10 Ways Working Families Are ‘Kicking Ass’ for the Middle Class

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.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Dear David: If We Took a Holiday

Question:

I have been an employee at a private nursing home for 24 years. I now work part-time for five days in a two-week period, 7.5 hours per day. When my scheduled day to work falls on a holiday, I do not get paid for that day. Therefore I lose a day’s work and only get four days in that pay period. Why must I lose a day’s work because it is a holiday? It just does not seem fair to me.

— Expensive Holiday, Ohio

 

Answer:

This is a pretty important issue—after all, you rely on having that consistent income, and getting a day without pay thrown at you is a big deal.

This is one of the problems with employers having all the say on what’s considered “fair.” Unless you have a contract or union agreement that says otherwise, it is probably legal. But “legal” doesn’t mean “fair.” While the federal government and most public employers recognize certain holidays and provide either paid time off or premium pay for their employers on those days, there is almost nothing required by statute for private sector employees with respect to holidays. Federal wage and hour law and the vast majority of state laws do not require private sector employers to treat holidays any differently than any other days. Unless you have an individual or union contract guaranteeing you a certain number of hours per week, or specifically requiring paid time off for holidays, you can be scheduled off without pay. Also, except in a small number of states (such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island), private sector employees are not entitled by statute to extra pay if they are required to work on a holiday.

So who gets to decide if you are going to be paid for a holiday, and who gets to decide what your schedule looks like? It’s not clear if you are working this schedule because it’s your preference or because that’s the only schedule your employer will offer you despite your long service.

Sometimes employers hold back holiday pay or other benefits as an incentive for working full-time or a certain number of hours. And too often employers are manipulating workers’ schedules so they don’t work enough hours to be eligible for those kinds of benefits. Even if that’s not what’s happening here, don’t you think 24 years working at the same place ought to come with some input into your working conditions? That might be a good question for you to take to some of your co-workers. While you’re at it, you might want to ask them if there’s anything else about their jobs they’d like to see get fixed. If enough of you end up on the same page, this might become an opportunity for you to address several issues at once—together.

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Buffett Rule Bill Drops Wednesday

President Obama has talked about our tax code through the prism of billionaire Warren Buffett and his secretary for years. Last summer, he started talking about a “Buffett Rule” that would keep millionaires from paying a lower tax rate than middle class families. He renewed that call in the State of the Union last week.

In two days, at long last, the Buffett Rule will get its first vote in the U.S. Senate.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has wasted no time in getting his “Pay A Fair Share Act” to the floor. As he told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, the bill won’t change existing tax rates. It just requires those making more than $1 million annually to recalculate their tax rate, “taking into account all their income and what they pay in taxes.” In other words, include dividends from stocks, which are currently taxed at a much lower rate. “If that amount adds up to less than 30 percent,” writes Sargent, “they would be required to make up the difference.”

Or as Senator Whitehouse put it: “If your income is over 1 million, multiply it by 0.3, and if that number is bigger than you’d otherwise be paying, pay that.”

The bill is currently being scored by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, so we’ll soon find out how much revenue, officially, the bill would raise if passed. But Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) predicts the Pay A Fair Share Act would raise $50 billion every year while only affecting 0.08 percent of taxpayers.

(Next Sunday, about 63,000 people will fill Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to watch Super Bown XLVI. For context, if the CTJ is right, and those 63,000 were a representative sample of Americans, the Pay A Fair Share Act would affect a mere 50 of them.)

We’re all for this legislation, and we all know our country needs the revenue. There are two things not addressed by this bill, however. First, the bill does not address the many loopholes that make our tax code a playground for corporations seeking shelters and exemptions. Second, it does nothing about the Bush tax cuts, which might not even be addressed until after the election; without action from Congress, they will expire on January 1, 2013.

Still, who could have imagined a high-profile vote in the U.S. Senate addressing income inequality even just six months ago? Like with the minimum wage increase in New York, we can certainly give partial credit the Occupy movement for bringing tax fairness and economic inequality to Washington’s front burner.

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