Trumka: Yes, You Should Ask for a Raise

This post originally appeared in the U.S. News & World Report.

In 2015, nearly 5 million American workers might get a pay raise. By joining together to ask for one. Through a union.

Minimum wage hikes, overtime expansion, paid sick leave and other policy improvements are important to raise wages in America. But the best way for workers to get a raise is by asking for one with a collective voice. That’s what workers do—bargain together in unions to improve our lives.

And this is an exceptional moment for raising wages through collective bargaining. More new contracts will be bargained by unions and employers in 2015 than at any other point in modern American labor history.

Autoworkers in Michigan, public workers in Illinois and New Jersey, communication workers at AT&T and Verizon, clerks at Kroger and Foodtown, postal workers, employees of Disneyland and others will negotiate wages and benefits. Government will not dictate the outcome. Workers expressing their collective voice will sit down with management and decide on a fair allocation of the rising profits resulting from the recovery.

Five million workers asking for a raise? Yeah, and it’s about time. All U.S. workers should ask for more. Wages have been stagnant for over a decade. In fact, between 1997 and 2012, the income of those in the bottom 90 percent fell by $2,868, even as workers’ productivity rose. Current data tell the same story. The last two months point to economic recovery and robust job growth, but with virtually no upward effect on wages.

What we are seeing is wage theft on a grand, macroeconomic scale. Workers feel deep frustration in the face of the relentless disparity between productivity and wages. I know, because that’s what they tell me. In every industry, in every state, at every hourly wage level. But workers don’t need any more economic analysis; we want solutions.

That’s why collective bargaining is so important in 2015 and long term. First, income inequality is not just a low-wage worker problem; falling wages are a fact for workers at every pay level up to the top 10 percent. Second, collective bargaining is the primary way to address wage stagnation across the whole economy. Income inequality is not a mysterious phenomenon; it results from the economic rules we have created. It can be solved by changing those rules.

And that solution must recognize the precarious position of workers acting alone. Again, today’s data support this assertion. A January story in The Wall Street Journal reported on a survey of U.S. workers that found while only 8 percent were satisfied with their pay, fewer than half had asked for a raise. The Journal concluded, “When it comes to pay, people are afraid to ask for more.”

Workers should not be afraid to demand what we have earned. Unions and collective bargaining are critical to righting this imbalance. Historically, when unions are strong, wages rise in proportion to profit. And it is not only union members who benefit; there is a spillover effect lifting the pay of all workers. From 1935, when the National Labor Relation Act was passed, to 1980, almost 70 percent of income growth benefited the bottom 90 percent and only 7.1 percent went to the top 1 percent.

Collective bargaining is ground zero in the debate about raising wages in America. It should be front and center as Congress considers policy and as presidential candidates announce agendas. Moreover, the results will illuminate the larger issue underpinning chronic wage stagnation: that vibrant worker organizations are key to restoring the balance of economic power in our country.

Even workers who are not yet represented by a union should be encouraged to speak up, especially with a collective voice. No worker should be afraid to ask for a raise, and federal law protects that right. Everyone who works should ask for a raise in 2015. We deserve it, and the health of our economy depends on it.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Republican Presidential Candidates Are Scrambling to See Who Hates the Minimum Wage the Most

During a stop in South Carolina this week, former Florida Gov. (and potential Republican presidential candidate) Jeb Bush came out in opposition to the federal minimum wage.  Although his spokespeople later dialed back the rhetoric, Bush initially said:

We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this. This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I’m sure–I haven’t looked at the polling, but I’m sure on the surface, without any conversation, without any digging into it people say, ‘Yea, everybody’s wages should be up.’ And in the case of Walmart they have raised wages because of supply and demand, and that’s good.

But the federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people, particularly for people that have less education.

Bush is far from the only potential GOP presidential nominee to come out against raising the minimum wage, and several of the leading contenders have expressed opposition to the federal minimum wage’s very existence. It’s almost as if being opposed to making sure workers earn enough to support their families is a litmus test in the lead-up to the Republican primaries.  Even those not expressing outright opposition have been spoutinglong-disproven myths about the minimum wage. Here’s what the gang of anti-worker extremists who want to run the country have been saying:

Ben Carson (Maryland): Wrote and op-ed titled: “Obama is wrong that raising minimum wage will fix income inequality.”

Chris Christie (New Jersey):  “I gotta tell you the truth, I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage, I really am.”

Lindsey Graham (South Carolina): “This is an emotional issue. From an economic point of view, if you want to increase the minimum wage, you’re going to displace probably a million people from the economy at a time when we should be hiring people.”

Mike Huckabee (Arkansas): “Raising the minimum wage to $15, or more in some cases, is an issue that you don’t have to declare yourself a socialist to back. It’s becoming more popular, because it sounds so generous and so easy. Being generous with other people’s money is always easy. It’s true that a lot of people on the lower end of the pay scale are having a tough time these days. But in many cases, small business owners who pay the minimum wage for entry level workers are putting in so many hours and taking so little out that they’re lucky to make minimum wage themselves. If they have to double what they’re paying their employees, they’ll have no choice to fire half of them. And that doesn’t really help the workers.”

Bobby Jindal (Louisiana): “I’m not ideologically opposed to ever raising the minimum wage. I just don’t think now is the right moment.”

Sarah Palin (Alaska): “I don’t know, why are you even worried about fast food wages? Well, we believe — an America where minimum wage jobs, they’re not lifetime gigs, they’re stepping stones to sustainable wages. It teaches work ethic.”

Rand Paul (Kentucky): “When you set the minimum wage, it may cause unemployment. The least skilled people in our society have more trouble getting work the higher you make the minimum wage.”

Rick Perry (Texas): Said it’s not “the government’s business” to be setting the minimum wage and that raising the minimum wage would cost jobs.

Marco Rubio (Florida):  “I don’t think a minimum wage law works….I want people to make a lot more than $9 — $9 is not enough. The problem is you can’t do that by mandating it in the minimum wage laws. Minimum wage laws have never worked in terms of having the middle class attain more prosperity.”

Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania):  Said he supports some kind of increase, but opposed the $10.10 minimum wage proposed by Democrats.

Scott Walker (Wisconsin): Said he doesn’t think the minimum wage “serves a purpose.”

These comments come, of course, after more than one of these candidates voted for or supported minimum wage increases in the past.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Officials Attempt to Delay Minimum Wage Increase in New Mexico’s Largest County—And Fail

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In 2013, Working New Mexico members fought for a minimum wage increase in Bernalillo County—and won. Bernalillo is the most populous county in the state and includes the city of Albuquerque.

The increase included a cost of living adjustment, but on January 1, 2015 workers were disappointed that the cost of living adjustment had not been implemented. When a reporter spoke with Commissioner Wayne Johnson about the cost of living adjustment not being enforced, he stated it was an oversight by the commission and they were trying to resolve the issue but a resolution might come as late as 2016.

The minimum wage workers would be losing $0.15 per hour. For a full-time worker, that would equal $312 a year, or a week’s worth of pay.  When Commissioner Johnson stated that it was an oversight on part of the Board of Commissioners, Working America members were upset because this meant that they would not have $312 extra this year to help support themselves and their families.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson also said about the delayed increase that the “damage was minimal if any.” This remark was out of step with the realities faced by minimum wage workers in this country.

On January 13, ten of our members attended the County Commissioners meeting and two of our members testified against the delay. They confronted Commissioner Wayne Johnson about his comments.  One of our members explained how this increase would affect him as a minimum wage student worker. Jaen Ugalde said, “$312 could help us pay for a month of rent, or for a portion of our books.” Lorenzo Pino urged the commissioners to vote on the measure that night to bring relief to Bernalillo County’s low-income families.

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Thanks to our members’ presence and heartfelt testimony, the commissioners took action that night, voting 3 to 2 in favor of a minimum wage cost of living adjustment. It will take effect on January 26, 2015. Commissioners Maggie Stebbins, Debbie O’Malley and Art De La Cruz voted in favor. Unfortunately Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert were the two votes against resolving the delayed cost of living adjustment.

By standing together as Working New Mexico, our members shed light on the plight of low wage workers and their families – and won. Without our members’ work, Bernalillo County officials could have easily gotten away with delaying a much needed cost-of-living adjustment. Working New Mexico, a project of Working America, is committed to standing up for our communities and putting the issues of everyday working people front and center—and when possible, forcing our leaders to take immediate action.

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Trumka: Obama ‘Forcefully Advocated for Working Families’ in State of Union

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “President Obama eloquently and forcefully advocated for working families throughout his State of the Union Address,” last night. He also said:

The  president’s focus on raising wages through collective bargaining, better paying jobs, a fairer tax code, fair overtime rules, and expanded access to education and earned leave sent the right message at the right time.

Read the rest of the statement below:

So did his embrace of union apprentices and immigrants who want to achieve the American Dream. The president has again demonstrated his strong commitment to creating an economy that truly works for all working people.

Fighting income inequality is one of the biggest challenges of our time. As Oxfam recently reminded us, the world’s wealth continues to be increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few. If we are serious about solving this monumental challenge, the size of the solutions must meet the scale of the problem. We must have a similarly vigorous response to the barriers to raising wages: our opposition to fast-tracked trade deals that are giant giveaways to big corporations must be resolute. We can’t face the competitive challenge of China with a trade deal that fails to adequately address currency manipulation, climate change or that gives corporations rights that people don’t have.

Now is the time for politicians to champion a Raising Wages agenda that ties all the pieces of economic and social justice together. America has now heard what the president thinks about this agenda. We thank the president for his passion and his advocacy. We are ready to see what he and Congress will do about it. That is the ultimate standard of accountability.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

A series of recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) make clear the case for why wages have stagnated in the United States.

Before digging into the details, it’s important to note a few things. First off, wage stagnation is not a small problem, it’s something that affects 90% of all workers. As one of the authors of these reports, Lawrence Mishel, says: “Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009 and 2013, real wages fell for the entire bottom 90 percent of the wage distribution.” Second, while the Great Recession made things worse, the problem goes back 35 years. And third, and most importantly, wage stagnation is a matter of choice, not necessity.

Here are five real reasons why wages have stagnated in the United States.

1.  The abandonment of full employment: For a variety of reasons, policy makers largely have focused on keeping inflation rates low, even if that meant high unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers means companies are under less pressure to offer good wages or benefits in order to attract workers. Since the Great Recession, austerity measures at all levels of government have made this problem worse. EPI says excessive unemployment “has been a key cause of wage inequality, since research shows that high rates of unemployment dampen wage growth more for workers at the bottom of the wage ladder than at the middle, and more at the middle than at the top.”

2. Declining union density: As extreme pro-business interests have pushed policies that lower union membership, the wages of low- and middle-wage workers have stagnated. Higher unionization leads to higher wages, and the decrease in unionization has led to the opposite effect. The decline in the density of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements not only has weakened the ability of unionized workers to fight for their own wages and benefits, but also their ability to set higher standards for nonunion workers. EPI notes: “The decline of unions can explain about a third of the entire growth of wage inequality among men and around a fifth of the growth among women from 1973 to 2007.” Read much more about the connection between the decline of collective bargaining and wage stagnation.

3. Changes in labor market policies and business practices: EPI argues: “A range of changes in what we call labor market policies and business practices have weakened wage growth in recent decades.” Among the numerous changes they describe include: the lowering of the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage, the decrease in overtime eligibility for workers, increasing wage theft (particularly affecting immigrant workers), misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and declining budgets and staff for government agencies that enforce labor standards.

4. Deregulation of the finance industry and the unleashing of CEOs: The deregulation of finance has contributed to lower wages in several ways, including the shifting of compensation toward the upper end of the spectrum, the use of the financial sector’s political power to favor low inflation over low unemployment as a policy goal, and the deregulation of international capital flows, which has kept policy makers from addressing imbalances, such as the U.S. trade deficit. EPI adds: “Falling top tax rates, preferential tax treatment of stock options and bonuses, failures in corporate governance, and the deregulation of finance all combined to increase the incentive and the ability of well-placed economic actors to claim larger incomes over the past generation.”

5. Globalization policies: Decades spent in pursuit of policies that prioritized corporate interests over worker interests led to lowering of wages for middle- and lower-income workers in the United States. EPI concludes: “International trade has been a clear factor suppressing wages in the middle of the wage structure while providing a mild boost to the top, particularly since 1995.”

EPI has also provided nine charts that lay out the picture of U.S. wage stagnation very clearly.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFL-CIO to Take Raising Wages Campaign to States and Cities

At the AFL-CIO’s National Summit on Raising Wages last week, President Richard Trumka announced two important new parts of the labor federation’s agenda.  This spring, the federation will sponsor Raising Wages summits in four key states. Additionally, the AFL-CIO will organize projects in seven cities to focus on raising wages in those locales.

Trumka explained the reason for the stepped-up efforts:

American workers are beginning to say “enough.” We are beginning to rise up, to come together, to reject the idea that there is nothing we can do about falling wages. We are tired of people talking about inequality as if nothing can be done. The answer is simple—raise the wages of the 90% of Americans whose wages are lower today than they were in 1997.  Families don’t need to hear more about income inequality—they need more income.

AFL-CIO’s state labor federations in the first four presidential primary states—Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina will take place in the spring. These summits will bring together diverse voices to lay out the entire raising wages platform and establish state-based standards of accountability. Trumka talked about the significance of those states: “Raising wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged. That means accountability, and it starts with something we all understand—presidential politics.”

After working with affiliates and community partners, the AFL-CIO identified the 10 cities for raising wages campaigns where they could have the most significant impact. The cities include Atlanta, Columbus, District of Columbia (Metro), St. Louis, Philadelphia, Minneapolis & St. Paul, Houston, Miami, Dallas and San Diego. In each city, the labor movement will stand together with those already at work and bring important energy, ideas and resources to critical battles.

These new campaigns are the beginning of the federation’s efforts to expand the raising wages agenda.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Overtime Pay Rule Needs ‘Bold’ Action, says Trumka

President Barack Obama needs to “go bold” with the upcoming revision of overtime pay rules expected shortly from the Department of Labor, says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. In the video above, he says:

Raising wages is the issue of our time. And President Obama has a tremendous chance to raise the wages of millions of Americans out there. We’re urging him to go bold and to not dilute the overtime regulation that’s about to come out.

In March, Obama directed the Labor Department to update overtime eligibility rules to restore the overtime protection 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, and workers’ overtime protections have been steadily eroded by inflation.

The current federal threshold is $455 per week—or $23,660 per year—and to simply make up for inflation, Trumka said it should be raised to $51,168. He told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent:

The spotlight is now on raising wages. Raising wages is the key unifying progressive value that ties all the pieces of economic and social justice together. We think the president has a great opportunity to show that he is behind that agenda by increasing the overtime regulations to a minimum threshold of $51,168. That’s the marker.

As Trumka said the $51,168 is the least the administration should do. Some members of Congress have called for a $54,000 threshold, and in a recent Politico column Seattle entrepreneur and billionaire Nick Hanauer wrote the threshold should be set at $69,000.

Business groups are adamantly opposed to raising workers’ wages with a new overtime pay rule and have lobbied the White House against raising the threshold. There has been speculation the Obama administration may settle on a lower adjustment that falls far short of what’s needed to make up for 30 years of inflation.

Trumka told Sargent that business groups will oppose the move no matter where Obama sets the threshold.

Why would you settle for a figure that excludes millions of people when they’re not going to support that, either? The president should go full throttle on restoring the 40-hour workweek and not dilute this opportunity for raising wages.

More than 6.1 million workers would become eligible for overtime pay if the threshold was raised to $51,168. But 2.6 million would still be left out of overtime protection if the figure was set at the $42,000, which some suspect the Labor Department is eyeing. Click here for an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) chart showing how many workers would get a raise under various proposed thresholds.

When the proposed revision was announced, EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey said 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.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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With 252,000 New Jobs, December Unemployment Drops to 5.6%

The economy added 252,000 jobs in December and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.6% from November’s 5.8%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the year, the unemployment rate has dropped by 1.1 percentage points and the number of jobless workers has decreased by 1.7 million.

Job growth in 2014—2.95 million new jobs—was the best since 1999. But as speakers at this week’s AFL-CIO National Summit on Raising Wages pointed out, even with better job growth this year, wages remain stagnant. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez outlined the defining economic fact of the past generation: productivity has gone way up and wages have stayed flat. (Read more about the summit here and here.)

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was unchanged from November at 2.8 million, and over the past 12 months, the number of long-term jobless workers has decreased by 1.1 million.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in professional and business services (52,000), construction (48,000), food services (44,000), health care (34,000) and manufacturing (17,000).

Other sectors that showed increases included financial activities (20,000), construction (20,000) and transportation and warehousing (17,000). Employment in wholesale trade and financial activities showed slight gains.

Employment in other major industries, including retail trade, mining and logging, information, warehousing and government, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates in November for adult women (5%) decreased from November’s 5.2%. The rates for men (5.3%), teenagers (16.8%), blacks (10.4%), Latinos (6.5%) and whites (4.8%) showed little change in December.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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#ChangeZara Campaign Shows Results for New York Retail Workers

#ChangeZara Campaign Shows Results for New York Retail Workers

The #ChangeZara campaign began for workers at the retail clothing chain’s stores in New York City last May, with employees asking for more pay and for the company to treat them with dignity and respect. The efforts finally paid off when the company texted the workers that they would be receiving a wage increase this January. Zara also is increasing the number of full-time positions in its stores. For many employees, the raise is significant. Valery Jourdan, for instance, will see her salary increase by $2.50 an hour.

The campaign, sponsored by the Retail Action Project and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), was started by Zara employees, who began organizing because they said that too many of them were part-time and couldn’t afford to buy the clothes that they sold. They asked for more hours, better pay, advanced notification of schedules and opportunities for professional growth. Nearly a year later, their organizing efforts paid off.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Chicago to Raise Minimum Wage to $13 Per Hour

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In the wake of federal and state inaction, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) recently proposed raising the minimum wage within the city limits to $13 per hour. A key City Council committee advanced the measure on a 16–3 vote Monday and the broader council passed it 44–5 Tuesday. The current wage of $8.25 will move to $10 early next year and will rise in increments until it reaches the full $13 in 2019.

The increase could affect more than 400,000 workers in the city. Emanuel fast-tracked the higher wage out of fears that the legislature and governor might pre-empt local increases. A bill to raise the statewide minimum wage recently stalled.

Emanuel said:

A higher minimum wage ensures that nobody who works in the city of Chicago will ever struggle to reach the middle class or be forced to raise their child in poverty. Today, Chicago has shown that our city is behind a fair working wage.

Action Now, a local working families organization that championed the measure, applauded the measure and noted that it included domestic workers, unlike previous laws:

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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