Minimum Wage Momentum: Vermont Passes Highest Statewide Minimum Wage in Country

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The momentum continues to grow, as Vermont becomes the seventh state to enact a minimum wage increase this year. Vermont takes the issue seriously and will raise their wage to the highest for any state by 2018, when the law is fully implemented. The state’s current wage of $8.73 will be increased to $10.50 over the next four years. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) says he will be proud to sign it.

Vermont joins Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota and West Virginia as states that have raised their minimum wages this year. Numerous cities also have raised their wages recently, including Seattle, whose new $15 minimum wage plan would tie it with neighboring SeaTac for the highest minimum wage in the country. Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama have pushed national legislation that would raise the wage to $10.10 across the country, but Republican obstruction has prevented passage.

Dennis LaBounty, political director for the Vermont AFL-CIO, applauds the bill’s passage:

We are pleased to pass minimum wage legislation that would put more money into low-income workers’ pockets. This will definitely help Vermont’s economy as we continue to get us out of the recession.

We are pleased to pass minimum wage legislation that would put more money into low-income workers’ pockets. This will definitely help Vermont’s economy as we continue to get us out of the recession.

Opponents of increasing the wage have routinely relied upon flawed arguments in support of keeping the wage low. Think Progress lays out the case as to why they’re wrong:

Minimum wage opponents often argue that the laws harm the economy and that businesses oppose them. But six in 10 small business owners in a recent survey support a $10.10 wage floor, and even some larger companies in low-wage sectors have recently signaled support for raising the minimum wage. Academic evidence on the jobs’ impact of wage hikes is mixed, but there’s substantial reason to believe minimum wages don’t harm job growth—and probably even enhance it.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Five States With the Lowest Quality of Life Have This In Common.

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Politico Magazine released a comprehensive report comparing all 50 states using 14 different indicators of quality of life. In their ranking, the five bottom states (Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama) are all so-called “right to work” states.

Four out of five of the states with the highest quality of living, according to the study, are free bargaining states: New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

The study confirmed something that more and more working Americans are learning every day: “right to work” laws are wrong for everyone.

Quick review: “Right to work” laws require unions to extend their services to all employees in a bargaining unit, whether or not they pay dues. By making dues optional, “right to work” laws force unions to spend more resources on collecting dues than on advocating for their members–both at the workplace and in the political arena. It’s a roundabout method of de-funding unions that has been instituted in 24 states.

The Politico Magazine study used rankings from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and data on math and reading scores, average income, life expectancy, crime, home ownership, infant mortality, and more.

As 2014 kicks off with legislators and big-money donors pushing “right to work” and other collective bargaining restrictions in–at the very least–Missouri, Oregon, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, it’s important to make it very clear what effects these laws actually have, versus what their proponents claim they have.

A few effects of “right to work” are not disputed by its proponents. The key sponsors of the collective bargaining restrictions Missouri, for instance, openly admit that wages would go down if the law is passed. Indeed, wages in “right to work” states are 3.2 percent lower that in free bargaining states. Essentially, it’s like the average worker is paying an annual $1,500 fee for living in a “right to work” state. (Other reports have found “right to work” states have higher poverty rates, fewer workers with employer-based health insurance, and higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities.)

But when you combine income with a host of other factors, as the Politico Magazine ranking does, the picture doesn’t get better for “right to work” states. Overall, 15 “right to work”  states rank in the bottom 20.

The Politico Magazine ranking is not the definitive scientific report on quality of life. But it does confirm yet again that in places where workers’ right to organize is deceptively circumvented and wages decrease, other important life-quality factors decrease as well.

As legislators push these laws across the country, we should consistently require proof to back up their claims. The actual numbers don’t look too good for them.

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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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Home Care Workers File for Largest Union Election in Vermont History

A month after the Vermont legislature approved a bill allowing home care workers to collectively bargain, more than 4,500 home care workers filed an election petition seeking to form a union. Because of the new law, more than 7,000 workers are now eligible to join a union, and many participated in a march to file the petition. Home care workers in the state experience low wages and a lack of sick time, paid vacations and other benefits. The election is expected to be held in mid-July.

AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes joined the march and explained the importance of the filing in Vermont:

I am in Vermont today as thousands of home care providers in the Green Mountain State file for the largest union election in the state’s history. I know first-hand the struggle home care providers face. I also know the power and possibilities that are created when providers come together and form a union that cares about home care workers and the people we serve. I know it because I am a home care provider and have walked in the shoes of Vermont providers.

My oldest son was born two and a half months early. He had a brain hemorrhage, and the doctors diagnosed him with cerebral palsy. They said he would never speak or walk. That’s when I quit my job as an educator and became a home care provider. I knew that with constant care and attention, Damien would overcome the obstacles. And he did. Today he is not only walking and talking, he’s in college preparing for a full life of opportunity.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Working America: Another Way to Join the Movement

This piece was featured on AFLCIO.org

Pennsylvania Woman Becomes a Super-Activist with the Labor Movement’s Partner for Nonunion Workers

One day in Havertown, Pa., a neighborhood organizer in a red shirt knocked on Vicki’s door, asking how Vicki felt about cuts in her state’s school budget. A retired school teacher who has a grandson with special needs, Vicki worried the cuts her governor was pushing would eliminate resources for special education.

Vicki was already angry about these cuts. She felt that one of the most important people in her life was being targeted. But until that day, she felt powerless to do anything about it. Like so many people, she thought she couldn’t change the process, and that her elected leaders weren’t listening. Then someone showed up at her door with a solution—a strategy to change things.

That day, Vicki didn’t just sign a petition. She became a member of an organization called Working America. She sent a letter to her state senator and governor telling them she wouldn’t stand for cuts that threatened her grandson’s education. And from there, she has gone on to become an activist and a leader in her community.

Founded in 2003, Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is the fastest-growing organization for working people who don’t have a union on the job. At 3 million strong and growing, Working America empowers people year-round to make a difference in their own communities.

Next, Vicki went to her hair salon, a favorite meeting and chatting place. But the conversation with her stylist wasn’t about the weather this time. It was about state politicians going after her grandson’s special education funding. The stylist said she, too, was worried about the school cuts. “I wish there were something we could do about that,” said the stylist.

And Vicki replied, “Actually, there is something you can do.” That day, Vicki helped her stylist write a letter to their state senator. Her stylist got the salon owner involved. “Everyone who walked into that beauty shop wrote a letter,” said Vicki. Becoming an organizer was “exciting,” she said. “That was a wonderful process.” It happened because she felt stronger as part of an organization—and it’s all because somebody knocked on her door.

“Any time a stranger comes to your door, you wonder, ‘who are they?’” Vicki said. “But they had a way about them that was so inviting, so engaging, and they really brought me in.”

Now Vicki takes part in her local Working America community action team. Once a month she gets together with other local Working America members to share snacks and coffee and talk about key issues. “People talk about their struggles,” said Vicki, “and listening to each other is so meaningful.” Vicki is even training other Working America members to encourage their friends and neighbors to speak out.

Working America’s strategy can be summed up in three words: Strength in numbers. Many people Working America visits feel disconnected, isolated and, like Vicki, powerless.

Joseph, a waiter from Albuquerque, N.M., is a shy young man who reluctantly agreed to join other Working America members at a state House committee hearing about raising the minimum wage but didn’t want to say anything. In the packed hearing room, a high-powered lobbyist from the restaurant industry trade association testified that restaurant workers made “enough money” and that indexing the tipped minimum wage to inflation would put restaurants out of business. Joseph stood up. “I work in a restaurant,” he said, “and I can’t afford to buy a meal where I work.” And many of his co-workers were scraping by, trying to raise families on the low minimum wage for tipped workers.

Joseph had something important to add to the conversation, and he had the confidence to say it because he wasn’t there alone.

“Strength in numbers is the only way to make change,” Joseph said. “People need to organize for the greater good. I like to know that I’m contributing.”

Working America knocks on more than 10,000 doors every week—and two out of three people organizers talk to become Working America members, with many taking action right away on issues such as education, health care and workers’ rights. These members are a vital part of the union movement. Across the country, Working America is partnering with unions to expand the reach of the labor movement and bring working people together on important campaigns.

People are looking for reliable information they can’t get from Fox News and talk radio—and Working America provides it with face-to-face conversations.

Working America doesn’t just visit a member once. It builds relationships, maintains two-way conversations about issues that really matter and gives members plenty of opportunities to get engaged and to become powerful advocates.

Working America members took action in huge numbers to fight anti-union “right to work” for less laws in Minnesota, New Hampshire and Maine. They stood up to Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. They voted overwhelmingly to overturn the union-busting S.B. 5 in Ohio, helping send it to a resounding defeat. They supported the rights of child care workers in Vermont and fought the radical expansion of for-profit “cyber schools” in Michigan. In one of the organization’s most important recent victories, hundreds of letters from Working America members helped convince Ohio state legislators to drop a proposal—sponsored by the amusement-park lobby—that would have shortened the school year by five weeks. In Texas, union members are strengthening the local labor movement by signing up friends, family and neighbors as Working America members. And Working America is exploring new ways to talk to people about their work and helping them organize to make their lives better.

Vicki and Joseph aren’t alone anymore. They’re making a difference in their communities, and so are thousands of others. That’s the difference Working America can make.

As Vicki said, working together is “a vision our country needs to have.”

“I always believed in the labor movement, even though I don’t have a union at work,” Joseph said. “Working America gave me the outlet, a way to get involved.”

You can be part of this movement, too. Join Working America.

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Corporations May Not be People in Vermont

All over the state of Vermont, voters at town meeting will vote on resolutions calling for an amendment to the US Constitution stipulating that corporations are not people.
Town meeting is a form of very localized government that began in Massachusetts during the colonial era. Residents of small towns would meet annually to address the issues of importance to the town. Schools, sanitation, epidemics, roads (both building and maintenance) and the town budget and taxes. In Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and some small towns in Massachusetts, town meeting is still an annual event. In Vermont town meeting is held on the first Tuesday of March.

Town meeting is when towns vote on the annual budget, and make decisions about funding infrastructure projects. Town meeting is also when candidates for town office are voted in. All voters have a say, and are welcome to participate in town meeting. Every article on the warrant (the list of issues that will be discussed) is subject to debate and amendment. The meeting is run by a moderator (also an elected official), and most moderators use a combination of Robert’s Rules and their own. Forgive me for getting nerdy, I live in NH, and I’m something of a town meeting geek.

In any case, today in Vermont, voters in many towns will be voting on the resolution to amend the Constitution. From The Nation:

Communities across the Green Mountain State will go on record—“In light of the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that equates money with speech and gives corporations rights constitutionally intended for natural persons…”—“to urge the Vermont Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Congress to propose a U.S. Constitutional amendment for the States’ consideration which provides that money is not speech, and that corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution…”

The Vermont communities that move to amend the Constitution will not be the first in the country to do so. A year ago, Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison and surrounding Dane County voted overwhelmingly to support proposals to amend the Constitution so that the money power does not overwhelm democracy.

Since then, legislatures in two states (Hawaii and New Mexico) and counties, cities, villages and towns across the country have endorsed amendment proposals. Members of Congress, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have begun to propose such amendments.

This seems to be turning into a movement.

According to a new poll by the Castleton Polling Institute, 76 percent of Vermonters favor amending the Constitutional to limit spending on political campaigns. Notably 57 percent of Vermonters who identify as Republicans support such an amendment.

It’s easy to write Vermont off as a small state full of Volvo driving, Birkenstock wearing, latte drinking liberals, but that’s not the case. There are plenty of old-school Republican yankees populating the state. That over half of the state’s Republicans support the amendment is important. This is an issue of crucial importance to our democracy – and to that end, it’s fitting that Vermonters are using the oldest US form of government to decide to propel it forward.

For more on town meeting: VT town meeting guide from the VT Secretary of State.

Photo of the Vermont Statehouse by Tony Fischer Photography on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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Senator Sanders Proposes Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

On Thursday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the sole Independent member of the United States Senate, took to the floor to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn 2009’s Citizens United decision and clarify that corporations are not people.

Calling it “The Saving American Democracy Act,” Sanders described how overturning Citizens United is crucial to preserving the power of individual voters over the enormous treasuries of corporations.

Citizens United vs. The Federal Election Commission is the now infamous 5-4 Supreme Court decision in January 2009 that changed the way our elections can be funded. The decision reversed precedent and overturned legislation to say that the government cannot prohibit corporations or unions from making “electioneering communications” in favor of or against a candidate for office.

In other words, a corporation has the same First Amendment rights as any American citizen – thus was born “corporate personhood.”

In his speech, Sanders took aim at the decision itself before breaking down how it is affecting our political system:

Let me go on record, as strongly as I can, and as clearly as I can. In stating that I strongly disagree, with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

In my view, a corporation is not a person. In my view, a corporation does not have first amendment rights, to spend as much money as it wants without disclosure, on a political campaign.

In my view, corporations should not be able to go into their treasuries, spend millions and millions of dollars, on a campaign, in order to buy elections.

I do not believe that that is what American democracy is supposed to be about.

I do not believe that that is what the bravest of the brave, from our country, fighting for democracy, fought and died to preserve.

(snip)

Make no mistake, the Citizens United ruling has radically changed the nature of our democracy. Further tilting the balance of the power towards the rich and the powerful, at a time when already the wealthiest people in this country have never had it so good.

In my view, history will record, that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, is one of the worst decisions ever made by a Supreme Court, in the history of our country.

In a world where “corporate personhood” is a reality, the practical impact of the system is most notably felt, said Sanders, in Congress itself.

What happens here, on the floor of the senate?

Madam President, The six largest banks on Wall Street have assets equal to over 65% of our GDP. Over $9 Trillion… six banks.

Now when an issue comes up that impacts Wall Street, some of us, for example, think it might be a good idea to break up these huge banks. And members walk up to the desk up there and they have to decide. Am I going vote for this, am I going vote against it?

With full knowledge, that if they vote against the interest of Wall Street, that two weeks later, there may be ads coming down into their state attacking them.

Every member of the senate, every member of the house, in the back of their minds will be thinking. Gee, if I cast the vote this way, if I take on some big money interest, am I going to be punished for that? Will a huge amount of money be unleashed in my state?

Everybody here understands that that’s true.

It’s not just taking on Wall Street, maybe it’s taking on the drug companies, maybe it’s taking on the private insurance companies, maybe it’s taking on the military industrial complex.

But whatever powerful and wealthy special interest you are prepared to take on, on behave of the interest of the middle class and working families of this country, when you walk up to that desk and you cast that vote. You know in the back of your mind, that you may be unleashing a tsunami of money coming into your state, and you’re going to think twice about how you cast that vote.

Sanders also acknowledged that his bill joins a companion effort in the House of Representatives. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), one of the House’s newest members, introduced last month a bill that would “ban corporate money in politics and end corporate personhood once and for all.” The name? The “Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy” Amendment – or the “OCCUPIED” Amendment.

The combination of timing, branding, and impetus could not be much more clear; in a way, whether they meant to or not, the Occupy movement introduced these bills.

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