It’s National Save for Retirement Week, a time when financial services industry experts offer Americans conventional advice for preparing for their golden years. However, saving for retirement isn’t as simple as these people would have you believe.
A growing number of Americans are struggling just to get by—let alone save for retirement. I should know; I’m one of them. There’s no such thing as a retirement for me.
As an adjunct professor, my wages are so low that I haven’t been saving for retirement. I’ll be working until they carry me out of my job. That’s what makes retirement terrifying for me.
Many of my colleagues around the country share my fears and retirement prospects.
Nearly a third of part-time faculty at our nation’s colleges and universities are living near, at or below the poverty line.
The old adage of spend less and save more doesn’t apply to us.
Although I’ve been teaching writing and literature at small Vermont colleges for more than 35 years, this year I will only earn $10,000. This makes it difficult to save for retirement or anything else. With the help of my modest Social Security income (which is about $900 a month) I just purchased my first home—a mobile home—last year. I’m 67 years old.
You see, saving for retirement isn’t as simple as opening an IRA at your local bank or diversifying your portfolio when you’re an adjunct instructor. In fact, this advice isn’t applicable to many working Americans in today’s economy.
Wealthy corporations have pushed down employee wages and benefits making it harder for the average person to save for retirement. They have also eliminated the pension plans that our parents and grandparents fought for decades ago.
As a result, the availability of retirement savings is often tied to income for today’s workers who have fewer savings options than previous generations. Nearly half of working-age households do not own any retirement account assets. Those of us who aren’t earning the big bucks are unlikely to have a retirement account. Those who do have retirement accounts have virtually no money in them.
According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, the median retirement account balance is $2,500 for all working-age households and $14,500 for near-retirement households.
If the financial services industry wants to help more working families prepare for retirement, it should acknowledge the old advice isn’t working.
Times are changing and so is my profession. Adjuncts around the country are standing together and forming unions to get better pay and benefits. We’re even winning retirement benefits for adjuncts, including those at my job, who didn’t have access to our employer’s plan.
I’m also hopeful that our approach to retirement planning will change too. Several states around the country have begun to address the retirement security crisis faced by low income families by creating plans for people who don’t have access to one at work.
Plans like the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program would help many adjuncts around the country achieve a simple, dignified retirement after lifetime of hard work and playing by the rules. Hopefully, Vermont lawmakers will pass a similar bill soon.
Also, more lawmakers need to do more to make it easier for our nation’s educators to retire by expanding Social Security to increase benefits. After all, teachers do very important work.
This article was originally printed on SEIU.org in October 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Sharyn Layfield is an adjunct professor at St Michael’s College in Vermont.
Trade agreements can be used to boost prosperity on all sides of trade borders by increasing business opportunities, raising wages and increasing choices. Or they can be used to concentrate corporate power, cutting wages and choices.
Guess which model our country’s corporate-written trade agreements have followed? (Hint: look around you: we have ever-increasing concentration of corporate power and concentration of wealth, limited competition, falling wages and limited opportunities to start new businesses.)
One way our corporate-written trade agreements have hurt most of us has been through forcing working people to compete in a race to the bottom. The effects on most of us are just devastating. For example:
“The Men Have Gone To The United States”
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) forced many small Mexican farmers out of business. Many of these small farmers were forced to migrate north in search of a way to make a living.
Look around the rain-fed corn farms in Oaxaca state, and in vast areas of Mexico, and one sees few young men, just elderly people and single mothers.
“The men have gone to the United States,” explained Abel Santiago Duran, a 56-year-old municipal agent, as he surveyed this empty village in Oaxaca state.
… A flood of U.S. corn imports, combined with subsidies that favor agribusiness, are blamed for the loss of 2 million farm jobs in Mexico. The trade pact worsened illegal migration, some experts say, particularly in areas where small farmers barely eke out a living.
In total, nearly 5 million Mexican farmers were displaced while seasonal labor in agro-export industries increased by about 3 million – for a net loss of 1.9 million jobs.iii
The annual number of immigrants from Mexico more than doubled from 370,000 in 1993 (the year before NAFTA went into effect) to 770,000 in 2000 – a 108% increase.
That Was Then, This Is TPP
Now another corporate-written “trade” agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is probably coming before Congress in the “lame duck” session following the election. Like NAFTA, this agreement is likely to cause another forced migration northward from Mexico, Central and South American countries as jobs move from those countries to even lower-wage countries like Vietnam.
The TPP categorically fails to protect workers in the Pacific Rim. As currently drafted, the TPP would increase corporate profits and power while exposing working people to real and predictable harm, including lost jobs and lower wages. Migrant workers already are subject to extreme rights violations in some TPP countries, and this new trade deal would make it even harder for many families to find decent work at home.
The TPP is a recipe for destabilizing communities, perpetuating low wages and stifling labor rights—all of which are factors driving migration.
On a Monday press call discussing the report Celeste Drake, Trade and Globalization Specialist with AFL-CIO, explained how the report shows that TPP is likely to make working families in TPP countries less secure.
The agreement fails workers by offering no transition assistance or safety net for workers who lose their jobs. Mass displacements are not easily remedied which can spur mass migration. Then as economic factors increase migration TPP provides displaced workers with no protections, no labor rights and does not set up a task force to address trafficking and abusive practices by labor recruiters.
Shannon Lederer, AFL-CIO’s Director of Immigration, explained that migration should be a choice not a necessity for survival. Trade should lift all boats, not facilitate a race to the bottom. But TPP would not help to advance these goals. It would in fact make efforts to achieve them harder. She also noted that TPP has a complete lack of protections for migrant workers. Migrant workers face exploitation and trafficking.
The AFL-CIO report explains how TPP will kill jobs in Mexico , Central and South America, forcing people to migrate:
The TPP is poised to disrupt North and Central American supply chains by granting substantial trade benefits, including eventual duty-free access for all TPP countries to the U.S., Mexican and Canadian markets. This will set CAFTA and NAFTA countries up against even lower wage countries in the TPP like Vietnam and Malaysia.
… The inclusion of Vietnam in the TPP is a major concern to apparel workers due to the size of Vietnam’s apparel industry and extensive government subsidies and ownership of large apparel manufacturing facilities. Vietnam is already the second-largest textile and apparel exporter to the United States, shipping more than $11 billion in product to the United States in 2014. This level could surge under the TPP, which would put enormous pressure on Central American manufacturers and workers. Much Central American production could transfer to Vietnam, with its lower wages and authoritarian regime, further degrading Central America’s jobs base and uprooting those dependent on textile jobs.
Likewise, Malaysia’s electronics industry is rife with forced labor, according to the U.S. government’s own reports; yet the TPP would force workers in Mexico’s maquila sector to compete with Malaysian production standards. Loose rules of origin requirements mean that competition not only will come from Vietnam and Malaysia, but also China. Workers in the Americas displaced by these factors may have few options but to emigrate in search of better opportunities in the United States and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, changing economic opportunities associated with increased production and growth in countries like Brunei, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam could amplify job churn and both “push” and “pull” workers into countries with poor labor rights records.
TPP offers nothing to protect these workers or protect the rest of us from the resulting race to the bottom. But maybe that’s the point.
This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 26, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.
Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.
Last year, at age 17, Eli Fishel moved out of her parents’ house in Vancouver, Washington, squeezing into a three-bedroom apartment with five other roommates. To pay her bills as she finished high school, Fishel landed a job at Burgerville, a fast-food chain with 42 outlets and more than 1,500 employees in the Pacific Northwest.
Founded in 1961, Burgerville has cultivated a loyal following by emphasizing fresh, local food, combined with sustainable business practices like renewable energy and recycling. But Fishel quickly realized she wasn’t part of Burgerville’s commitment to “regional vitality” and “future generations.”
After 16 months on the job, she earns just $9.85 an hour, barely above the Washington State minimum wage. Her hours and shifts fluctuate weekly, with only a few days’ notice, and every month she goes hungry because she runs out of money to buy food.
Speaking of the privately-owned Burgerville, Fishel says, “We’re poor because they’re rich, and they’re rich because we’re poor.”
Disgruntled Burgerville workers began covertly organizing in 2015. The Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) went public on April 26 with a march of more than 100 people through Portland, Oregon, and the delivery of a letter to the corporate headquarters in Vancouver. BVWU demands include a $5-an-hour raise for all hourly workers, recognition of a workers organization, affordable, quality healthcare, a safe and healthy workplace, and fair and consistent scheduling with ample notice.
Some BVWU members call their effort “Fight for $15, 2.0,” playing off the name of the fast-food worker campaign launched in 2011 by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
SEIU has won plaudits for making the plight of low-wage workers a national issue and igniting the movement for new laws boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But the campaign has not, thus far, included efforts to unionize individual workplaces.
Unlike Fight for $15, which Middlebury College sociology professor and labor expert Jamie McCallum describes as “a fairly top-down campaign,” BVWU is a worker-initiated and -led project backed by numerous labor organizations. The group of Burgerville workers who came up with the idea includes members of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a militant union with West Coast roots that date back to the early 1900s. The campaign has the backing of the Portland chapter of IWW and the support SEIU Local 49, the Portland Association of Teachers, and Jobs with Justice.
This scrappy approach enabled BVWU to leapfrog Fight for $15 by declaring a union from the start. While BVWU has not yet formally petitioned for recognition and Burgerville has not chosen to voluntarily negotiate with it, the union has established worker committees in five stores, is developing units in a similar number of shops and counts scores of workers as members.
BVWU is full of lessons in how organizing works. One member likens the campaign to “low-level guerrilla warfare” with workers maneuvering to increase their ranks, build power on the shop floor, expand the terrain from shop to shop, while skirmishing with managers over the work process, and suffering casualties as some members have quit or say they were pushed out of their jobs at Burgerville. In the workplace, the strategy is to develop leaders, form committees for each store, and nurture trust and respect between workers. Outside, BVWU uses direct action to empower workers and bring suppliers into the conversation. The union also works to build community support by mobilizing social-justice groups, clergy, and organized labor to win over the public and pressure the company.
McCallum says that BVWU an example of social movement unionism. “It’s about organizing as a class against another class,” he says. “It’s to win demands not just against a single boss or to change a law, but to engage in class struggle.”
Beyond the Fight for $15
McCallum also sees the campaign as an attempt to build on Fight for $15. “For the first time since the Justice for Janitors campaign began 30 years ago, we have low-wage workers who are people of color working with traditional unions to change politics,” he says. “If the IWW is interested in pushing that agenda forward to make it more democratic and radical, that’s awesome.”
Fight for $15 is “one of the most successful and inspiring labor victories in the last 20 years,” says McCallum. “They’ve accomplished things, like doubling the minimum wage, thought impossible three years ago. They managed to raise the profile of low-wage workers in a failing economy.” He acknowledges, however, that Fight for $15 is “largely political organizing.”
“It doesn’t require a mass base. It requires mobilized workers with incredibly talented organizers to move sympathetic politicians in a defined geographic area,” McCallum says.
To that end, Fight for $15 devotes considerable money and effort to media. A Fight for $15 strategy document called “Strike in a Box” lists these criteria for a “good [organizing] site to focus on”: “Is it an iconic brand? Does the brand help tell a story, locally and/or nationally? Do we have spokespeople? Trained? Reliable? Experienced? Do we have stories? Compelling worker stories, Horror stories about site practices (wage theft, sexual harassment, etc).”
By contrast, Burgerville worker Flanagan says BVWU uses media primarily as a tool to foster the growth of the union along with worker solidarity and consciousness. She says media helps “connect the dots between our personal struggles and collective struggle.” She adds that explaining what unions do and how they organize helps to educate “my generation, which has very little understanding of unions.”
Indeed, although the Fight for $15 demands “$15 and a union,” SEIU has made a strategic decision not to attempt to organize the nation’s tens of thousands of fast-food restaurants shop by shop. “The NLRB has old rules for small shops,” Kendall Fells, Fight for $15’s organizing director, told Working in These Times in May. “This movement is too large to be put in that process.”
Adriana Alvarez, a Chicago McDonald’s worker, says that while Fight for $15 may not be a formal union, “We’re acting like a union, not waiting for anyone to tell us we can have one.”
“To me a union is workers joining together to accomplish things we wouldn’t be able to achieve on our own,” Alvarez says. “And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing—coming together and winning life-changing raises for 20 million Americans, including more than 10 million who are on the way to $15. By standing together, we’ve gone from powerless to having powerful voices in our stores.”
If SEIU can prove that McDonald’s calls the shots in its franchises, it could also push open the door to unionizing the whole company at once instead of the Sisyphean task of one franchise at a time. Deploying organizers, researchers and lawyers, SEIU has gathered evidence for 181 cases alleging that McDonald’s controls its franchisees’ employment practices and therefore should be held accountable for unfair labor practices in franchisees, including retaliation against workers who supported unionization. In 2014, the NLRB issued a preliminary finding in favor of SEIU’s case and, then the next year in a separate case involving Browning Ferris Industries of California the labor board revised the definition of joint employer to “consider whether an employer has exercised control over terms and conditions of employment through an intermediary.” Years later, the McDonald’s case is still grinding its way through a judicial process, with a multi-city case being argued before an administrative law judge that was kicked back to the NLRB on October 12. If the board finds or any of the court cases, which includes multiple class-action suits SEIU has backed against McDonald’s for wage theft, determine that McDonald’s is a joint employer with its franchisees, that may finally open the door to a company-wide union drive.
“It’s a huge amount of work”
The Burgerville campaign’s strategy of painstakingly organizing shop by shop emphasizes “building worker power,” which is both “a means and a goal,” says Flanagan.
For BVWU, the initial organizing drive was relatively easy, with workers chafing at difficult working conditions and poverty-level wages.
Debby Olson, 49, a military veteran, has worked at Burgerville since her home-cleaning business tanked during the Great Recession. She says the “people are nice, but the pay is horrible.” After six years, she makes $10.75 an hour.
Olson, says the job is “harder than my house-cleaning business. You are literally moving all day. For hours you don’t get to breathe. When I get home, I’m mentally and physically exhausted.”
Five other Burgerville workers also described the pace as non-stop. Olson reduced her full-time schedule to three days a week because, as she says, “I could barely walk when I got off work and my quality of life was really poor. It’s scary that my feet were getting so damaged that it could affect my ability to get another job or enjoy my later years.”
Burgerville’s lure is gourmet-style food, sourced locally from “988 farms, ranches, and artisans,” which requires labor-intensive preparation. Luis Brennan, 27, a two-year Burgerville employee, says, “The job is really hard. We actually cook the food. We core strawberries, we hand-blend milkshakes. We cook the meat and eggs fresh, we cut the onion rings and batter them twice. It’s a huge amount of work.”
The Burgerville campaign builds on the IWW’s experience over the last decade in fast-food organizing at Jimmy John’s and Starbucks. Picking a regional chain works to the benefit of the union as it can exert more pressure because Burgerville doesn’t have the might of a global food giant and its carefully crafted image is ripe for attack.
The public may eat up buzzwords like local, fresh and sustainable, but Burgerville’s rhetoric sticks in workers’ throats. Fishel says that despite a 70 percent discount for food on shift, she still sometimes can’t afford it.
“If your workers are going without food, how can you say you are a better, more sustainable option for your community?” she asks.
“This is my community”
Building a workplace organization has been a transformative experience for workers. Fishel says, “Being in the union has been very uplifting, inspiring, and super-positive to come together with so many people. We deserve a living wage, to be treated with respect and to have more than what we have right now.”
Claire Flanagan, 26, who’s worked at the chain since June 2015, says, “The union has changed people’s relationship with the job and work. It’s gone from being a place I go to work to pay my bills to feeling invested in our coworkers and the job in a much deeper way. This is my community.”
Burgerville is hardly rolling over, however. Flanagan says, “The company has dug in their heels and refuses whatever we ask for.” She alleges in her store, “Managers spread anti-union rumors and encourage workers to talk shit about the union as a way to gain favoritism. The company is engaged in a misinformation campaign and spreading fear.”
But BVWU members keep the heat on whether by wearing a union button on the job or tussling over floor mats. Members are demanding mats to ease the stress of standing for hours. Management relented in a few stores, but the mats have emerged as a proxy war. Flanagan says despite having mats, managers will put them away and she will bring them back out.
Jordan Vaandering, 26, says of workers at his outlet, where he’s been for a year, “We own the culture whereas before it was management pushing people to meet speed of service times, meet sales goals.”
Building worker power
BVWU’s strategy is known as “minority unionism” because BVWU may not have a majority in each shop willing to declare support for a union. This sort of organizing circumvents a federal labor-law process that makes union elections difficult, time-consuming and expensive. But BVWU utilizes the NLRB process when it is to its advantage, such as by filing unfair labor practice charges that allege Burgerville is illegally retaliating against the union and workers.
Burgerville worker Brennan says BVWU relies on the IWW model: “It teaches, ‘You’re a worker who hates your job, here’s how to build a committee.’ ” Each organized store began with a committee and grew from there.
One useful question, says Brennan, is asking workers, “What could you do with $5 an hour more?” He says talking to coworkers about “what they need changed and why they need it changed helps to break down the walls of silence around hard stuff in our lives.”
Brennan explains, “Building relationships in the workplace is not natural, but it’s deeply human. The workplace is full of power relationships and incredibly constrained by the boss, by pay, by gender, by race, by language. You need to get to know someone to know whether or not they will fight and why they’ll fight.”
These relationships come into play when management goes after workers. One notable case involves Ivy Fleak, a member whom BVWU claims was targeted by management “for standing up on the job and standing up against sexual harassment.” Flanagan says, “They took Ivy off the schedule for two weeks. We organized actions and a vigil. She spoke out publicly and won, receiving back pay for when she was off-schedule.”
Flanagan says, “People related to Ivy’s story,” which boosted support for the union. “At another job they saw someone being targeted or fired for standing up, or that happened to them. Being part of the union means when I’m at work, I know people have my back.”
BVWU claims Fleak was later forced to quit under pressure after the company allegedly threatened to file spurious criminal charges against her for gift-card theft. Burgerville declined to comment on her case, saying,“Burgerville is dedicated to continuously enhancing our relationship with our employees. We do not comment on individual employee matters or internal communications.” The company also opted not to comment on the BVWU campaign or on complaints about wages and working conditions.
In the case of another BVWU supporter fired over a workplace accident, the union organized a delegation of 50 people to the corporate headquarters asking for the worker’s job back and conducted a food drive for the worker. It publicized the firing to make the case that Burgerville pushes workers“past their limits” and demanded a transparent disciplinary process. More than half the workers in that outlet also signed a petition asking for the worker to be rehired. The worker remains fired.
BVWU members view the firings as part of a wider anti-union campaign. The company has set up a website to “inform” workers of their rights, but which discourages them from unionizing. Store managers have also been holding anti-union sessions with workers, where they play a video featuring Burgerville CEO Jeff Harvey. In the video, Harvey states, “I don’t think a union is in the best interest of the company, our employees, our suppliers, or our guests.” He admits, “Burgerville understands employees face certain challenges like transportation, food, and housing to name just a few.” Harvey then claims, “We have spent well over a year looking into the pressing issues that concern you [but] can’t act” as “under current labor laws, we are obligated to maintain the status quo.”
Flanagan claims when Burgerville says it has to “maintain the status quo,” what it’s really saying to workers is, “If you didn’t get a raise, blame the union.” On August 15, Burgerville Workers Union filed four charges of unfair labor practices with the NLRB, including one concerning the anti-union video. Labor law is fuzzy on the issue. Companies are prohibited from increasing benefits during a traditional union election campaign, but as a minority union, BVWU is acting outside of this framework as a minority union.
BVWU has also taken the offensive by hitting at the company’s public image. The worker-organizers have kept up a brisk pace for five months, averaging an action a week such as vigils, marches, pickets and a bicycle ride. When BVWU members visited Liepold Farms near Portland, which supplies Burgerville with berries for its signature shakes, to ask for support, the farm owner was taken aback but accepted their letter. Shortly after BVWU was unveiled, dozens of workers, local labor leaders, activists, and clergy packed the corporate headquarters in support.
Knowing they have the backing of the community bolsters the confidence of workers on the shop floor. Flanagan says the current plan is to “build organizational capacity and infrastructure to pull off larger actions.”
Time may be on the side of BVWU. The more shops the union can organize, the more workers who join, and the more community support it builds, the likelier it is BVWU will force Burgerville to the bargaining table, with or without a majority union. Then the Burgerville Workers Union may be the one opening new outlets.
To find out more about the Burgerville Workers Union, go to burgervilleworkersunion.org.
This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on October 25, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Arun Gupta is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York and has written for dozens of publications including the Washington Post, the Nation, The Progressive, Telesur English, and the Guardian. He is the author of the upcoming Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food-Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste (The New Press).
This week, North Carolina found out it is not getting 730 new jobs and a quarter-billion-dollar impact that it was the top contender for. The reason? Its anti-LGBT law, HB2, which bans trans people from using the bathroom and bars municipalities from protecting LGBT people from discrimination.
CoStar Group Inc., a real estate analytics company, had been shopping around cities to build a new research operations headquarters, and the contenders were Charlotte, Richmond, Atlanta, and Kansas City. The Atlanta Business Chronicle heard from sources that Charlotte was the favorite. But the jobs are going to Richmond.
According to David Dorsch, CoStar Group’s commercial real estate broker, “The primary reason they chose Richmond over Charlotte was HB2.” CoStar Group was itself, a bit mum, simply confirming the jobs were going to Richmond-and no expansions were planned anywhere else. But Dorsch was adamant that the jobs were another casualty of the discriminatory law. “The best thing we can do as citizens in North Carolina is to show up on Nov. 8 and think about which party is costing us jobs and which one is not.”
Co-Star’s expansion is the latest-and one of the biggest-losses the state has faced over HB2. In April, PayPal backed out of a 400-job expansion in Charlotte and Deutsche Bank froze a 250-job expansion in Cary-both companies openly stating they refused to expand in a state with such a discriminatory law.
Additionally, there are countless conventions, entertainers, and film companies that have backed out of economic commitments in North Carolina. Numerous states have even banned state-funded travel to the state. Plus, the state has to spend money to defend the law in court; the legislature even redirected $500,000 from emergency relief funds to cover the legal costs. That was before Hurricane Matthew devastated the state with massive flooding, and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) insists that even though he didn’t veto that measure, he hasn’t actually spent that money (yet).
But McCrory’s administration denies there’s been any backlash whatsoever. His Commerce Secretary, John Skvarla, insisted this week that HB2 “hasn’t moved the needle one iota.” Indeed, he claimed that the state is financially and operationally in the “best position” it’s ever been.
As the Charlotte Observer pointed out, this doesn’t jibe with the losses that local business leaders have reported because of decreased tourism and development. Johnny Harris, a real estate developer in Charlotte, believes that “ for every one company that decides to relocate to North Carolina that another 10 probably are not, deterred by HB2.”
They’re not in total denial, though. Skvarla also admitted that the state made PayPal give back a ceremonial wooden bowl that McCrory had given to the company as a gift celebrating the original plan to expand in North Carolina. As the Observer described it, “state officials did what any jilted ex might: Asked for their stuff back.”
It could be that because the boycotts were either new expansions that don’t appear as losses or recurring events that haven’t happened again yet, they don’t show up in Skvarla’s numbers. But the numbers do show up.
In September, Facing South estimated that, based only on the backlash that was evident so far at the time, the law’s cost would be well over $200 million. Wired similarly crunched the numbers in September and found losses approaching $400 million. And back in May, the Williams Institute made a similar estimate, but also counted the $4.8 billion in federal funding North Carolina receives that it would no longer be eligible for because of its enforcement of HB2 in schools and universities?—?a grand total of $5 billion in potential losses, per year.
This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on October 25, 2016.
Reprinted with permission.
Zack Ford is the LGBT Editor at ThinkProgress.org. Gay, Atheist, Pianist, Unapologetic “Social Justice Warrior.” Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.
Fifteen dollars shouldn’t be too much to ask – or demand.
In almost every state, a worker needs more than $15 an hour to make ends meet. Add in student debt, and the minimum living wage shoots up to $18.67 an hour nationally. A family with children needs significantly more.
That’s according to new research from People’s Action Institute, which calculates the national living wage at $17.28. A living wage is the pay a person needs to cover basic needs like food, housing, utilities and clothing, along with some savings to handle emergencies.
In some states, the living wage is much higher. New Jersey, Maryland, and New York have a living wage greater than $20 per hour for a single adult. In Hawaii and Washington, D.C., that figure hits almost $22 per hour. No state has a living wage for a single adult lower than $14.50 an hour.
This is the first report in the annual Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series to factor in the $1.3 trillion in student debt owed by college students nationwide into the calculation of what a living wage should be nationally and in the states.
“Students should not be saddled with thousands of dollars in debt after graduation. However, those who do graduate with debt need jobs that pay enough to make ends meet,” the report says. “And, making ends meet should include not only basic necessities like food and housing, but the ability to put aside money for savings and to pay off existing debt.”
In addition to calling for increasing the federal minimum wage to a living wage and eliminating the tipped subminimum wage, usually paid to people like restaurant servers, the report also calls for expanding tax-free student debt forgiveness and reinvesting in higher education to eliminate the need for student loans to begin with.
“We Just Choose Bills Out Of a Hat”
In Iowa, where the living wage is $15.10 an hour for a single person – twice the state minimum of $7.25 – and higher for families with children, people are doubling and tripling up on jobs, rooming together, and even turning to predatory payday loans.
Tonja Galvan is one of those Iowans. She makes a bit more than $20 an hour at the John Deere plant in Ankeny, near Des Moines, where she lives with her mother, daughter, and granddaughter. Even with three generations of the family working – her mother and granddaughter are paid much lower wages – they can never catch up.
“When we can’t pay everything,” Galvan says, “we just choose bills out of a hat to see what we’ll pay and what we’ll push to the next month.”
Galvan sees many other families struggling – and she’s helping take charge in a campaign with the Iowa Citizen for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI). Galvan has joined other workers, teachers, service providers, and other Iowans to press for a higher wage floor, hitting the doors in her community and speaking with county supervisors.
They’ve scored wins in four counties around the state – Johnson, Linn, Polk, and Wappelo – with a phase-in of new wage floors ranging from $10.10 to $10.75. (Johnson County’s will also be pegged to the consumer price index.)
Iowa CCI organizer Matthew Covington calls the increases “a step in the right direction,” but he’s the first to say they’re just a step. His organization is now making sure cities in Polk County match that county minimum, take it higher, and close exemptions for the restaurant and grocery industries. Meanwhile, Iowa CCI also has their sights set on the state legislature.
In Colorado, a coalition of nonprofits, faith groups, and small businesses are taking a different approach for raising the wage floor. They’re turning to the ballot box.
An initiative supported by this coalition, Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, would gradually increase the hourly minimum statewide to $12 by 2020.
In fact, Lizeth Chacón, executive director of Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA) and co-chair of the coalition, says the number of jobs grew after the state’s last minimum wage increase, in 2006. Those gains were seen in restaurants, small businesses, and rural areas. The number of small businesses in the state also increased.
“Small businesses helped put this proposal together,” says Chacón. “They said, ‘We’re already paying our staff more because we want them to be able to support their families and stay with us.’”
The People’s Action Institute living wage figures show just how needed these fierce campaigns are. As Iowa CCI’s Covington knows, the numbers aren’t academic. “The more we talk about actual costs,” he says, “the more it helps.”
This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 25, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.
Julie Chinitz is currently the special projects director for Alliance For A Just Society. She previously served as policy director from 2010 to 2012 and as a staff attorney/policy analyst from 2002. She developed projects combining participatory research, policy analysis, and base-building. Prior to joining the Alliance, she was an Equal Justice Fellow with Northwest Health Law Advocates, where she launched a program to increase access to health care in Washington’s Yakima Valley. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and Columbia University School of Law and has worked extensively with public interest and human rights organizations.
After going without a contract for more than a year, and with their administration withdrawing from negotiation, faculty at Pennsylvania state colleges and universities (but not including Pennsylvania State University, confusingly enough) went on strike Wednesday. The administration is running the usual “oh, those greedy workers” playbook because the faculty don’t want to make concessions on healthcare expenses that other workers have been pressured into.
Union President Ken Mash stood outside the chancellor’s office building Thursday afternoon in Harrisburg to push for a resumption of contract talks.
“If they want to come out and right now and negotiate, we’re willing to go ahead and do that,” Mash said. “But, I don’t want to be totally unfair either, because they do have my cellphone number, so if they want to call later on and say that they’re ready to negotiate, we’re ready to do that too.”
This might have a little something to do with the faculty’s grievances:
State funding for the system, at $444 million this year, is about the same as it was 17 years ago, even as full-time enrollment has risen more than 10 percent.
The union also balks at having to take on other duties without compensation, including a 67 percent increase in the supervision of interns who go into the business world. The increase would raise the annual allotment of interns to 120. The union also balks at cuts to competitive grants for research and professional development. Another issue is the state system’s plan to put part-time adjunct professors on a lower pay scale for the first time. And it objects to changes in the promotion, tenure and grievance rules.
This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on October 22, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.
A new report finds that the United States fails to uphold the most basic rights of workers, particularly in the South, where some states “support or collude with employers to infringe upon workers’ rights to peaceful assembly and association.” The report cited examples such as Tennessee officials’ opposition to unionization at a Volkswagen plant and the “government of Mississippi [which] touts the lack of unionization as a great benefit when courting potential employers.”
Maina Kiai, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and author of the report,stated that while governments are “obligated under international law to respect, protect and fulfill workers’ rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association,” many fail to enable, protect or enforce these fundamental rights, “disenfranchising millions of workers.”
Kiai, a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist, spent more than two weeks in several U.S. cities researching workers’ rights. He met with Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi; United Steelworkers (USW) members at Novelis in New York, and Asarco in Arizona; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)-member carwash workers in New York City; UNITE HERE hotel workers in New York and Arizona; and AFT-member teachers in Louisiana.
Kiai experienced firsthand the many obstacles our nation’s workers need to overcome to organize and bargain for a better life. He made clear that the United States needs to do more, both domestically and in the global supply chains of our companies, “where some of the worst abuses of freedoms of association and peaceful assembly are found—and where migrant workers are often concentrated.”
As the report found: “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are…key to the realization of both democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold governments accountable and to empower human agency.” Unfortunately, the United States is a long way from meeting this standard.
This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on October 21, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Aaron Chappell writes for AFL-CIO about the right to unionize and collective bargaining.
People have figured out that our country’s “trade” deals haven’t been working our so well for “our country.” A visit to Flint, Detroit or almost any town, city, state or region that was built around manufacturing make it clear what we have done. Shifting jobs and factories to places where people are paid squat and are forced to work long hours with few protections while the environment is sacrificed might have put a lot of money into the pockets of already-wealthy executives and Wall Street “investors” but it hurt almost everyone and almost everywhere else in the country.
With the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) coming up for a vote in the “lame duck” session of Congress following the election, and a new President coming in January, many are looking for a different way to do “trade.”
The way word “trade” is used in current discussions is misleading. “Trade” used to be about “trading” banana for cars. Bananas can only be grown in certain regions, and cars werealready being made in other regions. “Trade” meant the people who made cars could get bananas and the people grew bananas could get cars. Everyone benefited.
But “trade” has instead come to mean one and only one thing: moving jobs and production to low-paying areas that don’t spend to protect the environment, so executives and “investors” can pocket the savings. The regions production was relocated to did not have existing regional expertise in “making cars” (as in the “bananas example. Making smart phones is a better example.) The factories were not already located in these regions. The ecosystem of expertise, supply chains, etc. was not yet in existence. The only pre-existing regional specialty, or “comparative advantage” of the low-wage regions was governments that to one degree or another kept the wages low, kept the unions (and resulting worker protections) out and let the factories pollute freely. China, for example.
Manufacturing was hit hard, and so were workers outside manufacturing—especially those without a college degree—as these areas lost their economic vitality. Contrary to the optimistic forecasts offered by many economists, workers didn’t magically get jobs in new places and new industries; instead, they faced worse employment prospects and lower wages—if they found jobs at all.
The biggest problem with our country’s trade policies is that the process of negotiating the deals has been “captured” by interests representing giant multinational corporations. As a result “trade” is not about “trade” at all, and “trade deals” are really about limiting the power of governments to make decisions that corporation don’t like.
Consider the Trans-Pacific Partnership: A 2014 Post infographic reveals that more than 500 official U.S. trade advisers representing corporate interests had special access to TPP negotiators and texts while the public, press and Congress were shut out.
Wallach says one result of this corporate-dominated process is “trade” agreements loaded up with “goodies” for corporations, and the deals “have been used as a backdoor delivery mechanism for the corporate-favored-versions of non-trade policies.” These “goodies” include moving multinational corporations — but not domestic corporations — outside of our own legal system:
Only nine of the TPP’s 30 chapters cover trade matters like cutting tariffs. Much of the rest is a smorgasbord of corporate goodies, such as the requirement that signatory countries protect pharmaceutical companies from having to compete with generic medicines, thereby raising consumer prices.
Another key provision grants new rights to thousands of multinational corporations to sue the U.S. government before a panel of three corporate lawyers. These corporations need only convince the lawyers that a U.S. law, regulation or court ruling violates the new privileges TPP grants them, and the lawyers can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by America’s taxpayers — including for the loss of expected future profits. The decisions are not subject to appeal.
Unfortunately, both the trade debate and trade negotiations have long been co-opted by multinational corporate interests at the expense of workers and consumers both here and abroad. Fortunately, this election season has finally elevated that reality. The days when elites, both here and elsewhere, could ignore those who perceive themselves as hurt (on net) by globalization are hopefully gone, if not for good, than for a number of years.
There are millions of very bright people in Mexico, India, China and other developing countries who would be happy to train to U.S. standards and work as doctors and lawyers in the United States. However, because these groups have far more political power than manufacturing workers, we have maintained walls that largely prevent foreign professionals from competing with our own doctors and lawyers.
The result is that these professionals have seen substantial increases in real wages over the last four decades and the rest of us pay hundreds of billions of dollars more each year for health care, legal services, and other items. The cost to the economy from this protectionism is almost certainly an order of magnitude greater than any potential gains from a trade deal like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In spite of the enormous economic costs, the power of these professions largely prevents economists or the media from even discussing the protectionism enjoyed by professionals.
So What Can Be Done?
How can we negotiate trade agreements that are actually about trade and actually benefit people and the environment on all sides of trade borders?
Konczal starts with a suggestion about corporations, one that won’t happen if we have a corporate-dominated process. He writes:
So what can be done? First, we need a progressive vision of what trade deals should look like in the future. Here’s one: At this point in globalization’s spread, these deals are less about direct trading between countries and far more about the regulations that govern multinational corporations as they expand across the globe. We should be sure that trade deals don’t interfere with any country’s ability to regulate corporate behavior.
To get our trade policy redirected back onto trade — that is, to get rid of the protectionist baggage and develop trade terms that benefit U.S. workers and consumers — a new president will need to eliminate the special interest advisory system and greatly increase transparency. We need a new trade pact negotiation and approval process to replace the Nixon-era “Fast Track” regime that sets criteria for appropriate trade partner countries and what must and must not be in agreements. And, unlike our current system, Congress must approve agreements’ contents before they can be signed, making negotiators more accountable to congressional directives.
The new rules must prioritize the economic needs of low- and middle-income families while preserving the democratic, accountable policymaking processes that are essential to creating and maintaining the environmental, consumer, labor, and human-rights policies on which we all rely.
[. . .] A more transparent process with opportunities for meaningful engagement, accountability, and oversight by the public and Congress—rather than the current regime that privileges the commercial interests that have long captured these negotiations—is needed.
Wallach wants trade agreements that benefit not just giant corporate interests but also “U.S. workers and consumers.” Konczal wants agreements that limit corporations rather than unleash them. Bernetein and Wallach ask for transparency; and a democratic, accountable policymaking processes. They write,
U.S. positions on trade deals can be formulated the way other U.S. federal regulations are: through the on-the-record public process established under the Administrative Procedure Act to formulate positions, obtain comments on draft texts throughout negotiations, and seek comments on proposed final texts.
So “trade” shouldn’t just be about the interests of giant corporations. All of us have a stake in how we conduct trade. Trade deals should be negotiated openly with all of the stakeholders on all sides of trade borders involved and finalized in an open and democratic process.
We have the opportunity to accomplish this with a new administration, beginning in January.
This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 20, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.
Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.
The tentative agreement that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) struck with district management less than an hour before a midnight October 10 strike deadline has been hailed by many as a victory. Facing another round of concessionary demands, the union managed to extract $88 million from the mayor’s corporate slush fund to restore some badly needed funding to the school system. The union also managed to win an increase in compensation.
But the way that the compensation is structured—with current teachers keeping their current 7 percent pension “pickup,” and new hires receiving a salary increase in lieu of a pension contribution—has some critics decrying the deal as a solidarity-killing, two-tier contract. A pickup is the percentage of a worker’s pay that an employer puts directly into a pension fund.
The CTU’s House of Delegates meets Wednesday to deliberate over the tentative agreement and vote on whether to send it to the entire membership for ratification. If the deal is rejected, there is no guarantee that management will agree to more of the union’s demands—or even return to the table.
Two-tier contracts are an emotional subject in the labor movement. Beginning in the 1980s, employers used threats of off-shoring and sub-contracting, as well as their legal “right” to permanently replace striking union members, to force a wave of wage and benefit givebacks across many unionized industries. In order to make these cuts more palatable to the members who would have to vote on their ratification, unions negotiated agreements where current workers preserved most of their pay and benefits while future hires would bear the brunt of the cuts.
There are many epithets for this sort of thing, but the most common may be selling out the unborn. These ticking time bombs blow up years later, as the “new” hires become a larger portion of the bargaining unit and resent their veteran colleagues both for their more generous compensation packages and for the fact that the older workers signed away their younger colleagues’ right to enjoy the same. As the veterans become a minority in the workplace, there is an obvious financial incentive for supervisors to push them out through aggressive discipline. In such a situation, worker unity in future rounds of bargaining is hard to achieve.
To be clear, not all “two-tiers” are alike. The powerful New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council accepted a two-tier wage structure after surviving a 27-day strike in 1985. But the tiers only impacted workers during their first year of employment. By year two, all workers were earning the same pay rate. And, decades later, ending the tiered pay scale remained a union bargaining priority.
The United Automobile Workers (UAW) accepted a two-tier pay scale at Chrysler when the company went bankrupt in 2009. It was so severe that new hires earned only half the hourly wage of veteran employees. When members voted down a 2015 successor agreement that did not go far enough in reversing the double standard, the UAW was able to renegotiate a deal that brings newer workers closer to the traditional pay scaleover the course of seven years.
The CTU’s proposed “two-tier” is a bit more of a shell game than those concessions. The fight over Chicago’s 7 percent pension pickup has more to do with symbolism than anyone’s actual paycheck. Pension systems are complicated things that only accountants and union researchers fully understand. But basically, a pension fund needs a certain amount of money coming in every year in order to guarantee a livable retirement income for actual and projected retirees. Currently, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund has set that target at 9 percent of every pension-eligible employee’s annual income.
Before the CTU won collective bargaining rights in the 1960s, teachers had most, if not all, of their pension contributions deducted directly from their paychecks. Over the years, the CTU was able to bargain for 7 of that 9 percent to be contributed directly into the pension fund, instead of paid as a salary increase and then immediately deducted as a personal pension contribution.
Obviously, the difference between putting 7 percent in pension contributions directly versus rolling it into salaries, and then immediately deducting it, makes no financial difference to the employer. But the 7 percent became a visible target for Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It was money they could portray to the public and the press as “extra” compensation that teachers get that other workers don’t and demand that teachers give it up. (It should be noted that Chicago teachers aren’t eligible for Social Security, so their pensions are the only thing that stand between them and an old age spent subsisting on cat food.)
Under the tentative agreement the CTU is considering, the pay for new hires would increase by an additional 3.5 percent in two successive years. It’s not entirely clear how soon new hires would be responsible for paying the full pension contribution.
Teachers at charter schools also participate in the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. Members of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS) at the UNO Charter School Network (UCSN) are currently bargaining over the very same pension pickup, and have set a Wednesday strike deadline.
We were successful. That 7 percent was a part of an overall compensation package we were going to win anyway. But by directing the employer to put it towards the pension, we politicized a different figure: the network’s starting salaries. Because charters compete in the same labor market as the district to recruit new teachers, the salaries they can offer are key. If that 7 percent had simply been rolled into base pay, UCSN would be able to quote starting salaries that appear to be larger than what the district offers, but really aren’t, giving the union leverage to raise wages in future negotiations. Now that starting salaries at Chicago Public Schools will appear to be 7 percent larger—if CTU members ratify the deal—the salaries that UCSN offers will appear even less competitive.
As for ratification of their contract, CTU members have to decide how important the symbolism of that 7 percent is and what impact it will have on future rounds of negotiations. The shifting of that 7 percent from one column in a spreadsheet to another strikes me as a last minute ploy to give Rauner and Emanuel a face-saving narrative that allows them to say they didn’t suffer a humiliating defeat in this round of bargaining.
“This is not a perfect agreement,” said CTU president Karen Lewis. “But it is good for the kids. And good for the clinicians. And good for the teachers, and the paraprofessionals.”
This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on October 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Shaun Richman is a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.
The vast majority of undocumented immigrants who have been given the temporary ability to legally work in the United States are currently employed or attending school—helping them make “significant contributions” to various labor markets—according to a national survey released Tuesday by immigrant advocacy groups.
The survey took a look at 1,308 people who received legal work authorization and deportation relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, an 2012 executive action from the Obama administration aimed at assisting undocumented immigrants who grew up here in the United States.
According to the report, 95 percent of survey respondents are currently employed or enrolled in school. And nearly two-thirds of them reported receiving better pay under DACA, with almost half saying they found a job that “better fits my education and training.” Others said they now have a job with better working conditions.
The report also found that DACA recipients have gone into industries like educational and health services, nonprofit work, wholesale and retail trade, and professional and business services. Close to 6 percent of respondents started their own businesses—twice as high as the entrepreneur rate among the general American public.
The impact of DACA recipients on the U.S. economy has been enormous. Average hourly wages for DACA recipients have gone up by 42 percent, roughly an increase from $9.83 per hour to $13.96 per hour, according to the survey. More than half of all respondents said they recently purchased their first car, while 12 percent purchased their first home.
“These large purchases [of vehicles] matter for state revenue, as most states collect between 3 percent and 6 percent of the purchase price in sales tax, along with additional registration and title fees,” study authors wrote. “The added revenue for states comes in addition to the safety benefits of having more licensed and insured drivers on the roads.”
The survey was conducted by UC San Diego Professor Tom Wong, the advocacy group National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the immigrant rights group United We Dream, and the think tank Center for American Progress. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent website housed within the Center for American Progress.)
This survey echoes findings from a similar report conducted last year, which found that DACA recipients were able to get jobs that better matched their skills and that paid them better wages.
This research helps present a clearer understanding about the impact of the DACA initiative, which from its inception has received sharp criticism from Republicans who say the policy is a show of President Obama’s “executive amnesty overreach.” In fact, Obama’s actions are legal and based on a decades-old legal precedent for the executive branch to exercise prosecutorial discretion for some immigrants who have “non-priority enforcement status.”
About 741,546 undocumented immigrants have benefited under DACA as of mid-September, according to the latest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data.
However, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump—who typically refers to immigrants in disparaging terms and has promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico—has indicated that he would dismantle the DACA initiative altogether if he becomes president.
This blog was originally posted on ThinkProgress on October 18, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Esther Yu-Hsi Lee is the Immigration Reporter for ThinkProgress. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Middle East and Islamic Studies and a M.A. in Psychology from New York University. A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, Esther is passionate about immigration issues from all sides of the debate. She is also a White House Champion of Change recipient. Esther is originally from Los Angeles, CA.
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