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Posts Tagged ‘Minimum Wage’

Nannies And Housekeepers In Illinois Just Won A Major Victory

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Bryce CovertMagdalena Zylinska has been working in people’s homes for most of the last two decades since she came to the United States from Poland. She spent some time as a nanny and a caregiver, but since 1997, she’s been a full-time housekeeper.

But it wasn’t until she took classes with Arise Chicago, a worker organization, in 2013 that she realized how few protections she had on the job. Domestic workers across the country aren’t protected by basic workplace regulations like requirements that they be paid minimum wage, given days off, or be free from harassment.

She’d already had some brushes with these challenges. On one job cleaning up a house after a construction company came in and did work, she says the contractor refused to pay her $1,000 she was owed. “There were really no regulations,” she said, and it would have been too costly and complicated to go to court seeking her money. “It’s really not worth it for us to spend the time and money and taking days off to go after that.” On top of that, employers will regularly hire her for one set of duties at a particular rate and then pack on more and more responsibilities without more pay.

So three years ago, Zylinska decided to do something about it and get involved with the fight to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Illionis, similar to those on the books in California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon. She traveled to the state capitol in Springfield and even as far as Washington, D.C. in pursuit of expanded rights.

And this week she and her fellow domestic workers tasted victory. The bill of rights they had been trying to move forward passed the state’s Senate and has already passed the House, so it will soon head to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s (R) desk.

The bill, if it gets signed into law, will guarantee domestic workers — including housekeepers like Zylinska as well as nannies and home care workers — the right to make minimum wage, be paid for all hours they work, get one day off a week, and be protected from sexual harassment at work. A 2012 survey of domestic workers across the country found that a quarter were paid less than minimum wage, leaving many in tough financial circumstances — 20 percent had to go without food because they couldn’t afford any. A third said they worked long hours without breaks while 85 percent said they didn’t get overtime pay. And 20 percent said they have faced threats, insults, or verbal abuse. But nearly all of those who experienced problems at work didn’t complain for fear of risking their jobs.

It’s still unclear whether Rauner will sign the bill, and his office did not respond to a request for comment. But those at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who were also involved in fighting for the bill, are optimistic given that it unanimously passed the Senate with bipartisan support. “As an organization, we feel confident that the Governor will see the value of singing the bill into a law,” said a spokesperson for the organization.

Zylinska is also feeling confident. “I think they realize that domestic workers make all the work possible and they’re very crucial to the economy,” she said. “I just hope the governor really will see that it’s really necessary for us to be protected.”

“We only want to be recognized as domestic workers, workers that have basic protection,” she added. “All we want is respect.”

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on May 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

Tuesday’s Baltimore Primary Results Mean a $15 Minimum Wage Is Likely Coming Soon

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Bruce VailBALTIMORE—Although it was nowhere on the ballot, the Fight for 15 was a winner in the municipal elections here Tuesday.

In a Democratic Party primary election that selected candidates for both a new mayor and a new majority of the city council, supporters of a city-wide minimum wage law of $15 an hour appear to have won enough offices to see it enacted. The push is underway now to get it passed this year, and almost certainly will be passed by early next year, at the latest, activists say.

Because of a large Democratic majority in the city, the spring party primary is considered tantamount to final victory in the November general election. Only an unprecedented political upheaval could prevent the candidates selected this week from taking office in January 2017.

Fight for 15 supporters are mobilizing behind a bill introduced earlier this month by City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D). Clarke’s bill would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, and also eliminate the subminimum “tipped wage.”

Worker activists are pleased that the new Democratic candidate for mayor, Catherine Pugh, is committed to signing a $15 bill, says Charly Carter, executive director of the political party Maryland Working Families. The new city council will include a strong majority who have already committed to supporting the higher minimum wage, so the path to final passage seems clear, she says.

Majority support in the 15-member city council was evident even before the election this week, Carter explains. “We had somewhere between nine and 12 votes before the primary. But our goal had to be at least 12,” to override an anticipated veto by current Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, she says. Although Rawlings-Blake had never explicitly threatened a veto, some City Hall insiders are interpreting her lukewarm public comments about the higher minimum wage as a veiled veto threat.

With this political arithmetic, Working Families made support for $15 one of its minimum requirements for an endorsement in city council races, as did a number of labor unions active in local politics. Special importance was attached to the council races because an unusually large number of members had announced their retirements, meaning that a working majority on the council would be reformulated in the election process. Therefore it was a priority for Working Families to add support for the Fight for 15, Carter says.

Riccara Jones, a political organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), did candidate interviews on behalf of her union and reports that most candidates were quick to commit to $15. “Support for Fight for 15 is out there in the community, and the politicians who are listening to the community are lining up,” Jones says. SEIU endorsed seven candidates for council, and six of those were successful on election day.

“I’m optimistic we have the votes” to pass the minimum wage law, Jones adds. The union will push to pass it this year, despite reservations about Mayor Rawlings-Blake. “She’ll be gone at the end of the year, so I don’t see any reason why she would want to fight over this. Even if she wins a veto fight, then it gets passed under Mayor Pugh. … Our goal is to do it now. Baltimore can’t wait another year,” she says.

Jones’ comment partially reflects a feeling among some political activists that an opportunity for change in the wake of the Baltimore race riot one year ago is slipping away. Working Families’ Carter, for example, says that there have been a lot of press conferences and statements from public officials, but there is no sense in the streets that anything has changed. The voluntary retirement of Rawlings-Blake and the turnover at the city council seem to be admission of defeat by the city’s political leadership, but that has yet to be replaced by a renewed sense of purpose.

“A year after the uprising, nothing has been done. The terrible conditions in these neighborhoods have not changed at all,” she says.

Operating independently of Working Families, UNITE HERE Local 7 has been active in this election but on a different scale, says President Roxie Herbekian. “We are more oriented to the community level. We saw that two council districts had a high percentage of our members, and that the incumbent councilmen in those two districts are what I would call ‘do nothing’ politicians. So we supported challenger candidates and worked hard to get them elected. Of course, we wouldn’t support anyone who would oppose the $15.”

UNITE HERE was rewarded with success on Election Day, and both challengers supported by the union won. “But really, we are not about making friends with one candidate or another. We are mobilizing on a community level around our broad goals,” of improved lives for workers, she says.

A higher minimum wage fits in with those broader goals and will have a real impact in the lower-income neighborhoods of Baltimore, Herbekian predicts. UNITE HERE, along with other unions and local activists, will be pushing the city’s elected officials to move as quickly as possible.

This blog originally appeared at inthesetime.com on April 27, 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’sDaily 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.

Victory in New York City: Cuomo Signs Legislation Raising Minimum Wage to $15

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016
Victory in New York City: Cuomo Signs Legislation Raising Minimum Wage to $15

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a law raising the state’s minimum wage. In New York City and some more prosperous suburbs, the new minimum wage will be $15, while in the rest of the state, the new minimum wage will be $12.50. The increases will be phased in, and millions will see wage increases. Future wage Kenneth Quinnellincreases will be tied to economic indicators. The law also establishes 12 weeks of paid family leave for working people.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento applauded the legislation:

Three million working people in New York state will see their wages go up due to the $15 per hour minimum wage, making New York the first state in the country to reach that landmark.  Raising the minimum wage is long overdue and is a step in the right direction toward addressing poverty and income inequality. This meaningful wage will allow hard-working men and women the opportunity to better support themselves and their families, and enjoy a standard of living and quality of life they can be proud of.

As reported last week, California also passed legislation to raise its minimum wage to $15, reminding us that while Congress sits idle, working people throughout the country continue to fight to raise wages.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on April 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

This week in the war on workers: Five million workers a step closer to overtime pay

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

President Obama’s long-awaited increase in overtime pay eligibility has taken the next step to being a reality—a reality that would mean five million American workers would get overtime pay if they worked extra hours:

The Department of Labor (DOL) has sent its finalized changes to the rule expanding who is covered by overtime laws to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), ThinkProgress has learned, one of the final steps before it can take effect.

President Obama announced an executive order in early 2014 to update the labor regulations that require employers to pay time and a half for working more than 40 hours a week. It took a bit more than a year, but in June of 2015 the DOL announced its proposed rule to increase the salary threshold to $50,440, more than doubling it from where it stands now, thus ensuring that anyone who makes that much or less will be covered. It also proposed updating other exemptions to narrow how many people could be denied overtime because they qualify as highly compensated or as an executive or professional worker. […]

But by releasing the final rule now, the DOL avoids the risk that it would get delayed even further by a Congressional “resolution of disapproval,” which would be an option after May 18. Once the rule is approved by OMB, it will likely go back to the DOL to be put into effect.

Affected workers will either get the same pay and more free time, or work the same hours and get more pay. And affected companies will lose a way to exploit their workers.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on March 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

What Is “Economic Freedom,” And Who Is It For?

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Terrance Heath

The Heritage Foundation has released its annual “Index of Economic Freedom.” As America enters an election season increasingly influenced by anger at an economy rigged in favor of the wealthy, maybe it’s time to ask: What is “economic freedom,” and who is it for?

What does economic freedom mean to you, personally? Given that we only recently recovered from a serious national bout of “Powerball Fever,” it’s a safe bet that for most people it means not having to worry about having enough money. It means earning a livable wage; enough to meet basic needs, like food, shelter, transportation, and medical care. It means earning enough to support your family, and having leisure time to enjoy your family. It means being able to educate your children — or yourself — without putting yourself in hock with debt. It means having a fair shot at reaching the next rung on the economic ladder, and securing a better future for your children. It means being able to retire with a decent standard of living.

For the Heritage Foundation, “economic freedom” is “the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property.” Who’d disagree with that? However, the Heritage definition quickly moves from a focus on the individual to a society in which “governments allow labor, capital, and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.”

It sounds good, until you realize we’re not talking about the rights or freedoms of persons like you and me, but wealthy people and “corporate persons.” Heritage breaks “economic freedom” down into four pillars: “Rule of Law,” concerning property rights and “freedom from corruption”; “Limited Government,” concerning “fiscal freedom” and government spending; “Regulatory Efficiency,” concerning “business freedom”, “labor freedom”, and “monetary freedom”; and “Open Markets,” concerning “trade freedom”, “investment freedom,” and “financial freedom.” They repeat the word “freedom” as often as possible, but what do all of those things mean in reality?

If you’re an average worker, it means little to no “regulations concerning minimum wages.” So employers can pay you as little as they like. If you can’t live on what they pay, you’re free to try to earn more elsewhere. Good luck with that, because who gets rich paying higher wages than their competitors? Several of the countries in the Heritage’s “economic freedom” top 10 had the lowest hourly minimum wages, including Chile ($2.20) and Estonia ($2.70). Others have no minimum wage.

There are some developed countries with no minimum wage on Heritage’s index, like Switzerland (number 4) and Denmark (number 12, just behind the U.S.), but they tend to rely on strong trade unions to negotiate fair wages for workers.

If you’re an American worker, it means driving down wages with trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), that institute what Heritage calls “trade freedom,” defined as “the absence of tariff and non-tariff barriers” on imports and exports of goods and services. The top 10 on Heritage’s index is almost a membership list of TPP countries, including Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, Australia and Canada.

It means there are few, if any, labor laws prescribing maximum working hours. There’s no limit on how many hours your employer can require you to work. It means you don’t even have a right to a two-day weekend.

It means there are few, if any, “laws inhibiting layoffs,” “severance requirements,” or “measurable regulatory restraints on hiring and hours worked.” In other words, forget about “right to work” states. It’s a “right to work” world, in which you have the right to work harder and longer for less.

It means no Social Security as we know it. In fact, it means no government programs, as Heritage’s index uses zero government spending as a benchmark. (So underdeveloped countries with little governmental capacity may receive “artificially high scores” for government spending.) The government won’t have anything to spend anyway, because “fiscal freedom” means a low top marginal income tax rate, and a low top marginal corporate tax rate. The lower the rates, the higher the “fiscal freedom” score. Serving as a tax haven for corporations and wealthy individuals seeking to avoid taxes back home, under the banner of “investment freedom,” can earn countries like Ireland (number eight on Heritage’s index) high “economic freedom” scores.

How does all this “economic freedom,” mostly for the wealthy and “corporate persons,” work out for the rest of society? According to Heritage, more “economic freedom” is supposed to mean less inequality. Yet, some of the highest ranking countries on Heritage’s index have the highest rates of inequality.

? Despite being number one on Heritage’s index, Hong Kong’s yawning gap between rich and poor has fueled protests, despite increasing minimum wages.
? Number two on Heritage’s index, Singapore has one of the highest rates of inequality, leading to calls for the government to take action.
? The “miracle of Chile” (number seven on Heritage’s index), so christened by conservative economist Milton Friedman, has lost its shine as Chile’s plantation economy has made it one of the countries with the most serious inequality problems.

Every year Heritage comes out with a new “economic freedom” index, and every year the questions behind the numbers is the same: What is economic freedom, and who is it for? The answer remains the same, too. Heritage’s “economic freedom” is freedom for the wealthy and giant corporations to further consolidate their wealth and power, and not much else.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on February 2, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

A Big Win for Senate Cafeteria Workers

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

poole-60x60A sustained campaign on behalf of Senate cafeteria workers – including a 63-year-old employee who was homeless because he could not earn enough money to afford an apartment – has succeeded this week in getting these workers a desperately needed boost in pay and benefits.

Thanks to the organizing efforts of Good Jobs Nation and other allies, Senate officials signed a new contract with the workers that raises their minimum pay to $13.30 an hour and brings the average pay to workers close to the $15 an hour that the workers were demanding.

News of the agreement was published Monday by The Washington Post.

The Senate cafeteria workers were held up as a prime example of the kinds of poverty-wage jobs held by people under federal contracts. The company with the contract to manage the Senate cafeteria, Restaurant Associates, is part of a multinational corporation that boasted inits 2014 annual report that it had done well enough to offer to increase its dividend payments to shareholders by 10.5 percent as well as return 1.5 billion pounds – more than $2 billion – to shareholders via share buybacks and other means.

There was plenty of room to give a raise to stockholders, but not to the Senate cafeteria workers – at least not until the Senate cafeteria workers put their own jobs on the line to call attention to their plight. Their bold decision to hold one-day strikes, lead demonstrations and tell their stories led to several Democratic senators – including Minority Leader Harry Reid, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – and their staffs announcing a boycott of the cafeteria every Wednesday until the demands of the cafeteria workers were met.

The pressure on behalf of the workers appears to have made an impression on Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, who when signing the new contract said that he was “glad their concerns were heard and taken into consideration in the new contract.”

One concern, though, remains unaddressed: the workers’ demand for the ability to form a union. Restaurant Associates remains subject to complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board that they have improperly interfered with the ability of the cafeteria workers to organize. Paco Fabian, a spokesman for Good Jobs Nation, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that the cafeteria workers “won’t stop fighting until they get a voice on the job.” And neither should we.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on December 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives in Washington, DC.

What Scott Walker’s Elimination Of Wisconsin’s Living Wage Law Means For Workers

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Bryce CovertLast year, 100 low-wage workers in Wisconsin decided to sue their governor, Scott Walker (R), over their pay. The state had a century-old statute on the books saying that the minimum wage “shall be not less than a living wage,” enough “to permit an employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.” The workers said they weren’t making enough to meet that standard, demanding the governor take the required action to increase it.

But this week they were handed a final defeat: A judge dismissed their lawsuit. That’s not because Walker’s administration was found to be in compliance with the statute. It’s because rather than increase the state’s minimum wage, the administration simply erased the law.

“The lawsuit has just been dismissed because there’s now no law to rule on,” explained Lisa Lucas, communications director for Wisconsin Jobs Now, one of the groups that helped bring the original suit. “So it wasn’t surprising. But it was disappointing.”

An 11-hour addition to the state budget passed and signed in July eliminated the living wage statute, instead replacing all references to a living wage with the words “minimum wage.” “The budget itself was a really sneaky, underhanded way to do it,” Lucas said. “They stuck the repeal in an omnibus motion.” And it also flew under the radar thanks to bigger controversies over other such additions, such as the failed attempts to gut the state’s government transparency laws.

The budget’s amendment completely changed the ordinance. It was specifically put forward in 1913 to ensure that women and minors were paid enough to be able to afford the cost of basic necessities like rent and clothing, which was updated in 1919 to cover all workers. Now it merely ensures a minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased in Wisconsin since the last time the federal minimum wage went up in 2009.

And in that intervening time since the last hike, new Census Bureau numbers show that median household income fell significantly in two-thirds of counties in the state, dropping by at least 10 percent in 10 and only rising in two. Lucas sees a connection to the minimum wage. “Prices have gone up, everything has gone up including rent, except the minimum wage,” she said. And an analysis by her organization found that nearly 47 percent of the state’s workers make less than $15 an hour.

Lucas said discussions with the legal team at her organization are still ongoing, but given that there’s no law to sue under anymore, it is unlikely to pursue more legal action. Instead, the group is focusing on political pressure in 2016 to rally voters and elect officials who support a minimum wage increase. And while the defeat was disappointing, it may have come with a silver lining. “If there’s anything good that comes out of it, it’s just revved up the community to work that much harder in 2016,” she said. The workers themselves who were involved in the original suit “are more amped up than ever to go elect some people who will support them and fight for their values.”

And while she pointed out that a $15 minimum wage bill has gained some support in the state legislature, she also said her group will be focused on issues in addition to a higher minimum wage: paid leave, scheduling reform, and more full-time hours among them. “Besides wages, there’s other things that workers need,” she said.

Wisconsin is “home of the labor movement,” she noted. “We’re proud of our progressive history and we want to continue living it.”

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on December 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

 

Childcare Workers Need a Living Wage

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

seiuWhen a group of young fast food workers decided to lift their voices on the job and join together in the demand for better wages, no one believed anything tangible would come from it. Two months ago, those same workers won $15/hr.

Their action and bravery sparked a global movement known as the Fight for 15, and as a childcare worker who cares for other children while barely making enough to care for myself, I am proud to be in the Fight For 15. We deserve to be able to take care of our families just as well as we take care of the children in the classroom.

Enough is enough.

Nearly half of all workers across the country make less than $15 an hour – workers in fast food, home care, child care, airports and universities. We are uniting with low wage workers throughout the country because poverty wages must end.

We are in the streets because the cost of living continues to increase while wages remain stagnant. About one in seven childcare workers lives below the official poverty line. In many regions, preschool and childcare workers earn a fraction of what’s required for a minimally decent standard of living.

I have raised four great kids as a childcare worker by picking and choosing which bills to pay. I have over 15 years of experience and still only earn $8.50 an hour. One day I would like to move up and lead my own classroom but that’s not possible with my CDA (Child Development Associate Credential. There is no room for the expense of additional classes in my tight budget.

11 million Americans have won raises since the first fast food strike. We are winning because we are united in the fight for a society we want: one where we can give our families a good life, support our communities, and leave a more safe and stable world for future generations. I am all in on this fight and you should be too.

This article was originally printed on SEIU in November, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

A Bill of Rights That Puts Workers Above Corporations

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

in these timesRalph knows firsthand that non-unionized workers lack basic rights. Last year he got a text from his boss while at a cancer clinic in Spokane, Wash. After receiving chemotherapy treatment, Ralph learned he was being terminated from his job in the produce transportation industry—a decision his employer had no legal obligation to justify. According to Ralph, he was fired for “insubordination” after he began to question the business’s finances. Now, he’s been forced to take a minimum-wage job and file for bankruptcy, and could lose his home.

“I will not recover from this in my lifetime,” Ralph tells In These Times. “Tell me where the justice is in that.” (Ralph wished to remain pseudonymous because he is exploring filing a suit against his former employer, though lawyers have told him that he probably does not have a viable case.)

Workers without a union contract lack any guarantee of due process on the job, let alone a dignified wage. Other than Montana, no state—nor the federal government—requires employers to give a “just cause” for firings. But a movement in Spokane has gotten a first-in-the-nation Worker Bill of Rights on November’s ballot, which, if passed, would act as a kind of union contract for all workers in the city.

The proposition is being championed by Envision Spokane, a labor-community coalition. Envision Worker Rights, a sister political committee of the group, announced that it would introduce a new, worker-focused measure, and gathered more than 2,600 signatures to ensure its place on the city’s ballot.

Spokane’s Worker Bill of Rights would amend the city charter to provide several new on-the-job protections. It would give all Spokane workers rights to equal pay for equal work and to not be wrongfully terminated, as Ralph believes he was. It would also guarantee a “family wage” sufficient to cover basic necessities such as food, housing, utilities and childcare for workers of large employers. When employers run afoul, workers would be entitled to sue.

This may seem straightforward, but typically workers must hash out these protections through the arduous process of bargaining a union contract. Granting them proactively to all workers represents a promising new paradigm.

Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is supporting the Worker Bill of Rights, explains that under current law, “in non-unionized, private workplaces, workers have no constitutional rights. It’s why e-mails can be read, urine can be tested, lockers searched. … By prohibiting firings without cause, due process constitutional rights would be afforded to all people working within the City of Spokane.” This departs from the “state-action” doctrine, the bedrock legal principle that the Constitution only protects citizens from the government, not from private entities.

When faced with efforts to protect workers and communities, corporations have often carped that their own rights are being violated. The International Franchise Association (IFA), for example, sued the City of Seattle over a $15 minimum-wage ordinance passed in June 2014, saying, among other things, that it discriminated against franchises and violated their constitutional right to equal protection. A U.S. appeals court ruled otherwise, and Spokane’s initiative is clearly not afraid of violating so-called corporate rights. The amendment declares that corporations “shall not be deemed to be ‘persons’ ” with legal rights if this interferes with the workers’ rights outlined in the measure. While Spokane is unlikely to reverse longstanding legal precedent on its own, advocates see the Worker Bill of Rights as part of a national movement to challenge corporate personhood.

This concept is resonating with many in the region and beyond. Some nine local unions and two regional labor councils have endorsed the initiative, along with community groups such as 15 Now Oregon and national figures like Noam Chomsky. Beth Thew, secretary-treasurer of the Spokane Regional Labor Council, the regional arm of the AFL-CIO, tells In These Times that the Worker Bill of Rights is “basically everything that organized labor stands for.” Given the decline in union density nationwide, she says, it makes sense “to take a more radical tactic.”

The list of backers also includes Democratic and Green Party-endorsed Spokane mayoral candidate Shar Lichty, the self-proclaimed “Bernie Sanders of Spokane.” Lichty acknowledges that “poverty is a huge issue here in Spokane”—more than 15 percent of residents live below the poverty line—and says she will defend the measure if elected.

As a result, Envision Spokane’s message is winning support from people like Ralph, who, though struggling to stay out of poverty himself, is phone banking for the campaign. “People today are just trying to fricking survive till the next day,” he tells In These Times.

The Worker Bill of Rights builds on Envision Spokane’s previous efforts to pass a Community Bill of Rights, which similarly challenged corporate personhood. The measure would have given neighborhoods power over local development and increased local environmental protections, among other provisions. First introduced on the ballot in 2009, the proposition failed to gain a majority of votes, and an updated version lost narrowly in 2011. The measure qualified again in 2013, but that vote has been delayed by a pre-election lawsuit brought by a coalition of county commissioners and business groups. The Washington Supreme Court will hear the case in November.

In August, the Worker Bill of Rights dodged a similar legal challenge, this time by Spokane’s own Republican Mayor David Condon, who sought to keep the measure off the ballot. The City of Spokane filed a lawsuit arguing, among other things, that the provision denying corporate personhood was unconstitutional because it would deny corporations access to the courts. A superior court judge ruled that the mayor did not have legal standing to keep the measure off of ballots, but city officials have persisted in their opposition. City Council members have also added controversial advisory questions about the potential costs of the initiative—whether, for example, the city should raise taxes to pay for it—that could sway voters against the measure.

Brad Read, a longtime Spokane high school English teacher and Envision Spokane organizer, is hoping that voters recognize the critical importance of the Worker Bill of Rights.

“It’s about the rights of real people … taking precedence over corporations,” he says. “If we don’t start to chip away at this edifice that has been carefully crafted for over 200 years, then we’re screwed.”

This article was originally printed on InTheseTimes.org on October 26, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Simon Davis-Cohen is a New York City-based writer examining the powers of local governments and corporations in the United States.

Hundreds gathered in DCA yesterday, but it wasn’t for what you think.

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

seiuYesterday I joined my brothers and sisters around the world at Ronald Reagan national airport in the demand for higher wages, better trainings and working conditions for airport workers. I got involved with the union and Fight for 15 because I saw the imbalance of power that is hurting people.

As a cabin cleaner at San Francisco International Airport, I am proud to say that because we have a union, we have some of the highest working standards in the country, but I know there are many more who don’t and need our support. Folks like Ababuti Ogalla, a wheelchair assistant at Boston Logan Airport. Like many, he is an immigrant who came to America to build a decent life for his family.

“I started working at Boston Logan in 2011, but I quickly realized that with two kids and a wife to support, my pay doesn’t even cover my rent and bills. That’s not the America I believed in. Now I work two jobs, barely have any time to spend with my family, and still struggle to make ends meet.”

Ababuti is right. That’s not the America any of us believe in. We continue to fight because we know we can raise the minimum wage and support the ones we love with dignity and respect.

Too many airport workers are paid minimum wage or less and that’s not right. We take pride in our jobs and play a key role in helping more than 393 million passengers yearly enjoy a safe and secure travel experience. But without health insurance or sick days, we risk losing our jobs every time we are sick or have a family emergency. It doesn’t make sense; America spends billions annually on airport security, yet the very people charged with implementing security measures are paid poverty wages.

The rally at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was just one of a series of events this week. We hosted our first ever National Airport Worker Convention, where we developed a national strategy to win $15 and union rights for all airport workers. We then took to Congress to urge our representatives to seek a federal solution to the problems faced by contracted out workers at our nation’s airports. Many pledged their support to our fight, knowing that both, $15 and union rights, will ensure better standards for workers and passengers.

By marching, protesting, and striking at airports across the U.S., already 45,000 airport workers have won wage increases and critical improvements including healthcare and paid sick leave. But there is still so much more to do. And despite all of us coming from different parts of the country and world — the United States, Europe and Australia – we all left the convention committed to one fight and one collective voice.

I am excited to see the positive changes we’re going to bring to airport workers.

This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

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