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Granite State Rumblings: Wages, Child Care And The Working Poor

If you have been following the Presidential candidate debates, you are beginning to hear some very important policy differences not only between the two parties, but between the candidates themselves. One of those differences is quite evident when the talk turns to low and stagnant wages for the working poor.

The Democrats are in agreement that the minimum wage should be increased, though they differ on how high, based on their comments at the debate last Saturday evening. The Republican candidates have mainly talked about other ways of addressing stagnant wages and income inequality. Plans that have been discussed include cutting business taxes to spur more job growth and opportunities for jobs with higher rates of pay, boosting worker productivity, more technical job training, and an overhaul of higher education.

While all of these ideas may be valid, there is one issue for low-income workers that remains, even as they see incremental increases in their wages, or an increase in the minimum wage – Work Support Programs – also known as public assistance programs. Work supports help close the gap between low earnings and the cost of basic expenses.

But, public assistance for the working poor isn’t designed to allow parents the opportunity to incrementally increase their wages to work toward self-sufficiency.

In many cases, as a parent’s earnings increase and they rise above the poverty level, they begin to lose eligibility for assistance programs such as child care subsidies, housing subsidies, food stamps, and health care coverage, even though they are not yet self-sufficient.

I saw this play out way too often for many of the single moms at the child care center where I worked. In some cases even as little as a fifty cent increase in wages could mean a budget breaking rise in her out of pocket child care cost. The raise she had worked so hard to achieve would not cover the increase, so she was left with the decision of turning it down, trying to dig deeper in an already stretched budget, or finding less expensive (and lower quality) care for her child(ren) while she worked. This is called the Cliff Effect, and it results in many women refusing pay increases, rather than lose their shelter, lose their quality child care so that they can work, or have to give up health care or meals for themselves. The dream of self-sufficiency becomes the reality of assistance dependence.

Colorado Public Radio has been exploring the lives of Colorado children who are living in poverty. The story below is part of that work.

Why Getting Ahead Often Feels Like Falling Behind When You’re Poor


Call it poverty’s “glass ceiling.”

Longmont resident Tracey Jones grows vegetables from her garden to feed her family in the summer. Since Jones started making too much to qualify for food stamps, she’s had more trouble keeping food on the table.

The way many public benefit programs are structured, even minor increases in income can result in a big loss in assistance. That’s sometimes so large a loss that it can send families tumbling backwards just when they thought they were finally getting ahead.

Longmont resident Tracey Jones knows all about the phenomenon, often called the “cliff effect.” She’s been living at its edge for several years now.

In the past few years, she’s moved from unemployment to a rewarding full-time job as a certified nursing assistant for a hospice program. But in some ways she’s lost as much as she’s gained. Food stamps, for one thing. When she started making too much to qualify, Jones had to turn to food banks. And she took up gardening, “to take a little bit of the edge off my food insecurity.”

As her income has risen, Jones has lost other benefits too. Her big worry currently is Medicaid. She went through a major surgery a few months ago, and in the weeks leading up to it kept getting conflicting letters about whether or not she was still covered.

“I got three notices in one week,” Jones said. “‘Oh, you have insurance, yay!’ Two days later: ‘You do not have insurance.’ Then the end of the week: ‘You need to fill out this paper for your insurance.’ I don’t know. At this point, I’m just praying it all works out.”

This uncertainty has permeated her life for years — it’s the dark side to her improving income.

“It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s kind of like you get punished for trying to get out of poverty,” Jones said.

Programs Offer Perverse Incentives

The cliff effect stems from the fact that most government assistance programs have hard and fast income limits: start making even a little more than the cut-off and a person stands to immediately lose a lot of benefits.

Jessica Valand oversees job training programs through Colorado’s Department of Human Resources. The way she sees it, both policy makers and the poor themselves value work over assistance, but the way the system is set up, it ends up encouraging the exact opposite.

“If someone wants to give me a dollar raise, or even a $2-an-hour raise, but I know that that $2-an-hour raise is not going to make up for the $1,500 in child care subsidy I’m going to lose, what is my incentive to keep going?” Valand said.

Many don’t keep going. When the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the Bell Policy Center asked focus groups of poor single mothers whether they’d ever turned down a raise or extra hours at work because they were afraid of losing their benefits, about a third said yes.

“In any given month, a woman may need to monitor very closely the hours she’s working to make sure she’s always maintaining her eligibility,” says the Foundation’s Louise Myrland. The group considers the cliff effect a women’s issue because the impacts often fall most heavily on working mothers and their children.

Official concern about the cliff effect has picked up steam in recent years, as data has shown that despite the improving economy, many working poor appear to be stuck relying on public benefits.

“It’s like, how did we get people this far, and they can’t get to the next step?” said Jefferson County Human Services Director Lynn Johnson.

But while there may be increasing agreement that the cliff effect is a problem, the solution won’t come cheap. In order to taper higher income people off of benefits more gently, the government will either have to increase overall funding for programs, or put more limits on the total number of people they can serve.

“Are we here to be just the safety net, the handout? Or is it a handout and up and off?” asks Johnson, who thinks easing the fiscal cliff would save money in the long term. “The more successful people are moving out of our system, the more money we should have to invest.”

Jefferson County is one of 10 counties taking part in a new state experiment to try to fix the fiscal cliff in one big program: child care assistance. Instead losing their entire subsidy when they hit a hard and fast income limit, families in these counties just have to pay a slowly increasing chunk of their daycare costs out of pocket. Bell Policy’s Rich Jones lobbied the Legislature to invest in this pilot effort. He said the idea is to turn the benefits cliff into more of a gentle slope.

“As you move further up the economic ladders, you still get some support, but you get a lot less. And then you gradually work your way off,” Jones explains.

The child care assistance pilot only started over the summer, but anecdotal reports suggest it’s so far succeeding in its goal of allowing families to earn more money without worrying they’re about to be crushed by a giant new daycare bill.

Two Families Stuck On The Cliff

Nicole Davis found out about the cliff effect the hard way. Nearly a decade ago the preschool teacher and her husband George, who worked in manufacturing, made getting off of all public assistance their goal. They succeeded, but that success almost destroyed their family.

“A lot of times we would have time to decide which bills that we wanted to pay. And sometimes it would mean that George or I would go without meals,” said Davis, recalling life without any government benefits. “When we realized we weren’t brining in enough money to pay rent … we went to the church for help and they basically said, ‘you need to get on assistance!'”

Instead, Davis and her young children ended up homeless. It took years for the family to work their way back to stability.

Today, the Wheat Ridge resident says she’s stopped even thinking about trying to make it to self-sufficiency. The cliff is just too daunting.

“I am intrigued myself by the fact that our family tried to get off of all the services and all the things that happened when we were getting off,” she said. “I’m surprised by what happened.”

For another Wheat Ridge mother, Sheila Lucero, the benefits cliff has turned life into a balancing act.

After struggling through the Great Recession, things have been looking up for the Lucero’s; Sheila’s husband Ian is an HVAC contractor and the housing boom means lots of work. But they’ve been making sure his income stays low enough to keep qualifying the family for Medicaid.

Lucero believes in small government; it’s painful to her to rely on taxpayer money. But she puts up with it for her children’s sake.

“You know, we’re not proud of being in this situation, but we definitely need our kids to have their check-ups and stuff,” Lucero said. “The cliff effect just puts people back where they were, or in a worse position, and it makes them not want to try.”

As an increase in the minimum wage is discussed and debated at both the federal and state level, now is a good time to start the discussion and debate about benefit eligibility levels. Hard working parents should not be penalized for trying to do better for their families.


Here are several opportunities to discuss class and classism in our state, a conversation that can be both difficult and challenging, but so very necessary. These workshops are hosted by a coalition of NH organizations.

Exploring Class and Classism in New Hampshire Building Unity in our Community

  • Why is class often so difficult to talk about? How does class impact your work?
  • What is your class story?

Discuss these questions and more at Class Action’s New Hampshire open workshops hosted by a coalition of NH organizations.  Class Action has spent 11 years developing creative ways of asking questions, sharing personal experiences and helping people to engage with issues of class in a meaningful way. Their workshops are highly interactive, engaging and focused on learning from one another in the room. All workshops are on a sliding scale, $75 – $20. Scholarships available. To inquire, please send us an e-mail.

Dates and Locations

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Berlin, NH

Hosted by: North Country Listens and Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network


Friday, December 4, 2015

Claremont, NH

Hosted by: United Valley Interfaith Project and Rethink Health


Friday, December 11, 2015

Manchester, NH

Hosted by Investing in Communities, NH Citizens Alliance and New Futures


Saturday, December 12, 2015 

Pittsfield, NH 

Hosted by Investing in Communities, NH Citizens Alliance and New Futures


Featured Image by US Army on Flicker

What You Should Know About That Completed TPP “Trade” Deal

global deal free tradeSpecial Guest Post from Dave Johnson of Campaign For America’s Future.  

Countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) say they have reached a deal. So here it comes.

Monday morning it was announced that a “Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal Is Reached,” presented as much as a foreign policy success as a “trade” deal.

“The United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific basin nations on Monday agreed after years of negotiations to the largest regional trade accord in history, an economic pact envisioned as a bulwark against China’s power and a standard-setter for global commerce, worker rights and environmental protection.

… The trade initiative, dating to the start of his administration, is a centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s economic program to expand exports. It also stands as a capstone for his foreign policy “pivot” toward closer relations with fast-growing eastern Asia, after years of American preoccupation with the Middle East and North Africa.

The effect the deal will have on actual “trade” is unclear, since the U.S. already has trade agreements with many of the participating countries. Also much of the deal appears to be about things people would not usually consider “trade”, like investor rights and limits on the ability of countries to regulate.

Though the deal remains secret, here is some of what is known about the agreement deal.

● Currency manipulation is not addressed in TPP, even though Congress’ “fast track” legislation said it must be. To get around this, a “side agreement” supposedly sets up a “forum” on currency. Past side agreements have proven unenforceable. For this reason Ford Motor Company has already publicly announced opposition to TPP.

● A “tobacco carve-out” is in the deal, in some form. This was added because the agreement contains investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions that will allow corporations to sue governments that use laws or regulations to try to restrict what the companies do. These provisions restrict the ability of governments to protect their citizens so thoroughly that tobacco companies have used ISDS provisions in similar agreements to sue governments that try to help smokers quit or prevent children from starting smoking. TPP proponents felt that this carve-out will help TPP to pass, while the ability to limit other laws and regulations remains.

● President Obama has said TPP includes the “strongest labor provisions of any free trade agreement in history.” Previous “trade” agreements do not even stop labor organizers from being murdered, so even if TPP has “stronger” labor provisions, that is an extremely low bar.

● TPP reduces or eliminates many tariffs, further encouraging companies to move factories out of the U.S. to low-wage countries like Vietnam. An example of the effect TPP will have on U.S. manufacturing is Nike vs. New Balance. Nike already outsources its manufacturing to take advantage of low wages, while New Balance is trying to continue to manufacture in the U.S. When tariffs on imported shoes are eliminated Nike will gain an even greater advantage over New Balance. New Balance has said that the tariff reductions in TPP will force it to stop manufacturing inside the US.

● The reduction and elimination of tariffs reduces revenues for the governments involved.

What Next?

Here is a brief rundown on what to expect as TPP begins to make its way toward a Congressional vote:

● The TPP is still secret and according to the terms in this year’s fast-track legislation it will remain secret for 30 days after the president formally notifies Congress that he will sign it. That could be a while still, as the agreement’s details need to be “ironed out.” After that 30-day wait the full text has to be public for 60 days before Congress can vote. The full timeline is yet to unfold and will be reported here as it does.

● Expect a massive and massively funded corporate PR push. The biggest corporations very much want TPP. It massively benefits the interests of giant corporations and the “investor” class, even as it incentivizes moving jobs and production out of the U.S.

● While only a small portion of TPP is about what people would normally consider to be “trade,” TPP will be heavily pushed as a “trade” deal. Many people believe that “expanding trade” increases jobs. Note that closing a U.S. factory and importing the same goods “expands trade” because those goods cross a border.

Also see the American Prospect, “What’s Next for the TPP: Clyde Prestowitz in Conversation with David Dayen.”

Questions To Ask About TPP

When the still-secret TPP becomes public, these are some of the questions the public will want answered:

● What do regular, non-wealthy people in the U.S. get from TPP? Will it increase American wages? Will it have provisions that force wage increases in countries that currently pay very little, thereby helping those workers (and helping them buy American-made products, too) and reducing downward pressure on American wages? Or will there be NAFTA-style provisions encouraging outsourcing to low-wage countries like Vietnam, creating further downward pressure on wages and increasing inequality?

● What do people in the U.S. lose? For example, the Los Angeles Times explains, “U.S. industries such as auto, textiles and dairy, however, could experience some losses as they are likely to face greater competitive pressures from Vietnam, Japan and New Zealand.”

● Does the TPP contain badly needed provisions to require member countries to jointly fight global climate change?

● Will provisions on state-owned enterprises force further privatization of publicly owned and publicly operated infrastructure like the U.S. Postal Service, highways, water systems and other public utilities – even services like municipal parking operations?

● Will TPP enable the U.S. to continue using tax dollars to help American companies, like our “Buy America” procurement policies?

● Will TPP expand imports from countries where food is often found to contain banned toxic chemicals? If so, will TPP require increases in food and product safety standards and inspections?

● Does the TPP increase oversight of financial companies like banks, insurance companies and hedge funds?

TPP Pits Obama, Republicans, Wall Street And Big Corporations Against Democrats, Labor, Progressives

While still secret, the agreement is likely to have many of the same proponents and opponents as the fast-track trade promotion authority battle had. As the Los Angeles Times words ittoday, it “pits the White House, many Republicans and supporters of free trade against organized labor, civic groups and many lawmakers from Obama’s own party, who fear the deal will hurt workers and the environment.”

In a Monday morning call Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the TPP text Congress is allowed to see has not been updated for some time, so even they don’t know what is in it. Saying Congress has had to rely on leaks and hasn’t seen the supposed “side agreements” at all, DeLauro asked the administration to “have the courage” to show Congress and the public the text now.

DeLauro complained that leaked drafts show U.S. negotiators negotiating hard for pharmaceutical companies, but not for the interests of American workers. “The administration has put big corporations first, workers last.”

She said rules-of-origin requirements allow less than half to be made in U.S. and TPP countries, the rest can come from countries like China. “None of us can think of a clearer mechanism for taking American jobs”

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) said, “we’ve seen the nightmare NAFTA brought to our manufacturing sector and hard-working American families; this deal is NAFTA on steroids” because this is much broader. Multinational corporations will benefit from increased drug prices and access to cheaper labor.

Rep. Dan “Rock Star” Kildee (D-Mich.) said “what’s not there is there is a lack of any enforceable currency provision. This ties American manufacturer’s hands behind their back as they try to compete. Worse, new rules of origin allow the Chinese to provide more than half the content of a car and it will be treated as domestic. Combined with no currency rules, this will have a devastating effect.”

He added, “I would ask members who voted for fast track to look at the details. When they see specific details and impact on their businesses I think they will vote no.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said, “I’m a car girl … we are only operating on early reports but already Ford and Chrysler are opposed, joining the UAW, and those companies have strongly supported previous deals.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) called TPP a “huge win for China because of currency, rules of origin; we get zero access to the Chinese market.”

On the ability to ensure even these ow rules of origin, Sherman said, “What about de facto rules? How does anyone police it? Are Chinese going to report companies that are mislabeling?”


The Teamsters are asking people to sign this petition:” Tell Congress: Show Me the Text on Reported TPP Deal.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has released this petition and is asking people for signatures: “Sign my petition to join our fight against the disastrous Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. We cannot afford to let this trade deal hurt consumers and cost America jobs.”

The U.S. Trade Representative office has released this summary

The Evolution Of Labor Day (Info-Graphic)

As we approach Labor Day it is important to stop and take a look back at how far we have come as organized labor.  180 years ago adults and children were working 12-hour days, 7 days a week, and they still “owed their soul to the company store.”

Throughout the last 200 years organized labor has moved America forward, fighting for all workers.  During the early years, labor unions were focused on three main items: the number of hours per day/week, hourly wages, and workplace safety.  Years have gone by, yet we are still fighting the same battles over hours, wages, and workplace safety.

Some people say that labor is dead, or dying.  I say we need unions now more than ever.  Working families are struggling as corporations and industry fat cats’ reap all the rewards of our hard work.  The rise in income inequality and the suppression of wages looks eerily similar to the years that led up to the Great Depression.

Workers have lost their voice, they have lost their power.  We are living in an age where employers no longer care about their employees, treating them as completely disposable. They only care about how much their decisions will effect their stock prices.

What corporate executives and Wall Street bankers do not seem to understand is that when you invest in the people you will reap greater rewards.  Higher wages for those at the bottom lead to more consumer spending, which creates higher demand, which leads higher sales and higher profits, all in all a strong vibrant economy.

Labor built the middle class, and we will never have the strong middle class we had back 50 years ago without labor.

Check out this great info-graphic the walks you through just a few of the hundreds of events build the labor movement.

Special thanks to MODIS for creating this info-graphic.


Leo W Gerard: Jeb! Cracks The Whip

Jeb! Bush, a boy born to wealth and privilege, whose family owns not a home but a compound of dwellings in Kennebunkport, Maine, and whose wife plunked down$25,600 for one pair of earrings, lectured last week that Americans should work longer hours.

If Americans would just work harder, every one of them could own a $600,000 getaway cottage, like the one Jeb! is building on a $1.4 million site in exclusive Kennebunkport.

And it’s not just longer hours. Jeb! believes Americans should work longer in life too. The rich boy wants to raise the retirement age to 70. But raising the federal minimum wage to help millions of struggling workers survive to age 70? No, Jeb! doesn’t see any need for that. His advice: Let working poor great-grandmas eat ramen!


Art by DonkeyHotey on Flickr

As a result of Bush’s “work harder” scolding, Americans know exactly what that symbol is at the end of the name Jeb! on all of his presidential campaign literature. It’s a whip handle and blood splotch. As President, he’d crack Americans into shape!  Under a Jeb! administration, he’d demand they work more, get less and through it all gaze adoringly at another clueless, pampered Bush in the White House.

The wealthy like Jeb! made out like bandits over the past 40 years – Jeb! amassed $29 million in the eight years since he left the Florida governor’s mansion. But working Americans have not prospered. Their productivity rose, but not their wages. Part of the reason for that productivity increase is that Americans worked longer hours and corporations paid them nothing for it.

American workers put in more hours than those in any other large industrialized country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In a Gallup poll late last year, full-time employees reported work weeks averaging 47 hours. That is nearly a full day beyond what is supposed to be a 40-hour work week. Forty percent said they work at least 50 hours.

Most of these workers don’t see an extra dime for all that extra work because the federal overtime regulation is so outdated, and many corporations won’t pay time and a half for hours worked beyond 40 unless forced. As it is now, the regulation requires corporations to pay time and a half only to workers earning salaries less than $23,660 a year. That is so low that only 8 percent of salaried workers qualify for overtime. It means corporations can take every cent of gain from 92 percent of salaried workers when they put in more than 40 hours a week.

Late last month, President Obama proposed increasing the overtime threshold to $50,440. Then 40 percent of salaried workers would qualify.

Jeb! opposes that. After he was ridiculed on Wednesday for saying, “people need to work longer hours,” he tried to backpedal by contending that what he really meant was that the proposed new overtime rule would push workers into part-time jobs when they needed to work longer hours.

Here’s what he said on Thursday: “I think people want to work harder, to be able to have more money in their own pockets – not to be dependent upon government. You can take it out of context all you want, but high, sustained growth means people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours, and that by our success they have money – disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in [a welfare] line.”

Silver-spoon Jeb! is just wrong. People don’t want to work harder. They’re working almost an extra day a week. What they want is to be paid fairly for the work they’re already doing. They want the minimum wage increased so that they can use their own paychecks for groceries instead of food stamps. They want the money that they’ve earned to be in their pockets – not in the pockets of 1 percenters like Jeb!

For decades after World War II, income rose in tandem with productivity. Then, in the mid 1970s, that stopped. Workers received less and less, and the top 1 percent took more and more. The result was wage stagnation for workers and income inflation for CEOs.


The comments Jeb! made last week illustrate his complete misunderstanding of that.He said: “My aspirations for the country, and I believe we can achieve it, is for 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see .  .  . Which means we have to be a lot more productive. Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we are going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

Jeb! suffers from the Republican blame-the-worker syndrome. He says, “Workforce participation has to rise,” as if unemployed workers chose to be laid off and languish in a life of insecurity without regular paychecks.

Jeb! and his GOP buddies should blame those actually at fault: the nation’s highly profitable corporations that cheat America’s highly productive workers. Corporations need to rise to the occasion and hire workers at decent wages. Corporations must reward workers for their increased productivity by paying them time and a half when they work longer hours.

It’s the GOP that’s in a rut. It’s a mental ditch from which they fling mud on workers endlessly while shielding corporations and the rich, like Jeb!, from responsibility. Jeb! can go ahead and crack his whip. But he should make sure wage-stealing corporations and the idle rich are at the other end.

Jeb Bush Shows He Is Complete Out Of Touch With Real Working Families

Image by Gage Skidmore

Image by Gage Skidmore

I am sure you have already seen this but I feel that I cannot let Jeb Bush’s comments go by without taking a few minutes to talk about them.

In a recent interview with the Union Leader, Jeb said, “people should work longer hours.”

Are you kidding me? This is a asinine statement from an out of touch wealthy 1%-er, who does not understand what us little people have to do just to pay our bills. When you are a wealthy career politician who won the genetic lottery to be born into an ultra-wealthy family it is easy to see why it is so easy for Jeb to say people need to work more hours.

ABC US News | World News

Jeb Bush is currently worth an estimated $12,000,000 dollars, which is up over $10 million since he left office as Governor of Florida in 2007.   During the past few years Jeb enjoyed a very lucrative speaking career earning over $50,000 per speech.

It must be hard to make ends meet when you earn more in one speech than 50% of American’s earn in a year.

His full statement only adds to the fact that he has no idea what American workers are going through.

“…we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in,” said Bush.

Let me break this down for you Jeb, because it is clear to me you need some serious help.

People are already working more and more hours per week. A Gallop poll released in 2014 show that the average weekly hours worked is 47, and nearly 40% report working in excess of 50 hours per week.

Hours Worked GalluP


For those who are paid a flat salary work even more with at whopping 25% reporting working over 60 hours a week.

Have you met Dawn? She was a full time salaried employee from Dollar General. She enjoys a reasonable $34,000 a year salary and for working over 70 hours a week.

Dawn’s story in nothing new and show exactly why we have to fix our broken overtime policies. Under the new overtime directive from President Obama, workers who makes a salary less than $50,000 a year would be paid overtime for every hour worked over 40.

The biggest problem I have with Jeb Bush’s statement is that we as Americans need to work more hours and be more productive which will result in higher wages.

It has been proven over and over that American’s are working more hours and are more productive than we have ever been. Between 1973 and 2013 workers pay rose a meager 9% while productive rose a whopping 73%.

Our collective rise in productive has lead to massive gains by those at the top. The average CEO pay is now over 290 times higher than the average worker. That is an increase of 937% since 1978.

The idea that we need to work longer hours and we will see continued growth in our incomes is a great idea, however facts prove otherwise.

The idea that Americans need to work longer is truly frightening when you add to the fact that Jeb Bush is advocating for “entitlement reforms” that would force people to work until they are 70.

“I think we need to raise the retirement age, not for people that are already nearing, receiving Social Security, or already on it, but raise it gradually, over a long period of time for people that are just entering the system,” Bush said. “And I think we need to do that in relatively short order.”

Imagine being 69 years old, working 5 days a week for 10 hours a day or more. Is the kind of future we really want?

This entire statement by Jeb Bush just shows how out of touch with regular American’s he really is. People do not need to work longer hours and be more productive, we need our employers to actually raise the wages to compensate us for the productivity gains we have made in the past.

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.


Worker Wins Update: Collective Action Results in Collective Gains in a Big Month for Workers

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

Walmart Workers Greet Wage Hike With A Smile: After years of collective actions calling for a raise in wages, Walmart workers won a huge victory as the largest private employer in the United States announced it will soon raise wages to $10 an hour for its lowest-level employees.

Brooklyn Cablevision Workers Get Clear Picture of Bright Future with New Contract: After three years of negotiations, Cablevision workers in Brooklyn, NY have signed a contract with the company, becoming the first workers in the company to earn a union contract.

Rocky Mountain Bus Drivers Deliver Workplace Protections Through Organizing: Colorado bus drivers have organized a vote on establishing a union for workers in an attempt to strengthen their regional transportation system. Drivers assert that raising wages would keep veteran drivers in the system and ensure quality service.

The Nutmeg State’s Spicy Good News: More Union Members: According to the US Department of Labor, 24,000 Connecticut workers joined unions last year. These gains include more than 1,500 University of Connecticut graduate students, and major worker wins in the health care and construction industries.

Workers See Green as Organizing Efforts Pay Off: Last week, workers at a major medical cannabis production facility in Minnesota have voted to organize, making it the first medical marijuana facility in the state to do so.

Columbia University Graduate Student Employees Make the Grade With Union Push: In mid-February, The Graduate Workers of Columbia filed a petition with the NLRB to reopen a case that denied graduate student employees the ability to become a recognized union. This filing comes after a majority of Columbia University graduate student employees signed cards to organize a union.

Nurses Show Organizing Is the Right Prescription for Better Pay, Rights: Northern California nurses are getting their voices heard through an organizing campaign that would create a new union for nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. Workers have cited need for additional financial stability and workplace protections.

Today’s Lesson – Fighting for the Rights of Workers: More than 750 Boston University adjunct professors voted to form a union in a fight for better workplace rights and pay. February’s vote comes on the heels of a growing trend of universities to use lower-paid adjunct professors.

Low-Wage Workers in Oakland Raise Hopes After Raising Wages: The minimum wage in Oakland, CA was raised from $9.75 an hour to $12.25 an hour Monday, March 2nd, providing a huge boost for low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet. The increase will impact 48,000 people, a quarter of all workers in Oakland, while also providing paid sick leave to over 56,000 workers.

Philly Families Stay Fit with Paid Sick Leave Law: Workers in Philadelphia achieved a critical victory as the City Council passed legislation to establish mandatory paid sick leave for an estimated 200,000 residents. Philadelphia followed the lead of 16 cities and three states that have enacted similar laws.

Facebook Workers ‘Like’ Better Conditions, Pay Through Union: Facebook shuttle drivers voted to approve a new contract that will raise wages and improve workplace conditions. In addition to Facebook, drivers for major tech companies such Apple, eBay, and Yahoo have also voted to form a union, demonstrating a trend towards better pay and benefits for workers in Silicon Valley.

NAFTA Failed to Live Up to Promises

By Arnie Alpert and Gabriel Camacho

In the twenty years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, millions of Mexicans have been pushed by NAFTA to make the dangerous journey across the border into the United States, many without legal authorization.  The U.S. government has responded by turning the border into a militarized zone, jailing hundreds of thousands of people, and deporting record numbers back across the border.

Militarization of the border began in 1994 with Operation Gatekeeper, which erected fencing, walls, and other barriers between San Diego, CA and Tijuana, Mexico, forcing migrants into dangerous desert terrain.

This was not supposed to happen.

According to NAFTA’s backers, the agreement was supposed to promote prosperity in both countries and actually reduce the pressure to migrate.

President Bill Clinton asserted NAFTA would give Mexicans “more disposable income to buy more American products and there will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home.”

Mexico’s former President, Carlos Salinas, offered a similar opinion:  NAFTA would enable Mexico to “export jobs, not people,” he said in a 1991 White House news conference alongside President George H. W. Bush.

William A. Ormes wrote in Foreign Affairs that NAFTA would “narrow the gap between U.S. and Mexican wage rates, reducing the incentive to immigrate.”

So what happened?  As a precondition for NAFTA, the U.S. demanded drops in Mexican price supports for small farmers.  The agreement itself reduced Mexican tariffs on American products.  These changes meant that millions of Mexico’s small farmers – many of them from indigenous communities – could not compete with the highly subsidized corn grown by U.S. agribusiness that flooded the local Mexican market.

Dislodged from the places where their families had lived for generations, many people did in fact seek employment in export-oriented factories and farms.  But there were too few jobs to go around, and those jobs that were created did not generate the “disposable income” President Clinton had promised.

A 2008 report on “NAFTA’s Promise and Reality” from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded that while half a million manufacturing jobs were created in Mexico from 1994 to 2002, nearly three times as many farm jobs were destroyed.

As for Mexican wages, they went down, not up, during the same period.  “Despite predictions to the contrary, Mexican wages have not converged with U.S. wages,” Carnegie observed.

Unable to earn a living at home or elsewhere in their own country, Mexicans did what people have done for ages; they packed their bags and headed for places where they thought they could find employment.

The experts shaping NAFTA knew that the deal would disrupt the Mexican agricultural sector.  That’s why Operation Gatekeeper was implemented the same year as NAFTA.  It’s impossible to integrate national economies without disrupting local ones – something that should give pause to those proposing new trade agreements today.  The realities of NAFTA should not be replicated.

As the American Friends Service Committee outlines in “A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy,” the U.S. should advance economic policies that reduce forced migration and emphasize sustainable development.  Instead of policies like NAFTA that elevate rights of transnational corporations above those of people, we need alternative forms of economic integration that are consistent with international human rights laws, cultural and labor rights, and environmental protections.

Modern-day free trade agreements are basically arrangements that take rights away from citizens and bestow expansive benefits to multi-national corporations.

Workers on both sides of the border have one thing in common:  they need the ability to organize for higher wages and decent working conditions.   Without the opportunity for workers to benefit from the rewards agreements like NAFTA generate for corporations, “free trade” becomes just another driver of the widening gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else.

With the Obama administration pushing hard to create a new arrangement linking the economies of eleven Pacific rim countries, and another that ties the U.S. economy to that of the European Union, it’s time for a new path.

Arnie Alpert is the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire program director. Gabriel Camacho coordinates the AFSC’s Project Voice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

(This Op/Ed was written by NHLN regular contributor Arnie Alpert and also appeared in the NH Business Review)

The Courts could destroy even MORE of our rights while we wait for Congress to fix Taft-Hartly

1947 CIO rally at Madison Square Garden

1947 Rally at Madison Square Garden

As I promised in yesterday’s post, here are a few examples of how things are getting worse, the longer we wait for Congress to fix (or repeal) the Taft-Hartley Act.

More states have passed so-called “Right to Work” laws. Nevermind what they’re called, RTW laws restrict employers’ rights: they prohibit employers from voluntarily agreeing to “agency fee” clauses in their union contracts. Last year, Indiana and Michigan joined the list of states that restrict employers’ rights; and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is clearly still trying to spread their “model legislation” nationwide.

The Supreme Court will soon decide two cases that could further limit employers’ rights in their dealings with employee unions. Read the New York Times article here.

  • The first case will decide whether employers have the right to agree to remain neutral during a union organizing drive. (Shouldn’t employers be able to allow their employees to make their own decisions about union representation? In many worksites, unions and employers work cooperatively because they share the same goals. Why should federal law require the employer-union relationship to be adversarial, rather than cooperative?)
  • The second case attempts to impose “Right to Work” on the whole country through a court decision — rather than leaving it up to each state to decide for itself whether to limit employers’ rights.  (What happened to that old Tenth Amendment/states’ rights principle?)
  • The second case also challenges whether a state government has the right to allow union representation of home-care workers who are paid by Medicaid.  (Again: are we about to see the federal court system restrict a state government’s exercise of reserved powers?)

Taft-HartleyAnd then there’s Boeing. Just my personal opinion, but… it sure seems to me like Boeing is setting up another chance to litigate all those legal theories it came up with in 2011, back before the Machinists asked the NLRB to drop its complaint about Dreamliner production. The basic question at issue: whether a company has the right to relocate jobs in retaliation for (legally protected) union activity. That 2011 complaint was part of “a very long line of cases that the NLRB has been pressing since the 1940s, when employers began moving work from unionized workplaces in the industrial Northeast to non-unionized workplaces in the Southeast and later the Southwest.” Just think what the impact on unions could be, if Boeing persuades the courts to agree with its legal theories. (Read more NHLN coverage of Boeing here.)

Why am I so concerned about these Court cases (and potential court cases) ?  Well… because the Supreme Court is now headed up by Bush appointee John Roberts.  Back in 2005, he was described as one of the “three possible nominees that big business would cheer” — in part because they thought Roberts might “influence the court to decide more cases deemed critical to business.”  Quoting one observer of that nomination process: “Roberts has spent his career as a mind-for-hire on behalf of the rightwing Republican agenda.”  Quoting another: “if Roberts feels free to overturn precedent… Of particular concern is a return to the Lochner era, a time when free-market capitalists read their ideology into the Constitution by striking down statutes aimed at protecting workers’ health and safety.”

I guess we’re about to find out whether those observers were as accurate in their predictions as President Harry Truman was, in his.

(If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, to read Truman’s prognostications from 1947, click here.)


Sen. Edward M.KennedyAnd, in a sad epitaph for Sen. Ted Kennedy… as far as I can tell, no-one has re-filed the Employee Free Choice Act since he died.

(Read yesterday’s post to learn more about the economic and social problems caused by Taft-Hartley, and one possible reason why Sen. Kennedy filed EFCA to fix them.)

Still Waiting for Congress to fix Taft-Hartley By Passing EFCA

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

It has been a decade since Sen. Ted Kennedy first filed the Employee Free Choice Act.

He filed the bill on Friday, November 21, 2003 – almost exactly 40 years after the death of President John F. Kennedy.

A coincidence? Not likely. Here’s the back story:

The Employee Free Choice Act would restore union organizing rights that were taken away by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. John F. Kennedy was a member of the Congress that passed Taft-Hartley.

“The first thing I did in Congress was to become the junior Democrat on the labor committee. At the time we were considering the Taft-Hartley Bill. I was against it, and one day in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I debated the bill with a junior Republican on that committee who was for it . . . his name was Richard Nixon.” [from a 1960 recording of President Kennedy reflecting on his career]

Both Kennedy and Nixon believed that Nixon won that debate. And just weeks later, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, overriding a veto by President Harry Truman.

President Truman was eerily accurate in his predictions of what the Taft-Hartley Act would do.

Photo from Kheel Center, Cornell University via Flikr/Creative Commons

Photo from Kheel Center, Cornell University via Flikr/Creative Commons

From his radio address to the country:

“The Taft-Hartley bill is a shocking piece of legislation. It is unfair to the working people of this country. It clearly abuses the right, which millions of our citizens now enjoy, to join together and bargain with their employers for fair wages and fair working conditions. …”

“I fear that this type of legislation would cause the people of our country to divide into opposing groups. If conflict is created, as this bill would create it—if the seeds of discord are sown, as this bill would sow them—our unity will suffer and our strength will be impaired.”

From his veto message to Congress:

“When one penetrates the complex, interwoven provisions of this omnibus bill, and understands the real meaning of its various parts, the result is startling. … the National Labor Relations Act would be converted from an instrument with the major purpose of protecting the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively into a maze of pitfalls and complex procedures. … The bill would deprive workers of vital protection which they now have under the law…. This bill is perhaps the most serious economic and social legislation of the past decade. Its effects–for good or ill–would be felt for decades to come.”

Fast-forward through those decades, and read the testimony of former National Relations Labor Board Hearing Officer Nancy Schiffer:

“At some point in my career… I could no longer tell workers that the [National Labor Relations] Act protects their right to form a union. … Over the years, the law has been perverted. It now acts as a sword which is used by employers to frustrate employee freedom of choice and deny them their right to collective bargaining. When workers want to form a union to bargain with their employer, the NLRB election process, which was originally established as their means to this end, now provides a virtually insurmountable series of practical, procedural, and legal obstacles.”

Read this report by researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago:

“Each year in the United States, more than 23,000 workers are fired or penalized for union activity. Aided by a weak labor law system that fails to protect workers’ rights, employers manipulate the current process of establishing union representation in a manner that undemocratically gives them the power to significantly influence the outcome of union representation elections. … Union membership in the United States is not declining because workers no longer want or need unions. Instead, falling union density is directly related to employers’ near universal and systematic use of legal and illegal tactics to stymie workers’ union organizing.”

Read the report by Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner:

“Our findings suggest that the aspirations for representation are being thwarted by a coercive and punitive climate for organizing that goes unrestrained due to a fundamentally flawed regulatory regime … many of the employer tactics that create a punitive and coercive atmosphere are, in fact, legal. Unless serious labor law reform with real penalties is enacted, only a fraction of the workers who seek representation under the National Labor Relations Act will be successful. If recent trends continue, then there will no longer be a functioning legal mechanism to effectively protect the right of private-sector workers to organize and collectively bargain.”

Now, go back and consider President Truman’s most serious prediction from 66 years ago: that the Taft-Hartley Act “would cause the people of our country to divide into opposing groups. If conflict is created, as this bill would create it—if the seeds of discord are sown, as this bill would sow them—our unity will suffer and our strength will be impaired.”

President John F. Kennedy

Think about our national politics.  Isn’t our country divided enough? Isn’t it time to reverse the process started by the Taft-Hartley Act?

It’s been a decade since Sen. Kennedy first filed the Employee Free Choice Act.  Next week, we will mark a half-century since President John F. Kennedy died.


Isn’t it time to yank the roots of discord, start ending the conflict, and heal the division that was created by the Taft-Hartley Act?


To my long-time readers: apologies if this sounds familiar.  Once again, I have just updated last year’s post to reflect the passage of time; there was no reason to write a new post, because things haven’t changed.  So instead of trying to reword things I’ve already said, I’m just going to start using a new hashtag: #dejavu. (You can see all my repeats in one place!)

Actually, it’s not exactly true that “things haven’t changed.”  In this case they are changing — they’re getting worse.  But more on that, tomorrow.

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