Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘wages’

Maryland To Become The Second State To Guarantee Fair Minimum Wage For Workers With Disabilities

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

CoryHerroMaryland will soon become the second state, after New Hampshire, to phase out the “subminimum wage” for workers with disabilities.

Maryland lawmakers this month passed a bill that would do away with special wage certificates that allow employers to pay disabled workers according to productivity rather than hours worked. The law affects all 36 of Maryland’s “sheltered workshops” — nonprofit organizations that hire people with disabilities at subminimum wages to perform basic tasks like assembling products, hanging clothes, or picking up trash.

Some 420,000 Americans with disabilities are employed this way nationally, some at a rate of just pennies per hour. The average Marylander working under this arrangement makes less than $4 per hour — an unjust rate that no longer jives with modern attitudes toward disability, advocates say.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Waldstreicher (D), says the bill is a victory for civil rights.

“By passing HB 420 and SB 417, we have upheld Maryland’s highest ideals,” he wrote in a public statement. “Marylanders are a compassionate, caring people. We believe in the dignity of every individual, in equal rights.”

In addition to boosting wages, the bill aims to desegregate Maryland’s workforce over the next four-and-a-half years. The Department of Disabilities will reallocate state and Medicaid funding to promote employment in “competitive, integrated workplaces” rather than in sheltered, segregated workshops. The state will pick up the tab for planning workers’ transitions to integrated employment.

“People thrive in a diverse workplace,” Waldstreicher told ThinkProgress. “Most of these workers want this transition, and we want to help it go smoothly.”

Legislators have worked closely with the sheltered workshops, and the majority are on board. They were initially concerned that higher wages would displace workers, but the state’s integrated employment plan assuaged their fears.

Disability advocates applauded the legislation, saying sheltered workshops are ineffective and reforms are long overdue.

“[Workshops] offer the employees no opportunities to be part of their community or to make enough money to support themselves,” the Autistic Self Advocacy Network said in a statement commending the Maryland legislation.

“Sheltered workshops often rely on outdated, non-mechanized production processes — which are poor vehicles for developing the skills real employers need in the open market economy,” writes University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos in a report to the National Federation of the Blind.

Indeed, only 5 percent of sheltered workshop employees leave to take a job in the community, according to a 2001 investigation by the Government Accountability Office.

The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Waldstreicher told ThinkProgress he’s “positive” the governor will sign it into law.

These developments in Maryland are part of a turning tide against paying disabled workers less than minimum wage. Last month, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed support for eliminating the subminimum wage nationwide.

“We’ve got to figure out how we get the minimum wage up and include people with disabilities in the minimum wage,” Clinton said when a young lawyer with autism asked her about the minimum wage exemption. “There should not be a tiered wage.”

And in 2014 President Obama included workers with disabilities in his federal minimum wage hike — guaranteeing minimum wage for some 50,000 federal contract employees with disabilities.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on April 20, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Cory Herro comes to ThinkProgress from California, where he writes columns for The Stanford Daily and tutors rowdy middle schoolers. He likes to play pickup hoops and surf, even though his skills are rudimentary. Cory is pursuing a bachelor’s in public policy with a focus on poverty policy.

On Equal Pay Day, We Could Use Some Sunshine

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Isaiah J. PooleImagine a workplace where everyone clocked in at 9 a.m. and was paid the same day’s wage for the work they did – but the men could get their pay for the day at 3:20 p.m. and leave, while the women had to stay on the job until 5 p.m. to get the same check the men got an hour and 40 minutes earlier.

That’s another way to think of the gender wage gap – with women earning on average only 79 cents for each dollar a man earns – that Equal Pay Day, April 12, is intended to highlight. The“79 percent clock” is being promoted by the National Partnership for Women and Families and MTV as a way to dramatize that wage inequity. If you are a woman, you can enter the start and end of your workday and the calculator will “show you when 79 percent of your day has passed and you (or your female colleagues) are no longer being paid.”

For an eight-hour workday that starts at 9 a.m., that moment is generally 3:20 p.m. But that’s an average; for women of color, the moment at which a woman is no longer compensated for her day could be as early as 1:24 p.m. for Hispanics or as late as 3:44 p.m. for Asian Americans. For unmarried women, that moment comes at 1:48 p.m. – 60 percent of the day – the same moment as African-American women, according to a report released this week by the Voter Participation Data Center that also includes state-by-state data for unmarried women.

Of course, if we could see men and women leaving workplaces at different hours because they weren’t equally compensated for the work they did, there would be less opportunity for denying that the wage gap is real. But salary information is usually confidential, especially in mid-level jobs and above. Often, women who are being unfairly paid for their work don’t even realize they are being discriminated against.

When discrimination is documented, we get, particularly from conservative and Republican politicians, the usual round of denials and excuses. Comments from the 2016 Republican presidential candidates are typical: “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job,” said Donald Trump in 2015, who has also said that determining whether a man and a woman is doing “the same job” is “a very, very tricky question.” Ted Cruz as a senator voted to block a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act and has dismissed equal pay legislation as “just empowering trial lawyers to file lawsuits.” (Yes, that’s what lawyers do when laws are violated and people are harmed as a result, but I digress.) John Kasich suggested in 2015 that gender pay disparities are “all tied up in skills” and experience.

The Center for American Progress has published “The Top 10 Facts About the Gender Wage Gap,” and several of those facts address the myths perpetuated by the Republican presidential candidates. The wage gap is real, it does appear among men and women with the same education and experience doing similar jobs, and, according to the CAP fact sheet, “38 percent of the gap is unexplainable by measurable factors,” such as women being concentrated in certain lower-wage occupations or being more likely to have to take unpaid leave to care for family members.

Having Congress pass the Paycheck Fairness Act would go a long way toward reinforcing the already existing Equal Pay Act and getting at the root of gender pay discrimination. A key requirement in the law would be that employers would have to disclose pay information to the federal government based on race, sex and national origin. That would make it easier for the government and individual employees to hold employers accountable for violations of the equal pay laws that already exist but are regularly evaded.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton highlighted her support of the Paycheck Fairness Act atan event sponsored by Glassdoor.com, where she praised Silicon Valley firms like Salesforce and retailers like Gap for succeeding in closing the gender pay gap in their companies.

Bernie Sanders has likewise been a longtime supporter of the Paycheck Fairness Act, including it as the first item of his 10-point women’s rights agenda.

Like the “79 percent clock” that rings an alarm when a person has reached 79 percent of their work day, the Paycheck Fairness Act allows for an alarm bell to ring when workers are not receiving equal pay for equal work. It would bring pay inequities into the light of day, instead of the darkness in which Republican presidential candidates would rather have this issue continue to fester.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on April 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives inWashington, DC.

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.

Interfaith Coalition Calls for Moral Action on the Economy

Monday, April 4th, 2016

The largest employer of low-wage workers in America is the federal government. U.S. government contractors employ over two million workers in jobs that pay too little – $12.00 an hour or less – to support a family. Contract workers – organizing under the banner of Good Jobs Nation – have walked off of their jobs repeatedly in protest, demanding a living wage and the right to a union.

This Monday, on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, this movement will gain a powerful ally. Led by Jim Winkler, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, an interfaith coalition of religious leaders is issuing a call for “moral action on the economy.” They will seek to meet with presidential candidates, asking each to pledge that, if elected, he or she would issue an executive order to reward model employers “that pay a living wage of at least $15.00 an hour, provide decent benefits and allow workers to organize without retaliation.”

The movement for living wages is taking off. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for nearly seven years. Unable to provide for their families, fast food and other low-wage workers began to demonstrate, even at risk of losing their jobs. “Fight for 15” – the demand for a $15.00 an hour minimum wage and the right to a union – swept across the country. And is beginning to win.

In Seattle, a coalition of union, community and business leaders helped pass legislation putting the city minimum wage on a path to $15. From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York, other cities joined. In the last few days, California legislators reached a deal to move the state minimum wage to $15 by 2022. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through reforms that will move that state’s minimum wage to $15, starting in December 2018 in New York City.

The pressure of the government low-wage workers moved President Obama to act. He issued three executive orders, raising the minimum wage to $10.10, cracking down on wage theft and other workplace violations, and providing paid leave. The workers continued to demonstrate, calling for “more than the minimum,” seeking $15 and a union.

Senate cafeteria workers – the people who prepare the senators’ food and clean up after them – joined the protests. Their plight – one was homeless, others on food stamps, one moonlighting as a stripper to feed her children – was embarrassing. Democratic Senate staffers organized to support them. Democratic senators like Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) demanded action. When the cafeteria contract was up for renewal in December, workers were granted pay increases of $5 an hour or more. It took more pressure and Labor Department investigation to make the raises stick, but today workers are finally receiving their pay.

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell, who has documented the struggle highlighted one beneficiary, Bertrand Olotara, a cook in the Senate cafeteria. His wage went from $12.30 to $17.45 an hour. He was able to quit his second job at Whole Foods and stop working seven days a week. That gave him more time with his five children. He’s even thinking of using the extra time to write a book. A living wage makes real differences in people’s lives.

Now the interfaith coalition joining with these workers and calling on those contending for the presidency to promise to do more. Republican contenders are still opposed to raising the minimum wage. Bernie Sanders has made a $15 an hour minimum wage a central plank in his platform. Hillary Clinton has supported lifting the national minimum wage to $12.50, accepting that some states and cities might go higher.

The interfaith alliance is calling on the presidential candidates to pledge moral action on the economy. When Ronald Reagan came to office, one of his first acts was to fire and replace the striking PATCO air controllers. He sent a message to employers across the country that it was open season on workers and their unions. Imagine the next president taking office and issuing an executive order lifting the wages of millions of contract workers and guaranteeing a right to organize without retaliation. Again a signal would be sent across the country.

“This election is fundamentally about whether the next president is willing to take transformative executive action to close the gap between the wealthy and workers – many of whom are women and people of color,” argues Jim Winkler, secretary general of the National Council of Churches. It’s time to take the pledge.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 4, 2016. 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.

Federal government is the biggest low-wage employer in South Carolina

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Many workers whose jobs are funded by the federal government don’t work for the federal government—they work for companies with federal contracts. And many of those jobs don’t pay a living wage, effectively making the government a low-wage employer. In South Carolina, it’s actually the largest low-wage employer in the state, a new analysis by Good Jobs Nation finds:

These low-wage jobs are in occupations such as home healthcare aides (4,336), construction (1,185) security guards (876) and food service workers (444). And, just as Demos found for the nation as a whole, the 30,000 low-wage jobs subsidized by federal funding streams in South Carolina make the U.S. government the single largest creator of low-wage private sector jobs in the State, outranking Wal-Mart and McDonald’s combined, which employ an estimated 20,600 and 8,900 low-wage workers respectively within the State.

President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour in 2014, but that is going into effect gradually. And $10.10, while a big improvement over the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, is not enough.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 27, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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

 

This week in the war on workers: Chicago teachers protest planned cuts and layoffs

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Chicago schools and teachers are once again under serious attack from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, and once again, the Chicago Teachers Union is showing that it is a powerful force. Thousands of teachers and supporters rallied Thursday, with 16 people arrested, protesting massive proposed cuts and layoffs:

Officials with Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday they’re ready to cut $100 million from school budgets and force teachers to pay more pension costs after their union rejected the latest contract offer, ratcheting up the tone of contentious negotiations that have lasted over a year. […]

The latest flare-up followed an offer a CTU bargaining team rejected Monday, after both sides had deemed it “serious.” The proposal included pay raises and job security, but union officials said it didn’t address school conditions or a lack of services.

The teachers have authorized a strike, though that wouldn’t happen until spring if it happens at all.

? Weeks after the West Virginia Senate passed an anti-union bill, the state House followed suit. A PPP poll conducted for the state AFL-CIO found high support for unions and opposition to laws weakening them.

? A union has filed a National Labor Relations Board petition to represent New York Uber drivers.

? Speaking of which, New York Uber drivers are pissed, with good reason.

A crowd of 600 drivers gathered outside the Uber office in Long Island City, Queens, to protest a 15 percent reduction in fares last month, which also means 15 percent lower wages. That pay cut is on top of Uber’s 20 percent slashing of fares in 2014. All things being equal, drivers who began less than two years ago have seen their pay tumble a whopping 35 percent.

Actually, it’s not just New York.

Last September, Dallas-area drivers for UberBlack, the company’s high-end car service, received an email informing them that they would be expected to start picking up passengers on UberX, its low-cost option.

The next day, when the policy was scheduled to go into effect, dozens of drivers caravaned to Uber’s office in downtown Dallas and planted themselves outside until company officials met with them.

? Indiana repealed prevailing wage protections to let them lower wages on public construction projects … and costs have gone up since then.

Not your typical Alabama labor story:

The state’s largest employer – the University of Alabama at Birmingham and UAB Medicine – plans to raise employees’ minimum wage to $11 an hour beginning in March.

UAB employs more than 23,000 faculty and staff. The institution currently pays $8.24 an hour, about a dollar higher than the federally mandated minimum wage.

? For union members: seven steps to opening up bargaining.

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This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 6, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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

Trumka: TPP Is a New Low

Thursday, February 4th, 2016
Kenneth Quinnell

In a new op-ed for the Hill, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explains the key reasons why the Trans-Pacific Partnership is bad for working people, both in the United States and overseas. Trumka describes the deal by saying that “the TPP is a giveaway to big corporations, special interests and all those who want economic rules that benefit the wealthy few.”

An excerpt:

We’ve been down this road before. The Wall Street and Washington elite always tell us that this time will be different. The truth is these trade deals have ripped apart the fabric of our nation. We see the shuttered factories. We visit towns that look like they are stuck in the past. We talk to the workers who lost everything, only to be told they should retrain in another field—but Congress has been slow to fund and authorize those programs. From NAFTA to CAFTA to Korea and now the TPP, these agreements have continually put profits over people. By driving down our wages, they make our economy weaker, not stronger.

In many ways, the TPP is a new low. A quick search of the agreement shows no mention of the terms “raising wages” or “climate change.” And by ramming through fast track legislation earlier this year, Congress effectively barred itself from making a single improvement to the TPP.

Working people deserve a better process and a better product. We understand better than anyone that the TPP is just another tool to enrich corporations at the expense of everyday families. We cannot and should not accept it.

Because it can’t fix the TPP, Congress has to take the step of saying to 11 other countries, “No, not this TPP.” Taking that brave step is necessary to create trade rules that lift people up, not crush them under crony capitalism.

Read the full op-ed.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 3, 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.

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.

Here’s Some History to Help Understand the Racial Wealth Gap

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
A company of 4th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, (USCT) Infantry/Wikimedia

William Spriggs Next month is Black History Month. We will hear stories about black Americans and their successes in this country against the barriers (slavery, Jim Crow, poll tax just to name a few) thrown in their paths. Yet for every success story, there is still the nagging fact that the median net wealth of white households is 12.2 times greater than that of black households.

Because of well-documented gaps in unemployment rates, earnings, poverty and wealth, black working people are sometimes falsely seen as “bystanders” to America’s economy.  Unbelievably, there is a tendency to observe the gaps in economic success and blame African Americans for being disengaged and not trying to respond to clear economic realities; a lack of investment in education, skills, training and personal saving. This is patently absurd.

African Americans are fully aware of the barriers they face to success, and have been steadfast to struggle to remove them.  Indeed, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated during a campaign by black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., to exercise their right to organize, strike and demand fair wages; a key theme of American worker advancement during the first 80 years of the last century and one repeated this past Dr. King Holiday by airport workers demanding a living wage.

The difference in wealth does not grow smaller when comparing white and black households headed by college graduates, or when controlling for differences in income.  Because the easy answers like education and income differences don’t explain the wealth gap—which measures accumulated savings over multiple generations—the fall back is often to blame the savings’ behavior of blacks.  And, here, old stereotypes of African Americans being profligate can easily substitute for documentation. But taking a closer look at history tells us the real story.

Those early years after emancipation are key in addressing the deep history of African Americans as their own agents.  During the Civil War, African American leaders, most famously, Frederick Douglass, campaigned hard to have black soldiers officially sworn into the fight to end slavery.  With issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln also finally signed on that in 1863 not only would slaves in the rebellious states be free, but African American men would join the United States Army and Navy in quelling the Southern revolt.  Close to 180,000 black men signed-up as official members of America’s Armed Forces to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.  They became the largest paid workforce of African American men to that point in America’s history.

The issue quickly arose as to where could they deposit their paychecks?  A few fledgling efforts were made to start banks.  And, that effort culminated with the establishment of the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust by Congressional act in March 1865; the Freedmen’s Bureau bank.  Recently the U.S. Department of Treasury and Secretary Jack Lew dedicated an annex to honor the Freedmen’s Bureau Bank.

By 1870, the bank operated 37 branches throughout the South, with African Americans trained as branch managers.  In all, almost 70,000 African Americans made deposits in the bank, reaching savings of about $57 million.  Those facts stand to clearly demonstrate the efforts of a people, subject to slavery, freed with nothing from their previous labors to start anew having built wealth for others for free.

But, fate would intervene.  The accumulation of those savings came during a period when the federal government still stood in the way of restoring the South’s old hegemony of white southern planters.  And, it came when the nation’s banks were still conservative following the uncertainties of the Civil War.  Southern banking laid prostrate, devastated by the collapse of the Confederacy and the meaningless holdings of Confederate dollars, and the long mystery of the disappearance of the gold reserves that backed that currency on its desperate journey south from Richmond, Virginia in April 1865 as Robert E. Lee surrendered the fighting cause at Appomattox Court House under the vigilant eyes of 2,000 black men in seven units of the United States Colored Troops.

By the start of the 1870’s, the expansion west made possible by the Homestead Act and transcontinental railroad—both enacted during the Civil War—restored the nation’s prosperity and financial zeal.  The result was over speculation in railroading.  In Europe, financial pressures mounted from the Franco-Prussian War.  Germany refused to continue issuing silver coins.  This resulted in plummeting silver prices, and the eventual move by the United States to go from backing its currency in silver and gold, to use only the gold standard.  This led to the collapse of investments in silver mines in the western United States.  The result was a global financial collapse that swept Europe and the United States in 1873.  With it came the collapse of the U.S. banking system.

Sound familiar?  And, that collapse decimated the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust as well.  At a time of general financial collapse and no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—a creation learned from the Great Depression—many depositors lost their savings.  The millions in savings of the newly free went away, too.  Not too different than the 240,000 homes that disappeared from the African American community after the financial collapse of 2007.

In 1876, a compromise to resolve the Presidential election resulted in the removal of federal protection of African Americans in the South.  The end of reconstruction meant the restoration of southern white hegemony and the evisceration of voting rights for African Americans, the protection of the access to many occupations and the limiting of their equal access to education.  This too sounds familiar.

To accurately measure history, it takes measuring all the hills and valleys right.  Dedicating a building to the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust allows us to properly assess the toil and efforts of African Americans.  It shows the hard work and industrious nature of a determined people.  It reminds us of the mountains of betrayal as well.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 22, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

An Economy That Works For Everyone Starts With Women

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Terrance HeathAccording to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, creating an economy that works for everyone starts with creating an economy that works for women.

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the gap between women’s earnings and men’s earnings has closed a little. The bad news is the narrowing of the gender wage gap is not due to women’s gains in the workplace, but to declining wages for men and growing inequality overall.

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According to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), eliminating the gap between men’s and women’s wages would amount to a 70% raise for women.

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Consider economic impact of eliminating the gender pay gap. Women are the primary breadwinners in at least 40 percent of American households. Consider what eliminating the gender pay gap would mean for these women.

  • Nearly 60 percent of women would earn more if working women were paid the same as men the same age doing similar work.
  • The poverty rate for working women would be cut in half; the poverty rate for working single mothers would fall by nearly half.
  • The US Economy would produce an extra $447.6 billion, if women received equal pay.

Like a “rising tide,” lifting these women lifts the households that depend upon their earnings, and boosts the economy. An economy that works for women, then, works for American families, too, bringing us closer to an economy that works for all. To that end EPI has introduced the “Women’s Economic Agenda,” a 12-point policy agenda that will “give low- and moderate-wage workers more economic leverage, change the rules so that a growing economy benefits hardworking Americans, and maximize women’s economic security.”


The benefits for women are clear. As I wrote in, “We Must Fight Poverty With Justice,” it’s no coincidence that women’s risk of poverty jumps drastically between the ages of  25 and 34, when their poverty rate is 6.9 times higher than men’s, or that their poverty risk doesn’t begin to come down until age 40. Women are at a higher risk of poverty during their peak reproductive years, when they begin juggling the responsibilities of work and family, and lose out on pay that’s already less than what men earn.

However, the benefits of the agenda aren’t exclusive to women. In fact, none of its 12 points are applied exclusively to women. Men, women, and children would benefit from increased wages, guaranteed family leave and paid sick leave, accessible child care, and all of the other agenda items. When the economy works for women on these 12 issues, it’s more likely to work for us all.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on November 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: 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.

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