Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Minimum Wage’

Kicking them while they’re down: Bill to treat former substance abusers as independent contractors is wrong

Monday, March 30th, 2015

sami-khadderA new effort is underway to deprive a certain class of workers of the most basic benefits and protections of employment.

Last month, Assembly member Marie Waldron (R-San Diego) introduced AB 500, which would allow employers to hire workers who have successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program following conviction of a non-violent felony as independent contractors rather than employees for a period of two years.

The targets of this bill are workers for whom steady and fair employment is a means to rebuild a life and to prevent a relapse of the ravages of addiction. AB 500 is a cynical bill that would codify discrimination and perpetuate mistreatment of this already vulnerable group.

For starters, the language of the bill violates existing federal anti-discrimination law. The Americans with Disabilities Act  considers those who have received treatment for drug or alcohol abuse as qualified individuals with a disability who are entitled to reasonable accommodation. Contrary to the express purpose of the ADA, AB 500 stigmatizes individuals who have completed a substance abuse rehabilitation program by denying them, for a period of two years, the legal protections normally offered to employees in California. Stigmatizing people with disabilities is what gave rise to the disability rights movement to begin with.

Codifying second class status for workers with a substance abuse history is bad enough, but the effect of the bill is even more insidious. Under California law, a person who provides services for another person or entity is presumed to be an employee of that person or entity – as opposed to an independent contractor. The distinction is meaningful.Independent contractors are not entitled to the protections of the California Labor Code, which means they have no minimum wage or overtime protections and no entitlement to meal and rest breaks. Independent contractors are also exempted from the laws prohibiting discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, and they are not entitled to unemployment insurance or Social Security contributions. The bill would also allow employers to avoid the cost of carrying workers’ compensation insurance, leaving independent contractors unprotected in the event of a workplace injury.

Employers often complain that the cost of providing these benefits to their workers has grown too high and some may look with favor at the proposed economic windfall — being able to hire rehabilitated drug offenders for two years for less than the minimum wage, without having to provide overtime pay, workers’ compensation insurance or protections from unlawful discrimination.  But these benefits are essential to providing a fair and safe work environment for California workers. Without these protections, the State would invariably end up shouldering much of the costs, while the employers would reap all the benefits.

Some advocates of the bill may believe that the bill encourages employers to give people with a history of substance abuse an opportunity to work their way into full employment status.  But AB 500 would require applicants to disclose to potential employers that they have been convicted of a crime. Such disclosure is currently prohibited under certain circumstances.  More importantly, there is ample evidence that qualified applicants who disclose their criminal history are just as likely to be denied employment altogether, a result directly contrary to the intended result.

Others may take a harder line toward former substance abusers, believing that second class status in the workplace is appropriate because substance abusers should suffer the consequences of their poor decisions. But how does stripping anti-discrimination protections, overtime, and workers’ compensation achieve any policy goal related to rehabilitation or substance abuse prevention?

What is undeniable is that AB 500 targets a vulnerable constituency. And if the move to strip their rights is successful, it could embolden employers to seek further erosions of the benefits and protections of employees. Who would be next?  The long-term unemployed, veterans, the homeless? For those already struggling to become productive members of society, our goal should be to eliminate obstacles, not create them.

This article originally appeared in Celavoice.org on March 30, 2015. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sami N. Khadder is the founder of the Khadder Law Firm. He has a decade of litigation experience, with the majority of his career dedicated to fighting for the rights of employees and individuals. Mr. Khadder began his career as an intellectual property defense attorney, but soon realized that the pursuit of justice on behalf of those who need it most was a far more gratifying use of his legal education and experience. Mr. Khadder looks forward to continuing the fight for justice.

Florida County Makes It Easier For Workers To Get Unpaid Wages From Bosses

Friday, March 20th, 2015

AlanPyke_108x108Workers who get cheated out of their due pay in central Florida will have a much easier time recovering what they’re owed after Osceola County approved a tough new wage theft law, making it the latest in a string of local governments to take on increased responsibility for enforcing federal wage and hour laws.

Under the new rules, workers will be able to file cases with the county and employers who are accused of wage theft could end up having to repay triple the amount they stole from employees if they fight a case and lose. Workers in Miami-Dade County have so far recovered about $1.8 million since that wage theft law came online in late 2010.

Osceola’s law adds an important, tougher element to the basic model laid out in Miami-Dade. Companies that fight a wage theft claim and lose can have their business license revoked by the county.

Efforts to combat wage theft at the local level appear to be spreading, according to Tesedeye Gebreselassie of the National Employment Law Project (NELP). “It’s clear that existing laws and resources on fed state level are insufficient, and we’re starting to see more cities and counties take action in any way that they can,” she said. “There’s a growing trend to figure out what can be done on the local level now that everybody’s acknowledged that wage theft is a huge problem.” Propagating enforcement systems that work will be especially important if low-wage workers are to actually realize the economic benefits that should come from a rash of state and local minimum wage increases around the country, as the NELP argues in a new report.

There is no perfect deterrent, since a business owner willing to ignore wage laws in the first place is often going to choose to go out of business rather than dole out back pay. And the prevalence of low-wage, low-skill jobs in the American economy has helped create a sort of race to the ethical bottom among employers who are more interested in cutting corners than giving honest pay for honest work. As David Weil, the top federal official in charge of enforcing wage and hour laws for the Department of Labor, told the New York Times in 2014, “We have a change in the structure of work that is then compounded by a falling level of what is viewed as acceptable in the workplace in terms of how you treat people and how you regard the law.”

“I have a very close relative that had this happen to him,” Osceola County Commissioner Michael Harford (D) told ThinkProgress. “It was very difficult for him to understand how he was getting paid.” Harford gradually realized that wage theft was relatively common among his constituents, and helped push the law through this spring after voters elected four Democrats and one Republican to the commission last fall.

Harford’s reforms not only increase the consequences of wage theft for employers who get caught, but also make it easier for workers to find legal help. If the new adjudication process finds a company liable for wage theft, it must pay treble damages for the withheld pay and also cover the legal fees incurred by the workers who brought the allegation. “If we had more of an incentive for representation in these cases, we’d see hopefully the same effort to vindicate workers’ rights that we see to vindicate the rights of the injured in personal injury cases,” Rep. Alan Grayson (D) told ThinkProgress.

There’s no reason other localities can’t follow Osceola and Miami’s lead. Jeanette Smith, executive director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice and a key member of the coalition that researched the wage theft question for two years before bringing a legislative proposal in Miami-Dade, told ThinkProgress she thinks the model ought to be easily transferred even beyond the state line.

“I tell people not to just change the name on it, make sure it works,” Smith said. “But in general I think this kind of process is portable, as long as you’ve got a division of your government that can pick it up and administer it, and you have the political will, and frankly that you have responsible businesses that speak up.” Partly that’s because the laws don’t require business owners to comply with any new regulations and they don’t require local governments to hire new enforcement officers. “These ordinances do not put new regulations in place. Nothing at all. It’s simply offering a venue where the workers can go,” Smith said.

The real cutting edge of a law like Osceola’s comes well before a lawyer would ever get involved, in a pre-hearing process called conciliation. After a worker notifies the county of a wage theft allegation and provides evidence for the claim, the county contacts the employer and invites him to address the complaint voluntarily. Conciliation has produced a little over half of the $1.8 in recovered wages and damages under Miami-Dade County’s law and 53 percent of cases brought under the law were resolved at that early stage, according to Smith.

“There’s a big emphasis on conciliation, because the idea is that these are predominantly low-wage workers and they need to get their money right away. These are people who can’t go to court and wait all that time,” Smith said. By creating a two-stage process and giving employers immunity from the damages provision of the law as long as they resolve a legitimate wage violation in the conciliation stage, these laws give employers an incentive to be responsive to complaints. “There is gonna be that smaller group of completely unscrupulous employers that just completely disappear, often people who never even had a business license to start with,” Smith said. But even if workers for such employers never get made whole under this new process, the law still discourages willful violators from setting up shop in the area.

Wage theft steals more money from American workers each year than the combined haul from every robbery and heist nationwide. The term refers to violations of federal wage and hour protections, and that federal jurisdiction is part of the reason that local protections like the ones just passed in Osceola County are rare. Workers who think they’re being cheated by the boss can file a suit anywhere, regardless of local ordinances, and they have done so at a rapidly increasing clip in recent years. Workers have won court settlements from retail logistics firms, trucking companies, strip clubs, and fast food companies. They’ve also lost one significant case before the Supreme Court, though it only narrowly curtailed the types of employer policies that can be considered wage theft.

But going to court is expensive, in both dollars and time, and Osceola is the most recent place to erect a more worker-friendly system for addressing the complaints. Wage theft laws intended to help workers recoup wages without getting tied up in court have come into effect in Chicago, Houston, andColorado in recent years.

Lowering the local barriers to recovering stolen wages is a good start, Grayson said, but it does not address the various other ways in which workers have been pitted against one another by recent attacks on union solidarity on the job. “The right to organize has been frustrated and in many cases defeated by business groups. That’s left a disorganized low-wage labor base that can be exploited at will by unscrupulous employers, so the problem increases over time,” Grayson said. Right now, “crime does pay if you’re cheating your employees. And we have to stop that.”

This blog originally appeared in Thinkprogress.org on December 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

Tipped Workers Score A Victory In New York In Fight For Better Pay

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Isaiah J. PooleTipped workers in New York state have won a major victory, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Hospitality Wage Board announce that their minimum wage, which had been frozen at $5 an hour, will be increased to $7.50 an hour starting December 31.

This order follows years of protest and campaigning by low-wage workers throughout the state, who have not seen an increase in the tipped wage since 2011.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the thousands of New York women who have been demanding a more just and hospitable work environment in one of the fastest growing and largest economic sectors in the country – the restaurant industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, one of the organizations at the forefront of the mobilization effort. (Jayaraman received the 2014 Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award from the Campaign for America’s Future.)

This increase will affect workers in restaurants, hotels and in occupations where workers are dependent on tips for a portion of their income.

The new tipped wage will still be below the $9 minimum wage for untipped workers that is scheduled to go into effect on December 31. (The state’s minimum wage today is $8.75.) And Jayaraman says she is going to keep pressing toward the workers’ ultimate goal, which is to eliminate the tipped minimum wage entirely and move toward “one fair wage.”

Cuomo has endorsed the wage board’s recommendation that the tipped wage be eliminated entirely. Seven states plus Guam have done away with the tipped minimum wage for most, if not all, workers. The biggest of these is California. (Montana has an exception for some small businesses.)

Ondre Johnson, a ROC-NY restaurant-worker member and attendee at today’s announcement, issued a statement that put today’s announcement in perspective. “Relying largely on tips not only affects my dignity but also interferes with my service to customers,” she wrote. “I have to fight for tips and to get tables. Tips vary from day to day and there are months in a year, especially during the winter-time, where there is no work available at all. And I’ve seen my female co-workers tolerate customers grabbing their legs, withholding tips till they get a server’s phone number, and worse in order to not ruin a tip.”

At least for now, the coming raise “will help me to have a decent life by giving me fair compensation for my hard work,” she wrote. But for her and millions of other workers, the struggle for fair pay and dignity is by no means over.

This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on February 24, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Walmart Will Raise Its Minimum Wage To $10 An Hour

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Bryce CovertOn Thursday, Walmart announced that it will raise all of its full-time and part-time employees’ pay to at least $9 an hour starting in April. The lowest wage will rise to $10 an hour by February of next year.

In a press release, it said it is also raising pay for the compensation range for each position, and all told says that about 500,000 employees will see a raise from the changes. It also says the raises will mean its average hourly wage for full-time workers will increase from $12.85 to $13 an hour and the average for part-time workers will increase from $9.48 to $10 an hour.

It also promised that workers “will have more control over their schedules.” The wage increases will cost more than $1 billion this fiscal year.

In announcing the changes, CEO Doug McMillon acknowledged some of the criticism that the company has sacrificed customer loyalty because of its pay practices. “We have work to do to grow the business. We know what customers want from a shopping experience, and we’re investing strategically to exceed their expectations and better position Walmart for the future,” he said. “We’re strengthening investments in our people to engage and inspire them to deliver superior customer experiences.”

The company, which is the nation’s largest employer, has long come under fire for its low pay. While the company has said that it pays most workers above the minimum wage, it has also admitted in the past that the majority of its employees make under $25,000 a year. One study from 2013 of a single store in Wisconsin found that its pay was so low that workers consumed about $1 million in public benefits to get by.

Workers have repeatedly gone on strike over the past three years to demand higher pay, better scheduling, and the right to unionize. They have called for the store’s wage floor to rise to at least $15 an hour. Thursday’s announcement also comes after so many states raised their minimum wages above the federal $7.25 level that a third of Walmart stores had to raise their base wages anyway.

In an emailed statement, Emily Wells, a leader of the worker organizing group Our Walmart, said, “We are so proud that by standing together we won raises for 500,000 Walmart workers, whose families desperately need better pay and regular hours from the company we make billions for. We know that this wouldn’t have happen without our work to stand together with hundreds of thousands of supporters to change the country’s largest employer. The company is addressing the very issues that we have been raising about the low pay and erratic scheduling, and acknowledging how many of us are being paid less than $10 an hour, and many workers like me, are not getting the hours we need.” But she added, “Especially without a guarantee of getting regular hours, this announcement still falls short of what American workers need to support our families. With $16 billion in profits and $150 billion in wealth for the owners, Walmart can afford to provide the good jobs that Americans need – and that means $15 an hour, full-time, consistent hours and respect for our hard work.”

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on February 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media

 

Three Changes to Improve the Lives of Low Income and Middle Class Families

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

olivia_headOn January 20, 2015, President Obama laid out what I think are three things that can make a difference in the lives of low income and middle class workers.

1. Child Care

There is a need now more than ever for affordable child care, especially since in many homes both parents are in the workforce. Child care is often viewed as an issue specific to women, and it is often the woman who has to choose between a pay check or caring for their sick child. President Obama called for us to stop treating this as a woman’s issue but to see it one that affects us all. President Obama proposed for more available and affordable child care. Additionally he proposed a tax cut of up to $3,000 to families for each child in child care.

Please visit http://www.workplacefairness.org/family-responsibilities-discrimination for more information.

2. Sick Leave

The United States, unlike Germany, France, Sweden and at least 145 other countries, does not guarantee paid sick leave or maternity leave to workers. President Obama proposed that we being to work with states to assist them in adopting paid leave laws, but also that we work toward creating a bill.

Please visit http://www.workplacefairness.org/sickleave for more information.

3.Higher Pay

President Obama urged for a commitment to an economy that generates rising income and provides a chance to everyone who makes an effort. Congress has yet to pass law that provides women the equal pay to men. President Obama stated that “It is time,” especially since it is 2015. Additionally, President Obama is seeking to raise the minimum wage, and challenged congressional members who were against it to live on an income of $15,000. Please visit http://www.workplacefairness.org/minimumwage for more information.

Finally, on a side note President Obama seeks to make community college $0. The benefits this will add for those in the workplace are numerous. Not only will workers be able to upgrade their skills but it will also give them the tools they need to participate in this growing economy. If we being to educate and encourage our workforce through, free education, higher pay, and affordable child care I believe we will see more growth than ever in our economy.

About the Author Olivia Nedd is a legal intern for Workplace Fairness and a student at Howard University School of Law.

Low-wage jobs are taking over the American economy

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Laura ClawsonWhat do you say if you’re opposed to raising the minimum wage, but don’t want to seem completely heartless? For many Republican lawmakers, the answer is some version of this: “The minimum wage is a starting wage. It’s how you gain the experience you need to move up to higher wages.” Problem is, pay rates that are too low to live on or raise a family on are not a just-starting-out phenomenon in the U.S., as a new report makes crystal clear. Low Wage Nation starts with a conservative definition of “living wage,” setting it at $15 an hour, even though that’s enough to live comfortably on in only a few states. Despite that:

  • A large proportion of workers are not earning living wages: Nearly two of five existing jobs pay less than $15 an hour.
  • Nearly half of new jobs are low-wage jobs: About 48 percent of projected national job openings do not pay $15 or higher. In analyzing individual states, that percentage ranges from 35 percent (Massachusetts) to 61 percent (South Dakota).
  • There are not enough living wage jobs to go around: Nationally, there are seven times more jobseekers than there are projected jobs paying $15 or higher, leaving workers seeking better wages with few options.

The fastest-growing occupations are low-wage jobs that contribute to this trend: “Among the top 10 occupations with the most projected job openings, just one has a median wage greater than $15 an hour. The four occupations with the greatest projected number of job openings are in retail and food service, with median wages ranging between $8.81 and $10.16 an hour.” The upshot is that the vast majority of people looking for work aren’t going to find jobs that pay a living wage because those jobs do not exist.

This is just one of the reasons it’s not enough to say “I want people to have something better than the minimum wage” while opposing an increased minimum wage. The American economy is like a game of musical chairs, and there will be nowhere near enough good-job chairs to go around as long as chair availability is determined by corporate CEOs. That’s why the government needs to step in to improve the situation dramatically.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on January 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission

About the Author: Laura Clawson is Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

GOP lawmaker: Minimum wage is for teenagers and minorities

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Laura ClawsonHere’s California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock explaining why he wants to keep the minimum wage at a poverty level out of compassion and concern for workers:

“Only [raise the minimum wage] if you want to rip the first rung in the ladder of opportunity for teenagers, for minorities, for people who are trying to get into the job market for their first job.The minimum wage doesn’t support a family. We all know that. It’s not supposed to support a family. The minimum wage is that first job when you have no skills, no experience, no working history. That’s how you get into the job market, that’s how you develop that experience, develop that work record, get your first raise, then your next raise, then your promotion. That’s the first rung of opportunity.

If your labor as an unskilled person just entering the workforce is worth say $7 an hour at a job and the minimum wage is $10, you have just been made permanently unemployable. That first rung of the economic ladder has been ripped out and you can’t get on it. That is a tragedy.”

It’s mostly the same old Republican blah-blah-blah pretending that the workers making minimum wage and just above (but who would still get a raise if the minimum wage went up) are teenagers ascending some glorious ladder of opportunity. In reality, most industries that pay the minimum wage have one really, really wide rung of that ladder for people making the minimum wage, and incredibly narrow rungs at the “supporting a family” levels, and a lot of people with kids and families are stuck on that wide bottom rung that McClintock admits won’t support a family.

But there’s one fascinating difference in what McClintock said: “for teenagers, for minorities, for people who are trying to get into the job market for their first job.” You know, people who make the minimum wage—minorities and teenagers. People whose “labor as an unskilled person just entering the workforce is worth say $7 an hour at a job.” Seriously, he just swept “minorities” into the hopper with teenagers and people who’ve never had a job as people who cannot possibly expect to be paid enough to raise a family and would be rendered “permanently unemployable” if for some insane reason the government were to require companies to pay them family-supporting money. He just … kinda casually tossed that one in, like it wasn’t worth a second thought, any more than the reality that most minimum wage workers are not teenagers was worth a second thought. It’s stunning.

This article originally appeared in dailykos.com on January 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011

 

New York Governor Calls For Major Minimum Wage Hike

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Kiley_KrohOn Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled several new proposals, including a call to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour in the city and $10.50 an hour for workers in the rest of the state.

“It’s too easy to say, ‘Get a job,’?” Cuomo said during a press conference in Manhattan. “You need to get a job, which means you need to have the training and the skills to get the job, which means the job has to exist, and when you get the job, it means the job has to pay enough so you can pay for rent and you can pay for food and it is a sustainable wage.”

The minimum wage in New York is currently $8.75 an hour, boosted from $7.25 in 2013, and is set to reach $9 an hour by 2016. Cuomo, noting that “the wage gap has continued to increase,” proposed that the $10.50 and $11.50 minimum wages go into effect at the end of 2016.

Some say that still isn’t enough to support a family in the state, however. “Eleven-fifty is almost $2 less than what he endorsed last spring,” Bill Lipton, director of the New York State Working Families Party, told the New York Times. “And the truth is it’s nearly impossible to raise a family in this state on even $12 or $13 an hour.”

Business Council CEO Heather Briccetti voiced a common argument in opposition to raising the minimum wage, saying “the end result will be fewer jobs created and potential job losses that will adversely impact both small businesses and entry-level workers.”

The big hurdle for Cuomo’s proposal will be winning the approval of the state legislature, namely the Republican-controlled state Senate. Cuomo told reporters on Sunday, however, that he believes the strength of the market makes the current conditions more favorable for reaching a deal than in the past.

States are increasingly raising their own wages ahead of the federal government. Fourteen states approved a minimum wage hike last year alone, including four ballot initiatives that won the approval of voters in November — even those in deep red states. With those votes, 26 states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages than is stipulated by federal law.

Contrary to fears, the 13 states that raised the minimum wage at the beginning of 2014 saw higher employment growth through the first half of the year than those that kept theirs the same.

The federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25. Democrats in Congress have introduced several bills that would raise that to $10.10, but the measures have been blocked by Republicans.

Not only has it been estimated that a $10.10 minimum wage could lift approximately 4.6 million people out of poverty immediately; there are several other short and long-term benefits, including a significant reduction in government spending on public programs. A report released in December by the Economic Policy Institute found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would give those workers enough of an income boost that they could be less reliant on public programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) or the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) — ultimately cutting government spending on those programs by $7.6 billion a year.

This blog appeared on thinkprogress.org on January 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kiley Kroh is Co-Editor of Climate Progress. Prior to joining Think Progress, she worked on the Energy policy team at the Center for American Progress as the Associate Director for Ocean Communications. Previous employment includes serving as a media consultant and strategic adviser to Democratic candidates and committees at the federal, state, and municipal levels, working as a member of the executive production team for the 2008 Democratic National Convention and serving as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine from 2005 to 2007. Kiley is a Colorado native and graduate of Regis University in Denver.

Pelosi Is Right: We Shouldn’t Have To Wait For A Minimum Wage Increase

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Isaiah J. PooleAdvocates for workers have declared today “Minimum Wage Day,” as the 10th day of the 10th month calls attention to the demand for an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from the current $7.25.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi marked the day by calling on Congress to drop its campaigning and come back to Washington to vote on a minimum wage increase, as well as an authorization for combat operations against the Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

The Hill reported:

“The American people deserve an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected,” Pelosi said Friday during a press call. “So urgent is this that I think we should come back [to Washington] before the elections.”

That is unlikely to happen, given that the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress have actually gone out of their way to block consideration of a minimum wage increase. But in this case there is a difference between a demand being unrealistic and being unreasonable.

There is real urgency to the need for low-income workers to see an increase in their wages. The federal wage has not increased since 2009, when the latest in a series of increases that started in 2007 took effect. Since then, to quote a group of former lawmakers who wrote a joint op-ed in USA Today, “Groceries cost 20% more, a gallon of gas costs 25%more, and average tuition at a community college increased 44%. But the minimum wage remains at $7.25. If it had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be almost $10.70 today.”

Who were these lawmakers, by the way? Four Republican former members of Congress: Jack Quinn, Mike Castle, Steve LaTourette and Connie Morella. But these Republicans aren’t cut from the conservative extremist cloth that has now blinded their party’s leadership. They get, as do most of the American public, that you don’t grow an economy by holding down wages, by keeping people who are the backbone of our economy in a state of chronic subsistence and struggle.

Yet on the same day that many Democrats and moderate Republicans are calling on lawmakers to act on increasing the minimum wage comes news that one of the heroes of the tea-party Republicanism, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, sees no problem in holding workers down to $7.25 an hour.

According to The Huffington Post, 100 of the state’s workers filed a complaint with the state Department of Workforce Development last month saying that the wages they received in their jobs – at or just above the federal $7.25 minimum – are in violation of the state’s living wage law, which requires wages “be adequate to permit any employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.”

The state’s response? “The Department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.”

No reason to believe, they say, despite the experience of 700,000 workers who, according to a report done in conjunction with the Economic Policy Institute, earn “poverty wages” in Wisconsin. A “poverty wage” in Wisconsin is $11.36 an hour, according to the report – the point below which a full-time worker cannot keep a family of four above the poverty line. The median age of a worker working poverty wages is 30, and 60 percent of the people in this group are women.

Walker and the federal lawmakers who hew to his right-wing ideology are willing to go all out to protect the profit margins of big corporations and the über-wealthy, but feel no urgency to address the wage stagnation and real suffering of working people.

But for millions of us next month’s rent will come due in about three weeks, and the utility bills and perhaps a car payment, student loan bill or a health insurance premium on top of that. Those bills won’t wait. Neither will election day, when members of Congress should be held to account for not acting with urgency toward – and in fact getting in the way of – an increase in the minimum wage.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on October 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141010/pelosi-is-right-we-shouldnt-have-to-wait-for-a-minimum-wage-increase

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Debunking the Heritage Foundation’s New Minimum Wage Myths One by One

Friday, September 12th, 2014

The Heritage Foundation released a new Issue Brief this week: “Higher Fast-Food Wages: Higher Fast Food Prices”. Author James Sherk claims that if the minimum wage in the fast-food industry were to increase to $15 an hour, “the average fast-food restaurant would have to raise prices by nearly two-fifths … caus[ing] sales to drop by more than one-third, and profits to fall by more than three-quarters.”

While the Heritage Foundation attempts to present a mathematically and logically correct depiction of the aftermath of a minimum-wage increase, they fail to acknowledge one fundamentally important fact: the increase will be gradual, occurring over a period of years. Even without considering the report’s many other flaws, the Heritage Foundation’s assumption of a sudden jump in the minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 to $15 is unrealistic.

As Vanessa Wong highlights in “This is What Would Happen if Fast-Food Workers Got Raises”, there are two distinct types of outlets: “those run by the company, and those operated by independent franchisees who set their own wages and pay royalties to the chain.” Thus, Heritage Foundation hastily categorized all fast-food restaurants as one, not even considering the elephant in the room: the corporations such as McDonald’s that charge each branch high franchising fees.

So, how much are these small franchisees paying the mother-ship corporations? According to Robert E. Bond’s “How Much Can I Make?” the franchise fee, royalties, and advertising for a typical McDonald’s is $45,000, +12.5%, and 4%. For a doughnut shop like Dunkin’ Donuts, the fees are even higher, with a franchise fee of $50,000.

If Heritage’s figures are correct, these fast-food restaurants have a profit margin of just 3 percent before taxes, which “works out to approximately $27,000 a year.”  Thus, the franchise fee and royalties are way too high — those profits go directly to, in this case, McDonald’s, which  operates at a profit margin of 19.31% as of June 30, 2014.

McDonald’s and other large fast-food companies have successfully shrugged off responsibility for the welfare of its workers by making the franchisees responsible. The low-wage jobs — and the cost of these salaries — are offloaded on the franchisees, while the corporations maintain their guaranteed profits, and relative profit margins from quarter to quarter.

Raising the minimum wage — even if only to $10.10, not to the living wage level of $15 an hour — is an economic imperative. Heritage believes that fast-food restaurants still offer “entry level jobs,” and “generally employ younger and less-experienced workers”.

Fast-food restaurants used to be a place for “entry level employees” — teens and young adults, sometimes still in school, newly entering the workforce. The recession drastically changed the dynamic. Today, at fast-food restaurants, we see the faces of older workers on the other side of the counter. Many are parents who rely on their full-time fast-food jobs to support themselves and their families. Instead of providing a “first work experience”, fast-food jobs are now a primary  source of income for older, experienced workers.

The problem, once again, is corporations. Individual fast-food restaurants should not be the only battlefront in the fight for livable wages. We should demand that the mother-ship fast-food corporations let go of their greed, and lower their franchise fees and annual royalties.

The Heritage Foundation points its finger in the wrong direction: the responsibility for providing minimum wage fast-food workers with a livable wage falls on the corporations.

This article originally appeared in Campaign for America’s Future on September 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20140910/debunking-the-heritage-foundations-new-minimum-wage-myths-one-by-one.

About the author: Jiao (Kitty) Lan is a Roosevelt Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. She is a sophomore at Georgetown University, majoring in Political Economy and Financial Engineering and has taken an interest in Computer Science in her first two semesters. She has had several political internships, including one with Rep. Mike Honda and one with Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Her top three anything are Pops cereal, her two tiny yet vivacious Pomeranians, and traveling the world.

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