Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Minimum Wage’

Seattle's $15 minimum wage raised pay with zero effect on restaurant jobs, new study shows

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Raising the minimum wage does not kill jobs, no matter what Republicans tell you—and a new study of the Seattle restaurant industry, where some businesses are already paying a $15 minimum wage, provides another data point showing just that. According to the University of California, Berkeley, study, the increased minimum wage had employment effects that were “not statistically distinguishable from zero,” which is a fancy way of saying “we looked and we could not find a damn thing.” The Seattle Times reports:

Indeed, employment in food service from 2015 to 2016 was not affected, “even among the limited-service restaurants, many of them franchisees, for whom the policy was most binding,” according to the study, led by Berkeley economics professor Michael Reich. […]

It can be hard to separate what impact the wage law had on employment in Seattle versus the effect of the city’s white-hot economy and tight labor market, but “we do our best,” Reich said.

The study compares the wage and employment growth rates in Seattle to a control group of counties, in Washington state and across the U.S., that had similar growth rates as Seattle in the years shortly before the minimum-wage law took effect.

A report issued last year found indications that the increased minimum wage did slightly restrict job growth, but we don’t know if the difference comes from differing methodologies or from the studies covering different time frames. Both studies have to contend with Seattle’s booming economy, which could conceivably mask lowered growth of the job rate for low-wage workers … but which itself refutes the Republican talking points against raising the minimum wage. Because “it’s hard to tell if even more low-wage workers would otherwise be employed because the economy is so darn good” does not exactly back up claims that having the minimum wage be a living wage will destroy the economy.

A Day in the Life of a Day Laborer

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Come sunrise, the men fill the street corner, among them Luis, quietly sitting by himself, nurturing hopes for work today.

There was no work yesterday, nothing the day before and nothing for weeks.

Still, the 50-year-old Guatemalan, who didn’t want his last name used, waits in the growing heat, saying he has no other choice.

He waits even though he hates day labor work, because he says it is sometimes dangerous, barely enough to live on, and some of the men on the street corner have bullied and hurt him on the job.

The factory where he worked for almost a decade shut down a few years ago, he can’t find any work as a caregiver, and, he says, the factories aren’t hiring or they are shutting down.

He says he has papers to show he is a legal resident in the United States, but he suspects that many of the men standing around him don’t have that status.

That’s not the case for Carlos Sanchez, 70, and Gustavo Almaraz, 28, who are standing nearby. Carlos says he is Puerto Rican and Gustavo says he was born in the United States.

But they say that many workers lack papers and so they suffer. Often, the contractors who hire the men off the street corner “automatically think you don’t have papers,” explains Almaraz. And that’s a problem, because they want to take advantage of you. “Some of the people here (doing the hiring) are mean,” he adds.

The two also say they know how to take care of themselves.

Sanchez says he knows how to do a lot of jobs and how to deal with people, starting out decades ago as a migrant worker earning 35 cents an hour. And Almaraz says he has picked up enough skills that he can virtually take every job offered on the street corner.

“It’s all on you,” Almaraz explains. “You see a car coming in and you have to go up and say, ‘Hey boss, what do you need?’”

The secret is finding a good boss and somebody who needs you for a long time, he says. It also involves knowing, he says, when to walk away from someone who abuses you. “I had a good-paying job with an electrician, but he started to become disrespectful. He started to yell and insult me.”

Almaraz says he won’t work for less than $15 an hour, but surveys indicate laborers often earn minimum wages or less, and sometimes nothing. “Nobody can live on less than $100 a day,” Almaraz says.

Near them is a 65-year-old Mexican: a short, stocky, balding man, who says he has been doing day labor ever since coming to the United States without papers 12 years ago.

He hasn’t been able to find work and so he says he will take less than the others. “Sometimes they don’t pay. It’s very difficult. There is no work and everything is expensive,” he says in Spanish.

Time passes, and the men disappear from the street corner. Some are off to work, getting into the trucks and vans that pick them up.

As soon as someone pulls up onto the gasoline station’s street corner, the men rush them, huddling by the vehicle’s windows, bargaining furiously as they tout their skills. And some just wander off.

Not Luis. He sits waiting. Some jobs he won’t take.  “I have friends who were injured doing roofing, and they went home (to Guatemala) handicapped,” he says.

Not too long ago, he took a moving job with another worker. It was supposed to be an easy three-hour job. But the items they moved were so heavy, he sat at home for three days afterward, his hands shaking.

“A lot of people will do this work. They don’t speak the language so they have to. But I don’t have to,” he says.

He waits along with more than 100,000 others who gather daily on dozens of street corners across the United States, according to figures from 2006. It is a world, where workers are often cheated out of their wages, injured on the job and then left without medical care, according to a 2006 survey. Where workers who complain often suffer retaliation by employers who fire them, suspend them, or threaten to call immigration officials.

As the hours pass, Luis huddles in the scorching sunlight, watching out for anybody looking for a worker and a job he can do.

Most of the men are gone, but not him.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on June 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Stephen Franklin, former labor and workplace reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was until recently the ethnic media project director with Public Narrative in Chicago. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans (2002), and has reported throughout the United States and the Middle East. He can be reached via e-mail at freedomwrites@hotmail.com.

Hints of Progress for Labor in the United States

Friday, June 9th, 2017

With Donald Trump sitting in the White House and right-wing Republicans controlling Congress, there is not much for labor to cheer about on the American national political scene. In addition, the overall prospect for union organizing does not look very good. Republicans are pursuing policies at both the national and state level to further erode union membership. But with all the bad news, there have been some important victories at the state and local levels that can perhaps lay the groundwork for gains nationally in future years.

The most important of these battles has been the drive for an increase in the minimum wage. The national minimum wage has been set at $7.25 an hour since 2009. In the intervening eight years, inflation has reduced its purchasing power by almost 17%. Measured by purchasing power, the current national minimum wage is more than 25% below its 1968 peak. That is a substantial decline in living standards for the country’s lowest-paid workers.

However, the situation is even worse if we compare the minimum wage to productivity. From 1938, when a national minimum wage was first put in place, until 1968, it was raised in step with the average wage, which in turn tracked economy-wide productivity growth. If the minimum wage had continued to track productivity growth in the years since 1968, it would be almost $20 an hour today, more than two and a half times its current level. That would put it near the current median wage for men and close to the 60th percentile wage for women. This is a striking statement on how unevenly the gains from growth have been shared over the last half century.

The Obama administration tried unsuccessfully to make up some of this lost ground during his presidency. While it may have been possible in his first two years when the Democrats controlled Congress, higher priority was given to the stimulus, health care reform and financial reform. Once the Republicans regained control in 2010, increases in the minimum wage were off the table. Needless to say, it is unlikely (although not impossible) that the Trump administration will take the lead in pushing for a higher minimum wage any time soon.

Although the situation looks bleak nationally, there have been many successful efforts to increase the minimum wage in states and cities across the country in recent years. This effort has been led by unions, most importantly the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose “Fight for $15” campaign is pushing to make $15 an hour the nationwide minimum. The drive gained momentum with its endorsement by Bernie Sanders in his remarkable campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. While Sanders was of course defeated for the nomination, his push for a $15 an hour minimum wage won the support of many voters. It is now a mainstream position within the national Democratic Party.

However, the action for the near term is at the state and local levels, where there have been many successes. There are now 29 states that have a minimum wage higher than the national minimum. The leader in this effort is California, which is now scheduled to have a $15 an hour minimum wage as of January 2022. With over 12% of the US population living there, this is a big deal. Washington State is not far behind, with the minimum wage scheduled to reach $13.50 an hour in January 2020. New York State’s minimum wage will rise to $12.50 an hour at the end of 2020 and will be indexed to inflation in subsequent years.

Several cities have also jumped ahead with higher minimum wages. San Francisco and Seattle, two centers of the tech economy, both are set to reach $15 an hour for city minimums by 2020. Many other cities, including New York, Chicago and St. Louis have also set minimum wages considerably higher than the federal and state levels.

What has been most impressive about these efforts to secure higher minimum wages is the widespread support they enjoy. This is not just an issue that appeals to the dwindling number of union members and progressive sympathizers. Polls consistently show that higher minimum wages have the support of people across the political spectrum. Even Republicans support raising the minimum wage, and often by a large margin.

As a result of this support, minimum wage drives have generally succeeded in ballot initiatives when state legislatures or local city councils were not willing to support higher minimums. The last minimum wage increase in Florida was put in place by a ballot initiative that passed in 2004, even as the state voted for George W. Bush for president. Missouri, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in this century, approved a ballot initiative for a higher minimum wage in 2006. South Dakota, Nebraska and Arkansas, all solidly Republican states, approved ballot initiatives for higher minimum wages in 2014. In short, this is an issue where the public clearly supports the progressive position.

These increases in state and local minimum wages have meant substantial improvements in the living standards of the affected populations. In many cases, families are earning 20-30% more than they would if the minimum wage had been left at the federal minimum.

In addition, several states, including California, have also put in place measures to give workers some amount of paid family leave and sick days. While workers in Europe have long taken such benefits for granted, most workers in the United States cannot count on receiving paid time off. This is especially true for less-educated and lower-paid workers. In fact, employers in most states do not have to grant unpaid time off and can fire a worker for taking a sick day for themselves or to care for a sick child. So the movement towards requiring paid time off is quite significant for many workers.

This progress should be noted when thinking about the political situation and the plight of working people in the United States, but there are also two important qualifications that need to be added. The first is that there are clearly limits to how far it is possible to go with minimum wage increases before the job losses offset the benefits. Recent research has shown that modest increases can be put in place with few or no job losses, but everyone recognizes that at some point higher minimum wages will lead to substantial job loss. A higher minimum wage relative to economy-wide productivity was feasible in the past because the US had a whole range of more labor-friendly policies in place. In the absence of these supporting policies, we cannot expect the lowest-paid workers to get the same share of the pie as they did half a century ago.

The other important qualification is the obvious one: higher minimum wages do not increase union membership. The SEIU, the AFL-CIO and the member unions that have supported the drive for a higher minimum wage have done so in the best tradition of enlightened unionism. They recognize that a higher minimum wage can benefit a substantial portion of their membership, since it sets a higher base from which they can negotiate upward. Of course, it is also a policy that benefits the working class as a whole. For this reason, unions collectively have devoted considerable resources to advancing the drive to raise the minimum wage.

However, this has put a real strain on their budgets at a time when anti-union efforts are reducing the number of dues-paying members in both the public and private sectors. This will make it more difficult to sustain the momentum for raising minimum wages and mandating employer benefits. For this reason, the good news on the minimum wage must be tempered. It is a rare bright spot for labor in the United States in the last decade, but it will be a struggle to sustain the momentum in the years ahead.

This blog was originally published at CEPR.net on June 7, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Dean Baker co-founded CEPR in 1999. His areas of research include housing and macroeconomics, intellectual property, Social Security, Medicare and European labor markets. He is the author of several books, including Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer. His blog, “Beat the Press,” provides commentary on economic reporting. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Michigan

Veteran Organizer Gives Inside Look at the First $15 Minimum Wage Campaign

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Back in 2011, as the Occupy Wall Street movement was still spreading through the country, a smaller standoff was unfolding at Sea-Tac, the international airport in the small, eponymous town between Seattle and Tacoma that serves both cities. Along with some of her coworkers, Zainab Aweis, a Somali Muslim shuttle driver for Hertz car rental, was on her way to take a break for prayer, when her manager stepped in front of the doorway.

“If you guys pray, you go home,” the manager said.

As devout Muslims, Aweis and her fellow staff were dedicated to praying five times a day. Because it only takes a few minutes, their employer had previously treated the prayers like smoke breaks—nothing to worry about. Suddenly, the workers were forced to choose between their faith and their jobs.

“I like the job,” Aweis thought, “but if I can’t pray, I don’t see the benefit.”

As she and others continued to pray, managers started suspending each Muslim worker who prayed on the clock, totaling 34.

The ensuing battle marked a flashpoint in what would eventually be the first successful $15 minimum wage campaign in the country. The story of these Hertz workers, and the many others who came together to improve their working conditions, is recounted in Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement, a new book by Jonathan Rosenblum, a leading organizer of the campaign.

As the labor movement finds itself in a state of crisis, Beyond $15 is both a timely history of a bold campaign’s unlikely victory and an inspiring call for a flexible, progressive and power-building vision of labor organizing.

The decades-long decline of union power and the recent rise of anti-union legislation have made organizing workers in even the best of conditions an uphill battle. At Sea-Tac, one might have thought it impossible. While organizing even a single workplace is a challenge, Rosenblum and others were hoping to organize many. Decades of restructuring and union busting in the airline industry meant that many low-wage workers at Sea-Tac worked for various contractors rather than the airlines themselves. Though many of the employees worked alongside each other and shared grievances, they did not necessarily have the same boss.

Worse than that, Sea-Tac airport workers weren’t guaranteed most federal rights to union activity because those rights do not fully cover contractors or transportation workers. Due to an antiquated law called the Railway Labor Act (RLA), airport workers are all but prohibited from striking and so-called disruptive activity in the workplace. And, if all of that wasn’t bad enough, many of the workers wanted nothing to do with a union. Some had already had bad experiences with unions and did not trust them, while others were refugees who wanted no part in anything that might attract the government’s attention.

That Rosenblum and his colleagues were able to achieve victory under such circumstances, alone, makes Beyond $15 an instructive read. The book’s detailed portraits of organizers, workers and their actions are a testament to bold and creative maneuvers, which were executed so well that they made a seemingly invincible corporation feel threatened by a united front of cabin cleaners and shuttle drivers. Rosenblum’s coalition of faith leaders and a team of worker organizers, closely tied to the community, led picket drives on luggage carts, co-opted shareholder meetings with defiant prayers and songs, made a successful bid to demand union recognition and launched a citywide ballot initiative that narrowly beat its concerted conservative opposition (and I mean narrowly–the initiative passed by 77 votes, a 1 percent margin).

But more than just a collection of war stories, Rosenblum’s purpose in Beyond $15 is to persuade other advocates to follow his lead. The book uses Sea-Tac’s success to argue for a “social movement union” approach to organizing that grounds labor advocacy in moral terms, challenges the existing economic and political order and broadens the definition of union organizing to include a wide swath of community groups and faith leaders rather than union members alone.

“Today’s expectation among most union leaders …. is that the organization providing the most dollars and staff get to call the shots,” Rosenblum writes. “But community allies bring other assets, like relationships, credibility, or cultural competence, which can’t be measured monetarily but are just as vital.”

To be sure, Rosenblum’s vision for labor organizing is not exactly new. Many progressive union leaders, particularly younger ones, would find his recommended principles obvious. Even the most powerful and ostensibly hierarchical union leaders would likely agree with many of his points. And while this kind of progressive vision is important, there are practical conundrums that cannot be resolved by Rosenblum’s call to “aim higher, reach wider, build deeper”—namely, a history of industrial segmentation, automation and the large number of workers in sectors where traditional models of union organizing simply aren’t feasible. Even when union heads fully prioritize grassroots organizing, coalition building and collaborating with faith leaders, as AFL-CIO head John Sweeney did in the 1990s, this strategy is not a panacea.

With Republican control of every branch of government, the rising popularity of “right-to-work” legislation and the increasing number of preemption bills that allow conservative states to nullify laws like the one passed at Sea-Tac, these challenges are only multiplying. It’s with that in mind that Beyond $15 may be exactly the inspirational fodder that organizers need. There may not be an easy fix for the tensions between grassroots organizing and newer forms of worker advocacy, but Rosenblum can attest that the problem need not be resolved to plod ahead. As he shows in his book, progressive organizing and coalition building can work alongside ballot initiatives and big unions, and victories can still be won—now.

 This article was originally published at Inthesetimes.com on June 2, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 
About the Author: Jonathan Timm is a freelance reporter who specializes in labor and gender issues. Follow him on Twitter @jdrtimm.

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.

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