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Wisconsin bill would ban cities from passing worker-friendly laws

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Wisconsin is considering a bill that would prevent local governments from enacting worker-friendly ordinances relating to overtime, discrimination, benefits, and wages. On Wednesday, the Senate held a public hearing on the GOP-backed bill.

The bill, Senate Bill 634, would prevent local municipalities in Wisconsin from increasing the minimum wage, stop enforcement of licensing regulations stricter than state standards, and prohibit labor peace agreements (in which employers agree to not resist a union’s organizing attempts). The bill also specifically says that no city, village, or town can prohibit an employer from soliciting information on a prospective employee’s salary history, because uniformity on employer rights is a “matter of statewide concern.” Since research shows that women are paid less right out of college compared to male counterparts and there are large racial wage gaps, proponents of these ordinances say that prohibiting employers from asking about salary history could help narrow the pay gap.

Madison City Attorney Mike May told Wisconsin-State Journal in December that the “biggest impact” would be on protected classes under Madison’s Equal Opportunity Ordinance. If the bill became law, May said it would mean that discrimination based on student status, citizenship, and even being a victim of domestic abuse would all be “fair game for discriminatory practices.”

“This bill attacks workers, our rights and our democratic processes,” Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer for the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, testified during the hearing. “This bill is about power, the power to overreach and tell citizens in their own communities that they don’t know what’s best for them.”

Wisconsin state Democratic senators Robert Wirch and Janis Ringhand voiced their opposition to the bill in statements on Wednesday. Both senators focused on how the bill could affect municipalities’ power to pass ordinances pertaining to sexual harassment.

“We need to be expanding avenues for victims of sexual harassment and assault to get justice, and not making it harder,” Wirch stated.

The committee didn’t take immediate action on the bill on Wednesday, but it’s still concerning that it’s being considered. Wisconsin Republicans have trifecta control of the state and have been successful in pushing a number of anti-worker bills through the legislature. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is nationally known for his long record of supporting anti-union bills. He signed bills that stripped the majority of Wisconsin’s public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights and made Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state, which means workers can decide not to pay fees to unions because the union has to represent them regardless.

The Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Council of Churches, League of Wisconsin Municipalities and some labor unions oppose the bill, according to the Associated Press. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and groups representing various businesses support the bill.

Nick Zavos, government relations officer in Madison Mayor Paul Soglin’s office, told Wisconsin State-Journal that the mayor is “deeply concerned about the direction (the legislation) represents,” with particular emphasis on the preempting of local ordinances relating to employment discrimination.

Wisconsin is not an outlier in considering this kind of legislation. As city governments have pushed for better labor standards, states across the country have passed laws to preempt increased protections for workers. At least 15 states have passed 28 preemption laws like this one that cover labor issues such as paid leave, minimum wage, and fair scheduling, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s August 2017 report. As the report notes, historically, preemption laws were used to set minimum statewide standards for workers that local governments couldn’t lower. These recent laws are doing the opposite. 

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 11, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Pro-Working People Laws Catching on Around the Country

Friday, January 5th, 2018

As the new year begins, New York, Nevada and Washington state are implementing paid family leave laws, and Rhode Island will join them in July. Rhode Island will bring the total number of states with a paid family leave law to eight. 

NPR breaks down the legislation going into effect relating to paid family leave:

Washington on Monday became the seventh state—in addition to Washington, D.C.—to require employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers. Rhode Island is set to become the eighth to do so later this year, when its own law takes effect in July.

Meanwhile, New York has joined the small handful of states that require employers to provide paid family leave benefits. There, as NBC reports, employees will eventually be entitled to up to 12 weeks a year once the law takes full effect.

And in Nevada, employers are now required to offer up to 160 hours of leave per 12-month period to workers who have been—or whose family members have been—victims of domestic violence.

Similarly, states are taking proactive steps to help raise wages for working families. Across the country, 18 states and 20 local governments raised their minimum wage on Jan. 1. The following were included in the wave of states that increased their minimum wage: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington.

AFL-CIO Policy Director Damon Silvers explained the importance of raising the minimum wage:

It puts money in motion. We’ve seen the distribution of income and wealth skew very much to the top of the income scale. The fact is that rich people don’t spend money the way that middle-class and poor people do, and that makes our economy weak. Raising the minimum wage puts more money in the hands of people who need to spend it.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on January 4, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFLCIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Day 1 in the Newly Seated Kentucky Legislature Is About Attacking Working People

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Kentucky Republican leaders, led by Gov. Matt Bevin, gained control of the state House, giving them control of the executive and legislative branches. Their first order of business? Go after working families. Bevin and the Republicans are pushing forward with several anti-worker resolutions. In the process, they have given more say in the state’s future to outsider billionaires and CEOs than the people of the state.

Kentucky Republicans abused their power, changing the rules to move the anti-working people bills as “emergency legislation,” even though the only emergency happening is the one they are creating for working families. Legislators don’t even have time to read the bills, much less take the time to fully understand the impact of the legislation. New legislators don’t even have phones or offices yet, and they’re being asked to quickly vote yes or no on dangerous, destructive bills.

Even worse, by bending the rules in their favor, Republicans have given the public no chance to weigh in on the legislation. The bills have been reported out of committee and could be voted on the floor of the legislature as early as Saturday.

The Kentucky State AFL-CIO condemned the sneaky move:

The so-called right to work and prevailing wage repeal bills passed (out of committee) today will deny economic opportunities for Kentucky’s working families.
Kentucky’s working families are suffering. They are facing employment, health care access and education challenges. The Kentucky GOP not only ignored their plight, they made them worse with these anti-worker bills.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and House Republican leadership made hurting working Kentuckians their number one priority. They did not advance bills to increase education funding, raise wages, or fund vital services in our community. Instead they chose to give multi-national corporations more power to outsource jobs, cut wages, and reduce benefits at the expense of our workers, small businesses, and the local economy. This is shameful.

The Kentucky labor movement will continue to fight for the rights of Kentucky’s working families, like we have been doing for more than 100 years. We will demand government transparency and accountability. And we will continue to fight for better wages, reasonable hours and safer working conditions. We will take this opportunity to grow the labor movement and organize like hell!

Politicians didn’t create the labor movement and politicians aren’t going to destroy the labor movement.

Other working family advocates agree. Bill Finn, director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, said: “A lot of working people voted for change in this election. They didn’t vote for this. They didn’t vote for a pay cut.”

Learn more at Kentucky State AFL-CIO.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 4, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell: I am a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, I worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  My writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.  I am the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.

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