The 2013 legislative session in Minnesota will certainly go down in history, as that state became the first in the Midwest to approve marriage equality through the legislature.
However, relief for over 300,000 minimum wage workers in Minnesota was kicked to the curb, as the session ended Monday at midnight with no action on HF 92, the bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $9.50 and tied it to inflation.
Legislators arrived at an impasse after the Senate passed its own minimum wage bill, which raised the wage to only $0.50 above the federal minimum and had no ties to inflation – meaning years upon years could pass without another increase.
Outside the capital, support for a minimum wage increase is broad. A recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed nearly 70 percent of Minnesotans support an increase in the state minimum wage, with 41 percent supporting the House’s $9.50 per hour increase.
Republicans were uniform in their opposition the increase in both houses. Unfortunately, too many DFL senators also fell prey to the influence of restaurant industry lobbyists and other special interests like ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce. Rumors suggest that the minimum wage increase may have been used as a bargaining chit in negotiations on other issues.
“We’re talking about a pay increase for 350,000 Minnesota workers that would help the economy and make a big difference in their lives,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), the sponsor of HF 92 in the House, “And if the people who say they’re Democrats aren’t willing to do that then I question whether they’re being honest about their own values.”
“Hard work should pay for all Minnesotans and a minimum wage increase would ensure that low-wage workers are part of Minnesota’s economic recovery,” said MN AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson, “We’re not going to give up on them.”
Working America, along with the Minnesota AFL-CIO and other allies, will continue to advocate for a minimum wage increase over the summer and into the 2014 legislative session. In the meantime, we can recognize some of the 2013 session’s other accomplishments including: the extension of unemployment benefits for locked out workers, improvements to workers’ compensation, an infrastructure bonding bill, the passage of an MN “Dream Act,” and an incredible investment in education that includes universal all-day kindergarten.
On March 29, 2013, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez vetoed a bill passed by both the House and Senate increasing the minimum wage to $8.50. That was Good Friday – obviously Gov. Martinez wanted to do veto our raise on a day when very few were paying attention.
New Mexico’s low-wage workers, who number about 84,000, are getting restless. As the video shows, several workers with the group OLE New Mexico tried to contact Gov. Martinez to ask what her reasoning was behind the veto, but were blocked at every turn. Not a single staff member could give justification for this action, and most frequently got an answering machine or were asked to submit a request through the website.
Gov. Martinez lack of transparency on an issue that affects so many New Mexicans is disturbing. As the only person standing between 84,000 workers and their raise, she owes the state a better explanation of her actions.
Journalists are fixated on union members’ donations to the Los Angeles mayoral race to elect Wendy Greuel, Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, writes in a Los Angeles Times column. But one issue is being largely ignored: the working poor.
“But if the discussion about the role of unions in the campaign is going to focus almost exclusively on money, shouldn’t we talk about money in its entirety?” writes Durazo. “What motivates me and so many others in L.A. labor when it comes to money are the hundreds of thousands of our fellow workers in Los Angeles who don’t earn enough of it.”
Los Angeles is the low-wage capital of the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau‘s American Community Survey. L.A. has more workers who struggle to survive on poverty pay than any other metropolitan area in the country.
During 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, 822,244 people working at full-time, year-round jobs earned less than $25,000 a year. That represented 28% of the labor force. These figures are for Los Angeles County.
Trying her best to sound like a Hallmark card, Rep. Virginia Foxx argued on a local North Carolina news station in favor of a bill that would end overtime pay for hourly workers as we know it: “It’s important to have enough money from your paycheck,” she told WFMY News, “but money can’t buy time. Many parents would like to have the time with their children.”
If you’re an hourly worker, scheduling is a huge issue. And while the idea of time off in lieu of time-and-a-half overtime pay sounds tempting, this bill does not resolve any problems you may have with your schedule. The bill clearly states that employers can deny requests for time off if it is not made “within a reasonable period” or if your time off “unduly disrupts the operations of the employer.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx is right about one thing: Many parents would like to have more time to spend with their children. But under the Orwellian-named “Working Families Flexibility Act,” your boss still decides when you can take that time and when you can’t. Meanwhile, he or she can work you 50 or 60 hours a week and pocket the overtime you would have otherwise received.
Yes, the option of overtime instead of comp time still remains. But there is nothing stopping your boss from treating you differently (giving you a bad schedule, straight-up firing you) if you take that option. “The worker shouldn’t have to have that sort of pressure on them,” said Catherine Medlock-Walton, our Member Coordinator in North Carolina.
So don’t be fooled by this talk of “family” and “children” from politicians like Rep. Foxx.
If they truly cared about our families, they wouldn’t block bills allowing workers to earn sick paid days, and take time off to care for a sick child.
If they truly cared about our families, they wouldn’t oppose increases in the minimum wage, so parents wouldn’t have to work two or three low-wage jobs in order to care for their children.
And if they truly cared about our families, they would not have voted 33 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which vastly improves the ability of parents and children alike to afford health insurance and not be denied for preexisting conditions.
There truly are pieces of legislation which would help working families have flexibility. Unfortunately, and confusingly, the so-called “Working Families Flexibility Act” is not one of them.
The bill raises the minimum wage in three steps, after which the minimum wage would be indexed to inflation. “By creating an inflationary adjustment, we’re actually giving business a much more predictable, smooth path,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), the bill’s sponsor.
The precarious situation faced by Minnesota low-wage workers got a big spotlight earlier this month when Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) took the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge, during which he lived on a budget of $7.50 an hour. “I want to let all my colleagues know that it’s darn near impossible to live on these wages,” Rep. Metsa said after his one-week experience, “I encourage them to vote for Representative Winkler’s bill.”
While the increase to $9.50 will go to a vote in the House, the Senate is the chamber that will need the most work. In its current form, the Senate bill only increases the minimum wage $0.25 to $7.50.
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.
This victory was built on a similar one in Albuquerque last November, when a whopping 66 percent of voters passed a minimum wage increase in that city. As a result, over 40,000 workers got a raise at the beginning of this year.
Less than a month after Gov. Susana Martinez’ “Good Friday” veto of a statewide minimum wage increase (and her subsequent scrubbing her website of all mention of the bill), the people of Bernalillo county spoke loud and clear. Now, low-wage workers in the most populous county in New Mexico will get a modest increase in their wages – money that will be put back into the local economy, help reduce turnover, increase productivity and improve the health of small businesses and communities.
The implementation will take place in two phases: an $8.00 increase on July 1st and another increase to $8.50 on Jan. 1, 2014.
There was, and remains, overwhelming support for a living wage in New Mexico and throughout the state. Both the New Mexico House and Senate passed the one-dollar increase before Gov. Martinez vetoed it, calling it a “gimmick.”
We will continue to work diligently to ensure the wage increases will be implemented.
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.”
Last year, voters in the city of Albuquerque voted overwhelmingly – 66 percent – to raise the minimum wage by a dollar from $7.50 to $8.50.
This year, a majority of the New Mexico House and Senate voted to expand that policy to the entire state, a much needed boost to an economy with high poverty and the highest percentage of low-income families in the country.
Unfortunately for Gov. Martinez, New Mexico workers aren’t taking no for a final answer.
Bernalillo County, where Albuquerque is located, is by far the most populous county in the state (the second biggest, Dona Ana County, has a third of Bernalillo’s population). While Gov. Martinez was busy blocking our raise and hiding the evidence, New Mexico workers were already lobbying the County Commissioners to expand the Albuquerque policy to the rest of the county.
Tomorrow, the five commissioners will vote on the minimum wage increase. A victory here won’t only show that New Mexico workers want fair wages, it will also show that Gov. Martinez alone can’t stop the march of progress in the Land of Enchantment.
The challenges of surviving on minimum wage are unfortunately too common.
Many workers who earn minimum wage are providing for not only themselves but also for families. Some are students trying to increase their odds in the job market while taking on mountains of debt. Some have to work more than one job to make ends meet.
Those who we have met while talking about the difficulties of living on minimum wage are hard workers; some are extremely qualified in terms of today’s labor market, and almost all of them are determined to help change the system.
We met Edgar while organizing on a local college campus around the issue of wage theft. He had been personally affected by wage theft, working as a valet attendant and getting paid just above minimum wage. A month ago, Edgar was getting paid an hourly rate below the state-mandated minimum wage, but he was lucky enough to get a promotion because of his hard work. Edgar gets sixty percent of his income from tips, and works in the busy Lower Downtown district of Denver, but unfortunately has very little say about what days he works, and makes significantly fewer tips when working on a slow week day.
His company makes almost $10,000 in profits every month.
Edgar is a student. He is majoring in Social Work, and is hoping to land a job as a counselor. He is set to graduate in a few short semesters. He has been lucky to get some loans and scholarships, but with the rising cost of tuition and supplies, he often feels buried by the burden. He is carefully balancing both school and work, in order to succeed at both.
Edgar is also a husband, and the father of a newborn baby girl. His wife is staying home to care for their baby and is not receiving any paid maternal leave. They have been fortunate enough to receive help from Medicaid to cover health expenses.
Since Edgar’s benefits at his job are so poor, he has chosen to pay for the health insurance that the college offers. In order to be able to do this, he must fulfill a certain number of class credits, which dictates how much additional time he will have to spend away from his family. Because of his low-wage status, Edgar and his wife are using their savings to pay for basic expenses.
Recently Working America participated in a low-wage roundtable hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor. Representatives from the Department of Labor were on a tour of a few different cities around the country to get input on President Obama’s proposed increase to $9/hour, and find testimonies as to how this would impact the lives of Americans. Edgar went to represent Working America and others who are in similar situations.
“If I were able to get paid just a few dollars more, I would be able to save money for a house and a car. I would not have to spend as much time away from my family,” Edgar told us, “I would be able to save for my daughter’s future, and make sure that she has a fair shot in life.”