With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour and an increase facing stiff opposition from congressional Republicans, coalitions of union, community, faith and other groups are mobilizing to win increases in state and local minimum wage levels. Here’s a look at some recent wins and campaigns where AFL-CIO state federations and central labor councils are playing big roles.
Raising the minimum wage will make a real difference in the lives of workers, many of whom are adults working full-time, and many of whom have families to support.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, raising New York’s minimum wage to $9.00 per hour will benefit more than 1.5 million New York workers—more than one in five workers in New York. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that increasing New York’s minimum wage to $9.00 per hour will generate more than $1.1 billion in new economic activity, supporting the creation of 10,200 new full-time jobs as businesses expand to meet increased consumer demand.
San Jose, Calif., recently increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour after a campaign that united the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and San Jose Downtown Association in winning a ballot measure to boost the city’s minimum wage.
Meanwhile in Hawaii, the state House passed legislation to raise the Aloha State’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2017 in four steps. The state Senate is expected to vote on the bill next month.
In Maine last week, the state House also voted to boost the state’s minimum wage, from the current $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour by 2016 in in three steps. The bill also protects the wage from losing its value inflation by indexing it to inflation. The bill awaits state Senate action.
A bill to increase the Minnesota minimum wage to $10.55 an hour over three years is making it way through the House. It already has been approved by three committees and further action is expected later in the spring. It also is indexed against inflation. The bill is a key part of the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Agenda for Dignity and Middle Class Fairness.
Looking down the road, New Jersey voters will decide this fall on a ballot measure to raise the Garden State’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour and index it against inflation. The New Jersey State AFL-CIO plans a major effort around the measure. In January, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a minimum wage bill.
There are also campaigns or legislation under way to increase the minimum wage in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico and Rhode Island.
Not quite two years ago, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) ordered the removalof an 11-panel, 36-foot mural depicting the state’s labor history from the Department of Labor. LePage, who supports “right to work” for less laws and has pushed to weaken child labor laws, claimed the mural was anti-business and akin to North Korean propaganda.
The mural had been held in a secret location while the controversy gained nationwide attention. But it is back on public display after the state Department of Labor and Maine State Museum reached an agreement to display the mural for three years at the Augusta Museum. It was unveiled at its new location today.
At last the labor mural will see the light of day. The governor’s actions disrespected generations of hard-working Maine people. It’s unfortunate the mural was put in hiding for two years. Where was it hidden?…That’s the million-dollar question.
The mural, by artist Judy Taylor, was commissioned by former Gov. John Baldacci (D). The scenes it depicts include a 1986 paper mill strike, “Rosie the Riveter” at the Bath Iron Works, the enactment of child labor laws, the first Labor Day and Frances Perkins, the first female secretary of labor and promoter of New Deal policies that improved workers’ rights on the job.
In the fall of 2011, a reproduction of the mural was displayed at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. The reproduction was exhibited at several sites as the fight over the mural, which made its way through the federal courts, continued.
As I write this, the entire Working America team is currently stuffed into an overflow room where injured workers wait to testify in opposition to this legislation. One reason we’re in here is the sheer number of injured workers who have come to the state capital in Augusta to share their stories. The other reason? The large group of insurance industry representatives, who have rallied as a buffer to our testimonies, are taking up a healthy amount of the seating.
The public hearings for “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Workers’ Compensation” are being held today in the midst of a legislative session where we have seen repeated attacks on workers.
As we sit here with workers who have been severely injured on the job and even permanently disabled from the workplace, it’s appalling to think that this bill would deny many of these people long-term support for permanent impairment in the workplace due to severe physical and mental trauma.
In spite of the odds against us, I’ve been buoyed by the amount of support that we’ve encountered from our members; going door to door, answering our calls, and getting fired up enough to be here with us during the testimony.
Larry, one of our members who came to our Labor Lobby Day last Thursday, remarked to me: “I had always viewed unions as a classically Democratic institution; at least that’s how the media and my party seem to portray it. I’ve learned a lot today about a side to these issues and unions that I never knew before. It’s interesting that there is a whole side that you don’t even hear.” He now sits with us in solidarity during workers’ testimony, eager to learn more about an issue of which he was only exposed to one side.
Though Republicans enjoy full control over Maine’s lawmaking process, they’ve dropped a push to require certain photo identification in order to vote.
Though Maine Republicans were considering voter ID legislation at the beginning of the year, Democrats vociferously objected because the bill could prevent thousands of Mainers from voting, particularly elderly individuals. On Friday, Republicans acceded to those objections, striking the voter ID language from an election law bill. This is the second time voter ID has failed to pass the GOP-controlled Maine legislature. Last year, a voter ID bill failed in the Senate after first being passed by the House.
It does speak well for them that they were concerned about disenfranchising elderly voters. But:
Maine Republicans were chastened during the 2011 session after they passed a bill to eliminate the state’s 38 year-old law allowing for Election Day registration, only to see their move overturned by a citizens veto in November. More than 60 percent of Mainers rebuked the legislature and voted to restore Election Day registration.
This is the real bottom line. Over 60 percent of Maine voters trounced them with a citizen’s veto. They don’t want to get that kind of a public spanking again any time soon.
Put in its place was a resolve calling on the Secretary of State to study changes that might need to be made to Maine’s election system, “So that when we do do something there won’t be this tugging back and forth and running out to a people’s veto,” says Republican Committee member Sen. Deb Plowman of Hampden.
Plowman is referring to a vote that happened over another voting rights issue. In November, Maine voters soundly overturned a new law pushed by Republicans that banned the decades-old practice of allowing Election Day voter registration.
But Shenna Bellows of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine challenged the need for legislators to call for a study. “In these difficult economic times, it’s irresponsible to waste taxpayer resources on a study to tell the secretary of state to do his job. It is not necessary to use a study to fix clerical errors or administrative errors,” Bellows says.
Summers says his primary concern is people voting when they shouldn’t be. He says his office is actively investigating instances of non-citizens participating in elections.
In September 2011, I wrote about Maine’s GOP Chair trying to create proof of widespread voter fraud by coming up with a list of 200 students that he claimed were voting fraudulently in Maine. This proved to be untrue, in all 200 cases – but this was the “reasoning” used to gin up folks to support a Voter ID law.
The resolution isn’t necessary, given that the Secretary of State was the one who investigated the nonexistent student voter fraud From the Bangor Daily News:
After a two-month investigation into possible voter fraud by college students and noncitizens, Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers said Wednesday his evidence showed that none of the students committed fraud and only one noncitizen voted in Maine.
Nevertheless, Summers said his investigation confirmed his belief that Maine’s election system is “fragile and vulnerable,” and he vowed to submit legislation in January to fix some of the problems
Given that Summers has already announced his intention, the legislative resolution really isn’t needed.
This is good news for Maine voters and taxpayers – who really taught their legislature a lesson with the people’s veto of the bill to eliminate same day registration.
Voter ID continues to be a solution looking for a problem.
This winter has been especially austere. As part of the drive to cut spending, the Obama administration and Congress have trimmed the energy-assistance program that helps the poor — 65,000 households in Maine alone — to pay their heating bills. Eligibility is harder now, and the average amount given here is $483, down from $804 last year, all at a time when the price of oil has risen more than 40 cents in a year, to $3.71 a gallon.
As a result, Community Concepts, a community-action program serving western Maine, receives dozens of calls a day from people seeking warmth. But Dana Stevens, its director of energy and housing, says that he has distributed so much of the money reserved for emergencies that he fears running out. This means that sometimes the agency’s hot line purposely goes unanswered.
So Mainers try to make do. They warm up in idling cars, then dash inside and dive under the covers. They pour a few gallons of kerosene into their oil tank and hope it lasts.
In cold climates, people with outside oil tanks burn kerosene, because regular heating oil turns into a gel when it freezes, and clogs up the pipes. Kerosene doesn’t freeze. It’s also even more expensive than regular heating oil.
For older Mainers who live in drafty houses, that $483 isn’t going to go very far. It’s not even enough to fill up the tank once. A standard oil tank holds 275 gallons. Right now in Maine the cost of oil is approximately $4.00 a gallon.
How the cuts affect low income households varies by state. In Vermont, the effect will be minimal: State lawmakers are dipping into reserves to make up the shortfall from Washington’s cuts.
No such luck in Maine, which saw its allotment drop from $56 million to $38.5 million. Last year 64,000 Maine households received LIHEAP assistance, with an average benefit of $804. The quasi-state agency that manages LIHEAP will make sure no fewer people receive assistance, partially by shifting funds and partially by slashing the average benefit to $483.
John and Joan McAdams, a Maine couple in their 70′s, are doing this:
“At night we leave it down to 50 and during the day right now we run it at 60 degrees,” he said. “This is ludicrous. The wealthy can handle it. We haven’t got any money. I go to the food bank. All I get is outdated cans and a lot of spaghetti. There’s a rich versus poor situation in this country. It’s bad.”
He’s right. This is bad. This is the end result of the austerity we heard mentioned so proudly: older people freezing in their homes in what is considered the wealthiest country in the world.
In state capitals across the country, the legislators who should be accountable to voters are busy pushing ways to keep more voters away from the polls. Harsh crackdowns on voting are a disturbing trend that could block millions from exercising their basic rights.
Behind these laws is the heavily corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, which wrote sample voter-restriction legislation for numerous states—legislation later introduced by state legislators who are members of ALEC. And they fall hardest on young voters, elderly voters, minorities and those struggling economically—the people whose voices are already too frequently excluded from the political conversation, drowned out by corporate interests like those who fund ALEC.
This isn’t a tricky issue. Voting is the fundamental building block of participatory democracy. Everyone should have access to it, without having to jump through hoops or pay to take part. (That’s why restoring democracy by ensuring full voting rights is one of the 9 Demands of the 99 Percent.)
It seems to us that the state should find some evidence that fraud is a problem before embracing a solution that will make it harder for some folks to vote — and cost a bunch of money, too.
These limits on voter access are justified with tales of large-scale “voter fraud” that are, to put it generously, misleading.
There are many serious studies that have looked at whether vote fraud is really an occurrence that commonly happens and commonly distorts elections—and the evidence says the answer is no. A New Mexico study found the rate of fraudulent registration was less than one ten thousandth of one percent and the rate of actual fraudulent voting was around two hundred thousandths of a percent. An investigation into suspected voter fraud by Maine’s Attorney General found exactly zero actual infractions. A study of Wisconsin in 2004 found only seven cases of fraud out of 3 million votes cast. (Even the people who want to push the voter fraud myth can’t seem to come up with significant numbers.) These are just not the kind of numbers that indicate a public policy problem, especially one that could deter so many legitimate voters from participating.
Thankfully, in Ohio, the legislature’s proposed limits on voter access will go to the voters as a referendum before they take effect. Other states might not be so lucky, and we could see the next election marred by deliberate efforts to undercut the high levels of participation we saw in 2008.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 right to vote and choose our leaders is at the heart of what it means to be an American. If we don’t like the decisions our elected officials are making, we can simply vote them out.
Some politicians and the corporations who bankroll their campaigns are now trying to make it harder for working Mainers to vote, by taking away our time-honored right to register on Election Day. They know that if we have less of a voice, it will be easier for them to stay in power. That way they can continue to give tax breaks to the wealthy, and keep ignoring the needs of the other 99%.
This Tuesday, Mainers have the chance to stop them – and keep same-day voter registration – by voting YES on Question 1.
I work at the polls. We don’t have a great number of folks coming in to register that day. I’ve seen our registrar of voters send people home to get needed identification materials. It isn’t as easy as the opponents would have us believe. I am angry about the ad identifying this vote as being about ethics law.
However, Maine people are on the ground fighting back. When the money started flooding the state, hard working Maine people opened their wallets and pitched in what they could. Volunteers are making phone calls and knocking on doors while people too busy to volunteer are using their social media to remind their friends to vote Yes On 1. Our voting rights will be lost or protected almost entirely through neighbor-to-neighbor conversations.
Across the country, Republican lawmakers are rolling back voting rights so much that the Brennan Center anticipates more than 5 million people will be unable to vote in the 2012 election for president. If we win, Maine will be the first state to successfully fight back.
Our leaders should worry less about their job security and more about ours – that means treating our vote as the fundamental American right that it is.
Thomas from Bath put it best, “If we endanger our right to vote, we cripple our democracy.”
As Occupy Maine in Portland raises awareness about the excess of corporate greed in the US and the need for significant change in our economic system, these dedicated protesters have dealt with recent challenges, including violence against Occupy protesters in Maine and across the U.S. In response to a recent bomb incident at the Occupy Portland camp, Occupy Portland conducted a “We Shall Overcome” march from Monument Square in the heart of Portland to the Occupy encampment in Lincoln Park. After the march Occupy protesters talked about public support for the Occupy movement. It is apparent to us at Working America in Maine that our membership is overwhelmingly supportive of the Occupy message.
Every night we talk with people through face to face conversations at their doors and on the phone and what we are hearing is that working class people in Maine are tired of policies that benefit the 1% in this country. Our members are part of the 99% and while they might not all be able to camp out in Lincoln Park they are demanding the same kind of changes proposed by the Occupy movement. We thought it was important to let the dedicated folks at Occupy Portland know that their message is being heard across Maine.
As a way to show our appreciation for their dedication Working America in Maine put together a “book” that included member quotes in support of the movement:
I’m a disabled vet, so I can’t join you, but I’m so glad you all are there. It’s way past time that the rich cats be accountable and that the working class people of our country and the world finally had a voice. It’s important that your movement continue and grow, not only as a non-violent movement on the ground but as an organized political force that can counter and reverse the massive, well organized and financed forces of the rich.
-John from Auburn
My name is Marge. I’m originally from Philly & South Jersey, live in Maine now. I support you 100%, and appreciate what you’re doing to try to save this country from Wall Street greed & corruption. I’m 71 years old and lived through a time when you could trust banks, corporations & politicians. It’s so sad to live in this time when you can’t trust any of them. I boycott large banks; I boycott stores that don’t support American-made products. National boycotts would put a real threat in their boardrooms.
-Margaret from Brunswick
I can’t thank you enough for staying strong and fighting the good fight. What you are doing is long overdue and I am so proud of you and to have lived long enough to see that we might reach the finish line and take our country back and be the free spirits our Founding Fathers envisioned. May the Great Spirit be with all of you!
-Elissa from Berwick
In addition to member quotes, we included photos from a recent “I am Not Your ATM” event that we conducted with Occupy Portland. Occupy Portland protesters were touched to hear the stories of Mainers who stand with the Occupy movement in spirit but who are unable to attend rallies or camp out in the park. At the end of the event I was excited to know that there are so many people dedicated to fighting for the 99% in Maine. Whether it is the Working America member writing a letter to the editor or an Occupy protester camping in Lincoln Park, it is apparent that the movement for the 99% is only going to pick up steam in the weeks ahead.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage reiterates his support for rolling back child labor laws:
LePage doesn’t see the problem:
I went to work at 11 years old. I became governor. It’s not a big deal. Work doesn’t hurt anybody.
First of all, I’d question that he went to work in the way this law allows for—going from school to a job at McDonald’s or WalMart for several hours every single day—at age 11. And as to whether it hurts anybody, Amanda Terkel quotes the director of public policy for the Maine Women’s Lobby:
“Just look at the studies linking increases in substance abuse, delinquency, on the job injury and teen pregnancy with teens working long hours — I think it is a big deal, and yes it does hurt somebody.”
Maine has 7 percent unemployment and a 20 percent high school dropout rate. The last thing Maine needs to do is educate kids less on their way to receiving less wages for more work.
I’ll say again: Nothing about this will put a single person back to work, nor will it reduce the deficit by a penny. It’s about politicians doing the bidding of wealthy donors and hoping the Middle Class is too exhausted, undereducated, and overworked to notice us going back to the labor laws of the 19th century.
And finally, Gov. LePage mischaracterizes the provisions of the law he’s advocating for. Whether that was done with intention to mislead his audience or because he simply doesn’t know what the bill says, Maine blogger Dirigo Blue notes that:
this is important, as many in the audience have never heard of LD1346, and will leave the auditorium believing what the Governor has told them.