Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Minimum Wage’

Legislation from DeLauro and Clark Would Strengthen Protections for Tipped Workers

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

As we reported in January, President Donald Trump’s Department of Labor is proposing a rule change that would mean restaurant servers and bartenders could lose a large portion of their earnings. The rule would overturn one put in place by the Barack Obama administration, which prevents workers in tipped industries from having their tips taken by their employers. Under the new rule, business owners could pay their waitstaff and bartenders as little as $7.25 per hour and keep all tips above that amount without having to tell customers what happened.

An independent analysis estimates this rule would steal $5.8 billion from the pockets of workers each year. A whopping $4.6 billion of that would come out of the pockets of working women. This is bigger than simply the well-deserved tips of restaurant workers. This is another example of extreme legislators, greedy CEOs and corporate lobbyists uniting in opposition to working people. They want to further rig the economic playing field against workers, people of color and women.

Last week, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) offered up legislation that will strengthen protections for tipped workers and secure tips as the property of the workers who earn them. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta indicated that he will support Congress’ legislative efforts to stop companies from claiming ownership over tips instead of the workers who earn them.

Hundreds of thousands of you already have spoken out, sending comments of opposition to the rule straight to the Labor Department. It’s time for us to take the next step together. We can hold Trump’s Department of Labor accountable and make sure that Congress hears our opposition to this ridiculous and unfair change. Take action, and tell Acosta to support amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act that will secure tips as the property of workers and oppose Trump’s rule legalizing wage theft.

Women Deserve a Raise

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Today is International Women’s Day, and there is no better time to lift up the role unions play in achieving economic equality for women. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently released a brief, titled The Union Advantage for Women, which quantifies the benefits of union membership for working women, and the numbers don’t lie!

 IWPR estimates that the typical union woman makes a whopping 30% more per week than her nonunion sister. The benefits of unions are greatest for women of color, who otherwise face stronger economic barriers than their white counterparts. Latina union members make an estimated 47% more than Latinas who are not union members, and the union wage premium for black women is about 28%. For comparison, the union difference for men overall is not as large; union men make about 20% more than nonunion men.

So what’s behind the union advantage? When working women come together (and with our male allies), we are able to bargain for the wages we deserve, robust benefits, and respect and dignity on the job. Outside of the workplace, unions fight for state and local policies such as paid sick leave, family and medical leave insurance, fair schedules, and raising the minimum wage—all which disproportionately benefit women and their families.

Ladies, we deserve a raise! And it starts with a voice and power on the job.

Alaska will no longer allow workers with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

As of Friday, Alaskan businesses will no longer be allowed to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage, which is currently $9.84 an hour.

“Workers who experience disabilities are valued members of Alaska’s workforce,” said the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development Acting Commissioner Greg Cashen, in a press release. “They deserve minimum wage protections as much as any other Alaskan worker.”

The state announced last week it would repeal the regulation first put in place in 1978. Alaska joins New Hampshire and Maryland as the first states to get rid of sub-minimum wage for employees with disabilities, an act which is entirely legal under federal law, and has been since 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was implemented.

The minimum wage exception was initially created to help those with disabilities get jobs, but despite its intentions, the legislation still fell short. Disability advocates argue the law is outdated and that many disabled individuals can succeed in jobs earning minimum wage or more, and that no other class of people faces this kind of government-sanctioned wage discrimination. In addition to being paid a sub-minimum wage, employees with disabilities often perform their jobs in what are called “sheltered workshops.” This term is generally used to describe facilities that employ people with disabilities exclusively or primarily, but has been interpreted by disability advocates as a form of segregation in the workplace.

Goodwill Industries is arguably one of the biggest offenders when it comes to exploiting this kind of wage discrimination. The company is one of the largest employers for people with disabilities, many of whom are contracted by Goodwill through the government’s AbilityOne program, which ensures contracts are set aside for places that employ workers with disabilities.

Goodwill, however, is a $5.59 billion organization, and many argue they can afford to pay all of their workers a fair wage.

“You’ve got entities that are doing quite well, that are raking in donations, that get government contracts to make everything from military uniforms to…pens to whatever,” says Chris Danielsen, a spokesperson for the National Federation of the Blind told The Nation. “They get these contracts, and they’re paying their workers less than the minimum wage.”

Goodwill’s own CEO, Jim Gibbons, is blind. In 2015, he raked in more than $712,000 in salary and additional compensation while his disabled employees were making less than $9 an hour in some states.

In a comment to NBC News in 2013, Gibbons defended his salary and the million dollar salaries of other Goodwill executives. At the time, Goodwill’s total compensation for all its franchise CEOs was more than $30 million.

“These leaders are having a great impact in terms of new solutions, in terms of innovation, and in terms of job creation,” he said.

Speaking of those employees with disabilities working for less than minimum wage, he punted. “It’s typically not about their livelihood. It’s about their fulfillment. It’s about being a part of something. And it’s probably a small part of their overall program,” he added.

 Just last week, disability activists were dealt a blow by the House of Representatives, which voted 225 to 192 in favor of a bill that would significantly weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act, letting businesses off the hook for failing to provide accessibility accommodations.

Twenty-two percent of Americans live with some form of disability and 13 percent of those experience mobility issues, such as walking or climbing stairs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The share of people with disabilities is higher among women and people of color: according to the CDC, one in four women have a disability and three in 10 non-Latinx Black people have a disability.

One in three adults who are able to work have reported having a disability, and half of those making less than $15,000 a year have reported a disability as well, according to the CDC’s numbers.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

22 Democratic senators want to know how sexual harassment financially impacts women

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Twenty-two Democratic senators are calling on the Labor Department to collect additional, better data regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.

The senators sent a letter to the department, signed by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and co-signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), among others. Not a single Republican senator attached their name to the letter.

“What is known is that harassment is not confined to industry or one group. It affects minimum-wage fast-food workers, middle-class workers at car manufacturing plants, and white-collar workers in finance and law, among many others,” the senators wrote in the letter, provided to Buzzfeed. “No matter the place or source, harassment has a tangible and negative economic effect on individuals’ lifetime income and retirement, and its pervasiveness damages the economy as a whole.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that anywhere from 25 percent to 85 percent of women report having been sexual harassed in the workplace. An ABC News-Washington Post poll taken shortly after the New York Times bombshell report on Harvey Weinstein found that 33 million U.S. women, or roughly 33 percent of female workers in the country, have experienced unwanted sexual advances from male co-workers. Among those women who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, nearly all, 95 percent, say their male harassers typically go unpunished.

What this data doesn’t reveal, however, are the financial and personal costs of sexual harassment that women endure — and that’s exactly what these senators are in search of.

Workplace harassment has physical and psychological consequences, including depression and anxiety. These consequences can manifest themselves in missed workdays and reduced productivity, in addition to decreased self-esteem and loss of self-worth in the workplace.

In the restaurant industry, where 90 percent of female workers have experienced sexual harassment, more than half of these women endured the behavior, by both customers and co-workers, because they relied on the money. The Gillibrand letter describes these women as being “financially coerced” into enduring toxic workplace environments.

Sexual harassment in the workplace often forces female victims to leave their jobs to avoid continuing to experience the harassment. This frequently occurs in science, technology, and engineering fields, rather than low-wage service jobs.

According to data collected by sociologist Heather McLaughlin and others, about 80 percent of women who’ve been harassed leave their jobs within two years.

This call-to-action from Congress comes at time when the governing body is still trying to grapple with its own sexual harassment problem. As recently as this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) flew to Washington D.C. from Florida to fire his chief of staff over sexual misconduct allegations.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives unveiled bipartisan legislation last week to overhaul sexual harassment policies on Capitol Hill. The policy, as it stands now, overwhelmingly protects the harasser.

The new legislation also includes language that bars lawmakers from using taxpayer funds for settlements. As was first reported by the New York Times, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) used taxpayer money to settle a complaint from a former staffer. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) similarly confessed he agreed to an $84,000 settlement after a former aid accused him of sexual harassment. Farenthold as allegedly pledged to take out a personal loan to pay back the $84,000 dollars.

According to a GOP aide familiar with how the House sexual harassment legislation was crafted, Farenthold’s case led to the inclusion of a provision that would prevent the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) from reviewing complaints. Instead, complaints would automatically be referred to the House Ethics Committee, bypassing the agency in an effort to streamline the process.

The OCE reviewed complaints against Farenthold in 2015 but concluded there was not substantial reason to believe he sexually harassed his staffer.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 29, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant and social media coordinator at NPR, where she covered presidential conflicts of interest and ethics coverage. Before moving to Washington, she was an intern reporter at NPR member stations WLRN in Miami and WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida. She holds a B.A in Editing, Writing, and Media with a minor in political science from Florida State University.

Tips Are More Important Than You Think

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

The Donald Trump Labor Department is proposing a rule change that would mean that restaurant servers and bartenders could lose a large portion of their earnings. The rule would overturn one put in place by the Barack Obama administration initiated, which prevents workers in tipped industries from having their tips taken by their employers. Under the new rule, business owners could pay their wait staff and bartenders as little as $7.25 per hour and keep all tips above that amount without having to tell customers what happened.

new study from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and the National Employment Law Project shows that waiters and bartenders earn more in tips than they do from their base hourly wage. The median share of hourly earnings they make from tips makes up nearly 59% of waitstaff earnings and 54% of bartenders’ earnings. Allowing employers to take much or all of that tipped income would be a major blow to many working in the restaurant and bar industry.

Workers in these fields are already poorly compensated. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, found that “median hourly earnings for waiters and bartenders are a meager $10.11 per hour, including tips. That is just $2.86 above the current federal wage floor and far below what workers throughout the country need to make ends meet.”

While proponents of the change suggest that businesses might use the tips to give workers more hours or to subsidize non-tipped employees, but with no requirement for such use of the tipped wages, employers could use them in any way they see fit. EPI analysis found that the new rule would transfer $5.8 billion from workers to employers.

Read the full report.

Workers’ rights dealt major blow as GOP-led labor board sides with McDonald’s

Friday, January 19th, 2018

In September, the National Labor Relations Board tilted to a 3-2 GOP majority for the first time in ten years. Thus began a series of Obama-era policy reversals that previously strengthened worker protections.

By December, the NLRB overturned the Obama-era “Browning-Ferris” rule. The landmark rule had made it easier for employees to hold companies liable for labor violations committed by franchise owners or contractors. Before Browning-Ferris, a company needed to have direct and immediate control over their employees. Overturning the rule had implications for a 2014 case brought against McDonald’s, one of the biggest franchises in the country.

Walmart raises minimum pay again, while Sam's Club closes many stores

Friday, January 12th, 2018

There are the Walmart-related headlines Walmart wants you to read, the headlines Donald Trump wants you to read and the headlines neither Walmart nor Trump want you to read. Walmart wants you to read the good news: it’s raising its minimum wage from $9-10 to $11 an hour, and expanding paid parental leave benefits. Donald Trump wants you to read that the company is giving credit for that move to the recent Republican corporate tax cuts. Neither of them wants you to think much about the years-long worker organizing campaign to demand improved wages and benefits, and they definitely don’t want you to think about the news that also just came out that Sam’s Club, the Walmart warehouse chain, is closing dozens of stores, if not more.

At least 63 Sam’s Club stores are closing, with some having closed Thursday without notice to workers. That’s the number the company is giving out, but CBS News says it may be much higher—up to 260 stores. With an estimated 175 workers per store, on average, that means that around 11,000 to as many as 45,000 people could be out of work. At the same time as Walmart says its raises are all about those tax cuts, mind you.

Now, about those Walmart raises and benefits. It’s great that the company is raising its minimum wage to $11. But isn’t it interesting that this is the third recent company-wide minimum pay raise in recent years, and yet we’re supposed to believe that it’s all about the Republican tax law?

“Walmart has made similar announcements in the recent past… even when no tax reform could have affected its decision,” said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution.

The new Walmart employee wage increase follows two earlier pay hikes the retailer implemented in 2015 and 2016 that raised hourly worker pay to $9 and $10 an hour, respectively. (Today, new hires start at $9 and move up to $10 after completing a training course.)

Workers already making $11 an hour will get bonuses based on how long they’ve been working at Walmart. Full-time hourly workers will also become eligible for 10 weeks of paid maternity leave and six weeks of paid parental leave, up from a shorter period of partially paid maternity leave and zero parental leave. But the fact that this only applies to full-time workers means that Walmart’s large part-time workforce is left out. And workers have been pressing hard for these changes.

In December, 2017, Mary Pat Tifft, a Walmart associate, with support from PL+US and Zevin Asset Management, filed a shareholder resolution calling on the company to address the discrepancies in their Paid Leave Policy.  In June 2017, OUR Walmart and their supporters delivered over 100,000 signatures to Walmart Headquarters last year calling for the change to Walmart’s Paid Leave Policy.  The changes directly address the issues OUR Walmart, PL+US and others have raised: adding paternity coverage, adoptive parent benefits and parity with the policy provided to Walmart executives. While impactful for full time associates, Walmart has a high percentage of part-time employees who will not be covered by this new policy.

Walmart associate and OUR Walmart leader Carolyn Davis spoke at Walmart’s 2017 annual shareholder meeting said: “Investing in associates means that new parents at Walmart are allowed time to bond with our children.  Walmart’s female executives receive 10 weeks of paid family leave. Let’s do the same for hourly associates – women and men”.

“The change in policy to 10 weeks paid maternity leave to match what Walmart executives were getting is exactly what OUR Walmart and our Respect the Bump campaign has been calling for. I just had a baby, if I had 10 weeks of paid leave it would have made all the difference in the world. Instead, I had to postpone paying for car insurance and had to leave my newborn and get back to work before I was ready.  This new policy will make sure that full-time associates like me won’t have that do that, but it leaves part-time associates behind,” explained Walmart associate Liz Loudermilk from Seneca, SC.

Yeah, Walmart is getting a fat tax cut from Republicans. But that didn’t save Sam’s Club workers, and this isn’t the first time in the past few years Walmart has given its lowest-paid workers a raise. And the workers pressing the company to do better not just on wages but on parental leave clearly helped shape its new policy on that front, even if the company didn’t go all the way.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on January 11, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

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.

Lifelong Wage Warrior Larry Mishel Takes On Trump’s Tax Scam

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Lawrence Mishel, the outgoing President of the Economic Policy Institute, is finally – after 30 years at the progressive economic research organization – seeing one of his wishes come true. Leaders in both major political parties are talking about wage stagnation, and how to address it.

“I’ve always wanted to elevate the concerns about people’s paychecks as the salient economic issue,” he said in an interview in his downtown Washington office.

The bad news is that the stagnant wages conversation is being co-opted by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to sell a tax cut bill that will primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy.

Even so, Mishel counts that as progress. When Mishel joined the then-embryonic EPI as its first research director in 1987, all of the major right-wing think tanks denied that wage stagnation among the working class was a problem, even though EPI was among the first to show the trend unfolding, using the federal government’s deep trove of economic data. Few Democrats recognized the issue, either, Mishel said.

Today, “what’s interesting is there is so much of a dedication on the Trump team to link everything they are going to do to good jobs and wages, something that Democrats have not always done, for mysterious reasons,” Mishel said, pointing as an example the administration promoting its tax bill as “a $4,000 pay raise to workers.”

“The polls show that not many people buy it, even among Republicans, but it’s interesting that this transformation has happened,” Mishel said.

A Lifelong Passion

Mishel has had a lifelong passion for the plight of workers, going at least as far back as his Philadelphia boyhood and days at Penn State University. At Penn State, he combined that passion with a passion for economics, and after receiving advanced economics degrees from American University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he went to work as an economist for several unions, including the United Auto Workers; United Steelworkers; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO.

When Mishel became president of EPI in 2002, the think tank was beginning to gain a reputation as being more than an advocate of pro-worker policies; it has a reputation for rigorous, fact-based scholarship and economic analysis that is relied on by a broad range of scholars, journalists and lawmakers. Its “State of Working America” reports have become a bible for people seeking to understand the economy from a Main Street point of view.

This month, Mishel hands over the reins of the EPI presidency to Thea Lee, who was previously deputy chief of staff for the AFL-CIO and a leading spokesperson for the union on issues like the impact of trade policy on workers.

But Mishel says he’s not going to disappear; he plans to continue to do research for EPI. “I want to tell the narrative about how wages were suppressed,” he said, particularly to make the point that four decades of stagnant wages for the working class is the result of, to borrow from the title of an EPI publication, “failure by design.”

An Economic Conundrum

The current state of the economy presents a classic economic conundrum. Economic textbooks say that with today’s national unemployment rate, 4.1 percent, we should see wage inflation caused by a tight labor market.

The last time the national unemployment rate averaged 4 percent, in 2000, wages rose on average about 5 percent a year, as shown in this wage tracker by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. In 2017, the wage tracker shows wage growth in 2017 hovering around 3.4 percent. EPI research further finds that this substandard wage growth has been even worse for people at the lower end of the income scale, whose wages in 2016 grew only about half as much as those of the top 20 percent.

“A true sign of a robust economy is rapid wage growth, and we don’t see wages growing that much faster than inflation, even with roughly 4 percent unemployment,” Mishel said.

Barring a last-minute surprise, passage of the Trump administration/Republican tax bill this week appears inevitable. Asked to what the American economy might look like a year after the tax bill is passed, Mishel predicted a continued stock market rise because companies, already flush with cash and finding themselves flooded with more, will continue to choose to use that cash to buy back their shares rather than invest in creating new jobs.

The big winners will be stockholders and corporate executives. Workers? Not so much. A boost in stock prices at best only benefits the third of American workers who have meaningful stock holdings, primarily retirement accounts. And even among that group of workers, the average retirement account stock portfolio is less than $100,000.

“The rising stock market is not a sign that the economy is doing well,” Mishel said. In fact, an overheated stock market, disconnected from the pulse of the Main Street economy, is prone to the kind of explosive bubble-burst that the nation saw in 2008.

What We Need Instead

What we need instead, Mishel said, is structural changes that will lead to real wage growth and improved working-class living standards. Those policies include:

• Raising the minimum wage, which Mishel said would have ripple effects beyond low-wage workers to boost the take-home pay of about 30 percent of the workforce.

• Targeting job creation in areas of high unemployment, which are disproportionately communities of color. Ultimately, government policy should be to ensure that every person who wants a job has access to a job, publicly funded if necessary. “You want a situation where employers are chasing after workers, and not workers chasing after employers. When employers are chasing after workers, wages go up,” Mishel said.

• Rebuilding the collective bargaining system. In 2016, only about one in 10 workers belonged to a labor union, a close to 50 percent decline from 1983. Nearly half of those work in the public sector. In private companies, fewer than one in 16 workers – less than 7 percent – belong to a union. If unions are stronger, Mishel said, “workers in non-union employers benefit as well, because their employers will follow the lead of the employers where collective bargaining is setting the standard. …I don’t think we will ever get robust middle-class wage growth or have the vibrant democracy that we need without reestablishing collective bargaining.”

• Assuring what Mishel calls “day-one fairness,” which would include eliminating such practices as misclassifying full-time workers so they are not eligible for health benefits or overtime, or forced arbitration and noncompete clauses that prevent workers from challenging bad worker policies or even leaving a bad employer to work for a competitor.

Having Their Moment

When Mishel is presented with the view that Donald Trump’s presidency and right-wing control of Congress has placed many of these policy goals further out of reach, he offers a contrarian view.

“The right is having its moment now,” he said, “but what has happened, though, is that the traditional stranglehold on the Democratic Party policy agenda by what you could call the corporate Democrats and their friends has been broken… The center-left policymakers have moved much closer to where the Economic Policy Institute has always been. So [with] the next wave of candidates and the next wave of legislation that comes if and when Democrats have electoral victories, we will do a lot better than we did during the Clinton era or the Obama era.”

Examples include the increased willingness of the Democratic Party mainstream to embrace universal health care, a $15 minimum wage by 2023, and support for collective bargaining for all public employees, Mishel said.

With this change, “you will see the Economic Policy Institute emerge as a much more important source of policy proposals,” Mishel predicted. “Our time will come again; there may be a Democratic House in 2019, and who knows about the Senate? Nothing is for sure, but it is not as grim as ‘the Democrats will never get back.’”

The People Can Win

In the meantime, Mishel advises people concerned about the state of the American worker to not think of the economy as “broken.”

“People walk around as if we have a bad economy,” Mishel said. “We don’t have a bad economy. It’s been built to do what it is doing, which is skimming the most for those at the top.”

That should be heartening, he went on to say, because changing the economy is “a matter of organizing and policy and mobilization.” That work won’t be easy, he said, but “the people can win.”

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on December 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole is communications director of People’s Action, and has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

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