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Priorities USA launches Latino persuasion program in Florida

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

Laura Barron-LopezPriorities USA is focusing on Latinos early.

The Democratic super PAC is launching a sustained digital effort to woo Latinos in the run up to the 2020 presidential election, according to details of the plan provided to POLITICO. Priorities USA is starting in Florida first and will expand the slate of digital ads to other battleground states across the country as the cycle progresses.

It’s a new piece of the super PAC’s $100 million commitment to the primaries. The group didn’t spend on Latino-focused ads in 2015.

This time they are starting before 2020 and in a state that is at the heart of President Donald Trump’s re-election efforts. The digital ads which will run on Facebook and YouTube, cover pocketbook issues that Florida Latinos care about, according to the super PAC. The group didn’t specify the amount of money being spent on the Latino outreach program.

The digital program includes digital banners, audio and pre-roll ads. The program also includes promoting news articles across Facebook focused on the impact of Trump’s policies on Latinos in Florida.

Priorities USA said the ads will be about rising health care costs, wages, and Trump’s racist rhetoric and immigration policies.

“Latino communities are feeling the negative economic impacts of President Trump’s reckless policies,” said Daniela Martins, Hispanic Media Director for Priorities USA. “We are launching this program in order to establish a continuous dialogue with Latinos on the everyday pocketbook issues they care about, like stagnant wages under a rising cost of living, the rising costs of healthcare, and the increasing lack of opportunity in an unstable economy.”

“We want them to know that their experience is not isolated, that they are not alone,” Martins said. “That they have a voice for the White House to hear, and the right to push back.”

Priorities USA is taking steps to understand Florida’s different Latino communities, which include Cubans and Puerto Ricans. And is using research it conducted earlier this year surveying Latinos in Florida, Nevada and Arizona to better understand how to reach and mobilize the voting bloc.

Latinos are on pace to be the largest non-white eligible voting bloc in 2020. Miami-Dade County, Florida is home to the third-largest Latino population, 1.9 million, according to Pew research. And hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are estimated to have migrated to Florida after devastating hurricanes hit the island in 2017.

This article was originally published by the Politico on November 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Barrón-López is a national political reporter for POLITICO, covering House campaigns and the 2020 presidential race.

Barrón-López previously led 2018 coverage of Democrats for the Washington Examiner. At the Examiner, Barrón-López covered the DNC’s efforts to reform the power of superdelegates and traveled to competitive districts that propelled Democrats into the House majority. Before that, Barrón-López covered Congress for HuffPost for two and half years, focusing on fights over fast-track authorization, criminal justice reform, and coal miner pensions, among other policy topics in the Senate.

Early in her career, she covered energy and environment policy for The Hill. Her work has been published in the Oregonian, OC Register, E&E Publishing, and Roll Call. She earned a bachelor’s in political science from California State University, Fullerton.

Breanna Stewart’s injury adds another layer of urgency to WNBA collective bargaining negotiations

Friday, April 19th, 2019

The 23rd season of the WNBA tips off in a little over a month, and it looks to be a momentous one for the leagues’s athletes. On court, the 12 teams and 144 players will be looking to capitalize on last year’s blockbuster season, which saw a healthy increase in ratings, a new franchise in Las Vegas get off to a promising start, and a level of league-wide talent and parity that produced an indelible array of can’t-miss match-ups on a night in, night out basis.

This year, there will be no small amount of drama off the court as well, as the players will be fighting to secure themselves a bigger piece of this expanding pie. Last October, they opted out of their current collective bargaining agreement, which will now expire at the end of the 2019 season. So they’re not just fighting for wins and titles; they’re literally fighting for better pay, better travel conditions, better marketing, and a better future for the league they love.

Unfortunately, they’re going to have to do all of this without their reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP), Breanna Stewart.

Last week, while playing in the EuroLeague Final Four championship game in Hungary with her team, the Russia-based Dynamo Kursk, Stewart ruptured her right Achilles tendon. It’s a terrible blow to a player whose last 11 months have been among the most accomplished in basketball history. During that time Stewart was recognized as the WNBA’s MVP, the WNBA Finals MVP, the FIBA World Cup MVP, and the FIBA EuroLeague Women regular season MVP. She took home a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm and a FIBA World Cup championship with Team USA for good measure. Now, her injury will force her to sit out the entire 2019 WNBA season.

When Stewart collapsed to the ground in pain during the EuroLeague championship, her WNBA colleagues around the world stopped in their tracks. Imani McGee-Stafford, a center for the Atlanta Dream, gasped. McGee-Stafford’s Dream teammate, Elizabeth Williams, was watching the game live from Turkey when she saw Stewart fall. At the sight of Stewart’s injury, she screamed, “Nooo!” Elena Delle Donne, a forward for the Washington Mystics and good friend of Stewart’s, was simply heartbroken.

And for all of the WNBA’s players, coaches, and fans, Stewart’s devastating injury highlighted how absurd it is that the biggest stars in the WNBA still have to go overseas to play basketball during the WNBA offseason in order to earn their living, instead of spending the offseason recharging and recuperating. Stewart’s base salary this WNBA season is $64,538; overseas, elite players can sometimes earn $1 million or more per season. The current WNBA maximum salary for veterans is $117,500.

“This is harmful to our league. It effects the product on the floor. And we’ve got to find a solution to this,” said Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.

The players are certainly trying. The executive committee of the WNBA Player’s Association (WNBPA) — which includes Delle Donne and Williams, along with Nneka Ogwumike, Layshia Clarendon, Chiney Ogwumike, Sue Bird, and Carolyn Swords — has been talking with WNBPA leadership regularly during the offseason to engineer a new path forward.

“Playing overseas should always be a choice, but not a necessity,” Delle Donne said. “There are so many reasons it makes sense for the NBA and WNBA to invest in us as players. Injury prevention is obviously a top reason.”

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A couple of weeks ago, the executive committee members who weren’t currently playing in overseas competition had their first official meeting with WNBA brass — including NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner and interim WNBA president Mark Tatum, and several WNBA owners. The meeting was essentially a listening session, where the WNBPA laid out its priorities heading into negotiations: Salary and compensation, player experience, health and safety, and establishing a lasting business model for the league.

And while fostering the health and safety of players by limiting the need to seek employment opportunities overseas was already on the agenda, there’s little doubt that Stewart’s injury will add weight to to the conversation.

“This brings it more to the forefront and brings some urgency to the cause,” Williams said.

Injury prevention isn’t the only reason why its important to ensure that players have more opportunities to stay in the United States during the WNBA offseason. Going overseas for long stretches of time and playing competitive basketball without some sort of meaningful break contributes to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.

“We virtually put our lives on hold when we play overseas,” McGee-Stafford said. “We miss holidays, events, time with loved ones. But furthermore, we miss marketing moments and accessibility from our fans.”

Take Williams, for example. She has only had approximately three weeks of downtime since the Dream lost in the semifinals of last year’s WNBA playoffs in September. She’s currently in Turkey, competing in the first round of their playoffs. If her team makes it to the finals, she could be coming back more than a week into Dream training camp next month. And then the cycle would start again.

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Similarly, it’s an incredible frustration for WNBA coaches, who spend training camps unable to work with their full roster due to so many absences because of overseas play; then, when players finally return, they’re nowhere near refreshed or ready to go.

“When our players come back, we are constantly making concessions,” Reeve said. “We have to change how much time we can spend on the court with them, so you just lose the ability to have this individual improvement when there’s no offseason.”

Of course, the only way to solve this problem is money. And that’s where the conversation usually hits a roadblock. Silver has been outspoken about the fact that the WNBA is still a fledgling league, subsidized by the NBA. Partially because of those comments, there has been an erosion of trust between the WNBA players and WNBA leadership — a fact that isn’t helped by the fact that the WNBA still has not named its next president, six months after Lisa Borders resigned.

Silver has insisted that he’s committed to rebuilding that trust, but the only way to truly do it is by making a significant investment in the players during this collective bargaining session.

“I just think we have a unique opportunity, the NBA does, in that they’re seen as a progressive league, and they’re an iconic brand,” Reeve said. “The idea of being a leader in society, that would mean you’re the one putting your foot forward and saying, ‘Do this with us, treat women this way with us.’ You sort-of create a chain reaction by you stepping forward and saying, ‘You will do this, because it’s important.’ And I think when you see that opportunity, minds will change.”

Delle Donne agrees. It’s time for the chicken vs. egg fight with investment vs. success to stop. The WNBA is growing. The fans are watching. The players are getting better by leaps and bounds every generation. But the only way to continue this growth is if the best players in the world play in the WNBA. And they can’t do that if they’re getting injured playing for teams on other continents that pay them significantly more money.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest, especially the league’s and the owners’, to invest in us as players – our safety, our physical and mental well-being – to grow the game,” she said.

“Everything else, and especially the future growth of the game, hinges on the WNBA being the best and most elite place to play basketball.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.

Corporate tax cuts didn't trickle down

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Republicans claimed that their big corporate tax cut would raise wages and bonuses for workers. How’s that looking now? Surprise! Not so hot.

The Economic Policy Institute is out with two key pieces of research on this question, and by two different measures, the corporate tax giveaway failed to deliver for workers. For one thing, Republicans claimed the move would lead to increased investment, which would trickle down to workers. In fact, investment growth has stalled. “That’s not to say that the TCJA itself stopped the upward trend in investment growth,” Hunter Blair writes, “but it sure is nothing like the investment boom its proponents promised.”

Second, right after the Republican tax law passed, a bunch of corporations announced bonuses for workers. It looked like a corporate PR move to benefit Republicans … and it was. “The average bonus for 2018 was just $0.01 higher than in 2017,” Lawrence Mishel writes, drawing on Bureau of Labor statistics.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

McDonald’s Retreat on Fighting Wage Increases Shows the Tide Is Turning

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

In March, the McDonald’s Corporation announced that it would no longer actively lobby against local, state and federal efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The move comes as Democrats in the U.S. House have thrown their weight behind a bill to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2024.

The decision by McDonald’s was made public in a recent letter sent from Genna Gent, vice president of U.S. government relations for McDonald’s, to the National Restaurant Association,  an industry group that represents more than 500,000 restaurant businesses across the country.

According to the corporate watchdog group, SourceWatch, the National Restaurant Association is a key lobbying group that has fought hard in recent years to block worker-friendly issues such as paid sick days and increases in the minimum wage. As Politico reporter Rebecca Rainey explained, losing McDonald’s as an ally in the fight against wage hikes serves as a “serious blow to the trade group.”

Despite the decision, however, the National Restaurant Association has stood by McDonald’s and recently called the company a “valued member” of its organization.

While initially seen as an upstart movement funded by labor union activists, the fight for a higher minimum wage appears to have moved squarely into the mainstream political landscape and is likely to remain a key campaign issue throughout the 2020 election.

Writing in the trade publication Restaurant Business in January, Peter Romeo declared that the “$15 minimum wage is already a presidential campaign issue.” Romeo noted that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a current contender for the nation’s highest office, has “already set the so-called living wage as an issue he’ll keep front and center.” In so doing, Sanders’ support, which he has expressed since at least 2015, could “prove a test for fellow senators who hope to land the Democratic nomination by winning the support of unions and blue-collar voters.”

Most of the major Democratic presidential candidates, from Kamala Harris to Elizabeth Warren, already support raising the minimum wage to $15. Recent polls also show a majority of American voters support increasing the minimum wage.

One of the groups that has been calling attention to labor and wage issues in the restaurant industry is the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROCU). Anthony Advincula, the public affairs officer for ROCU, tells In These Timesthat he feels hopeful after McDonald’s decision to stop lobbying against a minimum wage increase.

“We applaud McDonald’s efforts to not block the move to raise wages,” Advincula says, before expressing a note of caution. McDonald’s decision is a “good sign,” he insists, but not cause for celebration just yet. “We are not going to stop. The workers as well as the unions will never step backwards,” Advincula added, indicating that the fight now for groups such as his is to help ensure that the federal minimum wage bill becomes more than just a campaign talking point.

The Democrats in the House are largely in support of such a wage raise, but many in the Republican-controlled Senate have voiced their opposition to the proposed increase, meaning the Raise the Wage bill—the current legislation lifting the minimum wage to $15—could soon hit a dead end.

Regardless of these roadblocks, many observers see undeniable momentum on this issue. Companies such as Amazon, Target, Bank of America and Costco have independently committed to raising workers’ wages, perhaps in part to avoid the increasingly negative attention some have received over their employees’ inability to make ends meet while company profits soar.

Yet while the McDonald’s Corporation has stated that it actively fight wage increases, it still has not agreed to raise its own minimum wage. In her letter to the National Restaurant Association, Gent argued that the “average starting wage at its corporate-owned stores already exceeds $10 per hour,” according to a Politico report. That figure is higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Gent also noted that individual franchise owners set the pay rate for their own locations.

The lack of commitment to an overall minimum wage increase from McDonald’s has led some to dismiss the company’s recent announcement as little more than a publicity stunt. Still, in an op-ed published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, stated that McDonald’s decision to stop participating in the campaign against minimum wage increases is a sign that such opposition is “untenable in today’s America.”

“There’s no doubt the company’s decision is a direct response to the thousands and thousands of McDonald’s workers who’ve taken to the streets, gone on strike and even gotten arrested to further their fight for $15 an hour and a union,” Owens wrote. She then tapped into the growing political and popular support for wage increases, noting that the company’s “move comes at a time when McDonald’s opposition to minimum wage increases has clearly become out of step with both the politics around wages and the actions of companies across the country.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English Instructor. She is a 2015 Progressive magazine Education Fellow and blogs about education at brightlightsmallcity.com.

187 Republicans vote against bill to close the gender wage gap

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

The House on Wednesday voted 242-187 for a bill that would strengthen protections for female workers and help close the gender wage gap. The vote comes as Republicans are trumpeting themselves as the champions of women’s economic mobility — though only seven of them voted for the bill.

Iterations of this legislation have been debated by lawmakers for decades but have never actually been able to pass. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), seeks to boost women’s pay by prohibiting employers from seeking job applicants’ salary histories and preventing them from retaliating against workers for disclosing their wages. It also would require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to collect wage data based on sex, race, and national origin to better determine whether employers are responsible for discriminatory practices. The House passed the bill on Wednesday despite Republicans’ opposition, but it now faces an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The House Education and Labor Committee voted to advance the legislation earlier this week. Every single Republican opposed moving the bill out of committee, with many saying the focus should instead be on providing more job opportunities for women.

Republicans often like to point to data showing that women gained 58 percent of new, private-sector jobs in 2018. Trump touted the figure in his State of the Union address in February, and Republicans in the Education and Labor Committee again brought it up when discussing the Paycheck and Fairness Act.

But many of the jobs gained by women are part time, and nearly 80 percent of them fell into just four categories: education and health services, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. In three of those industries, women make less than 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, or worse than the average national wage gap, according to a 2018 analysis by the Center for American Progress analysis. (Editor’s Note: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent newsroom housed at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)

Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who focuses on work-family balance, pay equity, and women’s leadership, said, “It’s not to discount that women have received jobs and obviously want jobs but there is a disconnect. It’s not responsive to the question [of pay inequality]. The fact that you gave the jobs doesn’t change the fact that the jobs are underpaying women.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have been looking for ways to appeal to greater numbers of women voters, particularly since their support among women plummeted in the 2018 midterm elections.

In November, 59 percent of women voted for Democrats in the congressional elections, according to exit poll data. Only 40 percent of women voted for Republicans. There was no measurement for how nonbinary people voted across race or educational attainment. Black and Latina women overwhelmingly voted for Democratic candidates.

Although there was a roughly even split for how white women voted, 59 percent of college-educated white women and 56 percent of white voters ages 18 to 29 voted for Democrats. Experts say these shifts likely represent a long-term trend.

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Kelly Dittmar of the Center for American Women and Politics, part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said the shift likely isn’t about Trump alone, but about the broader Republican Party.

“My hypothesis at this moment is that it is actually a trend because there were signs of this trend before Donald Trump, it’s just that you saw it through an acceleration I think — the departure of these women,” Dittmar said. “I think you’ll continue to see it because these women who are particularly upset with how the party has dealt with Donald Trump, it certainly leaves a taste in their mouth about the party overall.”

She added, “If you put these women on a scale when it comes to immigration or guns or the environment, their positions on these issues are just not aligned with the current agenda and leadership in the Republican Party.”

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said that when looking at women who vote in the general election, college-educated and suburban women are identifying as more independent and Democratic. She said three major waves encapsulate that movement.

The Republican Party’s position on social issues — including birth control, Title IX, and sexual harassment and violence — led to some women moving away from the Republican Party in 2016. The second wave emerged as voters reacted to Trump’s racist and sexist behavior, as well as how he governs.

“The third wave, which is more recent, is a sense that the country is going in the wrong direction, that the priorities are wrong, that we are not dealing with everything from health care to climate change,” Lake said.

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Lake said that for female voters, including Republican women, equal pay is high on the list of concerns, along with domestic violence programs. The reauthorization and expansion of the Violence Against Women Act is on the House agenda this session. But Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the only Republican in the House who is cosponsoring the bill and the only Republican who has shown support for the bill by attending its introduction.

“There’s a very high correlation between concerns about sexual harassment and concerns about domestic violence and concerns about equal pay.” Lake said. “And equal pay is still the most salient of the three with women overall. And it’s particularly salient with Republican women who are very adamant about equal pay and that it remains a problem.”

Dittmar said that across gender, voters are concerned about economic stability and the well-being of their families. But they are divided over who is responsible. She explained that college-educated women who identify as Democrats tend to say the government plays a role but Republicans tend to say it’s up to businesses to address equal pay.

Broadly I think there is pretty high popularity for wanting to address equal pay but it’s in the how where you see the disparity both among legislators as well as the public,” she said.

Ariane Hegewisch, program director of employment and earnings for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said these measures are necessary to ensure workplace fairness.

“What the Equal Pay Act recognizes and what the Paycheck Fairness Act is trying to update 50 years on to more current circumstances is that there is discrimination in the labor market and if you just rely on what people are paid now, you are going to pick up discrimination and import it into your organization,” she said. “You have to pay people the same if they do the same job and have similar education, experience and performance. You can qualify their personal performance but it has to be fact based.”

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, it will take until 2059 for women to reach pay parity if change continues at the current pace. Black women would have to wait until 2119 for equal pay, and Latina women until 2224.

“After what I would call a wave election in 2018 where women were elected to historic numbers in Congress, people have very high expectations of what they are going to get from lawmakers and it is not acceptable simply to say I support equal pay but I have nothing to show for it,” said Frye.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 27, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, and In These Times.

Raising the minimum wage works

Monday, March 11th, 2019

Hey, what do you know! It turns out that raising the minimum wage … raises pay for low-wage workers. Somehow, in the United States of America, this needs to be said.

The Economic Policy Institute looked at wage growth for the lowest-paid 10 percent of workers across the states, and it turns out that, for states that raised their minimum wage at least once between 2013 and 2018, it “was more than 50 percent faster than in states without any minimum wage increases (13.0 percent vs. 8.4 percent).” The effect was bigger for women than for men, which makes sense, since women are likely to be paid less.

Bar graph showing wage growth at the bottom 10% comparing states with minimm wage increases between 2013 and 2018 and those without.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on March 9, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

Now That Government Is Funded, Here Is What Workers Want to See

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Last year, in communities all across the country, millions of Americans mobilized and called for an economy that works for all of us. From state houses and governors mansions to Capitol Hill, we elected advocates who committed themselves to advancing that cause. That election was defined by a movement of hard working people who stood together to reject the meager crumbs we are being handed and reclaim what is rightfully ours.

In electing more than 900 union members to office, we secured a great opportunity to right the structural wrongs of our economy. Our mission was not simply to rack up victories on election night last November. We changed the rulemakers. Now it is time for them to change the rules. As legislators move past the manufactured crisis that defined the first weeks of the 116th Congress, working people are ready to fight for that change.

Above all, that means affirming our ability to have a real voice on the job. A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that half of all nonunion workers, or more than 60 million Americans, would choose to join a union if they were given the chance, yet aspiring union members continue to face countless obstacles. The power of working people must be unleashed. Whether we work for private companies or public employers, in an office or a mine or a factory, all of us have the right to freely negotiate higher wages and better working conditions.

Congress should modernize the badly outdated National Labor Relations Act to truly protect our freedom to organize and mobilize together. Top lawmakers have put forth promising proposals that would ensure workers can organize a union without facing scorched earth tactics and hostile campaigns from corporations. If workers sign up for a union, they deserve to know their decision is protected by law. It is not the job of executives, governors or right wing operatives to make those decisions for them.

However, our fight will not end with one piece of legislation. An agenda for working families means building a fairer economy and a more just society for everyone in our country, whether you are in a union or not. That means achieving full employment where every American is able to access a good job, passing a $15 federal minimum wage, and refusing to approve any trade agreement that lacks enforceable labor protections.

It means providing a secure and prosperous future for all our families by expanding Social Security, strengthening our pensions, and making a serious federal investment in our infrastructure. It means defending the health and lives of working people by shoring up the Affordable Care Act, removing onerous taxes on health insurance plans negotiated by workers, expanding Medicare coverage to more people, and lowering prescription drug costs. It means passing laws that ensure paid sick and family leave.

All of these guarantees are long overdue for working people, but there is arguably no task so vital as defending our right to safety and dignity on the job. Congress should also extend comprehensive federal protections, including the Equality Act, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status, to LGBTQ and immigrant workers, whose livelihoods and families too often rest on the whims of their employers.

As one of a handful of men in my family to survive the scourge of black lung in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, I cannot overstate the dire need for broadly strengthened safety regulations, including the expansion of Occupational Safety and Health Administration coverage to all workers, toughened federal enforcement, and ironclad whistleblower protections.

Corporations and right wing interests continue to try their best to deny working people our fair share of the enormous wealth that we produce every day. In November, we stood up to change that twisted status quo. We made our voices heard at the ballot box, and we intend to hold the people we elected accountable to an economic agenda that will raise wages, move our country forward, and lead to better lives for all of us.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on February 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Richard L. Trumka is president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO.

Today Amazon, Tomorrow the Railroad Industry: The Fight for $15 Rolls On

Monday, October 1st, 2018

After being called out by labor activists and progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders for paying poverty wages despite receiving tax breaks and raking in billions of dollars, Amazon has caved to the pressure and announced it will offer all its workers a $15-per-hour minimum wage starting next month. Now, a new coalition of workers and community leaders is taking aim at another major player in the logistics industry: the railroads.

Class I railroads like CSX, Norfolk Southern and BNSF benefit from billions in taxpayer subsidies and are reporting high profits. Yet the people who transport their rail crews between trains, cities, hotels and homes are paid low wages and receive few benefits. To keep costs down and evade liability, the railroads use subcontractors like Hallcon and Professional Transportation Inc. (PTI) to hire their crew drivers.

On September 27, several dozen rail crew drivers with the United Electrical Workers (UE), United Steelworkers (USW), Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and United Public Services Employees Union (UPSEU) protested outside a conference of railroad executives in downtown Chicago. The drivers and community allies are calling on the Class I railroads to implement responsible contractor policies to make companies like Hallcon and PTI pay a $15-an-hour minimum wage and offer decent benefits.

“We’re dedicated drivers out here,” said Devin Ragland, a PTI driver with USW District 7. “It’s not fair that we’re out here from sundown to sunup, running these crews back and forth where they need to go, and then we get mistreated when it comes time for pay.”

Ragland and the other drivers were joined by Cook County Commissioner and congressional candidate Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, who called for an “end to the poverty wages in the rail yards.”

“I join your voices in saying to these railroad companies that they should adopt responsible contractor policies to ensure that the prosperity that they are experiencing is shared with all of the workers in the industry,” Garcia told the drivers.

UE, USW, SMART and UPSEU represent crew drivers from coast to coast. UE has been organizing Hallcon drivers nationwide for the past several years, recently winning a union election at the company that added 650 more drivers from 8 states into the union’s ranks, bringing the total number of UE-represented drivers at the company to nearly 1,700. 

“Everywhere we go at Hallcon, people are at minimum wage or just above,” UE International Representative J Burger told In These Times.  Drivers say they earn so little that many are forced to rely on public assistance.

UE is currently negotiating a new master contract at Hallcon. Burger said the company is resisting demands for living wages, instead arguing that drivers should only get a one-time bonus or miniscule raises of between 15 to 20 cents per year.

“I’ve been told we were offered 21 cents. I can’t make a phone call with 21 cents,” driver and UE member Vickie Bogovich said on September 27. “Is that all I’m worth? I don’t think so.”

“They’re offering us pennies and we need dollars,” added Clarence Hill, a Hallcon driver who serves as Chief Steward of UE Local 1177. Hill said he is paid only $12 an hour after 8 years on the job.

The drivers are on-call at all hours of the day, required to hop in a company van at a moment’s notice to shuttle a rail crew from one location to another. Frequently, they wait hours at a time before finally getting a call. After one trip, they often have to wait several more hours for the next call, sometimes stretching their work day to 24 hours or more. Drivers are only paid for their driving time, not for the hours they spend waiting.

Burger noted this “stretch out” is not only unfair to drivers, but it also endangers the rail crews they transport, putting them at the mercy of fatigued drivers operating on little to no sleep. In contract talks, UE is fighting for on-call pay and more compact hours when the company is unable to put drivers to work. 

Additionally, the union is demanding improved benefits, including paid time off and affordable health insurance. “We’re trying to make the job something people can actually live by,” Burger told In These Times.

UE’s current contract at Hallcon was originally set to expire in August, but has been extended to October 21. Meanwhile, USW, SMART and UPSEU—which represent drivers at both Hallcon and PTI—will also see some of their current contracts expire later this fall, setting up the potential for a nationwide strike that could disrupt retail freight in time for the busy holiday shopping season.

The unions have been increasingly coordinating efforts over the past year, trying to “have a united front approach,” Burger explained. “We’re all talking about raising the standards in the industry. We’re united for the betterment of the drivers.” 

In addition to Chuy Garcia, the drivers also have the solidarity of the rail crews they shuttle. Other union workers in the railroad industry—including from the Brotherhood of the Maintenance and Way Employees and the Chicago All Rail Craft Coalition—joined Thursday’s protest.

“The labor movement was built on the simple concept that an injury to one is an injury to all,” Mark Burrows of Railroad Workers United, a coalition of rank-and-file rail workers from across North America, told the drivers. “We’re doing all that we can to educate our coworkers and get them behind this struggle.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

Chicago hotel strike enters sixth day, as workers demand year-round health insurance

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Thousands of Chicago hotel workers continued their strike for the sixth day Wednesday, primarily to demand a year-round health insurance guarantee. The union said workers also want higher wages, more sick days, and more manageable workloads, the Associated Press reported. Their contracts, which covered 6,000 employees, expired on August 30.

The number of hotel workers involved in the strike has only increased since then. On Monday, workers at Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile joined the strike, which brought the count of hotels affected by the strike to 26. Before the strike, more than 3,000 UNITE HERE Local 1’s members voted on the issue and 97 percent voted to authorize it.

The union told the Chicago Tribune that it is the most widespread and coordinated hotel worker strike ever held in Chicago. It’s the first strike in the city to include all hotel workers, whether they’re dishwashers or housekeepers, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

As the Tribune reported, there are only four hotels that have expired contracts where hotel workers are not on strike: Hotel Raffaelo, Tremont Chicago at Magnificent Mile, Park Hyatt Chicago, and Fairmont Chicago.

Some fine dining restaurants, including the Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s fine-dining restaurant and Torali Italian-Steak, are closed or offering limited menus. Inside the Palmer House Hilton, long lines await check-in, dirty towels have been piling up, and beds have been left unmade, according to ABC7. One guest, Matt Lissack, told ABC7 that the line for check-in was “literally around the building.”

In the central business, there are 174 hotels, which means travelers could stay somewhere that is not dealing with contract negotiations, but the hotels in the midst of a strike are some of the biggest ones in Chicago, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Q. Rivers, who works at Palmer House Hilton, said in a statement on the union website, “Hotels may slow down in the wintertime, but I still need my diabetes medication when I’m laid off. Nobody should lose their health benefits just because it’s cold out. Full-time jobs should have year-round benefits.”

Each hotel or hotel brand does its own negotiation with the union, so management at some hotels and brands could make agreements with the union before others. Hotel groups say it’s too early in the negotiation process for workers to go on strike, and say they have not yet reached an impasse with the union.

Thousands of workers have disagreed. A spokesperson for Hyatt sent a statement to ABC7 saying, “In fact, Hyatt has not received the union’s complete proposals. Colleague benefits and wages remain unchanged as we negotiate a new agreement … Many colleagues are working …”

A Hilton spokesperson told the outlet “More and more of our union Team Members are choosing to return to work and we welcome them to do so,” adding that “It is still early in the negotiations process and Hilton is committed to negotiating in good faith with UNITE HERE Local 1.”

UNITE HERE Local 1 recently helped workers by advocating for a Chicago ordinance that made the city the second in the country to require that hotels have panic buttons. These panic buttons allow hotel workers to request help if a guest is harassing or sexually assaulting them. In 2016, the union put out a survey that showed 58 percent of those surveyed were sexually harassed by guests.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 12, 2018. 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

Worker wages remain stagnant as wealthy executives are rolling in cash

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Congressional Republicans and President Trump continue to push their sole legislative accomplishment, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, as a game-changer for average working Americans — but the benefits of that bill appear to be going mostly to the people at the top.

Rather than delivering an “economic turnaround of historic proportions,” as Trump boasted last week, the bill will likely end up costing well over $1.4 trillion dollars and will instead provide corporations and the wealthiest Americans a giant hand-out.

A recent Politico review of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings also revealed corporate executives, who often receive most of their compensation in stock, have been profiting enormously off the bill, which slashes the corporate tax rate to 21 percent.

Following the bill’s passage in December last year, Oracle Corp. CEO Safra Catz sold $250 million worth of shares in her company, the “largest executive payday this year,” according to Politico. The company’s president of Product Development,  Thomas Kurian, also sold $85 million worth of shares, directly after the company announced a $12 billion share repurchase.

Oracle isn’t the only company whose top brass have benefited from the tax bill: in May, Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga sold $44.4 million of stock. Only a few months earlier, the company had announced it would buy back $4 billion in shares. According to Reuters, Mastercard also announced that month it had “increased its quarterly cash dividend to 25 cents per share, a 14 percent increase over the previous dividend of 22 cents a share.”

Similarly, after Eastman Chemical announced in February it would purchase $2 billion of its own stock, its CEO, Mark Costa, sold 55,000 shares, raking in at least $5.4 million in the process.

Data from Americans For Tax Fairness found that powerful Fortune 500 companies have spent a total of over $238,244,348,330 in stock buybacks since December. The numbers showed few corporations have actually used their respective tax windfalls to benefit workers directly, as many pledged they would do.

Out of the over 1,500 companies from which Americans for Tax Fairness collected data, only 359 of them actually promised to increase wages for their employees. Of those that promised to bump wages, the majority only offered an increase up to $15 an hour in entry-level pay — which, by all accounts, should already be what companies pay entry-level employees in a tightening labor market.

Despite what Republicans in Washington have suggested, stock buybacks do absolutely nothing to help struggling middle America. Instead, they traditionally enrich both the company buying back shares and those who own corporate stock, which typically means the already-rich. The wealthiest 10 percent of American households own 84 percent of all shares, while the top 1 percent own 40 percent. Roughly one-half of American households don’t own stock at all.

The AFL-CIO’s annual Executive PayWatch database, released in May, also revealed just how stark income inequality is among CEOs and their workers. On average, data showed, CEOs are paid 333 times more than an average employee at their company.

The disparity between CEO and worker pay is consistent with income inequality on a wider scale. While average worker wages have been stagnant for decades, the top 1 percent of U.S. income earners have “more than doubled their share of the nation’s income” since the 1970s, the Institute for Policy Studies observed.

The Trump administration continues to tout the nation’s record low unemployment rate as a sign that the country’s economy is thriving. But as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich detailed in a recent op-ed for The Guardian, 80 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

“The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation,” Reich wrote. “When Republicans delivered their $1.5 trillion tax cut last December they predicted a big wage boost for American workers. Forget it. Wages actually dropped in the second quarter of this year.”

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.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 30, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

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