Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Kansas’

Arkansas’ minimum wage fight will be on the ballot in November

Monday, August 20th, 2018

A proposal to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2021 gained enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in November. The group gathered over 16,000 more signatures than necessary to make the ballot.

The current minimum wage is $8.50, and the last time Arkansas voters approved of a minimum wage raise was in 2014. The Arkansas minimum wage is not among the lowest state minimum wages in the country and is higher than many of the states that surround it. Kansas and Oklahoma, for example, have a $7.25 minimum wage, the same as the federal minimum wage. Missouri’s minimum wage is $7.85. Still, supporters of the measure — which will be Issue Five on the ballot this year, according to the Associated Press — say that it’s unacceptable for Arkansas to live on only about $18,000 a year.

Stephen Copley, executive director of Faith Voices Arkansas, said in a release to the Arkansas Times, “Today’s minimum wage is about $18,000 a year for someone working full time. With prices going up all the time, you can’t raise a family on that.”

Some economic policy experts say that the federal minimum wage is far too low. According to the Economic Policy Institute, despite productivity roughly doubling since 1968, workers who are paid the federal minimum wage now make 25 percent less than workers making the federal minimum wage that year. As Rajan Menon recently explained in The Nation, over the past decade, the $7.25 federal minimum wage lost almost 10 percent of its purchasing power, thanks to inflation, which means that for someone to make the same as the 2009 minimum wage, they’d have to work 41 additional days.

A 2016 analysis from the White House Council of Economic Advisors that looked at 18 states that raised the minimum wage above $7.25 found that these raises “contributed to substantial increases in average wages for workers in low-wage jobs, helping to reverse a pattern of stagnant or falling real wages” and that “this has occurred without any sign of an impact on employment or hours worked.”

Arkansans for a Fair Wage is leading the effort behind the initiative. David Couch, a lawyer in Little Rock who leads the ballot committee, told the Arkansas Times that the group raised $155,300 and spent $101,000 to pay canvassers to gather signatures. The Fairness Project, a nonprofit founded for the purpose of getting minimum wage increases on the ballot, gave $100,000 in funding to the group and the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit workers rights group that conducts policy research, gave $500,000. The Fairness Project is also working on a minimum wage initiative in Missouri, and has worked on campaigns for raising the minimum wage in Arizona, Colorado, California, Maine, Washington state and Washington, D.C.

There is also an initiative to get a minimum wage raise on the ballot in Michigan, gradually raising it from $9.25 to $12 in 2022 that is supported by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC). ROC also supported Initiative 77 in Washington, D.C. to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers. Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda have come out in support of the wage increase. In July, the board of state canvassers were deadlocked on approval for the ballot proposal. In Missouri, Proposition B is on the ballot, which would raise the state minimum wage from $7.85 to $12 in 2023. Some of the same organizations support this ballot initiative as the one in Arkansas. The National Employment Law Project and the Fairness Project and local officials and mayors, such as St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, have supported it.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on August 17, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

OSHA Speaks to Employers, Ignores Workers, About Deaths in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

Too many workers are dying in the states of Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, according to OSHA Region VII, and employers need to do something about it. An OSHA alert has gone out from the region, “seeking to stem a recent increase in workplace fatalities in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.” The press release cites “an increase in fatalities associated with fallsstruck-by objects and vehiclesmachine hazardsgrain bin engulfment, and burns” and notes that “OSHA has  investigated 34 fatalities in these three states since Oct. 1, 2017.”

Some of the more recent fatalities in these states gleaned from the Confined Space Weekly Tollinclude 39-year-old Rafael Ayala Orozco, of Grand Island, Nebraska, who fell about 80 feet to his death at a fertilizer plant construction site near Hastings and an un-named worker who died at a Michael Foods in Wakefield, Nebraska, last September.

In Missouri, two workers, Joey Hale, 44, and Ben Ricks, 58, died after falling down an elevator shaft at a St. Louis construction site last month. Stephen Lemay was killed when a TV tower in Webster County collapsed near Springfield, and  Stephen Tepatt was electrocuted near Fenton, Missouri last December when the boom on his vehicle hit a high power line and was electrocuted by 12,000 volts.

And in Kansas recently, two Westar Energy employees, operations supervisors Craig Burchett and Jesse Henson died after suffering severe burns at the utility’s electrical largest plant. Jubal D. Hubbard was killed when a high-pressure valve ruptured near Olathe, Kansas last December.

Now calling out employers in these states because they are killing too many workers is a good thing, and rather rare for OSHA. I applaud it.

What bothers me, however, is the wording and tone of the press release. OSHA uses it to advertise its compliance assistance activities, highlighting its free On-site Consultation Program for small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs“which offers practical advice on how an organization can create and integrate safety and health programs.”

So far, so good. OSHA’s consultation program and health and safety program practices — including its upcoming “Safe and Sound Week” campaign — are good things, especially for employers who want to do the right thing, but just need a little help.

But then OSHA tells employers that “By implementing and sustaining workplace safety and health programs we can help employees avoid preventable injuries and fatalities.”

To my ears, this sounds a bit blame-the-workerish. Employers are required to provide safe workplaces. Period.  Telling employers they should implement health and safety programs to “help employees” avoid injury or death is kind of like saying we should teach men about women’s rights so that we can “help women” avoid rape.

Injuries and fatalities are not preventable because employees “avoid” them. Certainly, training is important. But the bottom line is that injuries and fatalities are preventable because employers eliminate or minimize the hazards that cause them.

I’m also concerned with what’s missing from the press release.  There is no encouragement of workers to exercise their legal rights under the law. Workers have the right to get information about many of the hazards they’re exposed to, get training and file complaints with OSHA if their employer fails to provide a safe workplace. Strongly encouraging workers to use these rights to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities is important in those companies where workers are getting killed, not because their employers haven’t taken advantage of OSHA’s valuable compliance assistance opportunities, but because they are illegally cutting corners on safety.

If OSHA really wants to put pressure on employers in these states, the agency needs to emphasize compliance with the law, enforcement of that law — and workers’ legal role in that process — as well as compliance assistance. The agency needs to not only motivate employers to take advantage of compliance assistance opportunities, but also encourage workers to use their rights to file complaints against employers who are just trying to save a buck on the backs — and lives  — of their employees.

I will undoubtedly be criticized for nit-picking the wording of a press release and not being adequately appreciative of this initiative. But words and message are important.  OSHA doesn’t work if workers don’t know their rights and aren’t encouraged to exercise them. And workplace safety doesn’t work if employers are encouraged to paternalistically “help” their workers, rather than being reminded of their legal responsibility to make their workplaces safe.

This article was originally published at Confined Space on July 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

Kansas Republicans Again Stab Workers, And Democracy, In The Back

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

poole-60x60Once again, that conservative maxim about the government that’s closest to the people serves the people best was thrown out the window by conservatives when it comes to protecting the interests of workers against the abuses of businesses.

The latest example is Kansas, which just passed a law that said that local governments could not pass laws regulating just-in-time work scheduling, the practice of scheduling workers for shifts with as little as a few hours notice. The practice makes it impossible for workers on such schedules to plan to work second jobs or attend classes during their off hours. Employers who engage in this real-time scheduling expect workers to be on call, uncompensated, for when they might be called to work.

Workers subjected to these kinds of schedules often do not know how many hours of work they will have each week – and thus can’t predict how much they earn.

The bill, passed by the overwhelmingly Republican legislature and sent to ultraconservative Sen. Sam Brownback, pre-empts local governments in other areas as well, including their ability to impose nutritional labeling or content laws (thus a jurisdiction could not require restaurants to post the caloric content of their food) and their ability to police real estate transactions or rental inspections.

It is a continuation of a trend that has picked up momentum in recent years as more harshly conservative state legislatures have opted to clamp down on the ability of progressive enclaves in their states to govern their jurisdictions as they see fit.

That happened recently in North Carolina, where a state law was passed to invalidate local LGBT-rights ordinances. North Carolina is also one of 19 states that have laws on the books telling cities that they cannot pass their own minimum-wage laws. The list – compiled by the National Employment Law Project – is a rogue’s gallery of worker-unfriendly states: Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

What the Kansas legislature was attempting to prevent was the spread of laws like one that passed last year in San Francisco, the “Predictable Scheduling and Fair Treatment for Formula Retail Employees Ordinance.” According to this fact sheet, the ordinance requires larger employers to post work schedules for employees at least two weeks in advance and requires employers to give due consideration to employee requests for changes. If an employer makes last-minute changes to the work schedule or requires a worker to be on call but does not actually summon the worker to work, the ordinance sets out how the worker is to be compensated for his or her time.

The organization A Better Balance has been fighting to get a bill called the Schedules That Work Act passed at the federal level. You can imagine the uphill battle getting such legislation passed nationally will be, when conservative legislatures won’t even allow democratically elected local officials to rein in the abuses against workers within their municipal boundaries.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on May 2, 2016, Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah Poole Worked at Campaign for America’s Future, attended Pennsylvania State University, and lives in Washington, DC.
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