Raise the Wage in Greensboro

Working America Member John Schoonover

I love living in Greensboro. When I moved here a little over three years ago, I found it easy to make friends and become part of the community. I especially liked the beautiful public parks and green spaces that the city offers its residents.

Even in a strong community like ours, however, I’ve seen people struggling. I joined Working America recently because I was tired of seeing elected officials pass policies that rigged the economy to benefit wealthy billionaires at the expense of working families. Fighting for good jobs and a just economy starts with paying workers fairly, and that’s why I believe it’s time to raise the minimum wage.

This is an important issue: Six years ago the federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 an hour, and it hasn’t been touched since. Wages for North Carolinians have been stagnant since the minimum wage was last raised in 2009, while prices for life’s daily necessities have continued to go up. But we can do something concrete to address the problem: Raise the minimum wage for folks working for the city.

Many of the folks affected by the frozen minimum wage are the same ones who make Greensboro a great place to live. They’re city workers, and they keep our streets clean and safe. They maintain our parks and trails, and they run our libraries and clean our public buildings. Putting more money in their pockets immediately pumps needed dollars back into our local economy and helps keep our city beautiful. It’s a win-win, and it’s been proven in other places.

Working families are already struggling to make it in this economy. Everyone could use a raise, and paying low-wage workers, especially city workers, a family wage helps raise the bar and sets a powerful example for local employers. Six years is long enough – now is the time for the Greensboro community to do the right thing for working men, women and families and raise the minimum wage.

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Raising Wages Is ‘Measuring Stick’ for Presidential Candidate Support, Trumka Declares

As the 2016 presidential battle begins to roll down the campaign trail toward Election Day 18 months from now, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “The labor movement’s doors are open to any candidate who is serious about transforming our economy with high and rising wages.”

In a live-streamed speech this morning from the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., Trumka said:

We have created an agenda for shared prosperity called raising wages. It will be our inspiration and our measuring stick throughout the presidential campaign.  Raising wages is grounded in a fundamental idea—that we can become a high-wage society, a society in which the people who do the work share in the wealth we create.

He also stressed that the labor movement opposes Fast Track and:

We expect those who seek to lead our nation forward to oppose Fast Track. There is no middle ground, and the time for deliberations is drawing to a close.

Trumka pointed to the skepticism and cynicism many voters feel, especially after nearly two generations national leaders have either “taken steps that worsened inequality or fiddled around the edges, trying to raise wages in an economy fundamentally built to lower wages.”

President Obama has spent much of his presidency getting our nation out of a deep economic crisis. Now we have an economy where GDP is up, and the stock market is up, but wages remain flat—and this has happened again and again since the 1970s. Once again, America is emerging from an economic crisis—but those of us who count on paychecks are not. And that’s not an accident. Workers are being held down on purpose.

He said the decline in wages, soaring corporate profits and booming CEO pay are not the result “of the wandering and clumsy hand of capitalism.” Instead, he said:

Since the 1980s, the growing political power of the wealthiest among us has rewritten our labor laws, our trade laws, our tax laws, our monetary policies, our fiscal policies, our financial regulations…all to push wages down and to increase corporate profits, to put speculation over private investment and tax cuts over public investment.

The results, Trumka said, are runaway inequality, unemployment, falling wages, rising economic insecurity, collapsing infrastructure and deteriorating national competitiveness—all driven by gigantic imbalances in economic and political power.

In the 2016 campaign, “there will be no place to hide for those who aspire to lead America,” he said.

The problems of income inequality and stagnant wages are so clear, so abundant, that only direct, sweeping action to change the rules will put our nation on a fresh path of progress. We are hungry for a path to a prosperous 21st century. And America’s workers know that the first step on that path is raising wages.

But he emphasized that a raising wages agenda is a broad vision that includes earned sick leave, full employment and fair overtime rules for workers. It also includes taxing Wall Street to pay for massive investments in infrastructure and education, so Wall Street serves Main Street, not the other way around and the ability for workers to bargain collectively with employers for good wages and benefits without fear of retaliation.

Any candidate who wants to appeal to workers has to put forth a bold and comprehensive raising wages agenda. They must be committed to investing in a prosperous future for America. They must have an authentic voice and a commitment, from the candidate down through his or her economic team, to see this agenda through to completion.

Read the full address here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Unions Are a Woman’s Best Friend

With National Women’s History Month behind us now, it’s still important to celebrate the great strides women have made over the past decades. It is equally important to remember how many women workers still don’t have the basic necessities they need to support themselves and their families. The labor movement views the struggle for women’s equality as a shared fight, especially considering women are the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of families in the United States. Women of color, in particular, have a hard time getting good pay and benefits, and they make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers.

Nearly 7 million women have a voice on the job due to their union membership, and women in unions are more likely than their nonunion peers to have access to paid sick leave and family leave. Collective bargaining through unions also narrows the pay gap between men and women significantly. A typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion woman and is far more likely to have health and retirement security. This puts upward pressure on wages and benefits throughout industries that are predominately female, many of which traditionally pay low wages. Every worker deserves to have protections on the job, and it is the goal of the labor movement to ensure that happens.

Recently I was in Chicago for the AFL-CIO Next Up Young Worker Summit, and I was inspired by how many young women I saw around me. Hundreds of young women came from across the country eager to learn and grow as leaders in the labor movement and to stand up for the rights of all workers. They were facilitating workshops, speaking on panels and leading their union brothers and sisters at demonstrations around the city in solidarity with local workers. Erica Clemons, a young worker with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), provided a snapshot into why it is so important for labor to be active in the fight for women’s rights. She said, “I’m a young organizer. A person of color. A mother. These identities matter to me. It’s important for the labor movement to understand unique struggles.”

Erica started out as a cashier at her local Kroger grocery store in Atlanta. After becoming a member of UFCW, she advanced through hard work and determination from cashier to a spot in the selective UFCW Gold Internship Program in Ohio, an intensive organizer training. Erica excelled in the program, and the organizing director of UFCW Local 881 took notice and offered her a job on the local’s organizing team. Now Erica works to help workers organize in grocery stores just like the one where she started out. She helped organize and lead hundreds of Next Up participants in the demonstration at a Food 4 Less grocery store last week in Chicago, advocating for higher wages. And in her spare time, she serves on the AFL-CIO’s National Young Worker Advisory Council.

The work that Erica and thousands of other union women are doing across the country offers a good reminder that if we work and stand together, achieving gender equality is possible for women all across the United States.

This is a cross-post from MomsRising.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

A series of recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) make clear the case for why wages have stagnated in the United States.

Before digging into the details, it’s important to note a few things. First off, wage stagnation is not a small problem, it’s something that affects 90% of all workers. As one of the authors of these reports, Lawrence Mishel, says: “Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009 and 2013, real wages fell for the entire bottom 90 percent of the wage distribution.” Second, while the Great Recession made things worse, the problem goes back 35 years. And third, and most importantly, wage stagnation is a matter of choice, not necessity.

Here are five real reasons why wages have stagnated in the United States.

1.  The abandonment of full employment: For a variety of reasons, policy makers largely have focused on keeping inflation rates low, even if that meant high unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers means companies are under less pressure to offer good wages or benefits in order to attract workers. Since the Great Recession, austerity measures at all levels of government have made this problem worse. EPI says excessive unemployment “has been a key cause of wage inequality, since research shows that high rates of unemployment dampen wage growth more for workers at the bottom of the wage ladder than at the middle, and more at the middle than at the top.”

2. Declining union density: As extreme pro-business interests have pushed policies that lower union membership, the wages of low- and middle-wage workers have stagnated. Higher unionization leads to higher wages, and the decrease in unionization has led to the opposite effect. The decline in the density of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements not only has weakened the ability of unionized workers to fight for their own wages and benefits, but also their ability to set higher standards for nonunion workers. EPI notes: “The decline of unions can explain about a third of the entire growth of wage inequality among men and around a fifth of the growth among women from 1973 to 2007.” Read much more about the connection between the decline of collective bargaining and wage stagnation.

3. Changes in labor market policies and business practices: EPI argues: “A range of changes in what we call labor market policies and business practices have weakened wage growth in recent decades.” Among the numerous changes they describe include: the lowering of the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage, the decrease in overtime eligibility for workers, increasing wage theft (particularly affecting immigrant workers), misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and declining budgets and staff for government agencies that enforce labor standards.

4. Deregulation of the finance industry and the unleashing of CEOs: The deregulation of finance has contributed to lower wages in several ways, including the shifting of compensation toward the upper end of the spectrum, the use of the financial sector’s political power to favor low inflation over low unemployment as a policy goal, and the deregulation of international capital flows, which has kept policy makers from addressing imbalances, such as the U.S. trade deficit. EPI adds: “Falling top tax rates, preferential tax treatment of stock options and bonuses, failures in corporate governance, and the deregulation of finance all combined to increase the incentive and the ability of well-placed economic actors to claim larger incomes over the past generation.”

5. Globalization policies: Decades spent in pursuit of policies that prioritized corporate interests over worker interests led to lowering of wages for middle- and lower-income workers in the United States. EPI concludes: “International trade has been a clear factor suppressing wages in the middle of the wage structure while providing a mild boost to the top, particularly since 1995.”

EPI has also provided nine charts that lay out the picture of U.S. wage stagnation very clearly.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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What the NLRB Announcement on McDonald’s Means

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In case you missed it, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Richard F. Griffin made a pretty significant announcement about McDonald’s and its role as an employer to workers in franchise locations all over the country.

Historically McDonald’s has claimed it has no authority over wages or complaints of workers’ rights violations at its franchise locations because that is up to the individual owners, but the NLRB general counsel determined McDonald’s could be liable as a joint employer in these kinds of situations.

There’s been a lot of head scratching over what this announcement means and its implications for other large companies and workers at these kind of fast food franchises, so here is some basic information to break it all down for you.

How Did This All Come About?

You’ve probably noticed that fast food workers all over the country are fed up. In recent years these workers have been speaking out against low pay and working conditions in the fast food industry, culminating in several strikes and days of action that have captured the hearts and minds of people who care about workers’ rights. Some workers who spoke out said that their employers retaliated against them, even though such concerted activity is protected by federal labor law. Those workers filed charges of unfair labor practices with the NLRB and presented evidence that McDonald’s does indeed have significant control over wages and labor relations at its franchisees. Which brings us to the NLRB McDonald’s news.

What Did the NLRB Say?

General Counsel Griffin investigated charges alleging McDonald’s franchisees and their franchisor, McDonald’s, violated the rights of workers as a result of activities surrounding the fast food strikes and protests. He found some of these charges to have merit and, significantly, determined that McDonald’s should be considered a joint employer with its franchisees. Basically, McDonald’s wouldn’t be able to hide behind the franchisee, but also may be held responsible for the policies in place that deal with terms and conditions of employment, and labor practices.

What Happens Next?

If the workers and the employers cannot come to a settlement, the NLRB general counsel will issue complaints and try the cases before administrative law judges. Those judges then make rulings and the losing parties can appeal to the full NLRB board in Washington, D.C. NLRB decisions could be appealed to a federal appeals court, and then possibly to the Supreme Court.

Will All Franchisors Be Considered Joint Employers Now?

Not necessarily. This case is specific to McDonald’s. That being said, this could have implications for other employers on a case-by-case basis if more unfair labor practice charges come up.

What’s the Big Picture?

Even though this story has a long way to go, this is “pretty significant,” says AFL-CIO Legal Counsel Sarah Fox. What makes this case so interesting is that the joint employer doctrine can be applied not only to fast food franchises and franchise arrangements in other industries, but also to other practices companies use to avoid directly employing their workers, such as subcontracting, outsourcing and using temporary employment agencies. “Companies are increasingly using these kinds of arrangement to distance themselves from their workers and shield themselves from liability as employers,” says Fox. “These are the devices they use so that they can get the benefit of the work the employees do, but say ‘I’m not responsible’ for unfair labor practices, health and safety violations, paying proper employment taxes or complying with other legal responsibilities of an employer.”

The notion of the joint employer doctrine is an important concept for holding employers responsible, even if there’s a third party involved, when they are effectively exerting control over wages and working conditions.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW.

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr.

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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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While Worker Wages Stayed Flat This Past Year, You Won’t Believe What Happened to CEO Pay

The top ten highest paid chief executives in the country all took home more than $100 million last year, with two of them earning billion-dollar paychecks.

“I have never seen anything like that,” said Greg Ruel, who authored a report on executive compensation released Tuesday by GMI Ratings. “Usually we have a few CEOs at the $100 million-plus level but never the entire top ten.”

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took home more than $2.2 billion, and Richard D. Kinder of Kinder Morgan, Inc. took home more than $1.1 billion.

The case of Kinder is deceptive. In 2012, his base salary was $1, but he made a billion dollars selling restricted stock. That followed a nearly $60 million profit from stock in 2011.

GMI’s poll of 2,259 American companies — accounting for salary, stock options, bonuses, and the like — found an average increase in executive compensation of 8.47 percent. For the top 1,000 companies, however, that number jumps to 15.47 percent.

Meanwhile, median household income has remained flat at $51,017. Adjusted for inflation, there was almost no measurable increase between 2011 and 2012.

Worker wages haven’t only remained flat over the same period, they have “fallen about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999,” writes The Guardian’s Dominic Rushe.

So why are CEOs getting rewarded? Stock option packages are supposed to “align the interests of senior executives with shareholders,” writes GMI, but “the unintended consequences of these grants is often windfall profits that come from small share price increases.”

In other words, these huge stock options are supposed to give CEOs the incentive to make sure their company does well, but mostly it incentivizes them to seek small, sometimes short-term stock jumps. Put another way, it’s not in the immediate self-interest of these immensely powerful people that the economy as a whole does well, or even that their own companies do well in the long run.

There are efforts to make sure, at the very least, that these compensation systems are transparent. The SEC is considering a rule that would require companies to disclose the ratio of CEO compensation and the pay of the typical worker. In 2012, CEOs of major corporations took home an average of 354 times more than the average worker (up from 42 times in 1982, 201 in 1992 and 281 in 2002) but that’s just from data that’s available.

Tell the SEC companies must disclose CEO-to-worker pay ratios.

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Walmart Should Look in Mirror for Declining Sales Cause

Walmart reported last week that sales at its U.S. stores had unexpectedly declined. Walmart tried to explain its shrinking sales away by citing outside factors such as higher gas prices and payroll taxes.

But, say many market observers, the real cause lies within Walmart itself—the largest private-sector employer in the United States and the poster child for low-wages.

Daniel Gross at The Daily Beast says, “This isn’t complicated. Or, rather, it shouldn’t be complicated.” He writes:

By paying low wages, Walmart is effectively limiting the ability of a large chunk of the American workforce to consume. By setting a low benchmark, it encourages other employers to do the same. The sorts of people who make up Walmart’s core shopping constituency are the sort of people who work there. Were they to earn more income, they’d surely spend more at stores—including Walmart. Since they don’t, they don’t.

Read his full article.

Along with the low wages, keep in mind Walmart and a growing number of other employers keep large chunks of their workforces on part-time status and have cut back the hours of full-time workers. Don’t forget the lack of affordable health care coverage. In other words, there’s less money for workers to spend outside of bare family necessities.

Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarbrough told Reuters, “That low-income customer is really struggling now, and that’s hitting Walmart.”

John Marshall, a senior analyst for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) capital stewardship program, told the New York Post:

The company is left facing a core customer challenged by many of the economic forces Walmart itself has unleashed on low-income worker/consumers.

Here’s another voice that gets to the heart of Walmart’s sales decline. Larry Born has worked at the Walmart in Crestwood, Ill., for three years and is a member of the Walmart worker group Our Walmart. He says the sales numbers “make it clear that Walmart’s labor practices aren’t just hurting workers like me—they’re also hurting business.”

But he also has some sound fiscal advice for Walmart.

If Walmart wants to reverse these trends, the company should start by listening to its associates. With $16 billion in profits every year, Walmart can easily afford to increase pay and access to full-time hours so that we can make our stores great places to shop and so that every Walmart worker can support their family—without relying on public assistance. These commonsense changes will help repair the company’s image, lift its bottom-line and strengthen our entire economy.

Read more from Born.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Photo by ThePeoplesRecord on Tumblr

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Why Immigration Reform Matters to North Carolina

Katie Gregg reports from North Carolina.

Amid a flurry of last minute activity in the North Carolina General Assembly, including a truly awful voter-suppression bill, our members are thinking ahead to the August recess. We’re looking forward to the return of the folks who represent us in the U.S. House of Representatives, so we can tell them, face-to-face, that now is the time to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Christin, a Working America member from Greensboro, NC, is all too familiar with the urgency of immigration reform. Her parents were immigrants to the US Virgin Islands from St. Lucia decades ago. She and her five siblings were in their teens by the time their parents had finally completed the United States’ lengthy immigration process—one that had begun more than two decades earlier. “The process to get legal status in the US or become an American citizen should not take decades. We need to allow those who are here to get their documents sooner, so that they can start paying taxes and contributing towards building a better economy,” said Christin.

By most estimates, North Carolina has roughly 300,000 undocumented workers. Large corporations take advantage of the status of these workers and pay them under the table, often in very poor conditions and for desperately low pay. As a result, they have little incentive to hire more workers or pay much above minimum wage. Christin has friends who have applied for work only to be told they would be hired at $7.25 per hour. She and so many others know that’s not nearly enough on which to raise a family. Clearly the only winners here are these corporations, which continue to make record profits and hold record power while we suffer the effects of record unemployment.

Christin says her parents came to the US because they wanted to make sure their kids had better opportunities in life than they themselves had. Passing comprehensive immigration reform in Congress is one thing we can do to make sure all workers are able to provide that same opportunity for their children, and we know the only way this will work is if we stand together and let our elected officials know with a unified voice, “The time is now.”

Lobby meetings, petitions, phone calls, and letters are just some of the ways you can get involved with pressuring our politicians to support a pathway to citizenship. If you’re in North Carolina, email me at [email protected] to find out how you can help.

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Person to Person, Working for Fair Wages in Texas

Alavaro Rodriguez, Jr., reports from Texas.

Yesterday, a group of volunteers including my father (Alvaro Rodriguez Sr.) and I got together at the Harris County AFL-CIO for a phone bank party. We called fellow Working America members to invite them to a rally to raise the minimum wage this week and tell them about what Working America is working on in Texas.

This morning, some of us are heading to Houston City Hall to speak in support of an ordinance that would punish those that commit wage theft. Workers deserve their hard-earned wages. We’ve been collecting letters of support from Houstonians like me who support the ordinance. It feels great to get work with others on these important issues.

After calling through our lists, we agreed to meet monthly for phone bank parties. Next time, we’re going to turn it into a potluck with everyone bringing a dish. If you’re in the Lone Star State anytime soon, join us!

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