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Posts Tagged ‘minimum wage increase’

Labor’s next $15 minimum wage: Fair scheduling for shift workers

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

Katherine LanderganLabor activists have their sights set on their next priority after successes in state capitols with paid sick leave and higher minimum wage: better working conditions for people who do shift work.

Several states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, are considering so-called fair workweek laws that would arm workers with a set of rights, such as requiring that employees be given advance notice of work schedules and are compensated for canceled shifts.

The effort has been described by some in the labor movement as the “next $15 minimum wage,” with major cities adopting fair workweek ordinances and several Democratic presidential candidates taking up the cause on the campaign trail.

There’s also been legislation introduced in Congress, but it’s unlikely to advance as long as Republicans control the Senate and President Donald Trump is in office.

That’s why advocates are taking an approach similar to the one they’ve used on other issues affecting low-wage workers, such as the $15 minimum wage and paid sick leave: Start at the grassroots level and go from there.

“It’s a lot of the same pattern,” said Rachel Deutsch, who leads the national Fair Workweek campaign for the Center for Popular Democracy. “Some of our most progressive cities really championed these ideas that at first corporate America dismissed. But once we established that no, this is real, and it works, we got states to embrace [these policies].”

The campaign for more predictable work shifts emerged from the rise of technology that allows companies to make “micro adjustments” to a worker’s schedule based on factors like expected customer traffic, sales and even the weather. Cities such as Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York City and San Francisco, as well as the state of Oregon, have adopted regulations to overhaul shift work.

While the policies vary slightly from place to place, the basic framework unions and left-leaning groups are pushing is consistent. The idea is to compensate workers for employer-initiated schedule changes, mandate a certain number of hours’ rest between shifts and give workers their schedules with two weeks of advance notice. Another common requirement is that employers must give workers a chance to pick up more hours before hiring new staff.

Business and industry groups, however, fear these types of regulations will cause disruptions — not just for companies, but also for workers.

Jacque Coe, a spokesperson for the Seattle Restaurant Alliance, said that since the city of Seattle implemented a fair workweek law two years ago, restaurant managers have complained that they spend more time doing paperwork and must pay workers more if they pick up any last-minute catering gigs, and that the rigid scheduling has made it more of a headache for workers to trade shifts.

“A lot of people enter the hospitality industry for the flexibility,” Coe said. “We are hearing frustration over the paperwork required when a team member wants to switch shifts on short notice. It becomes a frustration for both the employee and employer.”

Jeff Solsby, a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, concurred. He said that these policies are a “one-size-fits-all” attempt to fix something that both workers and businesses aren’t asking to be solved.

“Locking in schedules weeks in advance and piling on new planning, tracking and compliance schemes hurts businesses that are anchors in their communities, and it strips away a benefit restaurant employees say is one of their most important and sought-after,” Solsby said in a statement.

But advocates say any extra costs businesses will incur is a small price to pay compared to the erratic nature of shift work. The ability for employers to make changes at any point to shift schedules affects not only a worker’s paycheck, but their health and well-being, they say.

A recent study from University of California makes that point.

Researchers found that minorities, particularly women of color, are much more likely to be assigned irregular work schedules, and that two-thirds of service workers get less than two weeks’ notice of their schedules.

“This is not desirable schedule flexibility, this is instability,” said Daniel Schneider, a sociologist at UC Berkeley who conducted the study.

The issue of predictable scheduling is also being addressed by some of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, said they plan to reintroduce federal legislation regarding shift scheduling. Three other Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, have previously co-sponsored the measure.

The bill, referred to as The Schedules That Work Act, would require employers in the retail, food service and cleaning industries to provide work schedules at least two weeks in advance, and to pay employees for last-minute changes or being sent home early. It also would make it illegal for companies with more than 15 employees to retaliate against workers who request a specific shift schedule for family, health or job training reasons.

Previous iterations of the bill never made it out of committee.

Warren said in a statement that Congress should take up the legislation so workers can “regain control over their work schedules.”

“More than half of hourly workers, many of whom are workers of color, get their work schedules with less than a week’s notice,” she said. “[This makes] it nearly impossible for them to go back to school, maintain stable child care and sometimes to pay the bills.”

Tom Pietrykoski, a campaign spokesperson for Booker, said in a statement that the senator supports the measure because improving the lives of working families is central to his economic agenda.

“Far too many workers are forced to make tough decisions between the demands of work and family,” Pietrykoski said. “Cory is proud to work on legislation in the Senate to provide hard working Americans certainty in their schedules and income in order to help build an economy that works for all families.”

Deutsch, of the national Fair Workweek campaign, said several states are primed to adopt fair workweek policies. The Massachusetts Legislature held hearings on a bill in the spring, and she predicts that Washington state, New Jersey and Connecticut will enact measures in the 2020 session.

Some efforts at the state level have been unsuccessful.

The California Legislature’s attempts to emulate San Francisco’s scheduling law have repeatedly fallen short, with broad business opposition trumping labor’s support for the policy. Bills were introduced but failed in both Maine and West Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Connecticut, Carlos Moreno, state deputy director of the Working Families Organization, said a bill before the Legislature was supposed to move at the end of the last session, but legislation calling for a $15 minimum wage and paid sick took precedent. Fair workweek legislation is being tweaked to bolster some provisions, Moreno said, and he expects it to move in February.

“There’s no one policy prescription that’s going to solve income inequality in Connecticut,” he said. “But what these proposals — minimum wage, paid sick leave, and fair workweek — do is provide folks with an element of financial security that they didn’t have before.”

In New Jersey, state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat who has been a driving force behind major pieces of legislation related to workers rights, announced last month that she is drafting legislation to address predictable scheduling.

“This isn’t merely a problem of overwork, it is one of uncertainty,” Weinberg said during a press conference last month, where she was joined by shift workers from throughout northern New Jersey. “The uncertainty has a high cost. It affects the quality of life of the people who are working hard to provide for themselves and their families.”

Although it’s far too early to tell how the issue will play out in Trenton, the odds of passage, at least on the surface, appear good, since Democrats control both the state Legislature and governor’s office.

Donna Fotiadis, a longtime retail worker who joined Weinberg during last month’s press conference, said it wasn’t uncommon for her employer to cancel or add shifts at the last minute. Sometimes, she would even asked to close the store at 2 a.m., and then reopen three hours later — a practice that would be banned if the legislation goes through.

“That takes a toll on your mind and body,” Fotiadis said. “No one should be expected to work with less than three hours’ sleep.”

Rebecca Rainey and Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.

This article was originally published at Politico on November 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Katherine Landergan covers labor, tax policy and the state budget for POLITICO New Jersey.

Prior to joining POLITICO, Katherine worked as a correspondent for The Boston Globe and Boston.com, where she wrote primarily about higher education. She also contributed to some major news stories, such as the Boston Marathon bombings and capture of mobster Whitey Bulger.

Katherine also holds a master’s degree in magazine journalism from City University London. But more importantly, she grew up in the icy tundra of Massachusetts with four brothers, thus equipping her for any challenge.

House Republicans spin CBO report to claim $15 minimum wage is socialism

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, released Monday, found that a national $15 hourly minimum wage would likely increase pay for more than 15 million people and could cost between zero and 3.7 million jobs.

Within hours, several House Republicans had tweeted out the report’s worst-case scenario and suggested that gradually moving toward paying working Americans a livable wage was “socialism.”

The CBO is a non-partisan arm of Congress that works to make economic estimates and predictions about the economic and fiscal impact of legislation. It is currently run by Phillip Swagel, an economist who worked in President George W. Bush’s administration.

At the request of Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) — the ranking minority party member on the House Budget Committee — CBO economists produced a report called “The Effects on Employment and Family Income of Increasing the Federal Minimum Wage.”

The report found that by raising the $7.25 per hour current minimum wage for most workers to $15 by 2025, the nation likely “would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour” and could also boost the wages for another 10 million workers who earn slightly above that amount.

The report’s median estimate was that “1.3 million other workers would become jobless,” and found a “two-thirds chance that the change in employment would be between about zero and a decrease of 3.7 million workers,” while 1.3 another million people would be lifted out of poverty.

It also noted, “Findings in the research literature about how changes in the federal minimum wage affect employment vary widely. Many studies have found little or no effect of minimum wages on employment, but many others have found substantial reductions in employment.”

Rather than acknowledging the nuance in a candid way, Womack and other House Republicans quickly moved to demagogue by highlighting only the worst-case scenario.

“This report confirms what we already knew about House Democrats’ Raise the Wage Act: American workers and families will lose their jobs if this bill is enacted,” Womack claimed in a statement. “CBO shows that imposing a 107% increase on the minimum wage could result in up to 3.7 million lost jobs – jobs hardworking Americans rely on to feed their families and pay their bills, jobs communities need to fuel their local economies, and jobs essential to strengthening our nation’s financial future.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted that the “Democrats’ minimum wage plan would erase up to 3.7 MILLION American jobs.”

In the next sentence, however, he dropped his caveat that this was the worst case scenario.

“To put the impact into perspective, the job loss of this minimum wage increase is nearly equivalent to eliminating all jobs added to the economy since November 2017,” McCarthy wrote in his tweeted statement, attacking the minimum wage increase proposal as “the new Democrat-socialists’ [sic] plan.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) also tweeted a similar attack, accusing Democrats of again putting “their socialist agenda above workers.”

Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI) tweeted that the report “shows that raising the minimum wage to $15 does more harm than good and could cost as many as 3.7 million jobs in the United States.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) tweeted that “forcing” a “damaging $15/hr minimum wage mandate” on local businesses would mean “up to 3.7 million jobs” lost and hurt families.

Rep. Doug LaMafla (R-CA) was even more blunt, falsely claiming the CBO had reported “raising the minimum wage would eliminate 1.3-3.7 million jobs,” ignoring the fact that the word “median” means there is an equal chance that such an increase would cost somewhere between no jobs and 1.3 million.

But many studies have found that gradual increases to the minimum wage do not actually cost jobs. A January 2019 report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, for example, examined 138 “prominent state-level minimum wage changes between 1979 and 2016” and found that “the overall number of low-wage jobs remained essentially unchanged over five years following the increase.”

A 2018 study by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California at Berkeley similarly detected “no significant negative employment effects” in several cities that had recently raised their minimum wages to more than $10 per hour.

As of Tuesday, 204 U.S. representatives (plus the non-voting delegates from the District of Columbia and the Northern Mariana Islands), all Democrats, have signed onto the Raise the Wage Act. The Senate companion version has 32 supporters, all members of the Senate Democratic caucus.

Despite inflation and the growing cost of living, the federal minimum wage has not been increased since July 2009.

Though he has since flip-flopped, even President Donald Trump — a fierce opponent of “socialism” — promised in his 2016 campaign that he would raise the federal minimum wage to “at least $10.”

This article was originally published at Think Progress on July 9, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Josh Israel has been senior investigative reporter for ThinkProgress since 2012. Previously, he was a reporter and oversaw money-in-politics reporting at the Center for Public Integrity, was chief researcher for Nick Kotz’s acclaimed 2005 book Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws that Changed America, and was president of the Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club. A New England native, Josh received a B.A. in politics from Brandeis University and graduated from the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, in 2004. He has appeared on cable news and many radio shows across the country. Twitter:  Facebook: 

Raising the minimum wage doesn't hurt jobs—it improves people's lives in ways you might not expect

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Raising the minimum wage doesn’t hurt job growth. We know this because economist after economist has produced research backing up that statement, often drawing on parts of the U.S. that have increased the minimum wage. That’s why, after the Congressional Budget Office on Monday blew off its responsibility to use the best available information and offered Republicans fuel to claim that a minimum wage increase would cost jobs, economists who study minimum wage increases are lining up to explain why the CBO is just plain wrong.

“While they are acknowledging some of the research,” the Economic Policy Institute’s Ben Zipperer told The Washington Post, “I think they are drawing on older research that the new research has pointed out is problematic.” Berkeley economist Michael Reich and UMass-Amherst economist Arindrajit Dube made similar points, with Reich saying that the CBO’s equal reliance on high- and low-quality studies “reveals an unwillingness to recognize the major differences in scientific quality among studies.”

A recent study by Dube and Zipperer, along with Dorok Cengiz and Attila Lindner, “evaluated the local effect of more than 130 minimum-wage increases since 1979 and showed the fall in jobs paying less than the new minimum wage had been fully offset by the jump in new jobs paying just over it.” One hundred and thirty over 40 years. That’s a lot of data. It’s especially a lot of data for the CBO to be more or less ignoring.

But! That’s not all! Economists have other data showing important effects of raising the minimum wage. When the minimum wage rises, suicides fall. So does recidivism for recently released prisoners. Workers are more productive and less likely to change jobs. Consumer spending rises and poverty falls. In short, the working people’s economy gets better and people get happier and more hopeful. Republicans, of course, remain bitterly opposed to this.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 9, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

The cost of a $15 federal minimum wage

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

Rebecca Rainey

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would increase the pay of at least 17 million people, but also put 1.3 million Americans out of work, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office released on Monday.

The increased federal minimum could also raise the wages of another 10 million workers and lift 1.3 million Americans out of poverty, according to the nonpartisan CBO. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 and last increased a decade ago.

The budget watchdog’s report comes ahead of next week’s vote in the House of Representatives on a bill to gradually raise the federal minimum to $15 an hour by 2024.

The CBO predicted much bigger job losses than House Democrats, who have pushed for the $15 minimum wage, expected. The study cited “considerable uncertainty” about the impact, because it’s hard to know exactly how employers would respond and to predict future wage growth.

The CBO wrote that in an average week in 2025, 1.3 million otherwise-employed workers would be jobless if the federal minimum wage went up to $15. That’s a median estimate. Overall, CBO economists wrote that resulting job losses would likely range between “about zero and 3.7 million.”

At the same time, the study says the $15 minimum wage would boost pay for 17 million people would otherwise be earning less than $15 an hour, and possibly for another 10 million Americans who would otherwise be earning slightly more than $15 per hour.

Considering a smaller increase to $12 an hour by 2025, the CBO estimated a boost for 5 million workers and a loss of 300,000 jobs. An increase to $10 an hour would give a raise to 1.5 million workers and would have “little effect on employment.”

The House, controlled by the Democrats, is expected next week to pass the Raise the Wage Act, which would lift the federal minimum wage to $15 gradually by 2024. Its author, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., on Monday argued that the benefits in CBO’s forecasts far outweighed the costs.

The measure faces a high hurdle in the Republican-controlled Senate. Even so, raising the federal minimum has been picking up steam over the years.

Already, 29 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Guam have set wage standards higher than the federal minimum. Seven states and the District of Columbia are on track to increase their wage minimums to $15 in coming years.

Many economists have agreed that modest increases to wage minimums don’t cause huge job losses. That theory was shown in a high-profile paper by David Card and Alan Krueger. The CBO wrote: “Many studies have found little or no effect of minimum wages on employment, but many others have found substantial reductions in employment.”

This article was first published at NPR.

This article was originally published at Politico on July 9, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.

House Dems on brink of minimum wage victory

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Sarah FerrisHouse Democratic leaders are on the cusp of a long-awaited victory on the party’s signature $15-an-hour minimum wage bill, overcoming months of sharp resistance from many of the caucus’ moderates.

Top Democrats are saying privately they’re confident that they are close enough to the 218 votes needed to pass it to bring the bill to the floor within weeks, according to multiple sources. It would mark a major political victory at the six-month mark of the Democrats’ majority.

Several one-time holdouts — including Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who has championed a competing approach that would create a “regional” minimum wage — now say they will vote for the bill on the floor, though they are still looking for additional assistance for small businesses that may be hurt by the minimum wage.

The vote, which is expected shortly after the House returns from its Fourth of July recess, will put an end to a frenzied lobbying blitz by top Democrats to win over the caucus’s remaining skeptics, which had become a glaring example of the tensions between moderates and progressives.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in a closed-door leadership meeting Tuesday night that he secured roughly 213 votes, according to aides. Democrats believe the pressure of the roll call vote will be enough to squeeze the few remaining holdouts.

“I don’t have any doubt that we’re going to have the votes,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday, though he stopped short of committing to a timeframe. “There are some folks who would like to see us do something to make sure the small business fears are allayed.”

The one lingering concern, according to people familiar with the discussions, is how to deflect potentially disastrous GOP attacks on the bill when it comes up for a vote.

Republicans are expected to use their procedural powers on the floor to force Democrats to vote on tricky issues related to the minimum wage — like protections for small businesses — that could further expose the caucus’s ideological divide.

It could also tank the entire bill. If Republicans successfully force any changes into the bill, scores of Democrats would likely flee, because progressive leaders have refused to support anything less than their hallmark $15-an-hour proposal.

The lead author of the bill, House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), had struggled for months to rally enough moderate Democrats behind the bill, with some members privately complaining of a “tone-deaf” approach.

But momentum began to shift in recent weeks, with leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition, Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) and Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), helped to deliver votes from red-state Democrats in exchange for their own provision in the bill.

That compromise amendment, from O’Halleran, Murphy and TJ Cox (D-Calif.), will be included in the final bill, according to multiple aides. It would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the policy’s economic effects after roughly two years — which moderates see as a potential way to revisit the issue if economic conditions deteriorate.

Scott and his team also helped win over individual members with district-by-district data that showed the number of people who would get a raise, offering a counterpoint to the objections from some local businesses.

Top Democrats, including Hoyer, have vowed to hold a vote on the minimum wage bill before the August recess, under intense pressure from outside groups to deliver on a key plank of the progressive platform.

Scott and other Education and Labor members have argued behind the scenes for weeks that they have enough votes to bring the bill to the floor. They’ve said that some holdouts would only come out in favor of the bill if they were facing a roll call — a process that one Democratic aide described as a “game of chicken.”

Heather Caygle contributed to this story.

This article was originally published by the Politico on June 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sarah Ferris covers budget and appropriations for POLITICO Pro. She was previously the lead healthcare and budget reporter for The Hill newspaper.

A graduate of the George Washington University, Ferris spent most of her time writing for The GW Hatchet. Her bylines have also appeared at The Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Raised on a dairy farm in Newtown, Conn., Ferris boasts a strong affinity for homemade ice cream, Dunkin Donuts coffee and the Boston Red Sox.

Congress makes minimum wage history, going the longest without an increase since 1938

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since July 24, 2009. That’s coming up on a decade, but it’s already hit an infuriating milestone: June 16 marked the longest the minimum wage had gone without an increase since 1938, when the U.S. passed its first minimum wage. Because Republicans are happy to have the minimum wage be a poverty wage—and it is a wage so low that a full-time job is not enough to pull a family of two above the poverty threshold.

The Economic Policy Institute’s David Cooper lays out what workers have lost in the near-decade since the last increase: $7.25 in July 2009 was equivalent to $8.70 now. That means a minimum wage worker has seen their purchasing power drop by 17%, or the equivalent of more than $3,000 a year. And still Republicans stand in the way of a raise.

The good news is that many states—31 of them, plus the District of Columbia—have raised their minimum wages above the federal level, and in some cases well above it. Already in 2019 alone, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Connecticut have passed laws gradually raising the wage to $15 an hour, while Nevada and New Mexico are on their way to $12. But that doesn’t excuse congressional inaction, let alone congressional inaction on a historic, record-shattering level. Democrats have proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, but it won’t happen as long as Republicans are in a position to block it.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Nevada workers get some big wins because elections matter, this week in the war on workers

Monday, June 17th, 2019

Nevada Democrats had a great Election Day in 2018, and Nevada workers are about to start seeing the effects of that. Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a package of major bills, including one giving 20,000 state workers collective bargaining rights, a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, and more.

The state’s minimum wage will only go up to $12—$11 if the employer offers insurance—and won’t reach that level until 2024, with the first 75-cent raise not coming until July 2020. Compared with the laws taking some states’ minimums up to $15 on a faster timetable that’s not spectacular, but since Nevada’s current minimum wage is $7.25 for employers that offer insurance and $8.25 for ones that don’t, it’s still a substantial improvement for an estimated 300,000 Nevada workers. (And something for worker-activists to build on, perhaps.)

Workers at businesses with more than 50 employees will also start getting paid sick leave, up to 40 hours a year for full-time workers. That law will take effect January 1. Nevada will join 10 states and Washington, D.C., in having a paid sick leave law.

The law giving public workers collective bargaining rights is “yet another massive win for working people and the labor movement as union momentum continues to grow across the country,” according to AFSCME. Harry Schiffman, a local AFSCME president in the state called it “a historic day for state employees and all Nevadans, as collective bargaining rights will mean a voice on the job to make meaningful changes in our workplaces and communities.”

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Washington state gets paid family leave

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

 Paid family leave is becoming law in Washington state. The state legislature passed and Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a law giving workers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for birth, adoption, or the worker’s own or a family member’s medical condition, and up to 16 weeks in a year:

The Washington state program would benefit low-wage workers because those earning less than half of the state’s weekly average would receive 90 percent of their income—to a maximum of $1,000 per week. The benefits are based on a percentage of the worker’s average weekly wage and the state’s weekly average wage, which was $1,133 in 2016.

The program is largely funded by workers, who will pay a premium of 0.4 percent of their wages each paycheck into a state-run insurance fund. This would cost a minimum-wage worker about 3 cents an hour, according to the bill’s sponsor. Employers are responsible for picking up at least 55 percent of the medical leave premium—or more if they choose to do so.

“This new law is an affordable and predictable solution to providing an important benefit for life’s emergencies,” Sara Reilly, co-owner of Darby’s Café and Three Magnets Brewing Co. in Olympia, Washington, said in a statement.

How’s that for a much-needed piece of good news? But of course every time a state or city passes a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, or paid family leave, it’s a reminder of how far short our federal laws fall, and how much of a fight we have to elect Democrats to Congress and the presidency before we can change this.

 This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor for DailyKos. 

Voters Want Higher Minimum Wages. Why? They Grow Jobs

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Last year Maine voters approved an increase in the minimum wage. After this jobs and wages surged. So business groups are trying to do something about it.

And not just in Maine.

 

Maine’s Job “Surge”

Last year voters approved a Maine ballot initiative raising the state’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020. The ballot initiative received 56 percent support. In January the first phase-in increase to $9 took effect. The Maine Beacon explained what happened:

Average hourly earnings for private-sector Maine workers increased to $22.70 an hour and total employment increased to an all-time high, with a gain of more than 4,000 seasonally-adjusted jobs from December.

Significant employment gains were seen among Maine’s restaurants and hotels, with the accommodation and food service sector gaining 700 jobs.

So instead of the predicted disaster, with employers laying off workers and some going out of business, it turns out that raising the minimum wage was a good thing for the employees – and the employers – who saw a surge in customers coming through the door so they had to hire people to handle the new business.

Go figure.

Legislature Dials Back

In response to this terrible violation of corporate/conservative ideology, which says you can’t raise the minimum wage because higher pay hurts employees and employers, business groups in Maine “are actively working to undermine the results of the last election.”

Captured legislators have introduced 16 bills that would roll back the wage increases, especially on “tipped workers.” This is happening even though it was Maine’s voters who decided to raise the wage. The Maine Beacon covers this, too:

16 bills seek to roll back various aspects of the increase, and eight Democrats have signed on to attempts to cut the subminimum wage for tipped workers, which went from $3.75 to $5 an hour in January and is slated to gradually increase over the next decade under the current law until it reaches the full minimum wage.

The restaurant industry lobby has fought hard against the minimum wage law, including spreading misinformation and fear about the effects of tipped wage increases on rates of tipping. In other states that have higher tipped wages, restaurant servers make the same or higher tips as Maine, but can also depend on a more steady base wage from their employer.

Some business owners believe that paying employees takes money out of their own pockets. Our country fought and won a civil war over this mentality, but the ideology persists.

Not Just Maine

Attacks on voters and the idea of a minimum wage are not just happening in Maine, but across the country.

In a number of cities, counties and states, voters have approved a higher minimum wage, and these decisions are also now under attack. Amber Phillips reports in the Washington Post that many of these gains, which were won by ballot initiatives, are in danger.

“Just because the voters have an opinion doesn’t make it constitutional,” said Patrick Connor, director of the Washington branch of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Several states are also passing “preemption” laws keeping cities from raising their minimum wages. Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project writes about this:

As public support for raising pay for low-wage workers reaches a fever pitch, and as the momentum of worker movements like the Fight for $15 becomes harder and harder to stop, corporate lobbyists have begun resorting to increasingly underhanded maneuvers to keep wages down.

Their go-to move in recent years: pushing bills through state legislatures that “preempt” – essentially prohibit – city and county governments from passing minimum wage laws higher than the state levels – which in many states remain low due to political gridlock.

According to Bryce Covert and Evan Popp at Think Progress,  19 states have passed laws to keep local governments from raising the minimum wage above the state level.

The wage-increase opponents are making it clear they don’t care what the voters want.

Higher Wages Mean More Jobs

There are two competing narratives about minimum wages:

1) Raising the minimum wage forces businesses to lay people off because they are “too expensive.”

2) Raising the minimum wage means more people have more money to spend, which means businesses have more customers with more money, forcing employers to hire more people to meet the demand.

Fortunately there are ways to test both theories. If you look at what has happened when the minimum wage is increased, what you find is that raising the minimum wage does not cause job loss. It does, of course, cause a raise in the minimum wage, which “raises the bar” causing those above the minimum wage to also get raises.

The “too expensive” theory assumes that employers have people sitting around reading newspapers, and can just lay them off. But the point of hiring people is to have them do things that need to be done, and which make money for the employer.

So when wages go up, businesses have more customers with more money to spend. As in Maine, the actual results of minimum wage increases show that this is what happens.

The Economic Policy Institute provides a graphic showing these wage gains:

Opposing minimum wage increases is more than just an attack on democracy and working people, it is an attack on common sense. It cuts off the employer’s nose to spite the employer’s workers.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on March 30, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

Inequality Is Still the Defining Issue of Our Time

Monday, October 17th, 2016
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In 2011, President Obama, speaking in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, called inequality the “defining issue of our time.” Now Jason Furman, chair of the Council on Economic Advisors, argues that Obama “narrowed the inequality gap” more than any president in 50 years. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office echoes the observation that income inequality after taxes is no higher than it was in 2000, and that Obama’s policies have done more to reduce inequality than any other policies on record.

Don’t take down the barricades. Inequality remains extreme and continues to widen. And the populist uprisings that have roiled American politics have clear opportunities to tackle the core problem after the election.

As James Kwak at Baseline Scenario notes, the council’s report measures Obama’s reductions against what inequality would have been if George Bush’s policies had been sustained through the Great Recession. The progress comes largely from progressive tax changes. Obama raised taxes marginally on the very wealthy (allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for very rich, particularly the 15 percent tax on capital gains, and taxing investment income under Medicare to help pay for health care reform) and increased tax subsidies to low-wage workers (expanded child tax and expanded earned-income tax credits.) These advances, while praiseworthy, don’t come close to reversing the regressive tax polices of the past decades.

As Emmanuel Saez has shown, the richest 1 percent continue to pocket the bulk of the rewards of growth. The income share of the top 1 percent before taxes fluctuates with the business cycle, but it has been rising over time. Despite recent increases, household income for the vast majority of the population has still not recovered from the Great Recession. These rewards largely reflect the underlying economic structures that determine what Jacob Hacker has dubbed predistribution (the pretax distribution of income): globalization, bargaining power of labor, executive pay structures, demand for skills, etc. As Kwak concludes, “It’s hard to point to anything [Obama] did that affected the underlying economic factors producing the increase in inequality.”

This elevates the importance of fierce political battles that will occur after the November elections. First, President Obama plans to join with the business lobby to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty through the lame-duck session of Congress. The TPP is another in the corporate trade and investment deals that have proved so devastating to American workers. Even trade-accord advocates now admit that our globalization strategy has contributed directly to growing inequality, putting American workers in competition with low-wage and repressed labor abroad, with no sensible industrial or comprehensive strategy for impacted communities and workers.

The mobilization against the TPP will engage the populist energies in both parties. Sanders’s new organization Our Revolution will join with labor and the bulk of the activist Democratic base to drive an intense opposition that will make the Tea Party look like, well, a tea party. If the TPP is defeated, the next administration will be forced to rethink America’s globalization strategies, moving toward more balanced trade, ending the special privatized investor arbitration system, and focusing attention on the tax traps and dodges that allow global corporations to evade hundreds of billions in taxes. Even if the TPP passes, the fury of the opposition could force an understanding that the old game is over.

Similarly, efforts to lift the floor under workers already in motion should gain new energy. The Republican House leadership won’t even allow a vote on hiking the minimum wage, but Fight for $15 and other movements are winning wage hikes in cities and states across the country. Measures to guarantee paid sick and vacation days and to crack down on wage theft and demand equal pay for women are beginning to move. These efforts—particularly at a time of relatively low unemployment—can help workers gain a greater share of the profits they help to produce.

Obama recently admitted that stronger unions are vital to redressing inequality. Yet he abandoned campaign promises to make labor-law reform a priority early in his administration and has refused to issue an executive order giving union employers priority in government contracting. Union support was central to Clinton’s victory in the primaries. When she takes office in January, activists should join with federal contract employees to demand issuance of a Good Jobs executive order that would encourage firms with federal contracts to respect labor rights. And Democrats at every level of executive office should be pushed to put government on the side of workers.

Finally, populist energy should be directed at curbing obscene CEO pay packages. Academics have exposed the fraudulence of “performance pay” bonuses. Investors bemoan the perverse corporate policies generated by executive efforts to drive up the value of their bonuses. Yet boardrooms haven’t got the message. It is time to turn up the heat. For example, executive compensation rules to discourage Wall Street risk-taking were supposed to have been written nearly five years ago. They haven’t been, and progressives in Congress led by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders should expose this outrage. Unions, public pension funds, and university endowments should use their votes to challenge excessive CEO compensation packages. Sanders’s Our Revolution might join with other progressive groups in challenging the worst abusers at their annual shareholders meetings.

Inequality remains a defining issue of our time. The advances made under Obama deserve applause, but the real work remains to be done. This presidential season has exposed the growing revolt against business as usual. Now activists must seize the opportunity to build on the energy after November.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on October 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Robert L. Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. The organizations were launched by 100 prominent Americans to develop the policies, message and issue campaigns to help forge an enduring majority for progressive change in America. Mr. Borosage writes widely on political, economic and national security issues. He is a Contributing Editor at The Nation magazine, and a regular blogger at The Huffington Post. His articles have appeared in The American Prospect, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He edits the Campaign’s Making Sense issues guides, and is co-editor of Taking Back America (with Katrina Vanden Heuvel) and The Next Agenda (with Roger Hickey).
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