Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Minimum Wage’

Bosses are stealing billions from their workers' paychecks, but it's not treated like a crime

Monday, May 15th, 2017
 Here’s a kind of theft almost no one goes to prison for. When an employer doesn’t pay workers the money they’ve earned, it has the same effect as if they got paid and then walked out on the street and had their pockets picked. But somehow wage theft—not paying workers the minimum wage for the hours they’ve worked, stealing tips, not paying overtime, and other ways of not paying workers what they’ve earned—doesn’t get treated as the crime it truly is. It has a huge impact, though, as a new study from the Economic Policy Institute shows. The EPI looked at just one form of wage theft: paying below minimum wage. Just that one type of violation steals billions of dollars out of workers’ paychecks:
  • In the 10 most populous states in the country, each year 2.4 million workers covered by state or federal minimum wage laws report being paid less than the applicable minimum wage in their state—approximately 17 percent of the eligible low-wage workforce.
  • The total underpayment of wages to these workers amounts to over $8 billion annually. If the findings for these states are representative for the rest of the country, they suggest that the total wages stolen from workers due to minimum wage violations exceeds $15 billion each year.
  • Workers suffering minimum wage violations are underpaid an average of $64 per week, nearly one-quarter of their weekly earnings. This means that a victim who works year-round is losing, on average, $3,300 per year and receiving only $10,500 in annual wages. […]
  • In the 10 most populous states, workers are most likely to be paid less than the minimum wage in Florida (7.3 percent), Ohio (5.5 percent), and New York (5.0 percent). However, the severity of underpayment is the worst in Pennsylvania and Texas, where the average victim of a minimum wage violation is cheated out of over 30 percent of earned pay.

Young workers, women, immigrants, and people of color are disproportionately affected because they’re overrepresented in low-wage jobs to begin with. This wage theft is keeping people in poverty—the poverty rate among workers paid less than the minimum wage in this study was 21 percent, and would have dropped to 15 percent if they’d been paid minimum wage. If their bosses had followed the law, in other words.

The wage thieves rarely face penalties for stealing, and when they do:

Employers found to have illegally underpaid an employee are usually required only to pay back a portion of the stolen wages—not even the full amount owed, much less a penalty for violating the law.

The law basically gives employers permission to steal from workers, in other words. And it sure won’t be getting better under Donald Trump.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on May 12, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and labor editor since 2011.

This week in the war on workers: Republicans attack minimum wage wins, but state news isn't all bad

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Lawmakers are saying “screw the will of the voters” in response to ballot votes to raise the minimum wage in several places across the country, Josh Eidelson reports:

Voters took to the polls in November and approved big hikes in four states’ minimum wages: Washington State, Colorado, Maine and Arizona.

But the increases may not actually take effect as voters intended because elected representatives — mostly Republicans — are moving to rein them in. In Washington, where voters opted for a $13.50 an hour minimum wage by 2020, and Maine, where it was set to rise to $12 that year, state legislators have proposed a battery of bills to water down the increases. The city council in Flagstaff, Arizona has done the same to a local initiative that would have boosted the wage floor to $12 this year, sooner than the statewide increase.

The news is better in Maryland, where both the state House and Senate have passed a paid sick leave bill with veto-proof majorities:

The bill passed by the General Assembly requires employers with 15 or more workers to provide five days of paid sick leave. It does not offer tax incentives to help offset the cost.

The House agreed to accept a change in the legislation made in the Senate that cut the number of sick days per year that employers must offer from seven to five.

That would make eight states with paid sick leave laws, all of them coming since Connecticut kicked it off in 2011.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on April 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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.

We Must Create Good Jobs: Sherrod Brown Shows the Way Forward

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

February, the first full month of the Trump presidency, witnessed solid jobs growth of 235,000 with the headline unemployment rate little changed, at 4.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Services monthly report.

Trump has already tweeted to claim credit for the results, but neither his plan nor his administration were in place. In fact, the February figures, a record 77th straight month of jobs growth, result from the momentum of the Obama recovery, plus whatever benefit or harm came from Trump’s bombast.

The jobs growth will harden the Federal Reserve’s resolve to raise interest rates again when its Open Market Committee meets next week. The Fed is acting in anticipation of an expected rise in inflation, that is to date not much in evidence.

By raising rates, The Fed is choosing to put a drag on the economy, even though full recovery is a long way off. Nearly 15 million people are still in need of full-time work. The share of the population in the workforce – 60 percent – is still down from 2000. If our work rate were back to where it was, about 10 million more Americans would have jobs.

Over the course of the recovery, most of the jobs created are contingent – part-time, short-term, contract work – with few benefits and often low wages. Lawrence Katz and former Obama economic advisor Alan Kreuger found that a staggering 94 percent of new jobs created from 2005 to 2015 were “alternative work,” contract or short-term or contingent.

Trump’s trickle-down agenda – to cut taxes on rich and corporations so they will create jobs – doesn’t address this reality. In fact, corporations are swimming in money, and using it increasingly to buy back shares or for mergers that do little to create jobs. Companies, contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, don’t lack capital or access to it, they lack demand for their products.

Democrats are sensibly critical of the Trump agenda, but too many fall back to a defense of Obama’s policies as the alternative. Obama helped save the economy that was in free fall when he took office, and presided over record months of jobs growth, but his policies, frustrated by Republican obstruction, did little to counter the stagnant wages, growing inequality and increasing insecurity of the modern economy.

The challenge is not simply to expose Trump’s bait and switch on the working people who voted for him, but to lay out elements of a bold alternative agenda. Bernie Sanders modeled that effort in his surging primary challenge.

Now, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is up for re-election in 2018, has stepped  boldly into the breach. Brown has released a 77 page, meticulously documented report –Working Too Hard for Too Little – that delves into how policies and power have undermined workers, and offers the elements of an agenda to rebuild the middle class.

Brown’s central insight is a direct counter to Trump’s recycled voodoo. Trump believes that cajoling and bribing companies is the way to generate good jobs. Brown argues “It’s not businesses who drive the economy – it is workers.”   Workers with decent wages and secure jobs generate the demand that allow companies to grow and the economy to thrive. As it is, “Between 2000 and 2013, the middle class shrank in all 50 states. And that’s hurting our country. When hard work doesn’t pay off – when workers have no economic security and their paychecks don’t reflect the work they do – our economy cannot grow.”

The unemployment rate, Brown argues, isn’t the measure of a good economy. “The unemployment rate is one thing, but whether workers have jobs that pay a decent wage and provide security is another. And the unemployment rate certainly doesn’t reflect the frustration, the worry, the anger, the pain that workers feel.”

Senator Brown details how the policies that have structured globalization, technology, corporate management have undermined workers, savaged unions, and pushed companies to offshore, contract out, and cut back on jobs, wages and benefits.  He then offers a worker based alternative agenda, some old and some new.

He’d act directly to lift the floor under workers – requiring a $15.00 minimum wage, setting up a national fund to finance 12 weeks family and medical leave, mandating minimum paid vacation days and enforcing overtime pay.

He calls for empowering workers at the workplace– cracking down on labor violations, curbing wage theft, policing misuse of contract labor, and reviving the right to organize and bargain collectively. While Republicans are intent on destroying unions, Brown argues that clearly we all have a large stake in challenging the current imbalance of power in the workplace.

He details measures to help workers save for retirement – including matching grants and expansion of opportunities for part-time and short-term workers.

Then Brown offers a far more coherent plan than Trump to change corporate incentives. He’d create a “Corporate Freeloader Fee,” levied against all corporations “whose pay is so low that taxpayers are forced to subsidize their workers.” The fee would force companies to reimburse American taxpayers for the insult. He’d accompany this with offering companies that do right by the workers a tax break – if they “commit to staying in the US, to hiring in the US and to providing good wages and fair benefits for workers.”

The academic rigor – complete with footnotes – of Brown’s report is a rarity among politicians. It exposes House Speaker Paul Ryan’s much celebrated power points for the thin gruel that they are. Brown doesn’t see creating jobs as a standalone – affordable health care, better schools, access to colleges and good training, aggressive anti-trust and more are also vital.

Work unites all of us, Brown writes, citing Pope Francis: “We don’t get dignity from power nor money or culture. We get dignity from work.” With Working too Hard for Too Little, Brown has shown Americans that there is an alternative. The choice is not between Trump’s antics and more of the same. Good analysis leads to bold alternatives that offer a way out. His courage and his leadership should be applauded.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on March 10, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Robert Borosage is a board member of both the Blue Green Alliance and Working America.  He earned a BA in political science from Michigan State University in 1966, a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1968, and a JD from Yale Law School in 1971. Borosage then practiced law until 1974, at which time he founded the Center for National Security Studies.

This MLK Day, I marched for justice at Newark Airport

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I participated in an incredibly moving procession of airport workers like myself. We were joined by clergy and elected officials on our march through Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport.

I clean United Airlines planes for a contractor called PrimeFlight Aviation Services. Yet I’m paid so little that it’s a struggle to survive.

At one point, I was homeless because I did not have enough money to pay my rent.

I now have a home, but I am afraid I could lose it if my hours are cut.

That’s why we marched on Monday.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has the power to call for higher wages, and we have been working for years to do just that. But the Port Authority rejected the plan that would have brought parity across the Hudson River. Now we at Newark airport are getting left behind. New York airport workers just received their first raise, as part of the gradual plan towards $15 that they won last year.

I work just as hard as New York airport workers but I make less money.

It can be demoralizing, but I know that New Jersey airport workers are not second class citizens.

Airport workers are rising together and calling for change. We won’t stop fighting until we get what we deserve: a living wage, real benefits and respect.

This article was originally printed on SEIU.org in January 2017 .  Reprinted with permission.

Benyamin Marte cleans United Airlines planes at Newark Airport.

Delivery Drivers Sue Amazon Over Misclassification, Failure to Pay Overtime and the Minimum Wage

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

With wage and hour lawsuits becoming increasingly common across the country, there was little reason for the lawyers at Amazon.com’s Seattle headquarters to be surprised when one landed on their doorstep recently. But they may have been concerned to learn that their newest legal adversary is “Sledgehammer Shannon” Liss-Riordan, a Boston attorney who gained legal fame by beating corporate giants like FedEx and Starbucks in just these kinds of contests.

The new lawsuit against Amazon is similar to one of Liss-Riordan’s best known cases—a suit against FedEx that charged the company was misclassifying delivery drivers as independent contractors when the workers were, as a matter of law, regular employees. Liss-Riordan won that fight and, this year, FedEx announced that it would give up on a series of related legal fights and pay $240 million to some 12,000 drivers in 20 states.

Liss-Riordan took the fight to Amazon in a suit filed October 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. It charges Amazon and Amazon Logistics Inc. with violating the minimum wage law in Seattle, state labor law in Washington and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Liss-Riordan explains that Amazon is experimenting with a delivery system where the company contracts with individuals to use their own cars to pick up parcels at Amazon warehouses and deliver them to local customers. The drivers typically sign up for a specific work shift and are paid an hourly wage. They are not compensated, however, for expenses like gasoline, car maintenance, telephone calls, or other incidentals. When subtracting these expenses, drivers often end up earning less than the minimum wage and are denied overtime pay, she says.

That description of delivery methods was echoed by Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Along with co-author Olivia LaVecchia, Mitchell has just completed a major study of Amazon’s business practices that warns that the giant corporation is killing good jobs in local economies as it seeks to monopolize different sectors of the retail business.

“Amazon has substantially expanded its warehouses in recent years and is experimenting with the so-called ‘last mile’ of the delivery system. They are increasingly using on-demand drivers, and also regional couriers, to move goods,” Mitchell says. “In the past, this sort of ‘last mile’ delivery was typically done by the U.S. Postal Service or United Parcel Service. USPS and UPS jobs are good-paying union jobs, and Amazon is undermining these with its gig economy model.”

In These Times reached out to Amazon to comment on the lawsuit. Spokesman Jim Billimoria provided the following response:

“The small and medium sized businesses that partner with Amazon Logistics have their own employees and are required to abide by applicable laws and Amazon’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which focuses on compensation, benefits, and appropriate working hours. We investigate any claim that a provider isn’t complying with these obligations.”

Liss-Riordan says this sort of a defense is typical of large corporations, many of which have lost wage and hour lawsuits in court.

“It’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you do,” she said. “We’ve been able to demonstrate, time and time again, that a lot of these corporations just don’t live up to their stated policies when it comes to real-life employment practices on the ground. That’s why you see more and more of these suits.”

Indeed, a 2015 report from the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP described an “onslaught” of litigation resulting in a record high number of federally-filed wage and hour cases in 2015. According to the firm, there were 8,781 such cases in 2015, compared to only 1,935 in 2000.

Asked about her nickname “Sledgehammer Shannon,” Liss-Riordan laughed out loud.

“It’s sort of silly. Mother Jones magazine did an article last year about a case I have against Uber, and I get a lot of jokes. I don’t care. The fact is, we will take on cases like this and fight them for 10 years if we have to.”

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on December 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary is a big ‘screw you’ to the Fight for $15

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

In an otherwise grim period for the U.S. labor movement, the fast food industry has been a hot spot for organizing activity. For the past four years, the union-backed Fight for 15 movement and allied groups have staged a series of nationwide, day-long strikes and protests in support of higher wages and unionization for fast food workers.

Fast food workers have yet to gain any significant union representation. But thanks in large part to the movement’s efforts, states and cities across the country have passed minimum wage laws raising pay for millions of people.

And now, if President-elect Donald Trump has his way, an enemy of the Fight for $15 movement will lead the U.S. Labor Department.

On Thursday, Trump revealed that he had nominated Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, to be Labor Secretary. CKE Restaurants is the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., two fast food companies that have been targeted by Fight for 15. Puzder himself is on record as an opponent of raising the minimum wage, and has said that he would like to try automating service more service jobs in response to wage hikes.

CKE Restaurants CEO Andrew Puzder, center, departs Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Unsurprisingly, the fast food lobby was delighted with Trump’s decision to elevate Puzder. International Franchise Association President and CEO Robert Cresanti called Puzder “an exceptional choice to lead the Labor Department” in a statement responding to the news.

Cresanti also offered up a wishlist for Puzder’s early days in office. The Obama Labor Department issue a rule (currently held up in federal court) that would dramatically expand the number of workers eligible for overtime pay. The department has also fought to expand joint-employer liability, meaning that multinational corporations such as McDonald’s may be held legally accountable for labor law violations committed at their franchised locations.

“We are hopeful that, if confirmed by the Senate, a top priority [for Puzder] will be rolling back the damaging effects caused by the expansion of joint employer liability to America’s 733,000 franchise businesses, and the too-far, too-fast increase in the overtime threshold that was recently put on hold by a Texas judge,” said Cresanti.

The progressive National Employment Law Project, on the other hand, described Puzder’s nomination as a “sucker-punch in the gut to all the men and women of good faith who believe in the mission of the U.S. Labor Department.”

“The job of the labor secretary is NOT to strengthen the power of corporations to reap record profits by squeezing every last drop out of their low-wage workforce—and threatening to replace them with machines if they ask for wages they can support their families on,” said NELP Executive Director Christine Owens. “While Mr. Puzder’s qualifications may fit the bill for the latter, those qualifications are anathema to what a secretary of labor should stand for.”

As Labor Secretary, Puzder would head up the main government agency charged with investigating claims of wage theft. A 2016 Bloomberg analysis of Labor Department data found that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants were themselves frequent violators of the law.

CREDIT: Bloomberg BNA

That may be why Fight for 15 organizing director told the American Prospect two weeks ago that appointing Puzder as Labor Secretary would be “like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of the treasury.”

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on December 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Ned Resnikoff is a senior editor at @thinkprogress.He was previously a reporter for for International Business Times, Al Jazeera America, and msnbc. Follow him on twitter @resnikoff.

The Hope From Audacity: Fight for $15 Pulls Off “Most Disruptive” Day of Action Yet

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

David MobergChicago—The movement known as Fight for $15 started in New York City as a surprise one-day strike. The workers’ demands then were simple and bold. They wanted a minimum wage of $15 an hour and the right to organize a union.

The workers who initiated the campaign could no longer tolerate lengthy debates over penny increases to the state, local and federal minimum wages. They called for more than double the federal minimum wage, which stood then—and now—at $7.25 an hour.

This was a dream that seemed not only aspirational but downright crazy when Fight for $15 first launched. And it was put forward by some of the workers with the greatest need—occupants of the virtually interchangeable jobs of the vast modern low-wage economy. These are the jobs that people take not just as a first job, but as the first of dozens of similar jobs in a career with little progress.

To mark its fourth anniversary this week, the Fight for $15 organization staged its largest and “most disruptive” national action to date, which included strikes, non-violent civil disobedience and actions at major airports like the Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

Even though it still has a long way to go, Fight for $15 had reason to celebrate.

A new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) credits Fight for $15 with winning an increase of $61.5 billion in annual wages over its first four years, mostly through state and local minimum wage increases. In other instances, employers boosted workers’ pay under public pressure.

On balance, these victories for roughly 19 million workers yielded a total raise more than 10 times larger than the raise U.S. workers received from the last federal minimum wage hike in 2007, according to NELP. By Fight for $15’s accounting, its actions have raised wages for 22 million workers.

Still, employers in the United States pay less than $15 an hour to some 64 million workers.

Over the past four years, Fight for $15 has reached beyond its base in fast food restaurants and launched organizing efforts with a broad range of poorly-paid workers: home care and child care workers, early childhood teachers, university teaching assistants, Uber and other ride-share company drivers, airport workers and many others. It has also inspired more tightly organized, conventional unions to reach out to other low-paid, low-skilled workers, such as car washers and retail sales clerks.

As the organization has grown, Fight for $15 has taken up new tactics and demands, in part reflecting the preoccupations of its members. While its two core demands remain a $15 minimum wage and union rights, the organization now also calls for an end to structural racism, to police killings of black people and to deportations of immigrants.

A new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) credits Fight for $15 with winning an increase of $61.5 billion in annual wages over its first four years. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

“We can’t keep living like this”

Before 6 a.m. Tuesday, a cool fall day, a crowd of several hundred protestors gathered outside a McDonald’s restaurant in the gentrifying but still largely working-class and immigrant neighborhood of Ukrainian Village on Chicago’s northwest side. Supporters unfurled a banner from a nearby grocery store. It read: “We Demand $15 and Union Rights, Stop Deportations, Stop Killing Black People.” The crowd chanted slogans, ranging from the humorously blunt (“We work, we sweat. Put $15 on our check!”) to the bluntly militant (“If we don’t get it. Shut it down!”) and the over-optimistically heroic (“El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido!” Spanish for “United, the people will never be defeated”).

The crowd included local politicians like Cook County Commissioner and recent insurgent mayoral candidate, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and workers whose jobs worsened recently as well as many others whose jobs have never been good. Uber driver Darrell Imani represented one of the newest companies whose workers have turned to Fight for $15 to protect what they fear losing. When he started driving for Uber a couple of years and about 12,000 rides ago, he typically earned roughly $25 an hour, or $40,000 a year.

“Now we can barely pay for gas and services,” he lamented. “We can’t keep living like this. We can’t. Uber drivers are on strike for living wages. I love doing it, but I want to be able to pay the bills. I’m trying to organize the group to be a union. Uber is making billions of dollars, but we are the ones who are making it for them.”

Also in the crowd was Keith Kelleher, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas, a large local union. He has a long history of trying, and often succeeding in organizing implausible groups of workers. In Detroit, Kelleher briefly organized hamburger chain outlets. He managed to organize widely dispersed home care workers in Chicago and other parts of Illinois. And just a few years ago, he led a march of retail clerks and fast food workers down North Michigan Avenue, the swank shopping strip of downtown Chicago.

“It has solidified in my mind that organizing can’t just be about wages, hours and working conditions,” Kelleher says. “It also is not just traditional organizing. This [Fight for $15] is the wave of the future. Workers want a union, and you can build organizations off of this. That’s the challenge.”

Organizing in the future may look much more like earlier periods of American labor history when “open shops” were common, meaning that individual workers could join or not join a union, Kelleher said. Open shops could become the rule again, as a result of the spread of right-to-work laws and the possibility of conservative judges overruling unions’ right to collect a “fair share” of normal dues to cover expenses of representing workers who do not join the union.

Kelleher’s home care workers’ union started along the model of an open shop, then won an agreement to have the state government “check off,” or collect, dues. But the Supreme Court later ruled that the home and child care workers in Kelleher’s union were not full-fledged state employees and, therefore, the union could not have dues deducted from their paychecks. The union now collects dues itself from about 65,000 of its more than 90,000 members, a remarkable achievement given how dispersed those workers are.

If employers think an open shop will weaken unions by making them less stable, Kelleher cites an unattributed maxim: “Where you don’t have permanent organization, you have permanent war.”

“With a union, you’re stronger”

The airport strike at O’Hare, the world’s fourth busiest airport, was one of the more dramatic actions. A year ago, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 launched a campaign to organize about 2,000 O’Hare workers, employed by a modest number of contractors for tasks that include cleaning airplane cabins, providing transport for passengers with mobility problems, handling baggage and other services.

Forty years ago, these workers were employed directly by each airline and wages and benefits were attractive. But those arrangements collapsed under pressure from strong outside forces. Airlines increasingly subcontracted work to independent, specialized firms, which competed for work from the airlines and thus felt pressure to cut labor costs.  And with deregulation of the airline industry, the carriers were subject to pressures to cut cost, which was easier to do when they employed contractors rather than direct hires.

Also, there was an economy-wide shift towards what David Weil, now the administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, called the “fissured workplace,” where more powerful elements of the enterprise or workplace try to minimize their responsibility for anything except maximizing profits. President Ronald Reagan’s breaking the strike and union of the air traffic controllers further legitimized an anti-worker strategy that airline managers can deploy. One of the consequences is that from 2002 to 2012 outsourcing of baggage porter jobs more than tripled from 25 percent to 84 percent.

Despite having multiple employers, with a varied workforce, “workers’ resolve is very strong,” says Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU Local 1. An estimated 400 workers at O’Hare took part in the strike Tuesday.

“I think workers know the airlines can pay,” Balanoff says. “The airlines haven’t talked to us yet, but I think we got their attention,” and he believes the union has the political as well as industrial strength to prevail.

Andrew Pawelko hopes that’s true. A former auto paint detail worker, he now works as the lead in a cabin cleaning crew for Prospect, a major contractor to big airlines.

“I like cleaning and detail work,” he says, but “the job needs more pay.”

Pawelko, who took part in the strike, makes $12.50 an hour; members of his crew make $10.75. At a previous job, the employer persuaded workers to get rid of their union. A short time later, Pawelko’s benefits were cut.

“Union rights,” he says, “100 percent we need it, all of us.”

Rasheed Atolagbe-Aro, 50, a recent immigrant from Nigeria, is another strong union supporter who joined the strike, partly because of issues concerning safety and the high pressures at work.

“It’s high risk,” he says. “The spray used to clean is at a very serious level. But you’re fired if you refuse to come to work. With a union, you’re stronger.”

Although Fight for $15 is not a union, it can provide a way to fight on behalf of broad policies that help all low-wage workers, even if it has not yet created or even defined more localized vehicles to deal with individual member grievances, contracts and other traditional union tasks like signing up members, collecting dues and providing services. Such are some of the concerns about the group’s unconventional, loose structure, its lack of emphasis on formal membership and dues and its heavy financial dependence on the 1.8 million-member SEIU.

Can even a financially-strong union continue to underwrite such an ambitious undertaking?  What is the optimal amount of SEIU control over Fight for $15?

“We’re hoping to build this movement,” Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, said as she stood on a balcony at O’Hare along with more than a thousand members and supporters of Fight for $15, noting that Fight for $15 mustered actions in 340 cities and 20 airports in a single day, combining rallies and marches with more logistically-complicated tactics, such as civil disobedience. “Our plan is not to shape the organization into unions as we have known them, but something different.”

Henry takes inspiration from the way that the labor movement in Denmark, for instance, has raised fast food worker wages and workplace standards dramatically by sitting down and talking with corporate leaders in the field to negotiate an agreement. She says she hopes to do the same, perhaps within the coming year, by sitting down with McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s—the big three in burgers—to negotiate an industry-wide agreement.

“Workers say a union is the way jobs become good jobs, the way to have a voice,” she said. “Organizing is the way to improve our lives.”

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on December 1, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

Fight For $15 Fights With Nationwide Strike Today

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

dave.johnsonWhen do we want a $15 minimum wage? We want it now.

43% of the workforce — 60 million workers — are paid less than $15/hour. People will continue to fight for decent wages, the election of Donald “Wages Are Too High” Trump notwithstanding.


“83-year old McDoanld’s worker Jose Carillo on his 12th strike gets arrested” – photo by @Fightfor15

Fight for $15 is striking today, demanding a $15 minimum wage. Fight for $15’s November 29 “Day of Disruption” brought strikes to 340 cities across the country today, with tens of thousands participating. Yesha Callahan reported for The Root, in “Minimum Wage Workers Across the Country Are #FightingFor15“:

From nonunion workers at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to McDonald’s employees in New York City, people are having their voices heard, and have some heavy-hitter celebrities supporting them. Tuesday has been appropriately referred to as “Disruption Tuesday,” with underpaid workers walking off the job.

The Problem

Why is this so important that people would make the sacrifice to strike, losing a days pay, risking their jobs and even arrest? Today’s $7.25/hr minimum wage is extremely low. For example, minimum-wage workers do not make enough to rent an apartment — pretty much anywhere. Huffington Post’s Kate Abbey-Lambertz shows why, in “Here’s How Much Money You Need To Afford Rent In Every State“:

Nationwide, the housing wage for a two-bedroom apartment is $20.30 hourly (or $42,240 annually). That means someone earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 would have to work 112 hours a week to afford the typical rent.

If the minimum wage had kept up with economic growth, it would be $18.85 today. David Cooper at The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) explained in July, in The federal minimum wage has been eroded by decades of inaction,

…[T]he last time the federal minimum wage was raised, from $6.55 to $7.25 on July 24, 2009. Since then, the purchasing power of the federal minimum wage has fallen by 10 percent as inflation has slowly eroded its value. However, this decline in the buying power of the minimum wage over the past seven years is not even half the overall decline in the minimum wage’s value since the late 1960s.

A Growing Fight for $15 Movement Gets Results

The Fight For $15 movement kicked off in New York City in 2012. The November 2012 OurFuture.org post, “Fed Up Fast-Food Workers Strike To Change Economy,” explained:

Fast-food workers are exploited. The low-wage, burger-flipping service sector is the symbol of the new economy that is stripping the country of its middle class while a few at the very top make billions. Employers take advantage of the high unemployment to pay as little as the law allows, and hold down hours to keep from providing benefits. It pays off really big for a few at the expense of everyone else. Last year the CEO of Wendy’s made $16.5 million dollars while paying minimum wage. Or more to the point, because they pay minimum wage.

So fed-up fast-food workers are starting to organize and do something about it. Today in New York City fast-food workers staged a one-day walkout to demand a decent wage — enough to pay for rent and food.

Fight for $15 has already achieved gains for workers; since 2012 America’s workers have won nearly $62 billion in raises.

A new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), “Fight for $15: Four Years, $62 Billion“, examines the gains that the Fight For $15 movement have already brought to minimum-wage workers. Key findings include,

  • Since the Fight for $15 launched in 2012, underpaid workers have won $61.5 billion in raises from a combination of state and local minimum wage increases from New York to California and action by employers ranging from McDonald’s to Walmart to raise their companies’ minimum pay scales. (Figure represents the total additional annual income that workers will receive after the approved increases fully phase in.)
  • Of the $61.5 billion in additional income, two-thirds is the result of landmark $15 minimum wage laws that the Fight for $15 won in California, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, SeaTac and Washington, D.C.
  • At least 19 million workers nationwide will benefit from raises sparked by the Fight for $15.
  • 2.1 million of those workers won raises this month when voters approved minimum wage ballot initiatives in Arizona ($12 by 2020), Colorado ($12 by 2020), Maine ($12 by 2020), Washington State ($13.50 by 2020), and Flagstaff, AZ ($15 by 2021).

Follow the #Fightfor15 on Twitter, and visit Fight for $15 on the web.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on November 29, 2016. 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.

The Bright Spots for Workers Amid Tuesday’s Disastrous Election

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

RobertSchwartz

The presidential election was bad news for progressives, but the dark cloud had a sort of silver lining—ballot measures. At the state level, workers won minimum wage increases in four states and paid sick leave in two.

Voters approved an increase to $12 an hour by 2020 in Arizona, Colorado and Maine. Washington voted to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020—and index it to inflation after that. In Flagstaff, Arizona, voters approved an increase above the new state minimum wage, raising it to $15 an hour by 2021.

These increases will affect about 2.3 million workers, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). And overall, the “minimum wage ballot wins bring to 19.3 million the number of workers who have received raises because of minimum wage increases in the four years since the Fight for $15 launched in New York City and began changing the politics of the country around wages,” noted NELP’s executive director, Christine Owens.

Voters approved an increase to $12 an hour by 2020 in Arizona, Colorado and Maine. Washington voted to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020—and index it to inflation after that. (AZ Healthy Working Families/ Facebook)

Voters approved an increase to $12 an hour by 2020 in Arizona, Colorado and Maine. Washington voted to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020—and index it to inflation after that. (AZ Healthy Working Families/ Facebook)

The measures in Arizona and Washington also included mandatory paid sick leave for workers. In Arizona, the initiative guaranteed at least 40 hours of paid leave for workers in businesses with 15 or more employees. Workers in businesses with fewer than 15 employees are guaranteed at least 24 hours. The law goes into effect July 2017. In Washington, workers will earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. That law takes effect in 2018.

In South Dakota, meanwhile, voters rejected a decrease in the minimum wage for non-tipped workers under the age of 18. And voters in Maine and Flagstaff abolished the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, guaranteeing them the regular minimum wage.

The state and local minimum wage increases promise substantial benefits for a wide range of workers. Maine’s measure, for example, will raise wages for about 180,000 people, according to NELP. About a third of them are working seniors, who are “among the fastest-growing age groups in Maine’s labor force”—a trend that applies nationwide.

report by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado found that the state’s $12 minimum wage will affect about 200,000 households with children and 290,000 women. The increase for most female minimum wage workers will be between $4,000 and $7,000 a year. The study also found that the median age of minimum wage workers is 30 and that more than 35 percent of them are over 40.

“For a family with two children,” the report read, “a minimum wage boost to $12 per hour could cover the cost of six to eight months of food; seven to nine months of transportation expenses; four to seven months of rent; or a semester to a full year at a community college.”

In other states, Alabama and Virginia voted on whether to enshrine so-called right-to-work laws into their state constitutions. In “right-to-work” states, employees can opt out of paying union dues. Both states already have such laws on the books, but putting them in the constitution would make them permanent. Alabama approved the measure. Virginia rejected it.

In the realm of health care, Colorado rejected an initiative that would have created a universal health care system in the state, with 80 percent voting against.

Also in Colorado, voters rejected (51-49 percent) a measure designed to alter the state’s constitution by deleting language from 1876 that allows slavery among people who are being punished for a crime. The proposed amendment highlighted growing concerns over working conditions in prisons and would have prohibited slavery in all cases. The state chapter of the AFL-CIO had supported the change.

Even though workers didn’t win on every initiative, the success of the minimum wage and paid sick leave measures suggests one promising path forward for progressives. Of the more than 160 total ballot measures this year, 71 were initiated through signature petitions rather than state legislatures.

As Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, said Wednesday, “The success of the minimum wage and other progressive ballot measures in the face of last night’s election results clearly shows that ballot initiatives will become an increasingly important tool in coming cycles to pass the kind of policies that create an economy that works for everyone.”

This blog originally appeared at inthesetimes.com on November 10, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Theo Anderson, an In These Times staff writer, is writing a book about the historical and contemporary influence of pragmatism on American politics. He has a Ph.D. in American history from Yale University and teaches history and literature seminars at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

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