Why Is This Woman Smoking At Her Desk? Doesn’t She Know What Year It Is?

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With Mad Men wrapping up this season, we will no longer be getting a weekly dose of what the workplace was like during the 1960′s.

Well, in a way, we will.

Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks appeared in a video on the site Funny Or Die this week in which she points out that when it comes to wages for women and the gender pay gap, we’re very much stuck in the 1960′s.

Hendricks appears as her Mad Men character Joan Holloway, recently hired at a modern office. She is hopelessly out of place: she can’t use the modern phones, mixes a martini instead of using the water cooler, and even tries to erase text on her computer with the back of a pencil.

When questioned about her odd behavior, she brings up a few key statistics: women make 23 percent less than their male counterparts, nearly 70 percent of minimum wage workers are women, and only 15 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female.

“So I figure if we’re going to run our businesses like it’s the 1960′s,” she says, “I’m going to act like it.”

“Or I could’ve had a stroke…I smoke a lot.”

Here’s what Hendricks doesn’t mention: that lawmakers across the country are working to to make these grim statistics a thing of the past, and that there are forces fighting equally as hard to keep the status quo.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would have made it harder for companies to pay women less than men and easier for women to take legal action against employers who deliberately pay them less. On April 9, 43 Republican Senators and 1 Independent joined to filibuster the bill, requiring a 60 vote threshold and denying us a public debate.

As for low wages, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, but it never reached an up-or-down vote. On April 30, 41 Republicans lead by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell filibustered the bill. All this while at least 69 percent of Americans support raising the wage.

(More on the ridiculousness of these filibuster votes and how the media reports them.)

Luckily, there’s been action in the states. In June, Massachusetts became the tenth state this year to raise the minimum wage, a list that includes Republican-dominated Michigan. And Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) signed into law a statewide version of Sen Mikulski’s pay gap bill in the Granite State.

Like its viral video hit “Minimum Wage Mary Poppins” last month, Funny Or Die is writing the book on how to use parody videos to shed light on economic issues. But often, when you include the part of the story about the individuals and forces working hard to keep things the way they are–or make them worse–everyone stops laughing.

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Family Leave Turns 21, Now It’s Time for Paid Sick Leave

Photo via National Partnership for Women and Families

Since the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) took effect Aug. 5, 1993, the groundbreaking law has been used 100 million times and has helped 36 million workers keep their health insurance and jobs while taking care of a newborn child, themselves or a family member during a serious illness.

First introduced in Congress in 1984, it took nearly 10 years to overcome a well-funded campaign against the legislation by corporations and two successful vetoes by President George H.W. Bush before President Bill Clinton signed it into law.

The FMLA’s unpaid leave with job protections was a good first step. But today, there are millions of workers who can’t afford to take time off for their own or a loved one’s illnesses. Forty percent all private-sector workers don’t have any paid sick days and that doubles to 80% for low-wage workers.

That’s why there is a growing move across the nation, from Congress to statehouses to city halls, to pass paid family leave–sick days legislation.

Just last week, city councils in San Diego and Eugene, Ore., passed paid sick days measures. Overall nine cities and the state of Connecticut now have paid sick leave laws, and efforts are underway in a number of other cities and states. It was a major topic of conversation at the recent White House Summit on Working Families.

On the federal level last year, 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.

Find out more about paid sick leave efforts from Family Values at Work.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Policy That Would Make Life Better For A Million Veterans

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Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would benefit roughly 1 million American veterans, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

“We ask a lot of our armed forces. They serve our country in some of the most dangerous environments and difficult situations faced by any American,” writes EPI’s David Cooper, “Yet having endured those experiences, too many veterans returning to civilian jobs find themselves in work that barely pays enough to live on.”

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and indexing it to inflation, as proposed by the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (also known as the “Harkin-Miller” bill) would raise wages for about 27.8 million working Americans, about one million of whom have served in the armed forces.

As the EPI analysis shows, 40 percent of veterans working at jobs making $10.10 an hour or less are 55 or older, and 60 percent have some college experience. They are also 50 percent more likely to be married and more likely to work full-time than the overall population affected by a minimum wage increase.

“No one should be paid wages so low that working full-time can still leave them below the poverty line, fighting just to get by,” concludes Cooper, “But the fact that so many of America’s veterans—despite being older and having more education than the typical affected worker—are facing this reality shows just how far we’ve let the wage floor fall.”

These numbers are yet another puncture in the myth–promoted by corporate-backed politicians, among others–that low- and minimum wage workers are primarily teenagers working for extra cash. 88 percent of workers who would see a raise under Harkin-Miller are older than 20, 56 percent are women, 55 percent work full-time, and 44 percent have at least some college experience.

Tell your Senator it’s time to raise the minimum wage.

Photo via nycmarines on Flickr

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Connecticut Jumps Ahead of the Pack, Will Raise Minimum Wage to $10.10 by 2017

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More than 227,000 Connecticut workers will see raises in the next 3 years, thanks to a bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy on Thursday.

Connecticut legislators passed a bill by wide margins raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. In many respects, the bill mirrors federal legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (I-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over a similar period and indexing it to inflation.

President Obama, who supports the Harkin-Miller proposal, praised the Nutmeg State:

“I hope members of Congress, governors, state legislators and business leaders across our country will follow Connecticut’s lead,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on Wednesday, “to help ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty, and that every American who works hard has the chance to get ahead.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that if implemented nationally, Harkin-Miller would lift 5 million Americans out of poverty and reduce spending on public assistance programs by tens of billions of dollars.

This year, 29 states are considering either legislation or a ballot measure aimed at raising the minimum wage.

Image by Raise the Minimum Wage on Facebook

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Update: Now More than 600 Economists Endorse $10.10 Minimum Wage

Two weeks ago, we reported on an open letter in support of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour that, at the time, had been signed by 70 economists.  The online version of the letter asked for other economists who have a Ph.D. in the field to sign the letter. Since then, the total number of signers on the letter has risen to more than 600.

The text of the letter:

July will mark five years since the federal minimum wage was last raised. We urge you to act now and enact a three-step raise of 95 cents a year for three years—which would mean a minimum wage of $10.10 by 2016—and then index it to protect against inflation. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller have introduced legislation to accomplish this. The increase to $10.10 would mean that minimum wage workers who work full time, full year would see a raise from their current salary of roughly $15,000 to roughly $21,000. These proposals also usefully raise the tipped minimum wage to 70% of the regular minimum.

This policy would directly provide higher wages for close to 17 million workers by 2016. Furthermore, another 11 million workers whose wages are just above the new minimum would likely see a wage increase through “spillover” effects, as employers adjust their internal wage ladders. The vast majority of employees who would benefit are adults in working families, disproportionately women, who work at least 20 hours a week and depend on these earnings to make ends meet. At a time when persistent high unemployment is putting enormous downward pressure on wages, such a minimum wage increase would provide a much-needed boost to the earnings of low-wage workers.

In recent years there have been important developments in the academic literature on the effect of increases in the minimum wage on employment, with the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market. Research suggests that a minimum wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth and providing some help on the jobs front.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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10 Not-So-Fun Facts About the Minimum Wage

It’s time to raise the minimum wage. The majority of America’s working families (80%) agree. Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Here are 10 facts about the minimum wage from the National Employment Law Project:

$10.55
How much the federal minimum wage would be if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years. Instead, it’s $7.25. Learn more.

$15,080
The annual income for a full-time employee working the entire year at the federal minimum wage.

0
The number of states where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40-hour week. Learn more.

3
The number of times Congress passed legislation to increase the minimum wage in the past 30 years.

19
The number of states (including the District of Columbia) that have raised their minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25.

10
The number of states that annually increase their state minimum to keep up with the rising cost of living.

67
The percentage of Americans who support gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.00 an hour, according to an October 2010 poll.

64 in 100 vs. 4 in 100
What are the chances an adult minimum wage worker is a woman vs. the chances a Fortune 500 CEO is a woman? Learn more.

76
The percentage of Missouri voters that voted to increase and index the Missouri minimum wage in the 2006 ballot initiative.

$2.13
The federal minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waiters and waitresses, nail salon workers or parking attendants.

Photo by Raise the Wage on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Here’s a Bright Idea: Let’s Expand Social Security

In a Progressive Leaders Forum Town Hall meeting that will air Wednesday on SiriusXM 127′s “The Agenda” radio show, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) joined Nancy Altman of Social Security Works, Edward Coyle of the Alliance for Retired Americans and host Ari Rabin-Havt to discuss the future of Social Security, including Harkin’s proposed legislation that would expand Social Security benefits. The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 (S. 567) would raise the monthly Social Security benefit by about $65 and would measure inflation not with the chained CPI (a benefit cut), but using a more accurate measure of inflation for seniors (the CPI-E). The CPI-E would increase COLAs. The bill also would eliminate the Social Security tax cap so the wealthiest people would pay the same rate the rest of us pay. Under this bill, Social Security would be able to pay out full benefits to the year 2049.

Social Security should not be part of any deficit reduction debate, says Harkin. But Republicans are injecting Social Security into those debates because they want to cut the program—even though Social Security adds nothing to the deficit.

Nothing contributes more to keeping the middle class out of poverty than Social Security, Harkin says. The real solution to strengthen Social Security funding for the long term is to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share. The future projected Social Security shortfall is very manageable, Altman says, but an enormous amount of money is being spent in an effort to privatize the program so Wall Street bankers can profit from seniors’ retirement funds.

In recent years, the importance of Social Security has become greater than ever. When Harkin first came to Congress in 1975, half of America’s workers had pensions. Now that figure is closer to 20%. Harkin said 52% of people have less than $10,000 in savings. (As reported last week, the United States faces a retirement security crisis.) That’s why he wants to increase the benefits that Social Security pays out each month. The AFL-CIO also supports expanding and improving Social Security benefits.

Coyle says Alliance members are as angry as he’s ever seen them. They recognize that no amount of cutting to Social Security will affect the deficit. Altman reminded everyone that Social Security is completely self-sufficient; it currently has a $2.7 trillion surplus and it is extremely cost-effective, with administration costs amounting to less than 1% of the program’s budget.

Panelists and audience members discussed ways in which Social Security has helped them personally. Coyle says his father passed away when he was seven years old and his family waited for their Social Security check each week to survive. Audience member Diane Fleming says Social Security was vital to her family after her father passed away when she was three. When Harkin’s father became ill with black lung and could no longer work in the mines, his family also needed the benefits. “It was Social Security that kept our family together,” Harkin says. Social Security is the country’s largest children’s program, Altman adds. “It’s meant to protect the whole family,” she says.

Panelists strongly opposed raising the retirement age and forcing people to “work until they die.” They also opposed dividing people by basing benefits or treatment on income or job type. “We’re all in this together,” Harkin concludes.

If you think Social Security benefits should be expanded and not cut, sign the petition at StrengthenSocialSecurity.org.

For more information on Social Security, go to RetiredAmericans.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Photo from Senator Tom Harkin on Facebook

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7 Things You Should Know About “Comp Time” and the Working Families Flexibility Act

Say what you will, but anti-worker politicians are good at giving deceptive names to things. “Right to work” takes away your rights at work. “Paycheck protection” puts your wages at risk. And who could forget Paul Ryan’s plan to “strengthen Medicare” which ends Medicare as we know it.

House Republicans are pushing the “Workplace Families Flexibility Act of 2013,” which they claim would allow busy working parents to spend more time with their kids. That’s bogus. The bill replaces the 40-hour work week with a “comp time” accrual system that would allow employers greater control over their hourly employee’s schedule.

What’s worse? The bill ends ”time-and-a-half” overtime pay for hourly and non-exempt workers as we know it, giving renewed incentive for businesses to work their employees as long as they want with near impunity.

In other words, the bill does the opposite of what House Republicans say it will.

Confused? That’s exactly what they want. So here are 8 things you should know:

“Comp time” undermines the 40-hour work week. Quick history review: in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) became law. We say it “established” the 40-hour work week, but really it just “encouraged” it, by telling employers that for any hours worked past 40, workers had to be time-and-a-half and receive it in their next pay period. The idea was you get eight hours at work, eight hours to sleep, and eight hours to do whatever you want. Another goal of time-and-a -half pay was to give employers a financial incentive to hire more workers when they have more work, instead of forcing workers already on the job to work beyond their scheduled hours.

With “comp time,” employers are encouraged to do the opposite. Making overtime less expensive to employers means more workers being scheduled for 50 or 60-hour shifts. Which means less time with your family – not more.

“Comp time” encourages mandatory overtime – and ends overtime pay as we know it. Instead of time-and-a-half pay for hours worked past 40, workers would get “comp time,” hours of time off to be taken later. Employers benefit because they don’t have to pay overtime, plus, they can have you use your comp time in a way that won’t cost them extra (during less busy periods, etc.).

According to the bill, individual employees have the “choice” between comp time or overtime pay. Since comp time saves the employer money, what is stopping them from inducing workers, subtly or not, into choosing comp time? They could give the “comp time” workers better shifts and better treatment, and they could even train workers not to take the overtime options – in the same way that Target and other stores train workers not to join unions.

Don’t be fooled: this is a pay cut. Again, having hours off “at some point” sounds nice. But overall, workers’ take home pay will go down, because that supplemental income you would’ve had from working overtime will disappear. Besides, depending on your schedule, you could get to December 31 without having the chance to use your accrued comp time, at which point you are left with no time off and no extra pay.

It has “flexibility” in the name, but provides less flexibility to workers… Employers already have the option to offer their workers more flexible schedules – most just choose not to. The only difference is that with “comp time,” workers don’t get the time-and-a-half pay they would with overtime. “Comp time” isn’t “paid leave” in the traditional sense, because now the employee is the one paying.

…and more flexibility to employers. Say you want to take your comp days off. You go to your boss and request an afternoon off to take care of a sick child, for instance. Under “comp time,” the boss can deny your request outright. Why? Because they can claim that your request “unduly disrupts the operations of the employer” or that the request was not made “within a reasonable period.”

So you’ve gone from a job with overtime pay to a job with unlimited shifts and no extra pay, and you can’t take days off when you want. And if you take the overtime option, your boss can treat you worse because of it. Thanks, Working Families Flexibility Act!

Kills jobs. People say this phrase all the time, “job-killing this,” “job-killing that.” But comp time sends the message to employers that it’s cheaper to work your current employees harder and longer than ever before rather than hire new people. When you take away the primary incentive to hire more people that literally, not figuratively, kills jobs.

There’s a better way. How about this: we don’t touch the 40-hour work week. Eight hours work, eight hours sleep, eight hours to do what you will – it’s a good system.

The problem remains, though, that many workers don’t even have right to earn paid leave to use when they get the flu, need to care for a sick child, experience a traumatic event, or even attend their kid’s school play.

That’s why Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours work – no one gets something for nothing. You can learn more about that bill here, and send a message to Congress to pass it here.

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Senator Harkin’s Rebuild America Plan

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin announced a new economic plan he’s calling the “Rebuild America Plan.” From The Nation:

The legislation is divided into three basic categories: the first is proactive federal spending an action meant to boost the flagging economy. It includes:

$300 billion for roads, bridges, energy efficiency systems and other infrastructure

$20 billion in school modernization funding

Boosting funding for agencies that regulate trade, to better enforce fair trade policies

Funding to states to hire teachers, public safety workers and other public employees.

To help workers and families:

Increased child care subsidies for working parents

Ensuring that workers, particularly white-collar workers categorized as independent contractors, earn time-and-a-half overtime pay

Raising the minimum wage

Strengthening the National Labor Relations Act, making it easier for workers to join unions and increasing penalties on employers for blocking unionization.

To pay for the increased spending:

Raising the capital gains rate and closing the carried interest loophole

A Wall Street speculators tax, of three basis points on common financial securities trades

Ending tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs.

Senator Harkin is aware that such a proposal wouldn’t fly in the current Congress. He does think that we need to stop thinking in Paul Ryan terms:

“I firmly believe that anyone running for election this year to the House or the Senate—if they take up this bill, if they take up the direction of this bill… I believe that will be a winning formula,” he said. “I think the American people are hungry, looking for some way out of this mess that we’re in and I think they’re saturated [with] these sort of quick-fix type things—that we can’t be bold, we can’t grow, we’ve got to, as the Ryan budget says, just keep shrinking and shrinking and shrinking.”

There are some options here that would create jobs by investing in fixing our broken infrastructure. There are options that would help struggling families get back on track.

We certainly need to discuss choices other than the current menu of attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and middle class while continuing to shovel tax breaks at the wealthy.

Photo of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis by US Department of Labor on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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