorial tax system,” arguing that it would increase the tax incentive for shifting jobs and profits overseas. Instead, the AFL-CIO called for the elimination of all—not just some—of the existing tax incentives for outsourcing. What does this mean in practical terms? It means taxing offshore profits no differently than domestic profits—that is, taxing both kinds of profits at the same rate and at the same time.  Legislation that eliminates all tax incentives for outsourcing would generate $583 billion over 10 years, and this is the benchmark by which any international tax reform proposal should be measured.

Although prospects for the House Republican “tax reform” proposal are uncertain, the idea of a “territorial tax system” has wide support among Republicans in Congress, was recently endorsed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and has attracted interest from some Democrats as well. It would be very dangerous to allow this terrible idea to pick up steam.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Obama Seeks to Restore Overtime Pay for Millions of Workers Denied Under Bush-Era Rules

Pete Souza. The Official White House Photostream/Wikimedia

In 2004, President George W. Bush, at the urging of business groups, used his executive powers to change overtime eligibility rules and allow businesses to deny overtime for millions of workers. Tomorrow, President Barack Obama is expected to announce that he will direct the U.S. Department of Labor to update overtime eligibility rules to restore overtime protection that workers have lost to inflation since 1975.

Under federal overtime regulations, workers who earn less than a certain salary level are generally entitled to overtime protection. For decades after enactment of the federal overtime law in 1938, this salary threshold was updated every few years as a routine matter. However, the last regular adjustment to the salary level was made by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975. No further adjustments were made for the next 29 years, and as a result, workers’ overtime protections have been steadily eroded by inflation.

Obama is expected to announce tomorrow that the Labor Department will update the salary threshold for overtime eligibility. Above this salary level, workers may be denied overtime protection if they are considered executive management, administrative management or professionals. Below this salary level, workers cannot be denied overtime protection for these reasons.

However, it is not clear how much the president will propose to increase the salary level. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has recommended an increase to $970 per week ($50,440 per year), which would restore all of the overtime protection lost to inflation since 1975.

New York and California already require companies to pay overtime to anyone earning less than $600 and $640 per week, respectively. Those salary levels are set to increase to $675 and $800 per week by 2016.

The current federal threshold of $455 per week—or $23,660 per year—is ridiculously low. It is barely above the federal poverty level for a family of four. A White House official explained that overtime protections have eroded to such an extent that millions of workers who should not be denied overtime protection are being left unprotected.

For example, a convenience store manager or a fast-food shift supervisor or an office worker may be expected to work 50 or 60 hours a week or more, making barely enough to keep a family out of poverty, and not receive a dime of overtime pay.

EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey says many of the workers who would benefit from restored overtime protection are insurance clerks, secretaries, low-level managers, social workers, bookkeepers, dispatchers, sales and marketing assistants and employees in scores of other occupations.

As the rules stand now, an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant who spends 95 percent of his (or her) time cooking fries, running a cash register, sweeping floors and moving supplies into and out of the freezer can be denied any overtime pay and work 60 or 70 hours a week if his salary is at least $23,660 a year. Because he is exempt [from overtime protection], the hourly rate of his salary can fall below the minimum wage; “executives” are excluded from minimum wage protection, too.

Last December, President Obama called attention to growing economic inequality in America and declared that making sure the economy works for working people is the defining challenge of our time and drives everything he does as president. With Republicans blocking the legislative agenda he campaigned on in 2012, the president has vowed to act within his executive powers to make sure the economy workers for everyone. Today’s announcement follows on the heels of his January executive order requiring federal contractors on all new or renewed contracts to pay their workers at least $10.10 an hour.

Also Democrats in Congress and the president are attempting to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. If you think workers deserve a raise, sign this petition.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Republican UI Bill Not What It Seems

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You’ve got to feel bad for folks who go through life so distrustful and suspicious of their fellow citizens that they believe people are always trying to get away with something, trying to game the system. Like those millions of jobless workers who would rather lay back and collect $300 or so a week in unemployment insurance (UI) benefits than go out and try to find a job that pays a decent wage and gives them a chance to support a family, keep a roof over their heads and climb a step or two up the ladder.

Yep, you’ve got to feel bad for Republican senators. You see, that must be the way they feel about the nation’s 3.8 million long-term jobless workers. Why else would they introduce a bill that renews the Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits they let expire at the end of 2013 (and have voted against three times) but would also allow states to deny help to jobless workers who are not in a job training program or completing 20 hours a week of so-called ”community service” or jumping through new hoops to prove they are looking for work.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about this Republican proposal from Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) who’s obviously more concerned about pushing conservative policy based on myths about people without jobs.

There are nearly three unemployed men and women for every job opening in the United States. So it’s not as if all the jobless have to do is shine their shoes and head out the door to the job market.

Republicans have long led the drive to cut funding for job training—even for those who have had their jobs exported (see Trade Adjustment Assistance). Most states now lack funding for job training and job retraining for all who need it.

“Community service” may sound like a good idea, but 20 hours a week cleaning up parks or painting benches is 20 hours a week taken away from a job search. BTW, current federal law prohibits states from requiring unemployed workers to engage in community service to public workers projects as a condition of receiving benefits.

The Republican bill sets up new administrative hurdles for both jobless workers and the states to prove that unemployed workers are indeed job hunting instead of golfing with those 20 hours less a week to look for work.

What happens if an unemployed worker fails to meet the new standards? The worker is disqualified for benefits “indefinitely” or until he or she is re-employed for at least four weeks and earns at least four times the weekly benefit amount. Take a minute and read that again carefully. A worker who can’t find a job can only receive jobless benefits after he or she finds a job that pays more than the unemployment benefit.

The next time you hear some Republican senator claiming to support restoring UI for the long-term jobless, remember, thanks to their inaction, 2 million jobless workers have lost benefits and that number will continue to rise. (Mouse over the photos from the National Employment Law Project in this post to learn more about three workers who were cut off from long-term unemployment benefits.)

Call your senators at 845-809-4509 and urge them to pass a clean emergency unemployment benefits extension, not the Republican bill offered by Heller that punishes workers more than it helps.

Read anonymous confessions from jobless workers here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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