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AFGE President David Cox: It’s Time for a $15 Federal Minimum Wage

Read the story as published at AFGE.org

Some wage-grade workers, like commissary employees, are facing pay cuts.Some wage-grade workers, like commissary employees, are facing pay cuts. Kevin L. Robinson/Defense Commissary Agency.

Across the country, city and state leaders are raising wages for their lowest paid workers as part of a growing movement to ensure all employees can earn a living wage. Yet the federal government remains frustratingly mired in the past, maintaining a minimum wage that pays employees less today than they would have earned in 1968.

Tens of thousands of federal and District of Columbia government employees are working full time, yet earning less than $15 an hour. These are not temps or interns; they are licensed practical nurses and canteen workers at our veterans’ hospitals, food service workers at our commissaries, and maintenance workers at our military bases. The Obama administration has shown a willingness to raise the minimum wage for its contractor workforce, but has said and done nothing similar for its own low-wage workers.

These federal workers are just as vital to the mission of their agencies as everyone else, yet they are unable to support themselves and their families on the paltry wages they earn from the government. To make matters worse, some employees who earn above the $15 threshold are in danger of seeing their salaries slashed due to callous actions by their agencies and Congress.

The Veterans Affairs Department announced a plan last year to reclassify and downgrade 21,000 employees, most of whom work as a GS-7 or below, expanding an effort it began several years earlier that resulted in about 1,600 low-wage employees seeing their pay permanently cut following reclassification.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department wants to cut the salaries of commissary workers by as much as half, as part of larger plan to merge the Defense Commissary Agency with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

It’s disgraceful that the federal government has failed to raise living standards for so many of its own workers, and even is conspiring to slash wages for others.

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour will help not only the government’s own workers, but uplift the millions of working Americans who are paid at or below the current minimum wage. An employee receiving today’s federal minimum wage earns roughly half of what the same employee earned in 1968, when adjusted for inflation. Even President Obama’s proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour wouldn’t close that gap.

Higher wages mean higher standards of living for working families and less dependence on government assistance, better workforce morale and lower poverty, and investing in a better future instead of racing to the bottom.

But at its core, raising the wage is more than just an economic issue; it is a moral one. Anyone who works hard and plays by the rules should have a fair shot at the American Dream.

Rather than serving as an example for what not to do, the federal government should be a role model for other employers to emulate. It’s time for the federal government to lead from the front and treat its workers with the dignity and respect they deserve. It’s time to raise the minimum wage for all workers — including the federal government’s own workforce — to $15 per hour.

J. David Cox Sr. is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees nationwide.

Every Child Matters Grills #FITN Candidates On Working Family Issues

“I think minimum wage is a classic example of a policy that is best carried out in the states,” Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina recently told MacKenzie Flessas at WMUR-ABC TV’s “Conversation with the Candidate” in New Hampshire.

cwtc-Fiorina-034-jpg

“To me, a national minimum wage does not make a lot of sense,” the former corporate CEO said in response to a question that began with the observation that, “In New Hampshire, someone who earns minimum wage earns less than $300 per week.”

MacKenzie is ECM’s New Hampshire field director. She and other ECM staff have also elicited replies during sessions of the TV campaign series from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Some highlights are provided here, and the full questions and remarks can be found at WMUR’s website.

ECM was able to ask former Florida Governor Jeb Bush a question today during taping of a program that will be broadcast Friday evening, May 29.

Senator Graham told ECM state director Mary Lou Beaver during one WMUR studio conversation that he has been a leading Republican champion in Congress for early childhood programs because, “by the time you are five years old, 90 percent of your mental development is there.” Graham promised that if he runs for president and wins, he will partner with states to assure adequate nutritional support for kids. But he warned that more ambitious plans to help children– “to give them a chance to compete in the twenty-first century” –will require entitlement reform.

Former Governor Perry told Beaver that he would “repeal Obamacare” and allow states to be laboratories of innovation for health care, suggesting health savings accounts, allowing insurance to be sold across state lines and tort reform as hopeful ideas. That was in response to a question from ECM about how to ensure that low-income children and their parents in New Hampshire would not lose health care access if the Affordable Care Act had to be replaced.

Governor Kasich said that he supports keeping the Earned Income Tax Credit to help low-wage working families, but he declined to endorse expanding or strengthening the program when asked. Kasich pointed instead toward education, including online programs, to help people get jobs that would pay more.

ECM will continue to ask candidates questions about policies that affect kids as part of our 2-year effort to put children at the center of campaign discussion during the presidential election process. In New Hampshire, Save the Children Action Network, a sponsor of the “Conversation with the Candidate” series, is a key partner in the effort to highlight early childhood issues.

We’ll continue to let you know what the candidates say!

Leo W Gerard: Trade Abuse

America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations.

Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different. President Obama and the CEO of Nike, a company that doesn’t manufacture one shoe in the United States, got together in Oregon on Friday to urge Americans to fall once again for a trade deal.

The trade fanatics say everything will be different under the TPP – even though it is based on deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that lured American factories across the border, destroyed good-paying jobs and devastated communities. They plead: “Just come back for one more deal and see how great it will be this time!” And, like all batterers, they say: “Sorry about the terrible past; trust me about the future.”

This is trade abuse.

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At the Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., the chief executive officer of Air Jordans told the chief executive passenger of Air Force One that Americans should believe in the TPP because it’ll be like Santa Claus stuffing jobs down chimneys across America.

CEO Mark Parker promised that the TPP would miraculously prompt Nike, the brand that is the icon for shipping production overseas, to create 10,000 U.S. manufacturing and engineering jobs – over a decade, that is.  Not only that, Parker pronounced, the TPP will generate thousands of construction jobs and as many as 40,000 indirect positions with suppliers and service companies – again, over a decade.

Now those are some great-sounding promises! Nike employs 26,000 American workers now, a few of whom make soles in Oregon and Missouri. But presto, Parker says, the TPP will increase that number by nearly 40 percent!

The thing is, Nike could easily create 10,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the United States right now. No TPP required. It employs 1 million overseas, the vast majority in low-wage, high-worker-abuse countries like Vietnam, China and Indonesia. To bring 1 percent of those jobs – 10,000 – to the United States doesn’t seem like such a Herculean, TPP-requiring task, especially considering Nike’s massive profit margin.

The average cost to make a pair of Nike shoes is $30. The American sneaker consumer, who may pay $130 to swoosh, is certainly not getting the benefit of low prices from Nike’s cheap overseas production.

Instead of manufacturing in America, Nike chooses to “just do it” in countries where it knows workers are abused. In the 1990s, the media slammed the corporation for sweatshop conditions in its foreign factories. Like a typical abuser, Nike promised to reform its ways. It said in a news release last week, “Our past lessons have fundamentally changed the way we do business.”

Well, not really. The company admitted in 2011 that two Indonesian factories making its shoes subjected workers to “serious and egregious” physical and verbal abuse. Nike told the San Francisco Chronicle then that there was “little it could do to stop” the cruelty.

And it accomplished exactly that – little. Just last month, a three-part series in the Modesto Bee described sickening conditions in Indonesian factories producing Nike shoes: Workers paid $212 a month for six-day, 55-hour work weeks. Workers denied the country’s minimum wage and overtime pay. Workers paid so little they couldn’t afford to care for their children. Workers fired for trying to improve conditions.

Last week, the world’s largest athletic gear maker said, “Nike fully supports the inclusion of strong labor provisions (in the TPP) because we believe that will drive higher industry standards and create economic growth that benefits everyone.”

Promises, promises. Why doesn’t Nike simply insist on higher standards at its factories? What exactly is there in a trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations that is essential to Nike establishing higher standards and stopping the abuse of workers in factories making its shoes?

Oh, yeah, the American middle class, which has suffered most from past trade deals, is not allowed to know that.  The TPP is secret. Well, except to the privileged corporate CEOs who helped write the thing.

In pushing for “Fast Track” authority to shove the deal through a Congress that has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to oversee foreign trade, President Obama admitted “past deals did not always live up to the hype.”

That’s not quite right. It’s actually way worse than that. Past deals killed U.S. factories and jobs. Since NAFTA, they’ve cost Americans 57,000 factories and 5 million good, family-supporting jobs.

Just three years ago, trade fanatics promised that the Korean deal, called KORUS, would definitely provide more exports and more jobs. Instead, U.S. goods exports to Korea dropped 6 percent, while imports from Korea surged 19 percent. So the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea swelled 104 percent. That means the loss of 93,000 America jobs in just the first three years of KORUS.

It’s the same story with the other trade deals that followed NAFTA, including the agreements that enabled China to enter the World Trade Organization. The Commerce Department announced just last week the largest monthly expansion in the trade deficit in 19 years. The deficit with China for March was the biggest ever.

What this means is that instead of exporting goods, America is exporting jobs. Foreign workers get the jobs making the stuff Americans buy. And they’re often employed by factories producing products for so-called American corporations like Nike. They’re employed by factories that collapse and kill hundreds. Factories that catch on fire and immolate workers trapped inside. Factories where workers are ill-paid, overworked and slapped when they can’t meet unrealistic production quotas. Factories that pollute grievously.

American workers no longer are willing to engage in this abusive relationship with trade fanatics. They no longer believe the promises of change. They don’t want the federal money TPP fanatics promise them to pay for retraining as underpaid burger flippers after their middle class-supporting factory jobs are shipped overseas. They’re over trade pacts that benefit only multi-national corporations like Nike.

To Fast Track and the TPP, they say, “Just Don’t Do It!”

“The Fight for $15—& a Union!”

Fight for 15 New York (The All-Nite Images)

Fight for 15 New York (The All-Nite Images FLIKR CC)

By Barbara Kestenbaum

On April 15, as I looked along 59th Street in Midtown Manhattan, there was electricity in the air. I saw thousands of union and non-union workers marching together in solidarity toward Columbus Circle, holding signs that read “Fight for $15 and a Union.” The demonstration was backed by many unions, including SEIU and the UFCW. These unions were there from the historic beginning of the Fast Food Forward movement in 2012, standing with men and women who had walked off their jobs for one day at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, and other stores. I participated in this first demonstration and did so again on April 15. As I saw proud determination on the faces of the marchers, it reminded me of the line from James Sloan Gibbons’ Civil War poem about the enthusiastic response to Abraham Lincoln’s call for Union volunteers: “We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more.”

Fight For $15 - Rally and March - 04/15/15 Image by Barry Solow FLIKR CC

Fight For $15 – Rally and March – 04/15/15 Image by Barry Solow FLIKR CC

As a DC37 union member (Ret.), it filled me with pride to march with my union brothers and sisters, members of the IBT, UAW, USW, CWA, CSEA and more. All were protesting the unlivable wages so many non-unionized workers are paid as they toil at backbreaking jobs in restaurants, car washes, laundries, and as home care attendants. The marchers also included adjunct professors at universities who also work long hours for shamefully low pay. People young and older were marching because they feel intensely that in this rich nation of ours, all working people should be able to afford good homes, nutritious food, adequate health care, and not be forced to work two or more jobs just to squeeze by.   I very much agree with Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU who said about the demonstration:

“Workers proved that by joining together, they can improve their lives.” She emphasized that McDonald’s deciding to raise wages at the stores it owns “is not nearly enough….The overwhelming majority of McDonald’s workers [those at franchisee-owned stores] will still be paid wages so low that they can’t afford basics like rent and groceries.” She stated that SEIU remained “more committed than ever…” to securing for “all workers…the right to join together in a union to improve the lives of all working families.”

Fight for 15 New York 2 (The All-Nite Images)

(Image byThe All-Nite Images FLIKR CC)

All Americans need to know what Eli Siegel, founder of the education Aesthetic Realism, explained about America’s profit economy in a series of landmark lectures beginning in 1970. I was fortunate to hear many of these talks, in which he provided solid evidence from history, economics, literature, and current events, showing that contempt—“the addition to self through the lessening of something else”—is at the basis of America’s economy, the profit system. Contempt includes the seeing of one’s fellow human beings in terms of how much profit can be made from their labor, while paying them as little as possible. Further, he showed that ethics, working throughout history, had culminated in the failure of profit economics. A current sign of this, among others, is that in February, 2015 McDonald’s sales fell “by a startling 4 percent in the United States and by 1.7 percent globally” (New York Times 3/9/15). And, according to a later article (NYT 5/05/15), the “sales slump”’ continues.

In recent years, as a result of our failed economy, there have been waves of fierce union-busting efforts by corporate America and some state governments, including taking away a union’s ability to sustain itself and its membership through dues.   Every dollar paid to a union worker in wages diminishes an employer’s ability to line his own pockets. In fact, I’ve learned that the one way profit economics can continue at all is by making working people poorer.   That is what’s behind the attacks on unions, and it explains the constant suffering by millions of families, including the shameful fact that one out of five children in America is not getting sufficient food.

“The Fight for $15 and a Union” movement has given a voice to millions of low-paid workers. In over 200 cities—New York, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and more—they are being heard loud and clear as they say “Hell No” to poverty wages. On April 15, there were mass demonstrations and sit-ins. Many fast food restaurants were unable to serve their customers and had to shut their doors. All this sent a powerful message to corporations such as McDonald’s and Walmart that workers will fight to end the abuses they are suffering at the hands of corporate America.

The people of America, including union officials, have a right to know what Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, has been describing for many years about the failure of profit economics and the importance of unions.   In a recent issue of the international periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, she writes with clarity and feeling about the huge meaning of the Fast Food Workers movement and how it’s been reported on by the major media. She presents four key points, three of which are quoted here:

“1) There has been an effort to indicate that the Fight for $15 movement is admirable—but to have it seen as apart from unions. In fact, the central slogan of the demonstrators is: “$15 an Hour and a Union.” But in so many media accounts, the second phrase is just left out.

“Unions—in particular the Service Employees International Union and United Food and Commercial Workers—have done much to have this movement exist; they, chiefly, have organized and funded it. Yet a lot of the media coverage gives the impression that low-wage workers somehow just got together in some vague grassroots way. And the reason is: if the reporting let Americans see how much unions are working to bring justice to these employees, and how much the employees know they need a union, Americans would love and value unions and want them–even more than many, many Americans now do.

“2) Then there are the persons, sometimes quoted in the media, who are blatantly against this new ‘Social-Justice Movement’: the persons who present a wage increase for fast-food workers as ruinous to business and therefore to America. They say: The demonstrations are taking place only because Big Bad unions are trying to get money into their coffers! The fast-food workers would be satisfied with their situation if unions didn’t stir them up (as slaves would have been satisfied in the 1850s, were it not for those awful abolitionists).

“4) Then, there are the media reports which admit that unions have been useful in the ‘Fight for $15’ movement—but which say that the unions are engaging in a new method: that unions have been dying off and had to come to something new to keep alive. This angle is ridiculous. Unions are doing what they have always done, what they created themselves to do: fighting for economic justice to workers; showing workers that in joining together, each person can take care of oneself by taking care that others get what they deserve. Unions have used different techniques over the years. But what they are doing in the ‘Fight for $15’ movement is utterly in keeping with their history: for instance, fighting for justice for garment workers in New York City; textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts; auto workers in Detroit, Michigan; coal miners in West Virginia; teachers in American classrooms; truck drivers on the many and long American roads. American unions are as American as our Declaration of Independence, and they stand for the same justice. ”

Ms. Reiss concludes: “Beginning as early as age 18, Eli Siegel wrote with passion and logic about the fact that economics should be based on the answer to this question: “What does a person deserve by being alive?” This is the question that must be answered if working men and women—and their families—are to get the economic and social justice that is rightfully theirs.”

NH Democrats Fight For Mothers, While the GOP Would Leave Them Behind

Republicans and Democrats Logos (by DonkeyHotey FLICKR)As we celebrate our Mothers today – whether they’re still with us or not – it’s important to note our commitment to support mothers of all kinds. Here in New Hampshire, Democrats continue to support working mothers and work to strengthen middle class families. We’d like to celebrate Gov. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Annie Kuster for their leadership supporting working families, as well as being incredible mothers themselves. Happy Mother’s Day!

As we look ahead to 2016, Democrats are committed to fighting for mothers while the GOP makes it clear they are wrong on equal pay and a minimum wage increase – that will help mothers and their children get ahead.

Equal Pay for Women

  • Jeb Bush stated that he did not know what the Paycheck Fairness Act was when asked about it.
  • Marco Rubio said the Paycheck Fairness Act was about “scoring political points,” “wasting time,” and a “show vote.”
  • Scott Walker repealed an equal pay law saying it was a “bogus issue.”
  • Rand Paul compared the Paycheck Fairness Act to the Soviet Politburo.
  • Chris Christie vetoed equal pay legislation calling it “senseless bureaucracy.”
  • Ted Cruz voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act and derided it as a “show vote.”

Raising the Minimum Wage

Senator Bernie Sanders Rallies The Crowd At The NH AFL-CIO Convention (VIDEO)

Senator Sanders North Conway NH

Here it is the video you have all been waiting for, Senator Bernie Sanders just after announcing he official campaign for President addresses the delegates and friends of the NH AFL-CIO 2015 Convention in North Conway, New Hampshire.

If you already know who Senator Bernie Sanders is, then watch this video and you will fall in love with him all over again.

If you do not know who Senator Bernie Sanders is, then watch this video and see what his vision is for America.

  • A vision where healthcare is a right and everyone has quality healthcare provided to them
  • A vision where our children get a good high quality education and can get a college education without being saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
  • A vsion where a single mother does not need to get food stamps to feed her son even though she already works full time.  Where workers are paid a living wage of $15 an hour minimum.
  • A vision where the government listens to the scientific community and starts to reverse the effects of global warming and leaving our planet better for our children and grandchildren
  • A vision where corporations pay their fair share in taxes and are no longer allowed to hide their profits in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.
  • A vision where a secretary does not have to pay a higher rate in her taxes than the CEO of the corporation she works for.
  • A vision where American workers are put first and corporate profits are put second.  Where Americans are buying American made goods.  Where American corporations are investing in the future of America by building new manufacturing facilities here in the USA.

Senator Sanders also spoke at length about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the disastrous effects that NAFTA and previous trade agreements have had on American workers.

The speech is a little over 30 minutes long, but I promise you will hardly notice once Bernie starts rolling!

(Video Link: https://youtu.be/BNejWoktsOs)

Democrats In Washington Push For $12 Minimum Wage By 2020 and Receive Praise From Labor

12 by 2020 (Patty Murray)

Bill introduction by Sen. Patty Murray. Image from Sen Patty Murray on Twitter.

(WASHINGTON, DC) –  “We are introducing this bill because we believe hard work should pay off,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) as she introduced a bold new plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by the year 2020. “Let’s help more families make ends meet, expand economic opportunity, and grow our economy from the middle out.”  A matching House bill was introduced by Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.).

According to Economic Policy Institute analysis, “37.7 million workers would benefit from this increase, including 21.1 million women. 37 percent of African American workers and 40 percent of Hispanic workers would receive wage increases. 90 percent of workers who would be affected by the Raise the Wage Act are 20 years old or older, 27.6 percent have children, and half have total family incomes of less than $40,000 a year. 47 percent of workers who would be affected by the Raise the Wage Act have at least some college experience. Over the last 40 years, the federal minimum wage has lost more than 30 percent of its buying power; if it had kept pace with the increased cost of living, the minimum wage would currently be $10.80 per hour.”

After the bill was introduced, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement:

“Today’s introduction of new minimum wage legislation represents significant progress in the powerful, collective movement to raise wages. It’s inspiring to see the momentum generated by working people across the country influence some of the largest corporations and the most powerful political forces.

Raising wages for working people is the defining issue of our time and workers are capturing and expanding it. While we strongly encourage Congress to support this effort, we must remember that a minimum wage increase alone will not remedy decades of failed policies that have only benefitted those at the very top. The true measure of progress must include opposing Fast Track and bad trade deals and a dedication to expanding the rights of workers to collectively bargain.”

In response to the new legislation, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, released the following statement:

“The Raise the Wage Act would boost our economy and strengthen our families. This bill would raise wages for more than 37 million people: 1 in 4 workers, 1 in 3 wage-earning women and more than 1 in 3 working people of color. Higher wages will help ensure that no one who works full time lives in poverty, and help working people provide a better life for their children and their families.

“This bill shows that working men and women, standing up and speaking out, are being heard. They’re taking their case to the streets and to the ballot box for an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.

“Low wages are the crisis of our time. To solve this crisis, our country needs a minimum wage that families can live on, and workers must be free to join together in a union and fight for the higher pay they deserve. I applaud Senator Murray  and Congressman Scott  for their leadership.”

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)  is an original cosponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, would increase wages for nearly thirty eight million Americans. The legislation would be particularly beneficial to New Hampshire, which does not have a state minimum wage law and instead relies on the current federal minimum wage.

“No one who is working full time should live in poverty,” Shaheen said. “Hard working people and families in New Hampshire and across the country are long overdue for a raise. Nationally, nearly two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women, and in New Hampshire seventy percent of minimum wage earners are women. I hope my colleagues in the Senate will join me in supporting the Raise the Wage Act so that we can help lift families out of poverty and improve our economy.”

Of course NH’s other Senator, Kelly Ayotte has opposed an increase in the minimum wage in the past.

“Kelly Ayotte has consistently voted against a minimum wage increase that would help working families make ends meet,” said Sadie Weiner, DSCC National Press Secretary (see references at the bottom)


. “Men and women who are willing to work hard for a living deserve a livable wage that doesn’t leave them and their families struggling, and Kelly Ayotte is going to have a hard time defending her callous votes against a minimum wage increase.”

Raising the federal minimum wage to $12.00 would result in an average annual raise of $2,800 for more than 147,000 Granite Staters. The Raise the Wage Act would put more than $411 million into New Hampshire worker’s pockets, improving financial security for families and boosting the economy.

The Raise the Wage Act would also index the minimum wage to the national median wage starting in 2021. It would also eliminate the tipped minimum wage by gradually raising the cash wage over ten years from the current $2.13 per hour to match to the new regular minimum wage of $12 per hour.

Almost everyone agrees that something needs to be done and that we must raise the minimum wage. The question is, is $12 by 2020 enough of a raise?

“We are encouraged to see that our elected leaders are beginning to hear our calls for change and discussing wages and inequality in our country,” said Sacramento Walmart worker Shannon Henderson. “While $12 by 2020 would be a good first step, it still falls short of what working Americans need to raise our families. At just $10 an hour with no guarantee of full-time hours, I’m struggling today to care for my two young children. I simply can’t wait until 2020 for a decent wage. That’s why we’ll keep standing up for $15 an hour and access to full-time consistent schedules at Walmart.”


2014: Ayotte Voted Against Bill To Increase The Federal Minimum Wage To $10.10. [Vote 117, 4/30/14]

  • Increasing The Federal Minimum Wage To $10.10 Would Have Meant A Raise For More Than 100k Workers In New Hampshire. Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would mean a raise for 113,000 New Hampshire workers. [Economic Policy Institute, 12/19/13]

2015: Ayotte Voted Against An Increase In The Minimum Wage. [Vote 93, 3/26/15]

Over 5,000 Rally In Boston In The #FightFor15, Kicking Worldwide Day Of Action On Wages And Inequality

Massachusetts Kicked Off the Largest Ever
Global Mobilization of Underpaid Workers Protest on Six Continents;
Adjunct Professors, Home Care, Child Care, Transportation, Fast Food, Janitorial, and Walmart Workers to Rally Coast to Coast.

Thousands of underpaid workers frustrated by low wages rallied, walked out in strike, and marched throughout the city of Boston yesterday to call for higher wages and to kick off a global wave of protests against wage inequality. Two-and-a-half years ago Boston was one of the first cities in the Fight for $15 calling for higher wages for fast food workers.  The growing movement has spread across the country, and around the world, and now includes low wage workers from various occupations like home healthcare workers and adjunct professors. Boston became the launching point for the largest ever global mobilization of the underpaid when workers, students, and their supporters took to the streets on Tuesday.

(Time Lapse Video of March by @SEIU)

 

The two-and-half-year-old Fight for $15 has continued to grow on local college campuses as well.  Students from Boston University, Northeastern University, UMass-Boston, UMass-Amherst, Roxbury Community College, Harvard University, Emerson College, Tufts University, Clark University, Lesley University, Boston College, and Brandeis University joined with low wage workers to rally for higher wages.

 

College students are not the only ones who are feeling the pain of low wage jobs, many of the adjunct faculty at these colleges are paid just above minimum wage and are forced to live in poverty. In May of 2014 the Boston Globe reported:

“Nearly 15,000 contingent and adjunct faculty teach in greater Boston. Many work at multiple schools, trying to make enough to support themselves and their families on low pay with no benefits. All have advanced degrees, and many live at or below the poverty level.”

This is why adjunct professors from across the city joined the march and spoke out for higher wages. “We are supposed to be the college professors raising up the next generation,” said one adjunct professor in the video posted by Faculty Forward.

 

A recent Brookings Institution study shows that Boston is the third most inequitable city in the nation, with the top 5 percent of households earning 15 times what the bottom twenty make. Massive income disparity is badly hurting this country and on April 14, low wage workers and their allies will take action to address the growing wage inequality crisis.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts is leading the nation with three groundbreaking pieces of legislation intended to lift up low wage workers.

Home care workers bill

  • Provides $15 an hour to nearly 20,000 workers who provide home care to seniors and people with disabilities through “agency” home care employers.
  • Requires annual cost reporting from home care agencies, including detailed financial disclosures of executive compensation and overhead costs.

Fast food and big box retail workers bill

  • Requires big box retail and fast food corporations to pay their employees at least $15 an hour by 2018.
  • Applies to hourly wage workers at corporate fast food chains and Big Box stores over 25,000 square feet and with 200 or more employees in Massachusetts.

Tipped wage bill

  • Gradually eliminates the subminimum wage for tipped workers.
  • Mandates that after 2022, tipped employees would have the same hourly minimum wage as workers in all other industries in Massachusetts.

Following the global kick off event in Boston on April 14, protests will stretch around the globe the next day, with demonstrations expected in more than 200 U.S. cities, 100 international cities, in 40 countries, and on six continents, from Sao Paolo to Tokyo.  Follow the worldwide events on twitter at the #FightFor15 hashtag

Below are images from yesterday’s rally in Boston, provided by SEIU 1199 Massachusetts. All images were taken by Rose Lincoln, 1199SEIU.  More images and tweets of support for Massachusetts workers can be found on the #WageAction hashtag and on Youtube.

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Leo W Gerard: The High Cost Of Fighting For $15

2014 Fast Food Strike NYC (FLIKR Annette Bernhardt)

2014 Fast Food Strike NYC (FLIKR Annette Bernhardt)

This is no plea for pity for corporate kingpins like Walmart and McDonald’s inundated by workers’ demands for living wages.

Raises would, of course, cost these billion-dollar corporations something. More costly, though, is the price paid by minimum-wage workers who have not received a raise in six years.  Even more dear is what these workers have paid for their campaign to get raises. Managers have harassed, threatened and fired them.

Despite all that, low-wage workers will return to picket lines and demonstrations Wednesday in a National Day of Action in the fight for $15 an hour. The date is 4 – 15. These are workers who live paycheck to paycheck, barely able to pay their bills, and certainly unable to cope with an emergency. They know the risk they’re taking by participating in strikes for pay hikes. They’ve seen bosses punish co-workers for demonstrating for raises. To lose a job, even one that pays poverty wages, during a time of high unemployment is terrifying. Still, thousands will participate Wednesday. That is valor.

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Kip Hedges exhibited that courage. He’s a 61-year-old with 26 years of service as a baggage handler for Delta at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. He wanted better wages for young workers and a union. He said so in a video, noting that “probably close to half make under $15 an hour.”

Delta fired him. The airline said he’d disparaged the company. Apparently Delta believes it has been disparaged if the flying public learns the truth about the way Delta treats workers.

Clearly, Delta planned to shut Hedges up and intimidate other workers. The message to his co-workers was clear: “You wanna talk about the paltry wages you get? Well, let’s talk about this pink slip.”

But when Delta messed with Hedges, it messed up big time. The firing failed to silence him. He continued to protest low wages. His co-workers rallied round him. The media covered his firing and his appeal. He looked like a low-wage worker hero. Delta looked like a vindictive heel.

Unlike Hedges, Shanna Tippen was no activist before she got fired from her minimum-wage job in Pine Bluff, Ark. She was just trying to get by, and falling short by about $200 a month. Her boss at the Days Inn where she worked as a night shift jack-of-all-trades asked her to talk to a Washington Post reporter who had dropped by the hotel to discuss the state’s newly instituted 25-cent increase to the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Fast Food Strike 2014 (FLIKR Annette Bernhardt)

Fast Food Strike 2014 (FLIKR Annette Bernhardt)

Tippen told the reporter, Chico Harlan, that she hoped the little bit of extra money would help her pay for her grandson’s diapers.

After the Post published the story, the manager of the Days Inn, Herry Patel, telephoned Harlan to complain about being quoted in it. Then he fired Tippen. She recounted it to Harlan:

“He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [The Post].”  Even though, of course, Patel had told Tippen to talk to the reporter. Tippen continued: “He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’”

Patel told Harlan that Arkansas voters, who approved the pay increase in a referendum by 66 percent, should not have done it. “Everybody wants free money in Pine Bluff,” Harlan quoted him as saying.

Patel apparently did not understand that Tippen performed work that kept the hotel running every night, which means she earned the money. The truth is that Patel, like so many other employers, believes that employees should work for free.

The Post and other papers wrote about Tippen’s firing, making her an icon for ill-treated, low-wage workers and Patel the personification of miserly bosses.

 

Worker-exploiting employers like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Walmart have shown themselves to be craven in the face of courageous workers’ wage protests as well.

Over the past few months, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed charges against McDonald’s and Walmart alleging they violated workers’ rights, including threatening retribution against those who participated in strikes.

In December, the NLRB in California ruled that Walmart illegally punished workers for striking and seeking to unionize. The judge determined that Walmart managers illegally intimidated workers by, for example, telling one, who had tied a rope around his waist to pull a heavy load, “If it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck.”

In the Chipotle case, the NLRB ruled that a manager in St. Louis illegally fired worker Patrick Leeper for participating in Fight for $15 demonstrations and for talking about wages at work. After the decision, a company spokesperson told the news website Think Progress: “Generally speaking, it is always a top priority for us to remain compliant with all local and federal labor laws.”

“Generally,” Chipotle tries. Generally. Not in this particular case involving low-wage workers demonstrating for better pay. But, you know, generally Chipotle tries to obey the law.

In the original Washington Post story about the tiny increase in the minimum wage in Arkansas, Dominic Flis, whose company owns 18 Burger Kings in central Arkansas, said raising the minimum wage pushes up pay for other workers too. Here’s what he said:

“If somebody was already making $7.50, and minimum wage goes to $7.50, they’ll have some expectation of a raise as well,” Flis said. “And I have to maintain my workforce.”

The Brookings Institute calls this the ripple effect. The pay increase at the bottom ripples all the way up the pay scale.

Hedges, the fired Delta worker, put it another way: “a lot of the better paid workers also understand that the bottom has to be raised otherwise the top is going to fall as well.”

If for no other reason than self-interest, join the gutsy minimum-wage workers at a Fight for $15 event Wednesday.

AFL-CIO Worker Wins Update: Wages and Numbers Rise for Working Families

WASHINGTON, DC– Workers across the country have stood up in the past month to fight for better wages and working conditions.

Worker Voices Raise Worker Wages: Under pressure from workers, major corporations such as Walmart, Target, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and McDonald’s have raised their minimum wage over the past months, addressing America’s national wage stagnation crisis. From coast to coast workers have held actions calling on employers to raise wages, and national leaders have echoed calls in favor of a raising wages agenda.

37,000 Workers Get a Raise as Seattle Minimum Wage Hike Begins: Seattle’s minimum wage rose to $11 on April 1stas part of a multi-step process that will eventually result in a $15 minimum wage throughout the city by 2021.  This raise comes as over two dozen stateshave minimum wages above the federal minimum wages.

The Union Difference in Mining: Safety and Efficiency: According to a March report by SNL Energy, underground coalmines with union workers are safer and more productive than their non-union counterparts. Of the 16 miners who died on the job in 2014, only one was at a union mine, while union miners were found to be nearly 20 percent more productive per hour.

Workers Rev Up Organizing Efforts as UAW Membership Climbs: The United Auto Workers added more than 12,000 members in 2014 according to its Labor Organizing Annual Report released in March. UAW membership has grown for five consecutive years with nearly 50,000 new members since 2009.

NYU and UAW’s graduate teaching assistants reach “A+” agreement:  Last month, New York University (NYU) and GSOC-UAW Local 2110, which represents graduate teaching and research assistants, reached a tentative agreement that provides improved wages and benefits among other improvements. This week, GSOC members overwhelmingly ratified the agreement making it the only contract covering graduate teaching and research assistants at a private university.

Workers Fight For Schedule Stability in California: Workers in California ramped up a fight last month to ensure that service industry employers give their workers at least two weeks’ notice before scheduling shifts. This law seeks to provide predictable work schedules to millions of workers in industries such as fast food and retail, where workers often have no notice of hours they’re expected to work.

President Obama Says ‘No’ To GOP Efforts to Weaken Union Rules: President Obama blocked Congressional GOP efforts last month to overturn NLRB rulings to streamline the union election process, making it easier for workers to have a voice. The NLRB regulations were issued last December and take effect on April 14th.

 

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