Sure, working families have been under attack for years, but people across the country are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back to protect workers’ rights and raise living standards for everyone. Here are 10 ways they’re doing it:
1. Increasing the Minimum Wage
Four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island) have increased their state minimum wage in 2013, and on Nov. 5, New Jersey voters will vote on a ballot measure to increase their minimum wage.
2. Passing “Buy America” Laws
Three states (Colorado, Maryland and Texas) passed laws in 2013 to ensure that the goods procured with public funding are made in the United States.
3. Ensuring Paid Sick Days
Portland, Ore., Jersey City, N.J., and New York City became the latest three cities to adopt standards for paid sick days in 2013.
4. Protecting Immigrant Workers
In 2013, six states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont) have enacted protections for immigrant workers, including access to driver’s licenses and education.
5. Cracking Down on Businesses That Cheat Workers
Texas passed legislation in 2013 to crack down on businesses that cheat employees by treating them as “independent contractors” who lack worker protections (such as minimum wage and overtime protection, and eligibility for unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation).
6. Giving Workers the Right to a Voice on the Job
In 2013, some 15,000 home care workers in Minnesota won collective bargaining rights through state legislation, as did 10,000 in Illinois and 7,000 in Vermont. Thousands of other workers around the country have enjoyed organizing wins, too: 7,000 electrical workers, more than 5,000 Texas public school teachers, taxi drivers in New York and other cities, telecom workers, college and university faculty, EMS drivers, hotel and casino workers and domestic workers, to name a few.
7. Protecting Your Privacy on Social Media
Nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have passed legislation in 2013 to prohibit employers from requiring access to your social media passwords or information as a condition of employment.
8. Fighting for LGBTQ Equality
Five states (Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont) have passed legislation banning workplace discrimination or recognizing marriage equality.
9. Protecting the Rights of Domestic Workers
Two states (California and Hawaii) have passed legislation in 2013 to protect the rights of domestic workers. California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will benefit about 200,000 domestic workers, and Hawaii’s will benefit some 20,000 domestic workers.
10. Protecting Voting Rights
Twelve states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation protecting voting rights in 2013, while voting rights legislation was vetoed by the governors of Nevada and New Jersey.
It was a hard fight, but one we’re glad to see turned out the right way. The Medicaid provision was one of the key components of the ACA, but it was put at risk by a Supreme Court decision that left it up to the states to accept or decline the funds. Many states have—but others, like Texas, are refusing, leaving millions without coverage.
In New Hampshire, the state House—which supports accepting expanded funds—is working to craft a measure that will be able to get through the Republican-controlled Senate. This may mean a commission will be created to review the issue.
Unfortunately, in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a measure to accept expanded funds. The bill, which would cover 60,000 people, passed by strong but not quite veto-proof margins, so the fate of Medicaid in Maine remains unclear.
Last week, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch vetoed the Republican-controlled House’s redistricting plan, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. His press release is very clear on what his objections were:
The population of New Hampshire based on the 2010 census is 1,316,470. A straight division into 400 districts yields an ideal population per district of 3,291. Under federal and state law, towns and wards that equal or are within 5 percent of this ideal population are entitled to their own representative. Based on the 2010 census, there are 152 towns and wards in New Hampshire that qualify for their own representative.
HB 592 denies a total of 62 New Hampshire towns and wards their own seats in the House. For example, the towns of Atkinson, Hudson, Meredith, and Pelham all have sufficient population under state and federal constitutional standards to have their own representative, but all are denied their own representative under the House-approved plan. This is completely contrary to what the citizens of New Hampshire called for in the state constitutional amendment adopted in 2006.
Lynch also points out that the plan needlessly breaks up municipalities:
For example, in Manchester, the state’s largest city, HB 592 combines Wards 8 and 9 with the town of Litchfield. Pelham will again share its representatives with Hudson. Strafford will share a representative with New Durham. And Concord’s Ward 5 will now be made part of a district that includes the Town of Hopkinton. The leaders and governing bodies of each of these communities have expressed their strong opposition to HB 592, noting that it unnecessarily and unconstitutionally dilutes local representation, and have asked me to veto this bill.
He wrapped it up with this perfectly reasonable request:
I urge the House to take up my veto quickly in order to allow time for alternative plans to be brought forward, or for litigation in the event of the absence of agreement on a constitutional plan. The House was presented with alternative plans by members of both political parties that would go further to satisfy the requirement for equal representation and fairness. There is still time before the candidate filing period to enact redistricting legislation that will assure equal voting rights of all New Hampshire citizens.
The lesson with this legislature is: be careful what you wish for. They did take up his veto right away. In fact, yesterday, the House voted to override the veto. Or, to put it properly, the House voted to violate the state’s constitution in order to override the veto of an unconstitutional bill. From the Concord Patch:
The controversy began when House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, called for a recess for a 15-minute private caucus for Republicans, forcing Democrats, media and the public to leave the House chamber.
According to a release from the House Democratic office, O’Brien called for the private caucus “to present a legal opinion that he said allowed him to override the New Hampshire constitution and centuries of New Hampshire House tradition.”
The arrogance on display here is positively breathtaking.
Not everyone in the majority party was in agreement.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican, pleaded with his caucus yesterday to sustain Lynch’s veto and try to amend the bill before it may be found unconstitutional by the courts. Ten years ago, Democratic former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the redistricting plans brought forward by the Republican Legislature and the court had to draw up the current House map, which has been challenged for putting groups of legislators into multi-town districts. House Republicans note their plan creates twice as many districts as the current map.
Vaillancourt said by overriding the governor’s veto yesterday, House Republicans are “virtually guaranteeing that you’re going to be in court.”
He’s correct. This will end up in court. Presumably our courts will find this blatant gerrymandering unconstitutional, and a new plan will have to be hastily adopted – given that the window for filing candidacy papers for state elections is open from June 6 through June 15.
The New Hampshire voter ID bill has just cleared the senate. From the Nashua Telegraph:
“This bill is very workable,’’ said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “It does not disenfranchise any voters. It does not create a single barrier. What it does do is ensure our elections are clean. As long as you are who you say you are, you will not have a problem. If not, then don’t try to vote in New Hampshire.”
Unlike other failed voter ID bills of the past, this bill permits those without an ID to vote. They would have to sign a challenged voter affidavit under penalty of perjury.
This bill is the latest in a nationwide push by state legislators to restrict voting. Pennsylvania’s state Senate also passed a voter ID bill this week.
New Hampshire has same-day voter registration, and anyone who registers on election day is required to sign a domicile affidavit. Of course, this article doesn’t point out that New Hampshire doesn’t actually have voter fraud issues.
Sen. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, said up to 5 percent of voters could be disenfranchised by this mandate.
“There have been no indications of anything approaching widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire,” Merrill said. “There are approximately 50,000 residents of our state without photo identification, which is roughly the population of an entire state Senate district. This bill threatens the Constitutional right to vote for thousands of citizens without any clear evidence of a problem.”
Given that this is a highly partisan issue, the chair of the New Hampshire GOP disagrees:
Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald disagreed and noted that in the state’s presidential primary, conservative activists were able to successfully pose as deceased voters and initially obtained ballots at targeted polls in Nashua and Manchester.
He’s referring to James O’Keefe (an acolyte of the late Andrew Breitbart) who is most famous for the “pimp” sting on ACORN, with highly edited film footage. It would be so much easier to take McDonald’s outrage seriously if O’Keefe and his pals were actually prosecuted for attempted voter fraud. There’s been no suggestion of that from the NH GOP.
Now that this bill has cleared the Senate (which has behaved slightly more responsibly over the last 2 years than the New Hampshire House) it goes back to the House, which is eager to pass the bill.
Photos will be taken at the polling places, which means a cost to the taxpayers, and more work for the community volunteers who run elections in New Hampshire small towns. As has so often been said, this is a solution in search of a problem. It also seems to be a rather blatant attempt at disenfranchising voters before the elections in November.
In June of last year Governor Lynch vetoed a Voter ID bill. The old bill was rewritten, so desperate is the New Hampshire legislature to pass a Voter ID bill.
Thirty-three states have introduced Voter ID laws this year. Coincidence? Hardly. It’s another gift from ALEC.
In Indiana, a group of pro-worker, moderate Republicans is recruiting candidates to run in primaries against several of the state legislators who helped ram through a “right to work” law earlier this year.
Workers’ rights wasn’t always a partisan issue. Even the lionized President Ronald Reagan was a supporter of collective bargaining rights, and over the years there have indeed been state and federal GOP elected officials who have carried on that tradition.
But lately, because of the growing, pervasive influence of ALEC, the Koch Brothers, Wall Street, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other radical anti-worker groups on the Republican Party (and as protecting the ultra-wealthy has increasingly become the GOP’s singular goal), collective bargaining and having a voice on the job have been transformed – at least in the eyes of the media and the broader public – into partisan issues.
The state house fights since 2010, we’ve seen instances of Republicans standing up to their leadership over workers’ rights issues. Some, like Wisconsin’s Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), have been successful; with a reduced Republican majority in the Wisconsin Senate, Schultz now carries more clout than ever, as well as the distinction of being the only Republican to vote against Gov. Walker’s union-busting bill.
Others have fallen victim to political retaliation. In New Hampshire, a state with a long-standing tradition of moderate Republicanism, former union member Rep. Lee Quandt (R-Exeter) was removed from his leadership position after speaking out against his party’s anti-worker agenda. House Speaker William O’Brien used every tactic imaginable to whip Republicans into passing a “right to work” bill, yet failed consistently.
Part of the reason that the repeal of the union-busting Senate Bill 5 in Ohio was so successful was that it was not a partisan issue. The repeal campaign reached out consistently to those describing themselves as “conservatives,” and had the support of Republicans like the outspoken Sens. Bill Seitz and Tim Grendell, former U.S. Senator George Voinovich, and even right-wing radio host Bill Cunningham. The “Republicans Voting No On Issue 2” Facebook page has 3,500 members. In the end, more people voted No on Issue 2 to repeal Senate Bill 5 – in an off-year election – than voted to elect current Governor John Kasich in 2010.
What’s different about Indiana is that this is the first time that a moderate, pro-worker faction has broken off and formed a PAC with the expressed purpose of waging an intra-party fight over collective bargaining and workers’ rights.
In Indiana, five GOP Representatives and nine GOP Senators voted against right to work. 82 Republicans voted for its passage. While the pro-worker contingent is small, they are bold, and vocal. As the Chair of the Lunchpail Republicans David Fagan bluntly told Rachel Maddow, “If you can’t defeat right to work, we will defeat those elected officials who voted for it.”
In the December 20th edition of Clocking Out was yet another story about the nutty NH legislature. Some members of the NH House are in favor of putting WARNING signs near the Massachusetts border, so that the good folk of NH know when they’re about to enter into that socialist republic. The best part of this inspired bit of lunacy, is that Rep. Jennifer Coffey, the lead sponsor, moved to NH in 2005. Guess what state she moved here from?
House Bill 1580 is the product of such a brainstorming session this summer between three freshman House Republicans: Bob Kingsbury of Laconia, Tim Twombly of Nashua and Lucien Vita of Middleton. The eyebrow-raiser, set to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes next month, requires legislation to find its origin in an English document crafted in 1215.
“All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived,” is the bill’s one sentence.
Yes, that’s right. These three state representatives want quotes from the Magna Carta; an 800 year old British document, in new bills going before the NH legislature.
I’ve been told by legislators that the average cost to the NH taxpayer for filing a bill is about $1500. Each bill that is filed by a state legislator goes to Legislative Services, where the bill is checked for compliance with other NH laws. Then it is printed up. So far, the members of the NH House have filed 840 potential bills.
Kingsbury said the “primary motivation” for the bill was to honor the Magna Carta’s upcoming 800-year anniversary in 2015. Citing quotes from the document will bring its historical importance to the public’s attention, he said.
And if they have to waste taxpayer dollars to bring that anniversary to the public’s attention, they will!
The majority of the people in this state don’t read ANY of the bills that go before the legislature. This is truly a bizarre vanity exercise by a trio of freshman legislators.
A translation of the Magna Carta certainly provides some interesting fodder for the 2012 legislative session:
19] No constable or his bailiff is to take corn or other chattels from anyone who not themselves of a vill where a castle is built, unless the constable or his bailiff immediately offers money in payment of obtains a respite by the wish of the seller. If the person whose corn or chattels are taken is of such a vill, then the constable or his bailiff is to pay the purchase price within forty days.
21] No sheriff or bailiff of ours or of anyone else is to take anyone’s horses or carts to make carriage, unless he renders the payment customarily due, namely for a two-horse cart ten pence per day, and for a three-horse cart fourteen pence per day. No demesne cart belonging to any churchman or knight or any other lady (sic) is to be taken by our bailiffs, nor will we or our bailiffs or anyone else take someone else’s timber for a castle or any other of our business save by the will of he to whom the timber belongs.
 No-one is to be taken or imprisoned on the appeal of woman for the death of anyone save for the death of that woman’s husband.
I can hardly wait to see these quotes worked into New Hampshire law.
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.
The vote to override Governor Lynch’s veto of a right to work bill failed last week; a crushing blow for NH Speaker of the House William O’Brien who has made this legislation a priority. From the Boston Globe:
“Union members aren’t thugs. They’re police officers. They’re firefighters,” said Democratic Rep. Jeff Goley, a firefighter from Manchester. “What will right-to-work do here in New Hampshire? Right-to-work will lower wages and lower benefits, not create jobs.”
Speaker O’Brien didn’t take this defeat well, especially since 41 members of his own party voted to sustain the veto. Shortly after the vote, rumors of retribution began to emerge. The Nashua Telegraph wrote that 3 assistant majority whips were going to be asked to resign.
A day after the retribution rumblings began, a story came out in The Lobby that alerted us that House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt had decided not to seek those resignations. The negative media coverage may have had something to do with Bettencourt’s change of “heart.”
O’Brien has made it clear that the right to work bill will be back next year. From the Telegraph:
But O’Brien also made it clear the right-to-work battle is far from over, noting Rep. William Smith, R-New Castle, has introduced similar legislation for next year that no doubt will spill over into the governor’s race to replace the retiring Lunch.
The outlook for success next year may not be all that O’Brien hopes. NH watchdog group Granite State Progress issued a statement to counter O’Brien’s ongoing assertion that businesses won’t move to NH because we don’t have “right to work” laws:
Pushed by local media to name companies who have expressed this interest to the Speaker, O’Brien was unable to name even a single business that would consider moving new jobs to New Hampshire if the legislation was enacted.
O’Brien is likely to have bigger problems in 2011. So far, the budget enacted in June has cost the state over 2,000 jobs, and millions in missing tax revenue. A gaping revenue hole thus far comes from the state’s hospitals. It’s a $50.3 million budget shortfall.
Then there’s the tobacco revenue failure. From a scathing editorial in Seacoastonline:
The tortured logic used to justify New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien’s insistence on cutting the state’s tobacco tax by 10 cents a pack has cost the state $11 million since July, and it will continue to cost the state millions of dollars until common sense prevails and the tax cut is repealed.
You’ll recall that in June, O’Brien hijacked the state budget process, insisting that nothing would get done unless the tobacco tax cut was included. This last-minute chicanery followed O’Brien’s visit to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., which receives a substantial amount of funding from the tobacco industry.
O’Brien influenced by special interests? Oh, say it ain’t so.
2012 is shaping up to be a tough year for the speaker. His budget has proven to be a disaster. He’s lost 3 out of 4 special elections (including one in his own hometown), and 41 members of his own party didn’t vote for his veto override.
On the other hand, O’Brien’s loss is a gain for New Hampshire workers. To celebrate, Granite State Progress put together a victory video after the RTW veto override vote failed:
He also is against the Obama stimulus package that has yet to bring us jobs.
That’s in the section titled “Strengthening the Economy.” Rep. Guinta’s opposition to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is well documented. But if there’s one thing Guinta likes better than opposing Obama, it’s getting his picture taken. From Talking Points Memo:
With Recovery Act funding running out, that old TPM favorite — the anti-stimulus Republican who takes credit for stimulus funding in their district — is becoming somewhat of a rarity. But Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) kicked it old school on Thursday by cutting the ribbon on a new road that received millions from the same spending bill he opposed.
Wait a minute….what?? The stimulus project that has created no jobs?? Did this road build itself?
“It’s going to help us with our tourism, our economy, and it’s going to provide us greater flexibility for our residents, our business commuters, and those visiting our state,” Guinta said at the event. “It’s a real example of how when we put our mind to it we can accomplish anything we want to accomplish.”
All this help with tourism, the economy, and business commuters sounds suspiciously like jobs.
Frank Guinta is no stranger to stimulus hypocrisy. As mayor of Manchester:
Guinta also complained that state officials were dragging their feet in getting federal stimulus money to the city and complained that state officials were shortchanging communities because so little of the money was designated for local highway and bridge projects.
In 2009 he couldn’t wait to get his paws on the money that he’d sharply criticize in 2010. And in 2011, he’s taking credit for a job creating project built with stimulus money.
A family who owns a small second home in rural northern NH just experienced a foreclosure – on a house that has no mortgage. From The Conway Daily Sun:
A major Wall Street bank is apologizing to a Maine couple who allege that the bank wrongfully claimed ownership of their second home on Green Mountain Road in Effingham. But the apology rings hollow for the Drew family.
Apparently, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. confused a little red house, owned by Travis and Paula Drew, at 529 Green Mountain Road, for a no-longer-existent mobile home at 519 Green Mountain Road.
The structures were owned by different people even though they once shared the same lot. The confusion led the bank’s agents to change the locks on the Drews’ home and remove $14,000 worth of belongings from the property.
The Drews aren’t impressed with Chase’s admission of an error. As of Wednesday afternoon, Chase still hadn’t explained itself to them. Bank employees told the Drews that a representative named Michelle would be in contact with them when the bank’s investigation is complete.
One would think that a company like Chase, after making such a mistake would be all kinds of apologetic, trying to make up for this. One would think they’d be at least attempting to do something – given how tarnished the company’s image already is.
One would be wrong.
Some of the property that was removed from the house has been returned, but it was left outside, uncovered. The local sheriff had to issue a “stand down” order to the property management company that was hired by Chase – the company responsible for changing the locks and removing the Drew’s property. That this could even happen is just insane.
Incidents of this sort have happened all over the country. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is getting involved. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is an independent bureau of the US Treasury, charged with regulating and supervising federal banks and savings and loans institutions. From the Christian Science Monitor:
About 4 million homeowners who may have been improperly foreclosed upon in 2009 and 2010 are getting an opportunity to have their cases reviewed. Whether they will be reimbursed is up to the same lenders who are accused of moving too swiftly to seize their homes.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said Monday that mortgage services will begin sending out letters this month that ask borrowers if they want their case reviewed.
The nation’s 14 largest mortgage servicers — including Citibank, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — were ordered to offer to review cases after the government found that some rushed the foreclosureprocess without carefully reviewing documents.
At long last the folks who have been treated unfairly at best, and illegally at worst will have a review and some recourse.
Stories like this are why customers are moving their money out of big banks and into credit unions in record numbers. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Some 650,000 customers have opened credit union accounts and deposited about $4.5 billion since Bank of America announced its now-canceled $5 monthly debit card fee in late September, according to a survey of 5,000 credit unions by the Credit Union National Association released Thursday.
The website for the Move Your Money Project has a lot of helpful information, including a link to help interested folks find credit unions and community banks in their area.
It sends a message. This is another reason why the Occupy movement continues to grow.