New York City workers will receive, starting next year, five paid sick days a year to care for themselves or an ill family member under a measure the New York City Council passed (45-3) this afternoon. The vote culminates a four-year effort by a powerful coalition of workers, unions and community groups.
At a press conference before the historic vote, Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, said:
This vote marks a big step in the right direction toward providing paid sick time to workers in our city. I commend the many advocates who have fought so hard to improve the lives of workers and their families through this bill. As this legislation is voted upon, we reaffirm our commitment to protecting and improving the basic rights of all workers here in New York City.
The issue had been stalled in the City Council, but in late March the New York City Campaign for Paid Sick Days, a broad coalition of low-wage workers, women’s rights advocates, health care providers, small business owners, labor unions and community organizations, reached an agreement with Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn to bring the paid sick leave measure to a vote.
After the vote, MomsRising Executive Director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said:
It’s been a long fight, but today the New York City Council heeded the call of New York families and passed a bill that would allow more than a million New Yorkers to earn paid time off to use when they are sick or to take care of a sick child, spouse or parent.
She challenged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to “stand up to corporate lobbyists, listen to the people who elected him and sign this important bill.”
Bloomberg has said he will veto the legislation. But the bill passed with a veto-proof margin.
The new paid sick leave bill requires firms with 20 or more workers to provide five paid sick days beginning in 2014 and, 18 months later, it would cover companies with 15 or more workers. About 1 million New York City workers currently have no paid sick leave.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, more than 40 million people in America work in jobs where they have no access to paid sick days. In addition to the potential loss of wages and jobs for working families, the lack of paid sick days forces many people to go to work when they are contagious and get co-workers and customers sick. No paid sick time also decreases productivity for workers who show up unable to perform to their normal level of ability. Paid time is especially important for low-wage workers who cannot afford basic necessities when they miss work because they don’t have paid sick leave.
In March, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act, which would give workers the opportunity to earn paid sick leave they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members, among other uses.
Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., have implemented paid sick leave requirements, and campaigns or legislative initiatives are under way in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Orange County (Fla.), Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Vermont, Washington State and Wisconsin.
What do diet industry workers, music video dancers, and fashion models have in common? It’s the labor movement.
Probably wasn’t your first guess. But workers in these three primarily female sectors have been in motion over the past six months, organizing and advocating for better wages, working conditions, and above all respect at the workplace.
While the legislation changes, what’s really exciting is that working people are creating their new forms of organization that they can operate in to make change. We’re beginning to see, like Working America that exercises power in a lot of new ways and has 3 million members and growing – but also in these small bubbling up forms of resistance.
The women who worked at Weight Watchers who weren’t getting paid enough for the weekly sessions that they were leading, they organized. The Models Alliance in New York which just started. The dancers on videos who organized and became a union. It’s when that starts happening, when there’s spontaneous organizing – and some of them will form a union like the video dancers and some of them will just resist – that’s what’s creating a new sense out there.
You might not have heard about these events in the news, so let’s go through them.
Weight Watchers is an enormously profitable diet company, whose CEO David Kirchhoff made nearly $3 million in 2011. But the company’s backbone is made up of the “leaders,” who run the more than 50,000 weekly in-person meetings with Weight Watchers participants. Now, after years of low pay and wage violations, these leaders are organizing around better pay. “We are not working for a charity or a nonprofit corp,” wrote one leader, “This is a multimillion-dollar company with enough cash to advertise relentlessly on TV and pay celebrities tons of money to lose weight.” The company recently settled a $6.2 million lawsuit in California around minimum wage violations.
Music videos are nothing without their dancers, but many of these employees were forced to work 20 or more hours at a time in hazardous conditions with questionable – if any – workplace protections. In June, the Dancers’ Alliance, an affiliation of music video dancers in three large cities, joined with SAF-AFTRA to create the first-ever industry-wide contract to cover dancers and other performers. The contract, according to SAF-AFTRA leader Randall Himes “gives performers the working conditions they deserve, while also recognizing the realities of the industry.”
In May, a few months after we met with editors at Vogue, all 19 international editions of the magazine agreed not to hire models under 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. I think that language is a little problematic, but considering how resistant the industry is to change, it’s a really significant step.
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.
1. Air Force base jobs lost in Tullahoma, Tenn.—The Aerospace Testing Alliance announced it is cutting 128 of 1,809 civilian jobs at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma starting April 19. It also has put in place a 20% pay cut and weekly furloughs for workers at a research facility. [Link]
2. Loss of jobs in Rock Island, Ill.—The U.S. Army garrison, Rock Island Arsenal, announced it is firing 175 employees, 44 of whom are temporary workers, 131 of whom will see their jobs unrenewed when their terms expire. [Link]
3. Medical response times lengthened in central Nebraska—Medical responders have had response times lengthened because of the closing of a control tower at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport. [Link]
4. Food pantry closed in Murray, Utah—The Salt Lake Community Action Program closed its food pantry, one of five locations that serve more than 1,000 people every month. Executive Director Cathy Hoskins told The Huffington Post that in addition to the closure, the organization has stopped paying into employees’ retirement plans, won’t fill an open job and told some staffers to take a week’s unpaid leave. “I’ve had one person retire, we’re not replacing them. We’re not doing any hiring at all,” Hoskins said. “We’re trying very hard to boost our volunteers, but this is hard work working in a pantry. And if you get a volunteer, usually it’s a short-term volunteer because it’s just very, very difficult work…. No raises, no increases, none of that stuff. We’re cutting everything we possibly can.” [Link]
5. Research employees lost in Durham, N.C.—The Duke Clinical Research Institute is planning to “downsize” 50 employees. [Link]
6. Contractor jobs lost in southwest Oklahoma—Northrop Grumman Information Systems’ Lawton, Okla., site issued 26 layoff notices. The defense contractor CGI is anticipating that sequestration would affect 270 workers at its Lawton site. [Link]
7. Health care jobs cut in Hampton Roads, Va.—Officials at Hampton Roads Planning District Commission announced that 1,600 jobs in the region’s health care sector would disappear. “It won’t be job cuts,” said James A. Clary, an economist with the group. “It will be not filling the positions.” [Link]
8. Health care workers laid off in Saranac Lake, N.Y.—Adirondack Health, a medical center at Lake Placid, announced it was laying off 18 workers after firing 17 in December. [Link]
9. Rehabilitation center for Native Americans closed in Sitka, Alaska—The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium announced that on April 30, it is closing the Bill Brady Healing Center, a residential drug and alcohol treatment center for Alaska Natives. Michael Jenkins, communications director, said the approximately 20 people who work there will be transferred to other positions in the organization, furloughed or fired. “For the most part, because of our location here in Southeast, alcohol and drug abuse has a very high incidence. So taking this away is going to make it difficult,” he said. [Link]
10. Education jobs lost in Sioux City, Iowa—The Iowa Early Intervention education program is bracing for the loss of 11 teaching positions, while the Sioux City Community School Board is looking at potentially 30 staff positions being eliminated. [Link]
Remember, the sequester is a completely made-up, dumb idea and can be easily repealed by Congress. This year alone, 750,000 people will lose their jobs because of the sequester.
Working families are calling on Congress to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts (i.e., raising the retirement age and the “chained” CPI), repeal the sequester and close tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthiest 2%.
Juicy Couture, that hip, L.A.-centric, high-end clothing and apparel chain, is engaging in what can only be described as tragically unhip corporate behavior. It is, workers say, replacing its full-time workforce with part-timers in order to duck its obligations to provide paid leave and health care for the workers.
According to the women’s fashion, lifestyle and news blog Jezebel, the workers who were fired or saw their hours slashed say the peddler of $200 jeans and reviver of the velour track suit is deliberately back-dooring the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers with 50 or more employees who work 30 or more hours a week to provide basic health care coverage.
In addition, the workers’ hours have been capped at 21 per week—not quite enough to meet the 1,400-hours-a-year company benchmark to qualify for paid sick leave.
Two former employees (see photo) of the chain’s New York City flagship store have teamed up with the Retail Action Project to launch an online petition urging Juicy Couture to provide full-time opportunities for workers and lift the cap on hours:
When we began working at Juicy Couture, many of us were full time. Now, only 19 of the store’s 128 employees are full time! Not only are they firing full-time workers and replacing us with a part-time workforce, just this month Juicy capped all part-time workers’ hours at 21 hours per week.
We quickly realized that Juicy Couture is doing everything it can to not take care of its workers.Darrell and I are just two of the full-time employees that have been forced out of Juicy Couture by having our hours cut or being fired. Now we’re speaking out on behalf of co-workers who remain at the store, because we all deserve Just Hours.We know from experience that Juicy has loyal customers and dedicated employees—if enough of us speak out and demand Just Hours, they’ll have no choice but to act.
The company has more than 100 retail outlets.
BTW, Fifth and Pacific, Juicy Couture’s parent company, posted a $54 million profit in just the last quarter of 2012.
Working America canvassers are pounding the pavement every day to fight for jobs and democracy. But according to Washington Post inside-the-Beltway columnist Dana Milbank, the labor and progressive movement is “in the fetal position.” “The failed gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin showed that momentum is against Democrats and their allies,” he writes.
Since June 5th, we’ve lost count of the number of Very Serious opinion pieces about the demise of the labor movement. Outside the DC bubble, however, it’s a different story. Using new tactics and old-fashioned gumption, workers are standing up all over the country, putting their jobs on the line, and advocating for a better life.
Here are three such instances that you didn’t hear anything about:
• 1,200 Poultry Workers Win Union Representation in Alabama. Bet you didn’t think we’d start in Alabama! But in the traditionally anti-union Deep South, workers at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Russellville voted overwhelmingly on June 12 to join the RWDSU, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union. “The workers at Pilgrim’s Pride know they deserve better and have proven there is a better way,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum, “This resounding vote will be heard by poultry workers throughout the South as a message of hope.”
The key issue at Pilgrim’s Pride weren’t wages and benefits, but perhaps the more deep-seeded issue of respect: the right to redress grievances and have input into the operation of the plant. “We had no respect from management, and absolutely no voice in anything that affected us,” said sanitation worker Cheryl Kowalski.
The folks at Pilgrim’s Pride didn’t take kindly to the unionization attempts. According to RWDSU, . The company held weeks of captive audience meetings where they threatened massive layoffs and hinted at the possibility of plant closure if the workers voted for the union. Desperate to cut off dialogue between workers, the company booked conference rooms at nearby hotels to try to deprive the workers of a meeting space. But after a month of this, says poultry production worker Sharon Hill, “I knew we were going to win – I could see it in the employees’ eyes…We finally had hope in the plant that someone would help us.” The final vote was 706 to 292.
Workers’ rights – 1. Desperate anti-union tactics – Zero.
• Kaplan ESL Teachers in New York Join the Newspaper Guild. The education company Kaplan, Inc. made $2.5 billion in revenues last year, yet their employees were having trouble getting paid time off for sickness and navigating the complex compensation system. Professional tutors, many with masters degrees, were getting paid “at an assortment of illogical hourly rates as low as the $7.25 minimum wage,” said Newspaper Guild President Bill O’Meara.
Teachers at three Manhattan Kaplan centers voted 2-to-1 to join the Newspaper Guild of New York, Local 31003, CWA. “This is, of course, a great day for teachers at Kaplan,” said Kaplan teacher Danny Valdes. “But I hope that this shows teachers that we can increase standards industry-wide by coming together to organize.”
Recently management has come down hard on the workers, using the threat of immigration audits to intimidate the mostly Latino workforce. “The company has used the issue of an ICE audit and the process involved in that as a means to bust the union organizing drive,” says Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Neumann-Ortiz, “in addition to other forms of retaliation.” Palermo’s is also allegedly firing workers who participate in the strike, which is illegal.
60 to 80 percent of Palermo’s workforce is on strike, and a diverse coalition of Wisconsinites who just put their governor up for recall is standing with them. On Tuesday, the Catholic social justice advocates “Nuns on a Bus” rallied with the striking workers, and Riverwest Cooperative Grocery Store just announced a boycott of Palermo’s products. The national pressure on Palermo’s to act is building.
Over 5,000 of you sent emails, tweeted, and wrote on AG Schneiderman’s Facebook page encouraging him to investigate the banks, stand strong against pressure from financial institutions and Administration officials, and use his authority to hold lawbreakers accountable.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today filed a lawsuit against several of the nation’s largest banks charging that the creation and use of a private national mortgage electronic registry system known as MERS has resulted in a wide range of deceptive and fraudulent foreclosure filings in New York state and federal courts, harming homeowners and undermining the integrity of the judicial foreclosure process.
This lawsuit doesn’t target some small players. Schneiderman is already tangling with the big boys:
The lawsuit asserts that employees and agents of Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo, acting as “MERS certifying officers,” have repeatedly submitted court documents containing false and misleading information that made it appear that the foreclosing party had the authority to bring a case when in fact it may not have. The lawsuit names JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., Bank of America, N.A., Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., as well as Virginia-based MERSCORP, Inc. and its subsidiary, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.
What’s more? This is in addition to Schneiderman’s role as co-chair of the “financial crimes unit” that President Obama announced at the State of the Union. As Dave Dayen points out, the latter role is dealing with “pre-bubble” conduct, activities that lead to the 2008 economic crisis. This lawsuit is dealing with the “post-bubble” world, where banks allegedly took actions to stick it to homeowners just the sky was falling.
Schneiderman, along with fellow Justice Democrats Kamala Harris, Martha Coakley, Beau Biden, and Catherine Cortez Masto, is showing what public service is all about. Thanks for listening to us, Eric – as long as you’re holding banks accountable and fighting for homeowners, our members stand with you.
Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker who introduced the proposal, rightly noted that the increase would affect 14 percent of the workforce, or 1.2 million people. “Frankly,” he said earlier this month, “it is absurd to expect anyone – let alone a working family, to afford the cost of living today and be able to invest in their future on a salary of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.”
It goes without saying that those 14 percent of New York workers who earn minimum wage are barely scraping by. However, with 17 percent more money in their pockets, those workers will be putting that income right back into the economy, buying necessities like gas and groceries and paying their bills. They are the people least likely to pocket those savings, or invest that money out of state or out of the country.
“They have no choice but to spend that money in their local economy,” says Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, “That’s the stimulus you get.” Translation: Raising the minimum wage means giving extra cash to the people most likely to spend it immediately, in their own communities. It’s a win-win.
Assembly Speaker Silver knows this. So does New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also supports the measure. But being politicians, they also must have their eye on another positive affect of raising the minimum wage – rising poll numbers. “When we’ve done public polls, anywhere from 86 to 67 percent say they support an increase in the minimum wage,” said Celinda Lake of the polling firm Lake Research Partners.
New York Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif must also be aware of the political implications. Instead of opposing the proposal outright, he didn’t take a position. But corporate-interest groups that traditionally support Republicans, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have long opposed minimum wage increases and “cost of living adjustments” that tie wages to inflation.
There’s one more part of this story to keep in mind as this develops: we may not be talking about this issue at all if it weren’t for the brave men and women of the Occupy movement. As the New York Times puts it:
In July I wrote about folk stampeding for Section 8 housing vouchers in Dallas, when thousands of people showed up, some waiting all night, to get vouchers for subsidized housing. It was a terrible story.
Since then, nothing much has changed, other than the fact that even more people are in need of affordable housing. From The Nation:
In Oakland, California, which opened its waiting list in January, officials expected as many as 100,000 people to apply for 10,000 vouchers. In Atlanta, sixty-two people were injured in 2010 at an East Point shopping center where 30,000 lined up after the local housing authority opened its waiting list for the first time in eight years. Even small communities like Aiken, South Carolina, saw hundreds queuing up in October for a chance at housing aid about as likely as seeing three cherries in a row on a Vegas slot machine.
Another way you can find tangible evidence of the housing affordability crunch is by visiting one of New York City’s exploding number of homeless shelters, where a record 41,000 homeless people bed down each night, including more than 17,000 children. The New York Times recently told the story of one of those children, fourth-grader N-Dia Layne, who travels two and a half hours each day between her Upper Manhattan shelter and her school in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood. In Cleveland, the number of homeless families and kids grew so rapidly this past summer that for the first time shelters were forced to eliminate daytime meals, housing-search assistance and other services in order to move workers to the overnight shifts, according to Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.
I had to read those New York numbers a few times. I can’t imagine that there are over 17,000 homeless children in New York City and this isn’t an issue being discussed in the endless presidential debates?
By nearly any measure, there are fewer and fewer homes affordable to working-class and poor Americans. The federal housing agency’s annual assessment finds that “worst-case housing needs” grew by 42 percent from 2001 to 2009, and nationwide there is a shortfall of nearly 3.5 million housing units for the poorest households. According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, the share of renter households with the most severe cost burdens—that is, where more than half of income goes to rent and utilities—grew from a fifth to a quarter over the past decade and has doubled in the past half-century. And as household incomes stagnated for most of the past decade and then dropped during the economic crisis, the nation saw its already inadequate stock of cheap rental housing shrink even faster.
It’s pretty simple, really. The cost of living is increasingly high, while wages are increasingly low. It’s not a recipe for keeping a roof over one’s head.
All of the plans to “end homelessness in 10 years,” either are, or will be abject failures. The programs were all underfunded, and as the budget for federal housing programs continues to shrink, their failure is guaranteed. In the name of “deficit reduction” these programs are being cut, and cut again – with the goal being to eliminate them all together.
Despite the bleak policy landscape and the worsening affordability crisis, many local advocates and people working on the front lines talk about the renewed energy and hope generated by the nascent Occupy movement and the revived national discourse about income inequality. Donovan talks hopefully about the “other 1 percent”—the homeless and poor—saying that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the superrich 1 percent is “causing the other 1 percent to agitate, and to show that homeless people are something other than a herded mass. They’re saying, Enough is enough.”
The Occupy movement changed the national discussion when it began last fall. Instead of deficits and debt, we’re now hearing about income inequality, joblessness, and a host of other issues that weren’t even on the horizon over the summer. It is my hope (as someone living with housing insecurity) that Occupy brings housing to the forefront of our national dialogue.
“You have really been fantastic!” wrote William from Bearsville, New York, “Rarely have I been able to write that someone I voted for has actually acted as I would act…truly representative government! I love it!”
Congress is at record low approval, and distrust of government is at record highs. Occupy protesters have taken to the streets across the country to voice their anger at the current political system. In this day and age, what would possess William from Bearsville to gush over an elected official?
Turns out William was writing to Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York state. Schneiderman, elected in 2010, is one of a handful of state officials resisting a proposed “50 state settlement” with big banks that would amount to a slap on the wrist for years of unethical and sometimes illegal foreclosure practices.
The first reaction we all have to a politician doing anything we even remotely approve of is: What’s their game? What do they have to gain from this? Given what we’ve seen the last few years, it’s a fair question. Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, gave his answer in an August blog post:
I’ve known Schneiderman for a few years, back when he was a state Senator working to reform the Rockefeller drug laws. And my answer to this question is pretty simple. He wants to. That’s it. Eric Schneiderman is investigating the banks because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. So he’s doing it. This guy has thought about his politics. He wrote an article about how he sees politics in 2008 in the Nation, and in his inaugural speech as NY AG he talked about the need to restore faith in both public and private institutions. Free will still counts for something, apparently.
It’s true that these seven AG’s happen to be Democrats. But foreclosure fraud is not – or at least it should not be – a partisan issue. Even our most conservative, rabid anti-Obama friends and relatives would probably agree that those who used dirty tactics to make a killing while millions of families lost their homes should be brought to justice.
The biggest reason that there are seven AG’s standing up to the banks instead of 50 is that the price for messing around with those large financial institutions – literally trying to extract more restitution and deny blanket legal immunity – can be very high. A bunch of these guys are up for reelection, and some of them have ambitions for higher office. In an age of Citizens United, tangling with the likes of Bank of America and Citigroup can put a huge pair of crosshairs on your political career; the banks don’t care whether there is a D or an R next to your name if you vote their way.