• print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

God’s Work: Labor in the Church

Share this post

In this episode, we talk to Rev. Lindsey Joyce of the United Church of Rogers Park in Chicago and the Institute for Christian Socialism. We discuss Pastor Joyce’s life and path to being a full-time pastor and the community she serves. We also discuss the work of ministry: What is it like to be a worker who works in the church? What is the relationship between the higher calling?—?the vocation of being a pastor?—?and the daily labor that goes into fulfilling that role in the church and the community?

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez  is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, ?“a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.


Share this post

Texas and Florida, Defying CDC Guidance, Aren’t Prioritizing Vaccination of Farmworkers

Share this post

Despite Centers for Disease Control recommendations, a few states with large farmworker populations have not prioritized Covid-19 vaccinations for farmworkers. 

Because farmworkers risk Covid-19 exposure in the course of their jobs, the CDC proposed that they should be near the front of the vaccination line. But Texas and Florida, which have large farmworker populations, have not included farmworkers in their initial rollouts, according to state documents.

Farmworker advocates said the people who pick and process the fruits and vegetables consumers rely on should become inoculated from the virus. During the pandemic, farmworkers have been forced to choose between protecting their lives and keeping their jobs.

“We believe that farmworkers should be a high priority for vaccine distribution because of their essential work and because of the high risk of exposure in the agricultural workplace,” said Alexis Guild, Director of Health Policy and Programs at Farmworker Justice.

In Texas, people who are old enough and have a history of illness are the priority, and that could include agricultural workers, said Douglas Loveday, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman.

“Right now, agricultural workers 65 and older and those with underlying chronic illnesses that can lead to several illness or death if infected by Covid-19 can be vaccinated,” he said. ?“Discussions on future priority groups have begun, but nothing has yet been decided.”

Across the U.S., most farmworkers are not over 65. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average age of farmworkers is 39, with over half being younger than 44.

This past summer, Marco Antonio Galvan Gomez, a 49-year old agricultural worker, died from Covid-19 a few weeks after arriving in Texas.

Similarly, only people 65 years old and older, long-term care facility residents and health care personnel are authorized to receive vaccines in Florida, even though farmworkers in the state have been hit hard by Covid-19. For instance, the Immokalee community in southern Florida, known as the capital of tomato production in the U.S., had dozens of deaths over the summer.

Florida’s health department did not return requests for comment.

During the pandemic, farmworkers have been forced to choose between protecting their lives and keeping their jobs. At least 22 farmworkers have died from Covid-19, according to data from the National Center for Farmworker Health. 

As essential workers, farmworkers ?“were required to continue to work throughout the pandemic, but they often have been excluded from protections at the national and state level,” said Kara Moberg, attorney at Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan.

More than half lack health insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2016 National Agricultural Workers Survey. Many employers don’t provide it.

Many workers also live in employer-provided accommodations?—?often in cramped housing with limited options for social distancing. Among those who don’t live in these facilities, it’s also common to live in crowded conditions.

“For workers who do not work or who do not live in employer-provided housing, they still tend to live in crowded housing conditions because of their low wages,” said Alexis Guild of Farmworker Justice. ?“So it’s very hard for them to socially isolate, socially distance.”

An October study by researchers from the University of California San Diego found that farmworkers, especially those who do not speak English and live in poverty, ?“may be at heightened risk for Covid-19 mortality in non-urban counties.”

All states’ distribution plans for vaccines follow a phased approach, but that differs from state to state.

The phases are decided based on vaccine availability. People in groups 1a, 1b and 1c (or equivalent) will receive the vaccine when the supply is limited. As vaccine availability increases, people in the next phases will be able to receive vaccinations, according to the CDC.

The problem with the CDC guidelines is that, similar to safety protections for workers, there is no federal standard for vaccine prioritization, said Jared Hayes, policy analyst for the Environmental Working Group. This is especially problematic for a workforce that frequently moves across state lines, he said.

“One challenge, especially with regard to farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented, is ensuring that they have access to the vaccine,” he said. ?“We’ve seen how badly the vaccine rollout (has been). Imagine how complicated it would be to vaccinate a workforce that is undocumented and migratory.” 

Problems with access, even if states prioritize farmworkers

Most states have followed CDC recommendations on farmworkers, but advocates worry it will be challenging to get the vaccine to them.

North Carolina, plans to vaccinate farmworkers and other frontline essential workers in the state’s Group 3 (equivalent to the CDC’s 1c phase), following healthcare workers and people 65-years old or older, which belong to Groups 1 and 2 respectively, according to the state’s vaccination plan.

As of Feb. 16, only Groups 1 and 2 were eligible to receive vaccines.

“The way that things are rolling out in North Carolina and just the timing of everything, we haven’t really gotten there yet,” said Justin Flores, vice president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), which represents tens of thousands of agricultural workers in the South and Midwest.

In the Midwest, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, which ?“represents hundreds of food and agricultural workers across the state,” complained that these workers are ?“currently not scheduled to receive vaccines until May,” according to an online statement.

Even though agricultural workers are classified as part of phase 1b in the state?—?which meant they were scheduled to receive vaccines as early as mid-January?—?they are not expected to receive vaccination until more than three months after the phase begins, according to Michigan’s prioritization guidance.

Mistrust of authorities, immigration status may lead to few vaccinations

Another problem that advocates see is that a combination of mistrust, fear and misinformation might lead farmworkers to avoid looking for vaccinations in the first place.

“The issue of distribution is really complicated and there’s a lot of fear in many communities,” said Guild, of Farmworker Justice. ?“We’ve heard from our partners on the ground, we’ve heard of mistrust and fears around vaccines.” 

According to some advocates, the role of community organizations in educating and providing critical information will be crucial in the next few months.

“Relying on expecting farmworkers to go to the CVS or a medical health clinic won’t be enough,” Hayes, of the Environmental Working Group, said. ?“We’re going to need to lean on the non-profit organizations that have always served farmworkers to ensure that they actually have access to the vaccine.”

Another reason why agricultural workers are in a vulnerable position with regard to vaccine access is that many of them lack legal immigration status, advocates said.

Roughly half of all farmworkers lack legal immigration status, according to the USDA.

Despite this, some advocates are hopeful that immigration status won’t affect farmworkers’ access to vaccination.

“We certainly hope and it seems to be that immigration status will not be a factor when it comes to the vaccine. We also hope to see the vaccine being free of charge, regardless of immigration status, or regardless of insurance status,” Guild said.

In a press release, the Department of Homeland Security encouraged undocumented workers to get vaccinated, stating that ?“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics.”

“It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the United States have access to the vaccine. DHS encourages all individuals regardless of immigration status, to receive the Covid-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines,” the department said.

North Carolina is not checking immigration status during vaccinations, but some residents told the News & Observer they were still scared to get the vaccine.

In Nebraska, despite the federal government’s emphasis on reaching undocumented workers, Governor Pete Ricketts said in January that only documented workers will receive the vaccine.

Neither the governor’s office nor Nebraska’s health department responded to a request for comment.

Editor’s Note: The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit, online newsroom offering investigative and enterprise coverage of agribusiness, Big Ag and related issues through data analysis, visualizations, in-depth reports and interactive web tools. Visit us online at inves?ti?gatemid?west?.org

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Frank Hernandez is a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso, majoring in philosophy and multimedia journalism. Previously, he reported for Bor?derzine?.com, an online news magazine covering life on the U.S.-Mexico border.


Share this post

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: National Nurses United Leads Coalition to Urge CDC to Acknowledge COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission

Share this post

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

National Nurses United (NNU) is leading a group of 44 allied unions and organizations, including the AFL-CIO—representing more than 13 million members and their communities—to urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to update its COVID-19 guidance to fully reflect the latest scientific evidence regarding coronavirus transmission through aerosols that infected people emit when they breathe, speak, cough, sneeze or sing. Today, NNU’s coalition delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures, including scientific experts, urging the CDC to recognize COVID-19 aerosol transmission.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the nation’s nurses have demanded that the CDC’s guidelines be based on scientific evidence,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of NNU. “Nurses know that to effectively battle this virus, we all need to get on the same page about how it spreads….We urge the Biden administration to honor its commitment to listen to experts in the battle against COVID-19, which includes having CDC and other federal agencies explicitly recognize aerosol transmission.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on February 25, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


Share this post

‘Union guy’ Joe Biden keeps his distance from Amazon union fight

Share this post

When Joe Biden was running for president, he promised union members that he would be the “best friend labor has ever had in the White House.”

Now in office, Biden is keeping his distance from the biggest union fight of his early presidency, one involving a powerful company that gave to his inauguration and has pledged to help his administration fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The White House on Wednesday declined to directly endorse the union election at the e-commerce giant Amazon’s Alabama warehouse, telling POLITICO that, It’s the president’s position — and the policy of the U.S. government — to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining.

A Biden spokeswoman stressed that it’s also White House policy not to comment on the merits of specific cases that are currently before, or likely to be before, the National Labor Relations Board, which adjudicates unionization campaigns.

“President Biden has urged employers not to run anti-union campaigns or interfere with organizing and bargaining, and has called for holding employers accountable and increasing penalties when they do,” the spokeswoman said.

The comments from the White House underscore the delicate political dynamics that exist around the election in Alabama — an election that could result in Amazon’s first unionized factory in America. And they quickly drew a rebuke from labor advocates who still haven’t forgotten about the time former President Barack Obama rebuffed calls to join thousands of public workers protesting against a GOP-led state law that restricted state employees’ ability to unionize, despite previously pledging to walk the picket line on behalf of labor.

“If we don’t have the leader of the free world speaking up and saying, I’ve got these workers’ backs, so that they can actually freely choose their union … We’re leaving them stranded,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA told POLITICO in an interview. “I mean this is a real opportunity for the President to say, I mean what I say… when I put forward the ideals that I have in my labor platform.”

Biden’s labor platform includes passing an historic overhaul of federal labor law that would broadly expand workers’ ability to form unions. And so far the new president has appeared to keep his promises to fight for collective bargaining rights. Last month, Biden fired the labor board’s Trump-appointed general counsel and his replacement, the first time in more than 70 years a president has exercised that power over the agency.

The situation in Alabama presents a different set of challenges, however. The factory workers, Nelson added, are “taking on incredible power, and they need to know that they’ve got the president of the United States who has their backs and they’re going to have a fair chance.”

Some 6,000 full-time and part-time factory workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center have been voting throughout February on whether to join The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

If workers vote in favor of union representation, it would be a massive win for organized labor against a company that has been largely hostile to unionization efforts in the past. In recent days, organized labor’s allies in Washington have thrown their weight behind the union drive, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), former state Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Ga.), as well as actor Danny Glover, releasing a video in support of the election on Wednesday.

“I think it’s important for the administration to demonstrate during this campaign its support for unionization,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said in a published interview earlier this week. Appelbaum declined requests to speak for this story, and the RWDSU instead directed POLITICO to his statement specifying that the Alabama election “is a great opportunity for the administration to show working people what’s important to them.”

Amazon has reportedly encouraged workers to vote “no” in the election, including posting flyers in bathroom stalls at the warehouse. The company also sought to delay the Alabama warehouse election, and requested that the vote take place in person, rather than by mail, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company has a fair bit of political heft in Washington, D.C. It was one of many that contributed to the president’s inaugural ceremonies, and it employs former top Biden and Obama White House spokesman Jay Carney, who bundled money for Biden’s election. On the day that Biden was sworn into office, Amazon sent a letter to him offering its help with Covid vaccine distribution.


Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox declined to comment on recent calls for President Biden to weigh in on the union vote.

“We don’t believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views,” Knox told POLITICO. “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”

During the campaign, Biden took aim at companies like Amazon for not paying corporate taxes, riffing on the disparity on the trail and in tweets. “I have nothing against Amazon, but no company pulling in billions of dollars of profits should pay a lower tax rate than firefighters and teachers,” he said at one point during the primary. “We need to reward work, not just wealth.”

He also ran for president as an unapologetic champion of unions, often citing the dwindling number of unionized workers as the primary reason for the shrinking of America’s middle class. Shortly after his election, Biden relayed that he had explicitly told corporate leaders that he was “a union guy.”

“They just nodded,” he said. “They understand. It’s not anti-business. It’s about economic growth.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 24, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


Share this post

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Across America, Workers Hold Day of Action to Save Union Jobs

Share this post

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Braving bitter cold temperatures across much of the country, hundreds of union members, environmental activists and community groups turned out in force for a national day of action on Saturday to raise awareness of the IUE-CWA’s campaign to save union jobs at the GE-Savant lighting plant in Bucyrus, Ohio, and help the environment. According to IUE-CWA, GE-Savant intends to transfer its LED lightbulb product line to China, permanently laying off more than 80 workers, and possibly closing the plant. “People are saying that if these jobs go, then it’s only a matter of time before the plant closes,” IUE-CWA Local 81201 President Adam Kaszynski told The Daily Item. “The hypocrisy of the situation is glaring because they’re going to have to send these back from China to sell them in the United States, increasing the carbon footprint. Walmart certainly has the power to demand that these lightbulbs are manufactured in Bucyrus.” Kaszynski (not pictured) led rallies with the North Shore Labor Council at Walmart stores in Lynn and Salem, Massachusetts.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIOon February 24, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


Share this post

A Minimum Wage? A Fake Debate

Share this post

Capitalism’s “conservative” defenders yet again oppose raising the minimum wage. They fought raising it in the past much as they tried to prevent the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) that first mandated a U.S. minimum wage. The major argument opponents have used is this: setting or raising a minimum wage threatens small employers. They may collapse or else fire employees; either way, jobs are lost. What is conveniently assumed here is a necessary contradiction between minimum wages and small business jobs. That assumption enables opponents to claim that not setting a legal minimum wage, like not raising it, saves jobs. The system thus presents very poorly paid workers with this choice: low wages or no wages.

“Liberals” in the United States have mostly accepted the assumption of that contradiction, the necessity of that final choice. However, they try to demonstrate that the social gains from a higher minimum wage would exceed the social losses from the reduced employment they admit. Their idea, in effect, is that a higher minimum wage would increase demand for goods and services. Any workers fired because of the minimum wage would be rehired elsewhere to meet the rising demand. Countless empirical studies by conservatives and liberals yield, as usual, correspondingly conflicting conclusions.

In the actual history of U.S. capitalism, the minimum wage has been undercut from the outset. In real terms (what the minimum wage can actually buy), its long-term decline began from a peak in 1968. It was last raised in 2009 (to $7.25 per hour) despite a rising consumer price index every year since then. U.S. business interests plus the “conservative” politicians, media, and academics they support have inundated the public with the idea that raising the minimum wage will hurt poorly paid workers (by losing mostly small business jobs) more than help them. This debate over the minimum wage, intensified whenever proposals to raise it gain public attention, has been “won” chiefly by the conservative/business side.

Despite its political effectiveness for conservatives and big business till now, their argument—like the entire debate—is flawed logically. Its underlying, shared assumption is unnecessary and inaccurate. It serves chiefly to undercut the level, purpose, and social effects of the minimum wage in the United States.

Paying a decent living wage to workers by raising the minimum wage need not threaten the viability of small businesses. The latter need not collapse nor fire workers when minimum wages are raised. Indeed, raising the minimum wage can and should be one basis for a mutually beneficial alliance between wage workers and small businesses.

Few dare quarrel with the notion that in the U.S. today, paying the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is an outrage against decency. It is among the very lowest minimum wages of industrialized economies: quite the achievement for one of the “richest countries in the world.” So the defense of such an outrage has always begun by focusing attention elsewhere. We are asked to sympathize with the small businesses whose profits and thus viability will be undone if they are required to pay a raised minimum wage. We are asked likewise to sympathize with the plight of minimum wage workers who will become jobless when their employer cannot pay a raised minimum wage. Thus the conclusion beloved by opponents of raising the minimum wage: it lies in the interest of low-paid workers and small businesses to join the opposition to raising the minimum wage.

So many flaws attend such logic that it is not easy to decide where to begin its demolition. We might note that it clearly implies that were we to drop the minimum wage even further, below $7.25 per hour, we might achieve lower unemployment rates. But that is so gross an idea that right-wingers rarely go there. They don’t dare.

There is a parallel example we can draw from the history of wage workers when they included children as young as five years old. The parallel logic then held that allowing child labor (with the oppression and abuses it entailed) was doing poor families a favor. Were child labor to be outlawed, capitalism’s defenders then insisted, two tragedies would necessarily follow. First, poor families would suffer an income loss because they could no longer sell their children’s labor power to capitalist employers for a wage. Second, businesses whose profits depended at least partly on low-wage child labor would collapse and render adults jobless too.

It is important to note that after sustained political agitation, child labor was in fact outlawed. The logic of its defenders was rejected and rarely resurfaced afterward even in right-wing and “conservative” literature. Former capitalist employers of children found other means (paying adults more, improving productivity, economizing on other inputs, and so on) to profit and grow. As we know, U.S. capitalism over the last century prospered without child labor. And where U.S. capitalists relocated abroad to employ children, opposition there has replicated what happened in the United States, albeit slowly. What happened to child labor can and likely will happen as well to abysmally low minimum wages.

How then might a civilized society raise its minimum wage to provide a decent livelihood to workers and protect its small businesses? The solution is straightforward. Offset the extra labor costs for small businesses from a higher minimum wage by providing them with some combination of the following: a new and significant share of government orders, tax breaks, and government subsidies. Such supports now overwhelmingly favor big business and thereby facilitate its many efforts to destroy and replace small businesses. Those supports should be reapportioned with special consideration/targeting for small businesses. To be eligible, small businesses would need to show how raising the minimum wage increased their total wage bill. In this way, society can concretely support small business and a decent minimum wage as twin, shared social values.

In effect, this proposal changes the terrain of the minimum wage debate. It brings into stark relief that raising the minimum wage leaves open the question of which part of the employer class will bear the burden of compensating for that in the short run. An effective political coalition of low-wage workers and small businesses could require big business to pay by losing some of its government business, paying higher taxes, or obtaining lower subsidies—all to compensate small businesses for a raised minimum wage. For decades, an alternative political coalition—of big and small business—blocked or delayed minimum wage increases. Nothing requires this latter coalition to always or, indeed, ever prevail over a competing coalition of labor and small business that seeks a higher minimum wage for one plus greater state supports for the other. Likewise, nothing warrants continuing the current debate over raising the minimum wage as if only small business would always have to absorb its possible costs.

The debate over the minimum wage has been lopsided for a very long time. Uncritical media coverage of the debate has allowed big business to evade its proper share of paying to sustain a viable small business sector. Meanwhile, workers and small businesses pay taxes that favor big business. Most Americans want a thriving small business sector. Most also increasingly criticize big business: “antitrust” remains part of government regulation as well as a part of popular ideologies. We can and should correct the old debate now to enable a different political coalition to shape minimum wages in a different way from the past.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or ItselfUnderstanding Marxism, and Understanding Socialism.


Share this post

Manchin and Sinema are poised to tank $15 minimum wage, so here come the insulting ‘compromises’

Share this post

A minimum wage increase goes before the Senate parliamentarian on Wednesday to find out if it passes muster for inclusion in the COVID-19 relief package being passed under budget reconciliation. Democrats feel good that a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis shows the measure has enough budget impact for reconciliation, allowing it to be passed by a simple majority vote. But even if the parliamentarian agrees, the plan for a $15 minimum wage in 2025 is in deep peril thanks to Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. So now the rush is on for senators to float proposals trying to make themselves look like heroes of the low-wage worker without, you know, supporting anything like an actual living wage.

Sens. Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney came out with a plan for a $10 minimum wage by 2025. This is pitifully low—in fact, Cotton’s own state of Arkansas has an $11 minimum wage right now, following a 2018 ballot measure that got the support of 68% of Arkansas voters. When opponents of a $15 minimum wage (who themselves make much, much more) start talking about how it’s just too much for some regions of the country, consider that Arkansas vote.

Cotton and Romney also want to tie their insultingly inadequate pay raise to an anti-immigrant measure, requiring all employers to use E-Verify to ensure they don’t hire undocumented immigrants. In other words, Republicans are advancing an unacceptable bill in hopes of claiming that Democrats were the ones to block a minimum wage increase.

Again, 68% of Arkansas voters passed an $11 minimum wage measure in 2018. In 2020, just over 60% of Florida voters passed a $15 minimum wage measure, which will raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 on Sept. 30, 2021 and get to $15 in September 2026.

Manchin, too, has his own insulting minimum wage proposal. He’s pushing for $11, claiming it’s more appropriate for states like his own West Virginia. Except $11 is not a living wage in West Virginia. Not only that, but back in 2014, Manchin backed a $10.10 minimum wage. Seven years later, he’s only gone up to $11? Sinema similarly backed the $10.10 minimum wage in 2014, by the way.

Cotton and Romney’s proposal is a nonstarter. Manchin at least offers Democrats something to work with since he doesn’t seem intent on attaching a poison pill to an inadequate raise. He and Sinema should come under intense pressure to do the right thing. While they should—if they have any allegiance either to low-wage workers or to economic realities—pass the Raise the Wage Act, getting the federal minimum wage to $15 in 2025, there may not be enough pressure in the world for these two drunk on their own power as swing votes and in love with their conservative Democrat self-image.

Here’s where we are now as Manchin and Sinema hold up a series of gradual increases to $15. The $7.25 federal minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 2009, and given inflation since that time, it would need to be $8.81 an hour to have the same buying power it did in 2009. Full-time work at $7.25 an hour puts the single parent of one child below the federal poverty threshold, or puts a single worker with no dependents only slightly out of poverty. 

The highest the minimum wage has ever been, as far as inflation and buying power, was in 1968, when it was the equivalent of $12.27 in today’s dollars. At the moment, 29 states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages than $7.25 an hour, including Manchin’s West Virginia ($8.75) and Sinema’s Arizona ($11). Full-time, year-round work at $15 an hour yields an annual income of just over $31,000. Does that sound outrageously high? In fact, right now, never mind in 2025, even $15 an hour isn’t truly a living wage.

This is what Manchin and Sinema—to say nothing of every single Republican—are moaning and groaning about.

But if there is no amount of pressure enough to make them do the right thing, then a compromise could, under some circumstances, be better than nothing. The Raise the Wage Act reaches $11 in 2022, $12.50 in 2023, $14 in 2024, and $15 in 2025; after that, the minimum wage becomes indexed to the median wage. If Manchin and Sinema could sign on to hitting one of those intermediate steps—say, $12.50—and indexing it to the median wage while also raising the tipped worker subminimum wage that has been stuck at $2.13 an hour since 1991, well … it wouldn’t be enough, but it would help millions of workers, and indexing the minimum wage would ensure that those workers never again go more than decade without a raise.

A $15 minimum wage should be the starting point in a discussion. Unfortunately, the United States’ broken politics and the minority rule of the Senate may put it out of reach, consigning millions of U.S. workers to poverty for years to come. That’s something to mourn, and to organize to change. In the short term, Democrats need to do the best they can do by working people.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 24, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


Share this post

Joe Biden Has a Golden Opportunity to Strengthen Public Education

Share this post

In picking Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona to be his nominee for U.S. secretary of education, President-elect Joe Biden appears to have made a Goldilocks choice that pleases just about everyone. People who rarely agree on education policy have praised the decision, including Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform, a nonprofit group that advocates for charter schools and school choice, who called Cardona “good news,” and education historian Diane Ravitch, who also called the pick “good news” because he does not seem to be aligned with advocates for charter schools and vouchers. Sara Sneed, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation, a public charity founded by educators, called Cardona an “ideal candidate,” in an email, and hailed him for “his emphasis on the need to end structural racism in education and for his push for greater educational equity and opportunity through public schools.”

But as Biden and Cardona—should he be approved, as most expect—begin to address the array of critical issues that confront the nation’s schools, there’s bound to be more of a pushback. Or maybe not?

After decades of federal legislation that emphasized mandating standardized testing and tying school and teacher evaluations to the scores; imposing financial austerity on public institutions; incentivizing various forms of privatization; and undermining teachers’ professionalism and labor rights, there is a keen appetite for a new direction for school policy.

Due to the disruption forced by the pandemic, much is being written and said about the need to “restart and reinvent” education and a newfound appreciation for schools as essential infrastructure for families and children. With an incoming Biden administration, Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, and the influence of incoming first lady Jill Biden, a career educator, we may be on the cusp of a historic moment when the stars align to revitalize public schools in a way that hasn’t happened in a generation.

Among the promising ideas that appear to have growing momentum behind them are proposals to fund schools more equitably, to expand community schools that take a more holistic approach to educating students, to create curriculum and pedagogy that are relevant to the science of how children learn and the engagement of their families, and to reverse the direction of accountability measures from top-down mandates to bottom-up community-based endeavors.

In her email, Sneed praised Biden’s commitment to expand the community schools model to an additional 300,000 students. She said, “My hope is that his effort will bring community schools to every part of the country, including the American South which is so often under resourced.”

Where’s the opposition to these ideas?

In her farewell address to the Education Department, before she tendered her resignation with a mere 13 days left, outgoing secretary Betsy DeVos told career staff members to “be the resistance” to an incoming Biden administration, Politico reported. In her farewell letter to Congress, she urged lawmakers to “reject Biden’s education agenda,” according to the Washington Post.

Does anyone really think there are any federal officials who will heed this advice?

During her tenure, DeVos cut more than 500 positions from her department, 13 percent of its staff, and proposed enormous funding cuts to programs. Employees accused her of “gutting” their labor agreement, reported the Washington Post, and replacing it with new rules that stripped out worker protections and disability rights, among other provisions. Employee morale “plummeted” under her management, Education Week reported, and she threatened to suspend an employee who leaked her plan to slash the department’s resources.

In Congress, DeVos was constantly besieged—from her approval, which required a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, a historic first, to her contentious final in-person hearing. Her proposals to dramatically shrink federal spending on education went nowhere, and her many proposals for a federal school voucher program were never taken up by Congress.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten captured most people’s sentiments when DeVos resigned, saying just two words: “Good riddance.”

Instead of taking up DeVos’s calls for “resistance,” Capitol Hill seems much more likely to welcome Biden-Cardona with open arms.

An “early test” for Cardona, as Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reports, will be deciding whether or not to let states opt out of administering federally mandated standardized tests to every student. In 2020, DeVos had let states waive the mandate, but she announced she would enforce the requirement in 2021 should she remain in office.

As Strauss reported, should Cardona decide to waive the order, he would please a broad consensus, including state and local superintendents, teachers’ unions, state and local boards of education, and federal and state lawmakers “from both sides of the political aisle.” At least one national survey has found that a sizable majority of parents want the tests canceled.

Another potentially contentious issue will be Biden’s “pledge to reopen most schools” for in-person learning within the first 100 days of his administration. Attempts to reopen schools during a pandemic have caused teachers in many school districts to rebel by writing their obituaries, staging mock funeralsresigningcalling in sick, and organizing strikes and other labor actions.

However, the operative word in Biden’s pledge to reopen is “safely.” His proposal rests on key conditions, including getting the virus under control in surrounding communities, setting health and safety guidelines recommended by experts, and providing sufficient funding to protect returning students, teachers, and support staff.

This is the complete opposite of Trump and DeVos, who simply demanded schools reopen and then did nothing to support the reopening process.

When a reporter from the Associated Press asked Weingarten to comment on Biden’s proposal to reopen schools, she replied, “Hallelujah.”

In his leadership of Connecticut schools, Cardona has taken a similarly non-ideological stance on keeping schools open in the pandemic, as Education Week’s Evie Blad explains in a video (beginning at 5:57), by “[encouraging] schools to keep their doors open” and “providing resources” and “support.” But he “never mandated” schools to deliver in-person instruction.

Congress, where Democrats have a small majority in the House and a razor-thin margin in the Senate, may be resistant to provide the necessary funding Biden wants. But as Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa explains, Democrats are mostly united in getting a “big new relief package” passed and have a way to overcome Republican opposition using budget reconciliation.

On the issue of charter schools, vouchers, and other forms of “school choice,” which was DeVos’s signature issue, Biden has stated he does “not support federal money for for-profit charter schools,” and said they often “[siphon] off money from our public schools, which are already in enough trouble.”

Based on this measured stance, some, including Trump, have warned Biden would “abolish” charter schools and school choice, which is simply not true.

Cardona has taken a similarly evenhanded view of charters, the Connecticut Mirror reports. Under his leadership in Connecticut, existing charters were renewed while no new ones were approved. “Asked about charter schools during his confirmation hearing [for Connecticut commissioner of education],” the article notes, “Cardona said he’d rather focus his energy making sure neighborhood public schools are viable options.”

This is a refreshing change, not only from DeVos’s rhetoric for privatization, but also from previous presidential administrations, including Obama’s, that openly advocated for charter schools. It foretells that perhaps what Biden-Cardona might bring to the policy discussion over charter schools and other forms of school choice is some genuinely honest conversation rather than sloganeering about charters.

Where Biden and Cardona are most likely to encounter headwinds to their education policies are from Republicans stuck in the ongoing culture wars.

Eight days before a mob of Trump supporters, driven by the president’s tirades against losing reelection, broke into the nation’s Capitol, sent lawmakers into seclusion, and desecrated the building, Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, reminded us that public education has long been a public institution in the crosshairs of right-wing ideologues. Asked by Guardian reporter David Smith, “where does the Republican party go from here?” Gingrich replied, “What you have, I think, is a Democratic party driven by a cultural belief system that they’re now trying to drive through the school system so they can brainwash the entire next generation if they can get away with it.”

Evidence of that “brainwashing” in public schools, supposedly, is the emphasis on the fully supportive inclusion of all students and protection of their civil rights that was behind many of the policy guidelines laid down by the Obama administration. DeVos rescinded many of those guidelines, but Biden has vowed to restore them.

Another source of potential discontent with the new energy that Biden and Cardona will likely bring to education policy are the holdovers of the “education reform” movement, who want to bring back in full force the top-down mandates from the Bush and Obama administrations, including charter school expansions, tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, and closing public schools based on their test scores.

For this crew, the central problem in education will always be “bad teachers,” and nothing but the most punitive accountability measures will do.

A case in point is a recent piece in New York Magazine extolling charter schools in which columnist Jonathan Chait writes that “the core dispute” in education politics is “a tiny number of bad teachers, protectively surrounded by a much larger circle of union members, surrounded in turn by an even larger number of Democrats who have only a vague understanding of the issue.”

In other words, if you don’t think cracking down on teachers and their unions is critical to improving schools, then you’re just not informed.

For decades, education policy has largely been a compromise between these two dominant factions of right-wing Republican ideologues and Democratic neoliberals, according to David Menefee-Libey, a professor of politics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. In a podcast hosted by journalist Jennifer Berkshire and education historian Jack Schneider, Menefee-Libey explains that charter schools and many other prominent features of federal education policy are the results of a “treaty” among these Republican and Democratic factions.

But as Menefee-Libey, Berkshire, and Schneider explain, in so many ways, the treaty has been broken, and after decades of attacks on public schools, we’re seeing the necessity of investing in public institutions, especially now, given the strains put on parents and communities by COVID-19.

“We are now at a point,” Menefee-Libey states, “where all of those large-scale, long-term public institutions are clearly at risk during the pandemic and the economic crash. [And] there are a lot of people [who] are discovering that maybe these institutions won’t automatically survive.”

Therein lies the golden opportunity for Biden on public education. Should he decide to go bold—not just by reopening schools with additional funding but also by proposing an ambitious investment in school infrastructure and community schools; not just by lifting burdensome accountabilities but also by actually listening to what teachers, parents, and students say they need for their schools to work; and not by trying to appease the tired, old arguments carried on by right-wing factions and reform fans in the Democratic Party—there is some likelihood he may get exactly what he wants. And that’s what our schools really need.

Source: Our Schools

This article was produced by Our Schools

About the Author: Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.


Share this post

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: North Carolina State AFL-CIO Issues Workers First Agenda for State

Share this post

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

North Carolina State AFL-CIO President MaryBe McMillan (IUOE) reported the state federation and its affiliated unions have announced a Workers First Agenda for the 2021–22 legislative session. The priorities include requiring the state’s Department of Labor (NCDOL) to respond to COVID-19 related complaints about unsafe working conditions, ensuring safe and adequate housing for migrant farmworkers, maintaining a stable workers’ compensation program, and more. In the agenda, the North Carolina State AFL-CIO explained:

“Our priority is ensuring that working people receive adequate resources to survive the pandemic. Ultimately, however, we want working families to do more than just survive. Beyond the pandemic, we want working people to be able to thrive, to build better lives for themselves and their children, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and to live with dignity. It is time for policymakers to recognize the significant contributions and sacrifices made by working people. It is time to put workers first, just as they have done for all of us during this unprecedented crisis.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on February 23, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


Share this post

Pathway to Progress: The Charleston Hospital Strike

Share this post

History has long been portrayed as a series of “great men” taking great action to shape the world we live in. In recent decades, however, social historians have focused more on looking at history “from the bottom up,” studying the vital role that working people played in our heritage. Working people built, and continue to build, the United States. In our new series, Pathway to Progress, we’ll take a look at various people, places and events where working people played a key role in the progress our country has made, including those who are making history right now. Today’s topic is the Charleston hospital strike.

In the late 1960s, Charleston, South Carolina, was NOT primed to be the next city to be a touchstone in either the civil rights movement or the labor movement. Much of the progress and activism seen elsewhere had passed Charleston by. And the White power structure was as equally entrenched against labor unionism as it was against the expansion of Black people’s rights. But the hospital strike of 1969 became as important to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) Poor People’s Campaign and the labor movement as the Montgomery bus boycott would be to the civil rights movement.

After dock workers were rejected in their bid for a union contract, everyone assumed Black hospital workers had absolutely no chance or successfully organizing. Workers at two hospitals, though, had other plans. One of the hospitals was run by the state and the other by the county. Management had reportedly engaged in racially biased behavior, notably preventing Black doctors from working at the hospital for many years.

Local 1199, then associated with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, had experience with organizing in hostile territory. After it organized 34,000 new members in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, it formed a national organizing committee for hospital workers. The local also reached out to the SCLC, one of the most important civil rights organizations, to coordinate on organizing efforts. Nearly 3 million hospital and nursing home employees throughout the country were without union representation, most were Black or Latinx and most were desperately poor. The SCLC launched the Poor People’s Campaign specifically to help out in such situations and so it joined with Local 1199 in forming the National Organizing Committee of Hospital and Nursing Home Employees. Coretta Scott King was named honorary chair and Ralph Abernathy and other SCLC leaders were members of the committee.

The SCLC and Local 1199 trained staff in union organizing methods that were successful in places like Memphis, Tennessee, Atlanta and St. Petersburg. The hospital workers in Charleston weren’t idle, either, as they began organizing meetings with help from the local Black community. Management was led by Dr. William McCord, president of the medical college, which ran the state hospital. After delaying meeting with organizers, McCord fired 12 of them. The reaction was immediate, when 400 workers, including nurses, nurse’s aides, kitchen helpers, laundry workers and orderlies, walked off the job. A week later, workers at the county-run hospital walked out in sympathy. The workers’ demands were clear, rehire the 12 fired workers, recognize the union, increase wages and institute grievance procedures.

McCord was contemptuous. He offered to give Black workers an additional holiday for the birthday of Robert E. Lee. McCord secured an injunction from a segregationist judge that effectively eliminated legal protests. The Black workers rejected the injunction’s validity and began picketing the hospital. Arrests immediately followed. Even worse, vigilantes began assaulting strikers, who had to establish security guards at the picket and around their union hall.

By now, SCLC and Local 1199 staff were on the ground to provide leadership and assistance. Abernathy and other prominent leaders like Andrew Young set up camp in Charleston and sought to bring national attention to the plight of the Black hospital workers. They quickly tied the hospital strike to the larger civil rights movement and connected the strike directly to Martin Luther King Jr., who had been slain in Memphis the previous year while supporting striking sanitation workers. Coretta Scott King said: “If my husband were alive today, he would be in Charleston, South Carolina.”

Charleston faced mass meetings, daily marches, evening rallies and boycotts of stores and schools that didn’t support the strike. The response included daily confrontations with police and local White citizens, and arrests were daily. The governor came out against the strike and sent state troopers and National Guardsman. Arrests were stepped up.

But the strikers didn’t back down and they weren’t intimidated. They showed up, day-after-day, regardless of what was thrown at them, which, by that point, included bayonets, tanks and National Guardsmen patrolling the city’s streets. Coretta Scott King spoke at two local churches and nearly 30% of the city’s Black population showed up. She not only championed the cause of the hospital workers, she appealed for financial assistance, as the union and SCLC were running out of money to sustain the strike. 

King’s request went national. The leaders of civil rights organizations and Black elected officials came together for the first time since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. The appeal worked. With the help of national ads and television coverage, money began flowing in. Walter Reuther personally joined the demonstrations and donated $10,000. George Meaney and the national AFL-CIO gave another $25,000. Other unions, including White unions, joined the hospital workers on the picket lines. Abernathy was jailed, as were leaders of 1199B, the new designation for the local started by the Charleston hospital workers. 

The opposition to the strike started to fracture. Boycotts brought business activity to a standstill in the city. The business community began to fear a economic disaster and they called for a settlement. Others feared that a victory for Black hospital workers would lead to further organizing by civil rights organizations and labor unions in the city. In particular, they were afraid that union organizing would move into the textile industry, which was strong in the state. Further complicating the situation were federal contracts, with $12 million worth on the verge of being canceled if the hospital continued to discriminate against Black workers.

In this environment, the hospital administration agreed to rehire the strikers, including the original 12 fired workers. State government agreed to raise the minimum wage as well, potentially giving strikers several of their demands. With the agreement set to be finalized, Sen. Strom Thurmond stepped in and said that the federal aid would be delivered, regardless of the hospital’s actions. The hospital withdrew from the settlement and Local 1199 and the SCLC accused President Richard Nixon of “giving Senator Thurmond his political payoff for services rendered in the last election. A payoff whose real price is the suffering of Black hospital workers.”

Demonstrations started up again and they expanded to the textile companies and government buildings in the state and in Washington, D.C. More unions joined the protests and mass arrests continued. Attempts to solve the problem from the nation’s capitol were stalled by the Nixon administration until Secretary of Labor George Schultz took action. He sent a mediator to South Carolina and demanded that the strike be settled.

After 100 days, the strike was settled in favor of the Black hospital workers. They won wage increases of 30-70 cents an hour, the establishment of a credit union, a grievance procedure that allowed the union to represent employees and all fired and striking workers were reinstated. They didn’t win union recognition, but the wins they achieved addressed most of the problems the union would’ve taken on anyway.

At a victory rally at Zion Olivet Church, the Rev. Andrew Young summarized why the strike was successful: “We won this strike because of a wonderful marriage—the marriage of the SCLC and Local 1199. The first of many beautiful children of this marriage is Local 1199B here in Charleston, and there are going to be as many more children like 1199B as there are letters in the alphabet.”

The combined efforts didn’t stop in Charleston. The tactics used in South Carolina were quickly exported elsewhere. Within months, they had also secured collective bargaining rights for 1,500 mostly Black workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Within a year, the Baltimore local had added 6,000 more hospital and nursing home workers. In December, the National Union of Hospital and Nursing Home Employees was established with Coretta Scott King as honorary chairperson. While reflecting upon the success in Charleston, King said that right before his death, her husband had concluded that “the key to battling poverty is winning jobs for workers with decent pay through unionism.” Charleston was one of the first moments that proved King right.

Source: “Organized Labor and the Black Worker, 1619-1981” by Philip S. Foner, 1974.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on February 19, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


Share this post

Subscribe For Updates

Sign Up:

* indicates required

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.