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Posts Tagged ‘Minimum Wage’

Maryland To Raise Minimum Wage to $10.10 an Hour—But Only After Foot-Dragging From Some Dems

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Bruce VailMaryland is on the verge of becoming the second state, after Connecticut, to heed President Barack Obama’s call for a new national minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.

Lawmakers moved in a special weekend session to pass a measure hiking the state’s minimum to $10.10 an hour, up sharply from the current minimum of $7.25. The Maryland Senate passed the bill on April 5, and the House of Delegates gave its approval around midday on April 7, just hours before the year’s legislative session ended.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to sign the bill into law promptly. In January, he called the wage hike his top legislative priority for the year.

The victory for low-wage workers, however, has left some progressive groups frustrated and a little angry. The reason? They say the most potent attempts to kill, dilute or delay the bill came from Democratic Party legislators who publicly proclaim their support for the working poor, yet worked behind the scenes to undermine the new minimum wage law. Democrats enjoy large majorities in both houses of the legislature.

“Maryland is a Democratic state, but not necessarily a progressive one,” says Pat Lippold, political director for hospital workers union 1199SEIU, a division of the Service Employees International Union, which helped push for the bill.

“We didn’t expect any support from the Republicans—and we didn’t get any. But every effort to weaken [the original wage proposal] came from Democrats. Our work became beating back Democrats,” says Charly Carter, Executive Director of Maryland Working Families, an arm of the New York-based Working Families Organization. Working Families started a coalition two years ago called Raise Maryland to advocate for the minimum wage boost. Labor unions such as 1199SEIU, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 form the backbone of the coalition, along with units of the NAACP and citizen advocacy groups such as Casa de MarylandProgressive Maryland and the National Employment Law Project. The coalition ultimately attracted about 60 groups including faith-based organizations and even Democratic Party youth groups.

Any lingering anger at conservative Democrats is due to the fact that they were partly successful in watering down the law, although some of the worst suggestions were ultimately rejected. The original proposal, for example, called for the minimum wage to be raised in several steps until it reached $10.10 in 2016. But amendments proposed and supported by Democrats stretched out the phase-in an additional two years, to July 1, 2018. Worse, Democrats killed the part of the original bill that would provide annual cost-of-living adjustments to the future minimum wage, a key element in preventing the erosion of earning power by low-income workers.

And that’s not all. Raise Maryland was keen to include raises for tipped workers, who are currently only required to be paid $3.63 an hour under state law. (Critics have pointed out that the law assumes that tips will make up the rest, but that is not always true in practice.) The House of Delegates declined to do so and froze the tipped wage at the current level for the next four years. The legislators explicitly rejected a more progressive measure, advocated by Gov. O’Malley, to set the tipped wage at 70 percent of the state minimum, which would have allowed the two to rise together.

“I have three words to sum up the amendments that were offered by the conservative Democrats: shocking, unnecessary and counterproductive,” comments Carter. The cost-of-living-adjustment was a key progressive goal, yet was shot down early in the legislative process, she noted. And, Carter says, the more progressive tipped wage provision “should have been mother’s milk to any real Democrat.”

Adding insult to injury, the Maryland legislators also engaged in a public spectacle of special pleading for amusement park owners, Carter and Lippold both relate. Known as the “Six Flags Amendment,” the provision put forward by Democrats would have exempted the owners of the Six Flags America amusement park in Upper Marlboro, Md., from the new minimum wage law. When the exemption gained quick support in the legislature, other amusements operators jumped on the bandwagon and convinced legislators on both sides of the aisle to load up the bill with additional exemptions, Carter says. House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch (D), who is counted a strong supporter of a more progressive law, was ultimately forced to intervene behind the scenes and put a stop to the amendments, she says. Even so, the final legislation allows Six Flags its own minimum wage, set at 85 percent of the statewide figure.

“What’s amazing is that when you poll the public on the minimum wage, the [pro-increase] numbers are just off the charts,” Lippold adds. “So there is almost no downside,” for legislators to support a higher minimum, she says. “But the devil is in the details,” and skilled lobbyists for restaurant interests and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce are able to exert outsized influence, Lippold says.

The experience of lobbying to raise the minimum wage has solidified the commitment of the Working Families Organization to establish a permanent base in the state and to become more involved in electoral campaigns, particularly at the Democratic Party primary level, Carter says. “Some of these so-called ‘moderate’ Democrats need to be challenged and held accountable,” she says. Formal announcement of the new Maryland unit should be forthcoming within a month, she tells Working In These Times. The Raise Maryland coalition will also remain intact and look for other ways to advance pro-worker legislation, especially a new effort to guarantee paid sick days to all workers in the state, she says.

Nearly a half million Maryland workers are expected to benefit from the minimum wage increase, with the first raise, to $8.00 an hour, scheduled for Jan. 1, 2015.

Full discosure: AFSCME is a sponsor of In These Times. Sponsors have no role in editorial content.

This article was originally printed in Working In These Times on April 7, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: 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.

What is the Republican House Leadership doing? #RaiseTheWage!

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

seiu-org-logoDemocrats in the U.S. House of Representativesfiled a discharge petition that could force Speaker John Boehner to hold a vote to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. A discharge petition is a rarely used legislative maneuver that Democrats hope will bring the minimum wage debate to the floor.

It was through a discharge petition that the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the federal minimum hourly wage and other worker protection provisions, became law in 1938.
However, while Democrats hope for a repeat of 1938, unsurprisingly, Speaker Boehner hasn’t shown any signs that he is interested in bringing the minimum wage debate to the House floor. Come to think of it, not much is worthy of urgency for the Republican leadership in the House.

A raise in the minimum wage, a policy initiative supported by 71 percent of Americans, that wouldn’t increase the federal budget, that would raise wages for 28 million workers, increase the GDP by $22 billion, and create 85,000 new jobs, is sadly not a pressing matter worthy of a House debate.

Neither does immigration reform, unemployment insurance, and the many challenges that the nation faces. While Republican House leadership twiddle their thumb, 1.3 million Americans are without unemployment insurance (UI) and 11 million aspiring Americans continue to hide the shadow, families are torn apart, communities suffer deportations, workers are exploited, men and women die on the border, and millions live without a path to citizenship.

John Boehner’s refusal to consider bringing minimum wage debate to the floor is yet another example that he is out of touch with the needs of the American people.

Author: Jumoke Balogun

SeaTac Minimum Wage Hike Goes into Effect, Yet Many Are Left Out

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Jackie TortoraYesterday, workers at large hotels and car services outside the SeaTac International Airport, just south of Seattle, became eligible for a wage increase to $15 an hour after a groundbreaking ballot initiative to significantly raise the minimum wage passed last November.

A judge in the King County Superior Court last week suspended the part of the law that would cover 4,700 people who work within the airport itself, saying that the airport is technically a separate jurisdiction belonging to the Port of Seattle, even though those workers were major proponents of the measure. As it stands now, the law covers 1,600 people who work at hotels and car services outside the airport.

Employees of airport contractors are appealing the county judge’s decision and filed a “petition for discretionary review” with the Washington State Supreme Court on Dec. 31.

The Yes for SeaTac coalition reports that while Alaska Airlines operates hundreds of flights at those other airports that pay living wages, such as the Los Angeles International Airport, Alaska Airlines is the main plaintiff in the lawsuit to take away living wages and paid sick days from the 4,700 SeaTac workers. Alaska Airlines recently reported its best quarter ever and the airline’s 18th consecutive quarterly profit, with $157 million in profits in just three months.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on January 2, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

At $2.13 Minimum Wage, Restaurant Workers Struggle to Put Food on Their Own Tables

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Laura ClawsonRestaurant workers are supposed to get at least minimum wage, when tips are combined with the $2.13 an hour tipped worker minimum wage. But, as the women in this video make clear, that’s not enough. Too often, employers don’t make up the difference, or even push workers to do prep or cleaning work at $2.13, with no chance to make tips. Or customers walk out on their checks, or leave a racist note instead of a tip, or a homophobic note instead of a tip, or a religious tract instead of a tip.

Relying on tips also forces an overwhelmingly female workforce to flirt with customers and smile at things that should be considered sexual harassment, all for the hope of a tip. A server named Gwenn told the Restaurant Opportunities Centers site Living Off Tips that ”I think service is the hardest part. especially when customers decide how they’ll pay you by what they think of your looks.”

While the regular federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t gone up since 2009, the minimum wage for tipped workers hasn’t gone up since 1991 and is now a cause of widespread poverty among restaurant workers.

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on December 30, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

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

Washington, DC, City Council Votes to Raise Minimum Wage

Friday, December 6th, 2013

After coming within one vote of a veto-proof majority for a bill that would have required big box stores to pay a $12.50 living wage, the Washington, DC, city council unanimously supportedraising the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 by 2016 and tying it to inflation, in a preliminary vote Tuesday.

Despite the fact that many states and cities have raised the minimum wage without seeing jobs flee across nearby borders to places with the low federal minimum wage of $7.25, proponents of poverty wages always claim that’s what’s going to happen. That may be particularly true in Washington, DC, as a small urban zone sandwiched between two states, and one with such a high density of industry lobbyists—but in this case, there’s a twist involving two neighboring counties in Maryland:

By coordinating with lawmakers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which approved similar measures late last month, the council put the three localities on the cusp of creating a contiguous region with 2.5 million residents and a minimum wage higher than any of the 50 states.

The Washington measure is expected to pass a final vote easily and, if Mayor Vincent Gray vetoes it, the votes should be there for a veto override. So after all its hissy fits about the possibility of having to pay DC workers $12.50, Walmart will likely have to pay $11.50.

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on December 3, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

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

Rejected by Christie, New Jersey Minimum Wage Increase Goes to the Voters

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Laura ClawsonA minimum wage increase is badly needed, but since it’s going nowhere in a Republican-controlled House, low-wage workers have to turn to the state and local level. Next up, New Jersey, where voters will have a chance next week to put a minimum wage hike in their state constitution.

A measure on the ballot would raise the state minimum wage to $8.25 (the federal level is currently $7.25) and tie it to inflation so that workers didn’t have to wait years until the politics lined up for the state legislature to pass an increase and the governor to sign it. The fact that this is going to a vote actually comes out of just such a failure:

The measure has a huge margin of support, according to two late-September polls. Some 65 percent of registered voters said they will vote for the measure with just 12 percent planning to vote against it, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll of nearly 700 registered voters. A Rutgers poll released at the same time found even broader support, albeit by a similar margin. Voters in that poll of 925 adult New Jerseyans supported the measure 76 percent to 22 percent.The ballot question is the result of a fight between the state’s all-Democratic legislature and Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Earlier this year, Christie vetoed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $8.50, with automatic adjustments tied to inflation increases. That bill, he said, was bad for the economy. Instead, Christie offered to raise in the minimum wage to $8.25 over three years and increase the earned income tax credit. Democrats said no thanks and instead voted to pose the question to voters.

It’s really too bad the proposed increase is only to $8.25, which is still a low, low wage, especially in an expensive state like New Jersey. Nonetheless, it’s an improvement, and should translate to a raise not just for people currently making $7.25 an hour but also for people making slightly more, who are likely to get raises as the minimum wage goes up.

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos Labor on October 31, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

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

Minimum Wage Bottom Line

Friday, October 18th, 2013

jonathan-tasiniYou don’t have to remember much about the minimum wage debate. Except for this.

Tattoo this: If even the federal minimum wage had increased with productivity and inflation since 1968 – as it had done in prior decades — it would be $17 per hour today instead of a meager $7.25.

This happens to be a sentence from an article by my pal Mark Weisbrot. But, it’s not new.

Back in 2009, I wrote that the minimum wage was a national scandal, one the current president was perpetuating with a meek proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour.

So, just remember that one sentence when some idiot says the minimum wage is just fine, or that the country is doing some favor to people by hiking it to $9 an hour. That just reflects one thing: a four decade robbery, using the hard work of people to make a profit and refusing to pay they a fair share.

This article was originally printed on Working Life on October 5, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor and the economy. On June 11, 2009, he announced that he would challenge New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in the Democratic primary for the 2010 U.S. Senate special election in New York. However, Tasini later decided to run instead for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010.

Dylan’s Candy Bar Not So Sweet to Us, Workers Say

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

davidyamadaWorkers at Dylan’s Candy Bar in Manhattan, the flagship location of a small chain of boutique candy stores opened by Dylan Lauren (daughter of fashion designer Ralph Lauren), are going public with their efforts to challenge low pay and erratic, part-time work schedules. Their claim: A store that serves as a “required stop” for celebrities and entertainers such as “Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Katie Holmes, Janet Jackson, and Madonna,” with annual revenues around $25 million, isn’t all that interested in meeting with its workers to discuss their concerns.

After rebuff, a public petition

The workers have posted a public petition to build awareness and support:

Most of us started at less than $10/hour, with some of us even making as low as $8.50. We’re supposed to get annual reviews for raises, but they often forget to give us those.

On top of the low wages, our schedules and hours change week to week. Nearly the entire sales staff is part time, yet they expect us to have open availability, making it nearly impossible for us to juggle other obligations such as second jobs, school, and family. They refuse to give us any guarantee of the amount of hours we will work each week, and yet they get angry with us when we look for a second job.

. . . Unfortunately, when we got together to deliver our own petition to management, they shrugged it off. Ignoring our concerns, they simply told us that any issues regarding compensation could only be addressed in one-on-one meetings with managers and not together as a group.

The company’s willingness to meet only in one-to-one meetings is telling: It speaks of a divide-and-conquer (or perhaps divide-and-intimidate) approach, one that also makes it harder for workers to claim the protections of federal labor laws. These laws extend to employees engaged in “concerted activities for mutual aid and protection” but do not apply to employees acting solely as individuals.

The workers have reached out to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). This is the latest evidence of an emerging movement coming from members of America’s low-paid retail workforce, and it couldn’t come at a more important time.

Maybe Dylan’s unpaid HR intern can lend insights

It appears that Dylan’s employee relations philosophies apply to its interns as well. Earlier this year, Dylan’s posted a long announcement seeking an unpaid intern for its human resources department:

We are looking for a Human Resources Intern to join our team. The right candidate will be exposed to a dynamic and exciting opportunity for learning and growing in all disciplines in the Human Resources body of knowledge.

. . . Compensation: This is an unpaid internship, MetroCard will be provided

Among the minimum requirements was this ironic nugget: “Knowledge of the US labor regulatory environment and reporting requirements related to Human Resources.” Of course, an intern with such knowledge might rightly comprehend that the unpaid internship, with its long list of anticipated duties, probably violates minimum wage laws, as this U.S. Department of Labor fact sheet suggests. (A New York federal district court’s June decision on a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures provides further illumination on that point.)

Hmm, even with the huge, generous perk of a MetroCard, if I was the intern, I’d be giving serious consideration to joining the rest of the workers in circulating the petition.

This article was originally printed on Minding the Workplace on September 16, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Yamada is a tenured Professor of Law and Director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.  He is an internationally recognized authority on the legal aspects of workplace bullying, and he is author of model anti-bullying legislation — dubbed the Healthy Workplace Bill — that has become the template for law reform efforts across the country.  In addition to teaching at Suffolk, he holds numerous leadership positions in non-profit and policy advocacy organizations.

Veto Override Battle Next Step in D.C. Living Wage Campaign

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Image: Mike HallFollowing Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray’s veto Thursday of a living wage bill for workers in big-box stores such as Walmart, backers of Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) are mounting a campaign to override the veto.

The bill, which sets a $12.50 wage for workers, passed the D.C. City Council in June by an 8–5 vote, and an override requires nine votes. TheMetropolitan Washington Council’s Union City reports that LRAA backers are focusing on D.C. Council member Tommy Wells for the ninth vote.

Metropolitan Washington Council President Jos Williams called on the City Council to “stand up for D.C. workers and override this veto.”

District resident Kimberly Mitchell said Gray “had the opportunity to stand up for the residents of this city, but instead he allowed large, out of town companies, like Walmart, to threaten him and ultimately dictate the policies of our city.”

Shortly before the Council passed the bill, Walmart threatened to scrap plans to build three stores planned for the district and possibly halt construction on three others that are under way.

The Rev. Graylan Hagler, of Plymouth United Congregational Church of Christ and Faith Strategies, said:

If we cannot demand higher wages and good jobs from the nation’s and world’s largest corporations, D.C. will not be able to remain a diverse and vibrant city. We strongly urge the City Council to override this misguided veto.

If you’re in D.C., contact Wells at 888-264-6154 asking him to support the LRAA and override the veto.

This article was originally printed in AFL-CIO on September 13, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Would raising the minimum wage help Walmart?

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Laura ClawsonWould a higher minimum wage be good for business at Walmart? Many experts say so—after all, a higher minimum wage would give many Walmart customers a little more disposable incometo spend at the store:

David Cooper, an economic analyst with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, agrees with Demos’s Ruetschlin that the sluggish economic recovery means a boost in the minimum wage could push low-income workers to spend more, and in many cases they’d spend that money at low-priced outlets like Walmart.“If suddenly all these low-wage workers have more income, they are likely to spend that money right away,” Cooper said. “If these retailers want strong, stable sustainable growth in the U.S. economy, then they should also want strong, stable increases in wages to their employees.” [...]

The data linking an increase in wages to a rise in consumer spending — particularly at a specific retail outlet — is a bit thin, but there’s “very strong anecdotal evidence in support of that claim,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

Walmart definitely knows that when its customers don’t have money, business suffers; the company’s chief financial officer recently said, to explain a drop in U.S. sales, that “The consumer doesn’t quite have the discretionary income, or they’re hesitant to spend what they do have.” And in fact, in the past, when the minimum wage has gotten too far below the poverty line, a Walmart CEO has explicitly said that was a problem: “The U.S. minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has not been raised in nearly a decade, and we believe it is out of date with the times … Our customers simply don’t have the money to buy basic necessities between paychecks.”

A yacht store is unlikely to see much of a boost from an increase in the minimum wage, in other words, but Walmart, where people go for cheap, basic necessities, will do better. Walmart’s opposition to paying an actual living wage, one that doesn’t force workers to rely on food stamps and Medicaid, is well known. But if Congress doesn’t act and raise the minimum wage, we might get back to a point where Walmart admits it would benefit from an increase. Which would, more than anything, be a sign of how embarrassingly bad Congress is—can you imagine lagging behind Walmart on wage issues?

Join Making Change at Walmart and Daily Kos in telling Walmart and the Waltons to respect their employees and pay a real wage.

This article originally appeared on Daily Kos Labor on September 4, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

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

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