Walker Says Minimum Wage Serves No Purpose

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) doesn’t believe the minimum wage “serves a purpose.” Yes, that’s what he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board Tuesday. It should come as no surprise then that Walker also opposes raising the federal minimum wage from the $7.25-an-hour level where it’s been stuck since 2009.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) doesn’t believe the minimum wage “serves a purpose.” Yes, that’s what he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board Tuesday. It should come as no surprise then that Walker also opposes raising the federal minimum wage from the $7.25-an-hour level where it’s been stuck since 2009.

For the 700,000 Wisconsin workers who earn less than living wages and would like to be able to support their families, Walker has some sound and sage advice. He says those workers in fast food and retail and other low-wage jobs just have to get better jobs. He suggests welding. Hand me my helmet and spot welder. Then beam yourself up, Scotty. Obviously you’re from another planet. Here’s proof.

Earlier this month, a group of low-wage workers filed a complaint with the state that the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage actually violates a state law that says the minimum wage must be a living wage.

According to the Walker administration, $7.25 an hour is a living wage. Who knew? This is what the state’sDepartment of Workforce Development said in rejecting the workers’ claim of poverty wages:

The department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The group Wisconsin Jobs Now said after that decision that Walker’s “political stance against raising minimum wage is one thing.”

But for the governor to brazenly say to the working families of Wisconsin that $7.25 an hour is enough to sustain themselves is not only misguided, it is incredibly ignorant and willfully obtuse.

We agree. So does Mary Burke who is running to unseat Walker. Burke, who supports increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, said the wage law does indeed serve a purpose.

It’s important that people who are working full-time are able to support themselves without government assistance. That’s just sort of common sense.

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Supreme Court Blocks Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Wisconsin from implementing the nation’s strictest voter photo ID law that could have denied more than 300,000 registered voters the right to vote in the Nov. 4 election.

The one-page order gives opponents of the law 90 days to file a formal petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the case. The court’s three most conservative justices, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, dissented.

It is estimated that some 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters—mostly African American, Hispanic, students and young voters (18–24) and those older than 65—do not currently have the types of IDs the law requires.

There have been a number of legal challenges to the photo ID law that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the Republican-majority state legislature passed in 2011. The most recent when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project filed an emergency request asking the Supreme Court to block the ruling.

Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair says:

As we showed in the federal District Court, approximately 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters, disproportionately voters of color, lack the forms of ID that would have been required under the state’s restrictive voter ID law. These voters have a fundamental right to vote, a right that should not be denied by politicians who manipulate the voting rules weeks before Election Day. In a democracy, elections should be free, fair and accessible to all Americans.

Also announced yesterday, a federal judge struck down Texas’ very strict voter ID law.

On Oct. 8, the key parts of North Carolina’s restrictive voting rights law go forward, and last week the court allowed new voting restrictions in Ohio that severely curtailed early voting opportunities to go forward.

The Fair Elections Legal Network says that over the past two years, more than 30 states have introduced legislation or enacted laws that would curb voters’ access to voting. Find out more here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Horrible: Supreme Court Allows North Carolina’s Voting Restrictions to Go Forward

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The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday allowed key parts of one of the most restrictive voting rights laws in the nation to go forward. A federal appeals court had enjoined the provisions and North Carolina officials asked the Supreme Court to stay that ruling.

The majority of justices who voted to stay the appeals court ruling that would have reinstated same day voter registration during the early vote period and allowed the counting of ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct did not comment on their reasoning.

But Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented, wrote that allowing the two provisions to stand “risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters to exercise” their right to vote.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted (5–4) the Voting Rights Act by eliminating a provision that allowed the federal government to step in and preserve the people’s right to vote in all or parts of 16 states with long histories of voter discrimination.

Justices Ginsburg said Sotomayor said North Carolina’s new restrictions on voting “likely would not have survived” scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act.

Studies show that in North Carolina, African Americans were more likely to use same-day registration than other groups. The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and organizer of the “Moral Monday” protests, said:

Tens of thousands of North Carolina voters, especially African American voters, have relied on same-day registration, as well as the counting of ballots that were cast out of precinct, for years.

The ruling means that Friday is the last day North Carolinians can register to vote. Find the latest information on voter requirements from the North Carolina Board of Elections.

The 2013 North Carolina law was pushed by extremist lawmakers, including North Carolina House Speaker and current U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis and Gov. Pat McCrory (R). It directly targets the voting power of working people by shortening early voting periods, imposing restrictive voter ID requirements in 2016, along with eliminating same-day voter registration. The law faces further legal challenges next year.

USA Today reports that Tillis trails Sen. Kay Hagen (D) by just two percentage points. Figures from the North Carolina State Board of Elections show that more than 21,000 voters registered and voted on the same day during the early voting period in 2010, and more than 6,000 voters were able to have their ballots counted even though they voted in the wrong precinct.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Wisconsin’s strict voter photo ID law soon. Last week, the court allowed new voting restrictions in Ohio that severely curtailed early voting opportunities to go forward.

In a video posted Monday on the Department of Justice website, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said:

The early voting times targeted for cancellation, including weeknight and Sunday hours, previously provided critical opportunities for many people to get to the polls [and] disproportionately affect people with child care responsibilities, hourly salaries and reduced access to transportation—people who may have difficulty getting to the polls at any other time, and who are much more likely to be low income or minority individuals.

The Fair Elections Legal Network says that over the past two years, more than 30 states have introduced legislation or enacted laws that would curb voters’ access to voting. Find out more here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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6 Reasons Why Scott Walker Is One of the Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections

It’s an election year and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote against a whole host of extreme candidates who support policies that limit rights, make it even harder to afford a middle-class life and pad the pockets of their corporate buddies. One of the “Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections” is (surprise, surprise) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Here are six reasons why Walker has been bad for working people:

1. Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term, but with only a few months left the state is dead last in the Midwest in terms of job growth and he’s less than halfway toward reaching his jobs goal. [The Washington Post, 9/5/14]

2. And jobs aren’t just the one negative in Wisconsin’s economy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia ranked the state 49th in economic outlook and Wisconsin was one of only five states projected to contract in the second half of 2013. On top of that, new estimates show the state will be facing a $1.8 billion shortfall in the next budget cycle. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/28/13; Media Matters, 1/27/14]

3. As governor, Walker made the largest education cut in the state’s history—more than $1 billion. [Politifact, 2/8/12]

4. Walker signed legislation that would pre-empt local government control, preventing them from requiring paid sick days for workers, regardless of how much the community might want them. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/5/11]

5. Despite the fact that wages are stagnant and the minimum wage continues to lose buying power, Walker opposed raising the minimum wage, calling such a proposal a “political grandstanding stunt.” [The Associated Press, 1/23/14]

6. And the kicker that we’re all too familiar with: Walker signed a bill to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights, barred the traditional collection of union dues and forced workers to pay more for their health care and retirement benefits. [2011 Wisconsin Act 10; The New York Times, 2/22/14]

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Scott Walker Strongly Opposes Raising The Minimum Wage, So He Can’t Be Pleased About This

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, infamous across the country for his anti-union policies, is also an opponent of raising the minimum wage.

Unfortunately for him, he will share the November ballot with a minimum wage referendum in four of Wisconsin’s largest counties: Dane (home of Madison), Eau Claire, Kenosha, and Milwaukee (where Walker was once County Executive).

Due to a 2005 law, individual municipal units like cities and counties in Wisconsin can’t enact their own wage laws. (Thanks to one of Walker’s first acts as governor, the same applies to paid sick days laws). But counties can still put non-binding “advisory” wage-related referenda on the ballot. Dane, Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Eau Claire counties will all ask voters if they recommend raising the minimum wage to $10.10.

Despite staunch opposition from Gov. Walker and his legislative allies, an incredible 76 percent of Wisconsinites support raising the minimum wage above the current $7.25. To survive a tough race against businesswoman Mary Burke, who supports raising the wage, Walker might have to shift his position. “We do think that ultimately Gov. Walker’s position is going to need to evolve or he’s going to be negatively impacted by his position because it’s out of step with the majority of voters,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison of Wisconsin Jobs Now.

Wisconsin activists aren’t done, though. They also submitted signatures to get minimum wage increases on the ballot in Neenah and Menasha.

Photo by @WisconsinJobsNow on Twitter

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Two Of Nation’s Most Restrictive ALEC-Backed Voting Laws Blocked On The Same Day

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On April 29, 2014, restrictive voting laws in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were dealt major blows.

In Wisconsin, the voter ID law passed in 2011 and backed by Gov. Scott Walker was struck down by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote that the law placed unfair burdens on poor and minority voters, as well as the nearly 300,000 Wisconsinites who currently lack ID. The law has not been enforced since a state judge ruled it unconstitutional in March 2012.

While attending the Time 100 gala in New York City, Gov. Walker told reporters: “We ultimately think that just like many other issues in the last several years that it will ultimately be upheld.” Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen Plans to appeal.

Over in Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley denied the request of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration to reconsider his ruling that overturned that state’s voter ID law. McGinley struck down the law in January, finding that it put an unreasonable burden on the nearly 750,000 Pennsylvanians who lack photo identification.

The judge “also entered a permanent injunction,” said Pennsylvania ACLU legal director Vic Walczak, “which means the voter ID law cannot be enforced unless and until the [state] Supreme Court takes some kind of action.” The Corbett administration has not yet said whether they plan to appeal.

Those decisions come on the heels of a similar situation in Arkansas, where a judge declared that state’s voter ID law “void and unenforceable.”

These laws were part of a nationwide push for restrictive voting laws after the 2010 elections, backed by the power of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voter ID laws were both based on ALEC model legislation and pushed by ALEC-affiliated legislators. According to NBC News, lawmakers proposed 62 photo ID bills in 37 states in the 2011 and 2012 sessions alone, and that “more than half of the 62 bills were sponsored by members or conference attendees” of ALEC.

The Pennsylvania law was championed by prominent ALEC member Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who used taxpayer money to attend ALEC conferences.

So what’s next? Egregious voting restrictions are still on the books across the country, particularly in North Carolina. Working America members in NC have made it their primary focus to educate their communities about the law.

But as the New York Times editorial board put it, Wisconsin’s Judge Adelman has “paved the path” for similar laws across the country to be confronted by the court system.

Photo by vox_efx on Flickr

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Most Wisconsin Republican Senators Who Support Limiting Early Voting Rights Have Voted Early Themselves

In a stunning display of hypocrisy, 15 of the 17 Wisconsin state senators who voted to restrict early voting hours in Wisconsin have themselves voted early.  Senate Bill 324 would prohibit voters from casting their ballots early before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on weekdays or at any time on weekends. The total number of hours that early voting ballots, which are submitted as absentee ballots, can be accepted under the legislation cannot exceed 45 hours a week.

Scott Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, condemned the hypocrisy:

That these senators would vote to make it harder for their fellow citizens to cast an early ballot in elections, just as almost every single one of them has, is an almost unbelievable act of hypocrisy….Elections are the one time everyone—regardless of age, race or income—is equal. Our government ought to be making it as convenient as possible for legal voters to participate in our democracy. But apparently these Republican senators believe they deserve to be more equal than others.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Don’t Be Fooled: Insurance Companies, Stubborn Politicians Are Behind High Insurance Premiums

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The health insurance industry is reacting badly to President Obama’s announced health care “fix” — which would allow customers to keep health plans that may not meet minimum standards.

“This decision continues different rules for different policies and threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond,” said Jim Donelon, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

That response lead cartoonist Mark Fiore to ask: when doesn’t the health insurance industry react to an event by raising premiums?

Remember during the health insurance Wild West before health care reform, when premiums were skyrocketing, not to mention loads of people getting dropped from their plans? Remember leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when premiums rose? That suddenly seems like so long ago. Remember the insurance companies complaining about rising premiums before? Me neither.

Mark Fiore’s cartoon above, “A message from the Health Insurers of America,” is a good reminder that private insurance companies are responsible for high premiums, and that they will take the opportunity to pad their profits more often than not.

Since I am a self-employed cartoonist, I’ve been living in the health insurance wilderness for quite a while. My family’s plan was canceled, like all those other people you’ve heard about lately.

Fiore’s solution? Kicking his old insurance company to the curb and getting a better deal from his state’s new health exchange, California Covered — even more affordable with subsidies.

Since I’m not holding my breath that my insurance provider will “un-cancel” me, let alone offer my previous plan at the same price, off to California Covered I go! Once I’m there, thanks to generous subsidies, my premium will be lower than before. Ah, America!

Do insurance companies deserve all the blame? No sir. You can also lay the burden at the feet of Republican governors and legislators who have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving more than 5 million Americans without access to affordable coverage. That means more people using the emergency room, which means higher overall health care costs, which means — you guessed it — higher premiums for everyone.

If you don’t believe the effect that stubborn governors can have on health care costs, just compare average premiums in Minnesota (Medicaid expanded) and Wisconsin (Gov. Scott Walker refuses Medicaid expansion). Due to the difference in Medicaid eligibility and a better review of rates in Minnesota, the average Wisconsinite is paying $1,800 more than the average Minnesotan.

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ALEC Says No Sick Days (or Democracy) for You

In the last three years, nine states have added new laws that prohibit local governments from passing paid sick leave ordinances. Seven of these laws were passed in 2013 alone and 14 states introduced such legislation in the last year, Think Progress reports. In every state where local preemption bills have passed on paid sick leave, members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were among the co-sponsors of the legislation. In most cases, corporate lobby groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business and the National Restaurant Association also have been involved heavily in passing the laws. It’s bad enough these groups oppose paid sick days for working families, but they don’t even want democratically elected officials deciding on policies—they want to prevent these policies from even coming up for a vote.

Corporate groups routinely argue that paid sick leave ordinances will harm businesses, but the evidence so far rejects those claims. Bryce Covert of Think Progress writes:

Business growth and job growth have been strong under Seattle’s law. Job growth also has been strong in San Francisco and its law enjoys strong business support. The policies in Washington, D.C., andConnecticut have come at little cost for businesses. In fact, expanding D.C.’s current law would net employers $2 million in savings even with potential costs factored in. On the other hand, the average employerloses $225 per worker each year, thanks to lost productivity when they get sick and can’t take paid leave.

Before 2010, Georgia was the only state to have such a pre-emption law, since then Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin have added them. This push comes as a direct response to local governments showing real momentum in passing paid sick leave ordinances. Six cities and the state of Connecticut have passed paid sick days laws and other cities are considering joining them in protecting workers, customers and employers from the negative effects of sick employees.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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What’s Behind Wisconsin’s High Health Insurance Premiums? His Name Is Scott Walker

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s rejection of federal Medicaid money and his “hands-off approach to rate regulation” has lead to higher than average health insurance premiums in the Badger State.

How high? Up to 99 percent higher than in its neighbor (and longtime rival in all things) Minnesota.

Robert Kraig, the executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said a report he co-authored shows that “rates are much higher in Wisconsin than in Minnesota, despite having similar geographies and similar underlying medical costs.”

Kraig said Wisconsin insurance exchange premiums for a single person are an average of 79 percent to 99 percent higher than premiums in Minnesota, before tax credits are applied. He said the average Wisconsinite will pay $1,800 more annually for health care.

Wisconsin is one of the more than two dozen states whose governors or legislators have blocked federally funded Medicaid expansion.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government is assisting states with expanding Medicaid coverage to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, closing the gap between those who qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage and those who can buy health insurance on the state exchanges. Many states, including Minnesota, have accepted the expansion as a no-brainer.

But as part of the Supreme Court’s decision last June, states cannot be required to accept these federal funds, leading many governors like Texas Gov. Perry, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, and Wisconsin’s Walker to “stand up to Obamacare” by saying no to these funds.

So in states like Wisconsin, the coverage gap persists, pushing about 92,000 low-income Wisconsinites onto the health exchanges. Low-income people, on average, have more medical needs, so adding thousands of them to the exchange pool leads to higher premiums — for everyone.

In Milwaukee, average cost of health insurance is 112 percent higher than Minnesota’s average; in La Crosse, WI, it’s 136 percent higher. Yikes.

It’s not just the Medicaid expansion. Under Gov. Walker, Wisconsin’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has been very laissez-faire about challenging insurance rates, while Minnesota has “exercised a rigorous rate of review,” according to the Cap Times. Kraig’s study found that such reviews have lowered Minnesota’s rates by up to 37 percent. “We have taken in Wisconsin a clearinghouse approach,” Kraig said, “The insurance company says, ‘Here’s our rate in the exchange’ and the state of Wisconsin says ,’OK.’”

Back to Scott Walker. Not only is Walker up for reelection next year, he’s also laying groundwork for a presidential campaign. Accepting Medicaid expansion through Obamacare would be an anathema to Walker’s Tea Party base and his corporate backers; he can’t say that out loud, which is why his explanation for rejecting the funds has been vague and elusive.

By rejecting Medicaid for ideological and political reasons, Walker is continuing the pattern he’s held since taking office: it doesn’t matter if it makes life worse for Wisconsinites, it only matters that he holds onto power.

Tell Gov. Walker to end the games: accept federal funds for Medicaid now.

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