6 Ways to Reconnect Hard Work with Decent Pay

Photo by Annette Bernhardt/Wikimedia Commons

It’s pretty frustrating seeing all the headlines that claim the economy is alive and kicking. Sure, there is economic growth and a steady increase in jobs, but what kind of jobs are we talking about exactly?

Well, they aren’t the kind of jobs we think of first when it comes to steady, middle-class jobs. No big surprise here, low-wage service sector jobs like those in the fast-food industry are seeing the biggest gains.

Bryce Covert at The New Republic has a nice summary of what America’s workers are up against when it comes to wages.

Covert emphasizes the need for “ways to reconnect hard work and decent pay” that “hand employees more power so they can ask for more.” What does she have in mind?

  • Making it easier for workers to unionize and demand better pay;
  • Aiming for full employment, so all people who want a job can have one for as many hours as they need;
  • Urging the Federal Reserve to be more concerned about unemployment than inflation;
  • Following the German model of putting workers on corporate boards, so firms are not used as piggy banks to pump money out to shareholders;
  • Providing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers; and
  • Raising the minimum wage.

Covert discusses more than just minimum wage workers and the fast-food industry, she points out other issues, including wage theft, the uphill battle for workers trying to form unions, NFL cheerleaders getting paid what sometimes amounts to $2 an hour, unscrupulous employers exploiting immigrant workers and more.

Make sure you read the rest of Covert’s article on decent wages: The NFL Cheerleaders Should Be Your Fair-Pay Heroes.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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These 3 Companies Should Start Paying a Bad Boss Tax Now


Early last week the Internet was abuzz with a new, but clever concept called the “bad boss tax.”

Conceptualized by TakeAction Minnesota, the bad boss tax would impose a fine on billion-dollar corporations with employees that rely on government assistance.

While the future of the bad boss tax is uncertain, the number of employers paying wages so low that they inadvertently shift the financial burden to taxpayers is extensive.

Below, we’ve compiled the top three “Bad Bosses” below.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fast food workers, on  average, make about $18,880 a year. According to the living wage calculator, that’s barely enough to keep one person from poverty, let alone a family.

What’s more, many McDonald’s workers report to only making the minimum wage, as low as $7.25. That number, compared to the CEO’s $13.8 million compensation is one of the many reasons why McDonald’s landed on the list.

Worker pay at the Golden Arches, due in part to franchising, is varied. But one thing is for sure, across the board employees are fed up. Yesterday the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that McDonald’s could be accountable for the string of low wage lawsuits that it’s been slammed with in the past year.

The past year has been rocky for the billion-dollar corporation. Protests over low pay, the right to unionize and unfair treatment have been brewing for months and in May workers across the world banded together for a global protest. Additionally, workers protested in front of the fast food giant’s corporate headquarters during the annual shareholders meeting.


On average, workers at Walmart are paid $8.81 an hour. An employee working 34 hours a week only makes $15,576 annually, far below the federal poverty line for a family of two or more. Keep in mind that Walmart CEO compensation was estimated to be around $20.7 million while revenue is nearly $500 billion.

Perhaps as a direct result, it was recently reported that Walmart’s low wages are costing taxpayers nearly $6.2 billion for public assistance services such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing. That means that one of America’s most profitable businesses relies on taxpayers to support their employees.

YUM! Brands

Low wages run rampant at YUM!, the owner of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, with many workers making less than $8 an hour. Aside from it being an unlivable wage no matter where you’re from, YUM! has about 900,000 employees, many of whom need to have their wages subsidized by hard working, middle-class taxpayers.

Despite its CEO (name?) making $14.2 million (over what year) and its employees making poverty level wages, YUM! isn’t shy about its opposition to raising the minimum wage. On several occasions the fast food giant has lobbied to keep the minimum wage where it is, despite its CEO making 1,000 more than many of his employees.

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr.

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We Love How This ‘Frozen’ Star Sang About the Minimum Wage. But There Are 3 Problems With It.


Kristen Bell, the voice of Princess Anna in the blockbuster Disney hit ‘Frozen’ and dozens of other films, put on a different costume this week to talk about something you wouldn’t expect.

Fans of the humor website Funny or Die were surprised to find a new video of Bell portraying Mary Poppins, the famous fictional British governess. In the video, she is telling her two young wards that she has to quit. Why? She makes minimum wage, and it’s not enough to live on.

“Just a three dollar increase can make a living wage,” she sings to the children. She goes onto use all of Mary Poppins’ tricks and tools–little birds, penguins, and so on–to explain how low wages hurt families, businesses, and consumers alike.

Don’t get us wrong: We love this video, and anything that brings this issue to a broader audience helps in our campaign for fair wages.

But unfortunately, Minimum Wage Mary Poppins is not quite accurate when she says an increase to $10.10, as proposed by Democrats and blocked by Republicans in the Senate earlier this year, would constitute a living wage for most Americans:

$10.10 doesn’t keep up with cost of goods. According to the Economic Policy Institute, increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would lift millions out of poverty, but it would still not reach the level it would be if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, and would not come close what the minimum wage would be if it had increased with worker productivity.

Real value of the federal minimum wage, 1968–2013 and 2013–2016 under proposed increase to $10.10 by 2016, compared with its value had it grown at the rate of productivity or average worker wages (2013 dollars)

For most Americans, $10.10 doesn’t keep up with the cost of living. While the cost of living varies depending on where you live, $10.10 an hour doesn’t constitute a “living wage” in most areas, particularly if you have one or more dependents.

For example, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, a single adult can survive in Arkansas on $7.86 an hour, which is still higher than the current minimum wage in Arkansas, $7.25. However, add a kid into the mix, and that shoots up to $16.37.

In a more expensive area like the District of Columbia, a single adult needs a living wage of $13.65, which nearly doubles with the addition of one child.

All this assumes a 40 hour work week. Think those numbers from MIT look bleak? Well, they are actually extremely optimistic, because they assume the adults in question are working 2,080 hours a year, or 40 hours a week for 52 weeks.

First off, no one should have to work 8 hours a day every single day of the year with no days off. Not only is that inhumane, it ignores events like sickness, family emergencies, and any other of the infinite problems that might keep someone from their 8-hour work day

Second of all, and perhaps less obvious, is that the majority of low-wage workers aren’t getting scheduled for close to 40 hours a week. Not in their dreams.

We talk to hundreds of people every night, many of them retail and service workers, and a consistent theme we hear is that schedules are erratic, unpredictable, and insufficient.

Sometimes it’s because managers don’t want workers to exceed the number of hours that would require them to provide health care. Sometimes it’s an issue of favoritism or retaliation, where a manager will assign a better or worse schedule based on how they feel about an employee. And if you take a second part-time job, you have no assurance that the two schedules will line up, or that you’d be able to juggle the demands of two jobs as they constantly change.

Lastly, thank you Kristen Bell. Despite these few omissions, your collaboration with Funny or Die is hilarious, clever, and shines a bright spotlight on an issue that’s too often overlooked.

For the first time in forever, we have a Disney song that helps the economic facts go down.

To join Working America’s fight for fair wages, text RAISE to 30644.

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Trend: This Is How Women Are Standing Up Against Low Wages


It’s no secret that more and more women are staking their claim in the work world. Although women make up a large portion of the workforce, a disproportionate number of them are low-wage workers and problems with fair working conditions persist.

Things like wage theft, the absence of a work/ life balance, unfair schedules and more plague women working in low-wage professions.

But increasingly, these female dominated industries are fighting back, organizing and creating change.

NFL cheerleaders

For the past 8 months, cheerleaders from three NFL teams have begun to speak out against unfair treatment both on and off the field. Grievances ranged from low wages, to wage theft to outright demeaning requests.

Despite the poor working conditions, there have been some glimmers of hope in the form of worker-led organization. Back in May a former dancer called for the unionization of the cheerleaders as a possible remedy to the low wages and unfair conditions that plague the work, and since then the Oakland Raiders have made the decision to finally pay dancers the minimum wage in addition to paying them for work-related events.

Hotel workers

The most dangerous job in the service industry is that of a hotel housekeeper, a role primarily held by women workers.  Many of these workers endure unrealistic work expectations and low pay.

Back in 2013, a group of Albuquerque hotel workers approached the New Mexico arm of Working America because they felt that they weren’t being fairly compensated for cleaning rooms. At the time the workers claimed that they were being paid $3.25 per room, instead of the city-wide minimum wage of $8.50.

The DOL then launched a formal investigation and found that the hotel was indeed paying workers below both the city and Federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

That investigation has prompted fairer wages and policies for workers.

Domestic workers

Women represent 95% of domestic workers, which comprises child and homecare jobs, but across the nation 23% of these workers are paid less than the state minimum wage.

What’s more, it seems that many in-home child care workers aren’t given breaks and are forced to work long, strenuous hours.

But recent victories in California, Massachusetts and New York point to greater rights for this group of workers.

Most recently, a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was passed in Massachusetts. The bill gives workers proper breaks, unpaid sick days, and clarifies working hours. Similar bills have been passed in California and New York.

Photo courtesy of Herald Post via Flickr.

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Low-Wage Villain of the Week: Pharrell


In our new regular feature, we’ll be taking a look at the villains who are doing their best to prevent the United States from raising wages for all or some Americans. We’re going to try to take a look at more than just the usual suspects in these posts, and we’ll probably stay away from government officials to give you a look at other key players who are part of the problem.

This week, our Low-Wage Villain of the Week is Pharrell, the ridiculously popular singer of songs such as “Happy” and “Get Lucky” and producer of hits like last year’s Robin Thicke smash “Blurred Lines.” Why is the inspiring singer this week’s villain? For not catching the irony, as Gawker puts it, of singing the song “Happy” to a Walmart shareholders meeting and having the lack of awareness of what the lives of Walmart workers are like when he said, “Put your hands together for Walmart, guys, for making the world a happier place.”

We’re sure that Pharrell is a really nice guy and that he’s only showing up for a Walmart shareholders’ performance because he doesn’t know that the nation’s largest retailer, owned by the country’s richest family, pays many of its workers such atrocious wages and benefits that they receive public assistance. He probably doesn’t know that a Walmart contractor just settled to pay $21 million for wage theft or the federal government is prosecuting Walmart for illegally firing workers who went on strike to protest retaliation. Certainly, he can’t be aware that the company’s executives are taking home hundreds of millions in compensation while the average worker makes less than $25,000 a year.

There’s no way Pharrell would be “happy” to perform for such a company if he knew the full scope of the problem, but since he hasn’t learned that yet and is helping celebrate a company that makes so many working families unhappy, he’s the Low-Wage Villain of the Week.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW.

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The top actions workers are taking against Walmart this week:


On Wednesday, Walmart workers gathered in more than 20 cities across the country to protest unfair working conditions and low wages.

Today, OUR Walmart community members and protesters will make their way to Walmart’s headquarters to protest during the mega retailer’s annual shareholders meeting.

Here are the actions Working America has taken:

  • In Houston, Working America partnered with UFCW to protest outside of a local WalMart on Wednesday.
  • In Albuquerque, Working America organized a WalMart protest featuring member, activists and community members outside of an Albuquerque Walmart.
  • The AFL-CIO and UFCW will protest in Washington D.C. AT 1PM, today. Participants are encouraged to meet at Union Station; from there the groups will head to a local Walmart.

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80% of Low-Wage Workers Lack Even One Paid Sick Day a Year

More than four in 10 private-sector workers and 80% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. This means people, especially women who are more likely to work in low-wage jobs, constantly have to choose between their health and a paycheck.

A post in Jezebel, brought to you by the AFL-CIO, explains why the lack of paid sick days causes a ripple effect on our health and communities:

In fact, more than 80% of low-wage workers don’t receive a single paid sick day all year. This contributes to the creation of a sickness loop: contagious kids go to school because mom can’t stay home with them; expensive emergency room trips are made that could’ve been prevented; employees show up to work and spread viruses to their customers and co-workers.

When young women can’t stay home to get their sleep and soup on, they venture out into the world where they touch handrails with contaminated hands and sneeze on things. This is the sick, sad world Daria warned us about.

The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely to come to work sick with a contagious illness like the flu:

For example, more than three in four food service and hotel workers (78%) don’t have a single paid sick day—and workers in child care centers and nursing homes overwhelmingly lack paid sick days. This threat to public health is clear.

Last week, House Democrats released a women’s economic policy agenda that including expanding paid sick and family leave.

Read Women Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Their Health and a Paycheck on Jezebel.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Statement by Working America on Recent Events in Bernalillo County, NM

On Tuesday night, at a hearing to consider a minimum-wage raise in Bernalillo County, a Working America staff member and a Working America member were subjected to several smears on social media by prominent figures in New Mexico politics.

The member, a 19-year-old college student from Albuquerque, and our staff member, who has advocated for workers in New Mexico for more than five years, were offering testimony about why a raise in the wage is critical to thousands of families and to the health of the county’s economy.

These degrading comments have no justification and are not fit for public discourse. We thank the community and our allies who have defended our organizers and workers over the last few days amid a frenzy of activity and attention. We have received a direct apology from one of the offending parties and the other has been suspended from his position.

While we are saddened by these comments, it is clear that a few unfortunate choices have neither dampened the victory we feel for the 10,000 working people in Bernalillo County, nor has it diminished our resolve to continue to fight for working families in New Mexico. Now, 50,000 people in Bernalillo County and Albuquerque will have a wage increase that will pour money directly back into New Mexico’s communities, businesses and economy.

We congratulate these two women for their outstanding work. We stand proudly with them and with the working families who represent the best of New Mexico.

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Boston’s Low-Wage Workers Affected by City’s Shutdown

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

While most attention in the Boston tragedy is rightfully focused on the victims of last Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, the damage done by the terrorist attacks didn’t end with the explosions or the subsequent shootout that led to additional deaths. Much of the city shut down during the manhunt for the terror suspects; and while most salaried employees could take the day off without losing pay, low-wage workers did not have that luxury. Other workers were forced to work long hours or brave dangerous conditions to get their jobs done.

Salon took a look at the various ways that the bombings affected workers in Boston, including a fear that many businesses will not compensate low-wage workers for the time off the city’s shutdown required:

“Most low wage workers can’t afford to lose a day’s pay, and there’s no doubt this lockdown will adversely impact the city’s working poor,” said Jessica Kutch, a labor activist who co-founded the organizing site coworker.org, in an email to Salon. “I’d really like to see employers state on the record that their hourly workers will be paid for the time they were scheduled to work today—but I suspect that most employers will place the burden of this shutdown squarely on the backs of people who can least afford it.”

Salon also reported that some businesses are requiring workers to use vacation time, although some relented in the face of internal pushback.

First responders, of course, have been working extended hours, with police and medical personnel working much longer than normal days:

Steven Tolman, the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, told Salon, “They’re doing God’s work,” he said. “They’re exhausted, they’ve been working constantly. The heroism of the people who were there and saw things that they never thought they’d see in their life is just incredible.”

“It’s justification why public employees are entitled to a decent pension and the best health care because they put so much on the line in a time of need,” he said.

Workers in some industries have been necessary for supporting law enforcement engaged in the hunt for the suspects or stranded tourists while transportation has been limited:

Brian Lang, the president of UNITE HERE Local 26, told Salon that many of the hotel workers he represents have been working double shifts with little time off, as many of the guests have been unable to leave the city. Police from out of town have completely occupied some hotels, while authorities set up a command center at the Westin downtown, just blocks from the bombing.

“Those hotels were full of people all week, so our members in there were like the second responders,” Lang said. “There were the first responders who aided the people who were directly affected by the bombings, but many of the folks who were affected were from out of town and they were staying at these hotels. They were exhausted, they were traumatized, and it was the hotel workers who comforted them, fed them, who made sure they had clean, safe rooms to say in.”

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