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NEW YEAR BRINGS MINIMUM WAGE INCREASES FROM COAST TO COAST

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Washington, DC. Underpaid frontline workers have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, but many can expect a bit of relief in the New Year—in the form of small but welcomed pay raises—thanks to minimum wage increases taking effect in dozens of states and municipalities around the nation.

On January 1st, 20 states and 32 cities and counties will raise their minimum wage. In 27 of these jurisdictions, the wage floor will reach or exceed $15 an hour, according to a report released today by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which tracks and advocates for minimum wage increases around the country.

The New Year’s increases will be followed by another round of increases later in 2021, when five states and 18 localities will raise their minimum wage—13 of them to $15 or more. In total, 24 states and 50 cities and counties—a record-high 74 jurisdictions—will raise their minimum wage over the course of 2021.[1]

“Despite the pandemic, the Fight for $15 movement continues to gain strength, with more cities and states than ever before raising their wage floors, including dozens of local jurisdictions raising wages to $15 or more,” said Yannet Lathrop, senior researcher and policy analyst with NELP and the report’s author. “These increases are a testament to the power of workers coming together and fighting for what real people and families need,” said Lathrop.

Since Black and brown workers led the first Fight for $15 protest in 2012 outside a McDonald’s in New York City, the movement to raise wages has gained major traction, amassing a series of victories that have yielded more than $68 billion in raises for workers nationwide. These raises are the result of years of advocacy by frontline workers, who fought for and won these wage increases by going on strikes, organizing their coworkers and communities, and demanding to be heard by their elected officials.

But yawning wage and wealth gaps and occupational segregation remain central concerns for Black and brown workers, who continue to face systemic barriers to higher-paying occupations and historically have been shunted into the lowest-paying jobs with the least protections.

One of the biggest victories in 2020 was the historic win for higher wages in Florida. In November, 61 percent of Florida voters approved a ballot initiative to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026. Florida becomes the eight state (and the second most populous) to get on the path to a $15 minimum wage.

“The victories this movement has amassed are monumental, but the work of winning higher wages is far from over,” said NELP’s Lathrop. “There are 20 states still stuck at the federal floor of $7.25 per hour—with state legislators who refuse to hear their constituents’ pleas. Meanwhile, Congress has refused to raise the federal minimum wage for more than 10 years.”

“As the cost of living and inequality continue to rise, it’s become clear that the wage floor needs to move above $15,” continued Lathrop. “Policymakers at the state and local levels can respond by adopting wage floors that move beyond a bare minimum and come closer to a living wage.”

Lathrop concluded: “We call on the incoming Biden-Harris administration and Congress to really listen and respond to workers’ demands. We are counting on Biden-Harris to deliver a just recovery from this COVID crisis—including finally passing a federal wage floor of $15 or higher.”

READ THE REPORT: 

Raises from Coast to Coast in 2021

[1] Florida will increase wages twice in 2021 but is counted only once in 2021’s grand total.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on December 31, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers.


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The $15 Minimum Wage Won in Florida, But Biden Didn’t. Here’s Why.

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On Novem­ber 3, Florida’s polit­i­cal­ly diverse elec­torate showed resound­ing support for Amend­ment 2, an ini­tia­tive to grad­u­al­ly raise the state min­i­mum wage from $8.56 an hour to $15 by 2026. This makes Flori­da the eighth state nation­wide, and the first state in the South, to get on track towards a $15 min­i­mum wage.

This vic­to­ry con­trasts sharply with the loss of Biden in the state, as well as sig­nif­i­cant loss­es for the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. The activists behind Amend­ment 2 say their cam­paign offers lessons for how pro­gres­sive ideas can win the day by pri­or­i­tiz­ing improv­ing the mate­r­i­al con­di­tions of work­ers, and speak direct­ly to the hard­ship that peo­ple face.

“Far too many work­ing peo­ple in Flori­da do crit­i­cal work to keep our com­mu­ni­ties going but are under­paid and under­val­ued, often bare­ly mak­ing enough to get by,” said Esther Segu­ra, a Jack­son Health Sys­tem nurse and union mem­ber with the Flori­da for $15 coali­tion, a net­work of labor, racial, eco­nom­ic jus­tice and grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions statewide. ?“We call them essen­tial work­ers, and now it’s clear the major­i­ty of Flori­da vot­ers agree that it’s time to pay them the wages they deserve!” 

A vic­to­ry for workers

Amend­ment 2, known as the Fair Wage Ini­tia­tive, faced a dif­fi­cult ter­rain, includ­ing oppo­si­tion from the Flori­da Cham­ber of Com­merce, the Nation­al Restau­rant Asso­ci­a­tion, and the anti-Amend­ment 2 PAC Save Flori­da Jobs—which warned vot­ers of dis­as­trous effects on Florida’s small busi­ness own­ers and eco­nom­ic recov­ery. Yet, the ini­tia­tive secured 60.8% approval among Flori­da vot­ers, just bare­ly meet­ing the 60% thresh­old need­ed to pass.

Under Amend­ment 2, the wage floor will increase to $10 next Sep­tem­ber and rise in $1 incre­ments each year until reach­ing $15 on Sep­tem­ber 30, 2026. For tipped employ­ees, wages will increase from $5.54 to $11.98 by 2026. Orlan­do attor­ney and mil­lion­aire John Mor­gan, who bankrolled Florida’s bal­lot mea­sure to legal­ize med­ical mar­i­jua­na in 2016, poured mil­lions of dol­lars into Florida’s Amend­ment 2 cam­paign, char­ac­ter­iz­ing it as ?“a vote of moral­i­ty and compassion.”

Rough­ly 2.5 mil­lion work­ers are expect­ed to see a pay increase next Sep­tem­ber, includ­ing 38% of women of col­or in the work­force, accord­ing to a report from the left-lean­ing Flori­da Pol­i­cy Insti­tute. Black and Lat­inx women?—?who in the Unit­ed States earn 63 cents and 55 cents on the white, male dol­lar respec­tive­ly?—?are expect­ed to see the great­est gains from Florida’s wage bump. 

For those who orga­nized around Florida’s Amend­ment 2 across the state, the ben­e­fits of rais­ing wages weren’t a hard sell. Indi­vid­u­als with Flori­da for $15 sent more than 3.1 mil­lion texts to vot­ers ahead of Elec­tion Day, and sup­port­ed a num­ber of work­er strikes and car car­a­vans led by Flori­da fast food and air­port work­ers. The effort also gar­nered the involve­ment of for­mer­ly incar­cer­at­ed work­ers like Alex Har­ris, a 24-year-old Waf­fle House work­er and Fight for $15 leader. “[Florida’s cur­rent min­i­mum wage] is just a way to keep peo­ple incar­cer­at­ed, to keep them strug­gling, and to keep them from being free,” Har­ris said, dur­ing an Octo­ber Fight for $15 ral­ly in Tam­pa, Flori­da. Har­ris, a return­ing cit­i­zen who regained his right to vote with Florida’s 2018 Amend­ment 4 bal­lot mea­sure, vocal­ized the need for vot­ers to show up for Amend­ment 2 through­out the campaign.

Dis­ap­point­ing results for Democrats

Yet, the Biden cam­paign did not fare as well. In some­thing of an upset, Biden?—?who had qui­et­ly endorsed a $15 fed­er­al min­i­mum wage as part of his eco­nom­ic plat­form?—?lost to Trump in Flori­da by rough­ly 370,000 votes, under­per­form­ing with the state’s diverse Lat­inx and His­pan­ic com­mu­ni­ties in coun­ties like Mia­mi-Dade, where Repub­li­cans put a lot of ener­gy into ?“social­ist’ fear-mongering. 

There was a sharp dis­crep­an­cy between Flori­da vot­ers’ over­whelm­ing sup­port for a $15 min­i­mum wage and a lack of sup­port for Biden, who received more than one mil­lion less votes than Amend­ment 2. (Trump also paled in pop­u­lar­i­ty to Florida’s min­i­mum wage ini­tia­tive, trail­ing its pow­er­house base of sup­port by more than 700,000 votes.)

Biden wasn’t the only per­son who faced defeat. Florida’s state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty also suf­fered a sig­nif­i­cant blow on Elec­tion Day. Democ­rats lost five seats in the state House, and in Mia­mi, Repub­li­cans have forced at least one state Sen­ate race to a recount. 

But despite talk that Flori­da has offi­cial­ly joined the country’s ?“red states,” Flori­da mem­bers of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA) who were active­ly involved in the Flori­da for $15 coali­tion are less cyn­i­cal about the poten­tial of Florida’s mul­tira­cial work­ing class major­i­ty. The mem­bers of DSA, the largest social­ist orga­ni­za­tion in the coun­try, have their own ideas for why Biden?—?and state Democ­rats more broad­ly?—?failed to gar­ner the same suc­cess as Florida’s min­i­mum wage amendment.

Kofi Hunt, a co-chair of the Pinel­las Coun­ty chap­ter of DSA, says the Flori­da for $15 cam­paign was unapolo­get­i­cal­ly pro-work­er in its mes­sag­ing and spoke direct­ly to the strug­gles of Florida’s work­ing class. Hunt argues that the state’s mul­tira­cial work­ing-class base more broad­ly didn’t get a staunch pro-work­er mes­sage from either Trump or Biden, but con­cedes that the lat­ter offered more of a work­er-friend­ly plat­form. But Hunt and oth­ers involved in the Flori­da for $15 coali­tion argue Biden’s most pro-work­er poli­cies?—?such as uni­ver­sal pre-Kinder­garten and a fed­er­al min­i­mum wage boost?—?didn’t get the kind of lime­light that could have ben­e­fit­ted him more on the cam­paign trail in Florida. 

“The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was large­ly about defeat­ing Trump and not what Joe Biden would do for work­ing peo­ple,” says Richie Floyd, a Pinel­las DSA orga­niz­er and labor activist who con­tributed to Flori­da for $15 efforts. ?“Dur­ing trips to Flori­da, Biden played ?‘Despaci­to’ on his phone and pan­dered to right-wing vot­ers in Mia­mi. This strat­e­gy com­plete­ly failed as we can see from the results out of Miami-Dade.”

Talk­ing to the work­ing class

The Flori­da for $15 cam­paign, on the oth­er hand, empha­sized the strug­gles of Florida’s work­ing fam­i­lies?—?such as unaf­ford­able health­care, child­care and hous­ing?—?and under­scored how achiev­ing high­er wages could direct­ly address those con­cerns. ?“It was about telling work­ing peo­ple across the state that there is a real choice on the bal­lot that can improve peo­ple’s lives imme­di­ate­ly. It was about focus­ing on what we can offer and how we can make lives bet­ter,” says Floyd. 

Mean­while, as Repub­li­can-friend­ly cor­po­ra­tions like Pub­lix?—?a south­ern gro­cery chain based in Flori­da?—?report­ed more than $11.1 billion in sales rev­enue this quar­ter, every­day Florid­i­ans have been left to grap­ple with the state’s bro­ken unem­ploy­ment sys­tem and the dead­ly mis­man­age­ment of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic by Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Ron DeSantis. 

While Hunt says Democ­rats gen­er­al­ly do a bet­ter job speak­ing to the needs of mar­gin­al­ized pop­u­la­tions, the ?“tug of war” between the cor­po­rate and pro­gres­sive wings of the par­ty makes it dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate a con­vinc­ing, uni­fy­ing mes­sage for Florida’s work­ing-class base?—?par­tic­u­lar­ly the state’s poor Black and Brown communities.

Instead of work­ing to meet these com­mu­ni­ties where they’re at, Hunt says many Flori­da Democ­rats scram­bled to pan­der to sub­ur­ban­ites and adopt con­ser­v­a­tive posi­tions more broad­ly, to make them­selves more appeal­ing to Repub­li­cans who already show up to the bal­lot box.

Floyd agrees with Hunt’s assess­ment. ?“If the Flori­da and Nation­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties want to be suc­cess­ful here, then they need to real­ize that focus­ing on the eco­nom­ic plight of the mul­ti-racial work­ing class is the only way for­ward,” he says. ?“To win, we have to focus on the needs of the work­ing class, and not the donor class.”

Car­men Laguer Diaz, a leader of the SEIU Flori­da Pub­lic Sec­tor Union and an adjunct fac­ul­ty pro­fes­sor at Valen­cia Col­lege in Orlan­do, also believes there’s a need to iden­ti­fy com­mon­al­i­ties between work­ing indi­vid­u­als?—?like the appeal of high­er wages?—?and cross-cul­tur­al mes­sag­ing. ?“It’s not about par­ty. It’s about work­ers. It’s about all of us,” she said.

Flori­da for $15 coali­tion part­ners aren’t alone in their crit­i­cisms. State Rep. Anna Eska­mani (D?Orlando)?—?a pro­gres­sive who eas­i­ly secured a sec­ond term in the Flori­da House on Novem­ber 3?—?is one of sev­er­al Flori­da Democ­rats who has been open­ly crit­i­cal of the state par­ty since Elec­tion Day, par­tic­u­lar­ly of the fail­ure of cor­po­rate Democ­rats to deliv­er any­thing more appeal­ing than vague promis­es for ?“change.”

“Every­thing is con­nect­ed, and I think that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty did a very, very poor job of demon­strat­ing those con­nec­tions and anchor­ing the [Amend­ment 2] issue with our can­di­date [Joe Biden],” says Eska­mani. ?“And of course, it’s often due to cor­po­rate influ­ence. You know, many of the cor­po­ra­tions that were against Amend­ment 2 write checks to Democ­rats. And that’s a prob­lem, because then you end up hav­ing top Democ­rats, who had been brand­ed as lead­ing the par­ty, express­ing luke­warm sen­ti­ments about Amend­ment 2, when we all should be ral­ly­ing around it and lift­ing up the voic­es of our direct­ly impact­ed people.”

Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Sen. Annette Tad­deo, who rep­re­sents parts of Mia­mi-Dade Coun­ty, also expressed being unim­pressed with Biden’s ground-game down south. ?“You need a con­stant pres­ence, and you can­not take minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties for grant­ed,” she told AP News in a Novem­ber 4 arti­cle. ?“You can’t come in two months before an elec­tion and expect to excite these communities.”

Flori­da Democ­rats who refuse to embrace pro­gres­sive mea­sures like Medicare for All (which has major­i­ty sup­port nation­wide) and the Green New Deal pro­pos­al claim that it’s a polit­i­cal lia­bil­i­ty to cam­paign on these poli­cies in swing states. For­mer guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Andrew Gillum, for instance, faced anti-social­ist red bait­ing when he cam­paigned on Medicare for All in Flori­da in 2018. So did Biden this elec­tion cycle, for that mat­ter, despite denounc­ing social­ism at every turn.

But activists says ret­i­cence to embrace left ideas is mis­guid­ed, even in areas like Mia­mi-Dade where demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ists are well-aware of the uphill bat­tle they face in address­ing the bag­gage of the ?‘social­ist’ label. Can­di­dates across the coun­try who backed pro­gres­sive posi­tions like the Green New Deal per­formed exceed­ing­ly well. Social­ist can­di­dates and mea­sures also faced con­sid­er­able suc­cess on Elec­tion Day: As Mindy Iss­er report­ed for In These Times, DSA ?“endorsed 29 can­di­dates and 11 bal­lot ini­tia­tives, win­ning 20 and 8 respec­tive­ly,” includ­ing Florida’s $15 min­i­mum wage initiative. 

“Biden’s cam­paign, and most Demo­c­ra­t­ic statewide cam­paigns before him in the past 20 years, have nev­er laid out a coher­ent plat­form to work­ing class vot­ers here [in Flori­da],” says Orlan­do DSA orga­niz­er and Flori­da for $15 coali­tion part­ner Grayson Lan­za. ?“Being the par­ty of ?‘also not social­ist’ and noth­ing else is clear­ly not working.”

While some argue that a $15 min­i­mum wage isn’t going far enough?—?espe­cial­ly by the time we reach 2026?—?this initiative’s pas­sage sig­ni­fies more than just a wage increase. It demon­strates the pop­u­lar­i­ty of poli­cies that stand to ben­e­fit the work­ing-class major­i­ty across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, and shows Flori­da work­ers are moti­vat­ed to orga­nize around issues that are per­ti­nent to their mate­r­i­al con­di­tions. As Floyd puts it, ?“This could bode well for future labor vic­to­ries, as I am hope­ful that politi­cians will see that work­ers rights is a win­ning issue, and take action accordingly.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mckenna Schueler is a free­lance writer based in Tam­pa, Flori­da. She is an avid read­er and con­sumer of pod­casts who writes about local news, pol­i­tics, and men­tal health. She has had work pub­lished in Cre­ative Loaf­ing Tam­pa Bay, Orlan­do Week­ly, the Health at Every Size® blog, and McSweeney’s Inter­net Ten­den­cy. You can find her on Twit­ter @SheCarriesOn.


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Democrats’ lackluster performance in Senate spells trouble for labor

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With the Democrats’ failure to win an outright majority in the Senate and Republicans making surprising gains in the House, Joe Biden’s sweeping promises to expand American labor rights just got a lot harder to fulfill.

Proposals pushed by Democratic lawmakers to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, expand workers’ ability to form unions and rewrite years of U.S. law form the cornerstone of Biden’s labor agenda. But if Republican Mitch McConnell stays in charge of the Senate, it’s unlikely that any push for collective bargaining rights or wage hikes would advance even if Biden wins the presidency.

“I am concerned about it,” Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, said in an interview.

Unions had high hopes for the election, spending $188 million backing Democratic candidates and voting for Biden in larger numbers than the general electorate did. They were also a major source of grassroots organizing power for the party.

Yet Democrats failed to win in many Senate battlegrounds this week, and both parties are still short of a majority in the chamber. Georgia is now the key to control of the Senate, with both of the state’s races appearing likely to head to runoffs in early January.

Despite the disappointing results, Weingarten and other union leaders say they’re not giving up. She says there will be “a real fight” to enact Democrats’ PRO Act in a GOP-controlled Senate, a bill that Biden has backed as a major priority of his administration that would vastly expand workers’ ability to form unions.

But passing that legislation and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 may be unachievable with GOP control of the Senate. House Democrats’ faced major headwinds from red-state members of their own caucus when pushing for the Raise the Wage Act, which the chamber passed July 18.

Enacting the most progressive reforms largely hinged “on taking over the Senate and either winning enough votes to make the filibuster unimportant or dealing with the filibuster,” Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), who serves on the Health Education and Labor Committee, said.

A Biden administration could still get a lot done if it “puts the right people” in the Labor Department, Levin said, “but there’s no fundamental reform.”

Biden will also have to weigh how much political capital he wants to risk with the powerful business lobby — which has billed the Democrats’ proposals as potential job killers and warned that putting any more liability on businesses could stymie the economic recovery from the coronavirus.

Some in the business community pointed to 2009, when newly elected President Barack Obama fell silent on a key labor-backed bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, despite endorsing it in the 2008 campaign and calling it a top priority.

Even with a 60-vote Democratic Senate supermajority, the party couldn’t pass the bill, which would have allowed unions to represent workers based on the informal collection of signed authorization forms, known as card check, instead of an NLRB-supervised secret ballot election.

The labor movement will keep pushing for its agenda, despite the shaky odds of full Democratic control of Congress, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“We’ll figure out a way to get it done eventually,” Trumka said on a press call Thursday. “And we’ll have popular support. There are a number of legislative vehicles that we use; we will try everything we can.”

Weingarten said she is optimistic about Biden’s chances to find some bipartisanship in a divided Washington. “Given who Joe Biden is,” she said, “he uniquely will help demonstrate to these hard-core Republican senators and to the business community that long-term it’s in everyone’s interest to rebuild the middle class.“

Other labor leaders agreed that they don’t plan to tamp down their expectations of Biden’s labor agenda even if Republicans win control of the Senate, a result that won’t be known until January with the likely Georgia runoff elections.

“We are going to stay fiercely committed to demanding that the House, Senate and president take dramatic, bold action on curbing the pandemic and creating good jobs that people can feed their families on, and by tackling racial and inequality and the climate crisis,” Mary Kay Henry, international president of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, told POLITICO.

Major unions like SEIU organized canvassing drives and texting campaigns in swing states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada. Union members overall were more likely to support Biden than voters generally, with 57 percent of union households backing him compared to 51 percent of non-union households, according to The New York Times’ exit polling.

But labor leaders say President Donald Trump aided the GOP’s performance by giving working people a message — albeit a false one — that they wanted to hear: Covid-19 will end after Election Day.

“If you’re tired of COVID, and you’re fatigued by COVID, and you’re anxious to get back to your job and your work or your small business is teetering, you want to believe that,” Weingarten said.

“You can’t underestimate the social isolation that has happened in America, since the start of this terrible pandemic,” she said.

Other leaders blamed Democrats’ performance in congressional races on freshman lawmakers, who are usually the most vulnerable in their efforts to get reelected.

“Democrats can also always do a better job of talking about kitchen table economics,” said Trumka. “I tell them that every single time that I meet with them, but many of the losses that we saw on the House side, were in districts with first-time Democratic seats.”

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said a Biden presidency could be the last chance for unions to secure an expansion of labor rights before restrictions on collective bargaining drown out their influence.

“As organized labor declines in numbers and percentage of the workforce, it has less political clout,” said Reich, who served under President Bill Clinton. “So it’s a death spiral.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 6, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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What the workplace will look like under a Biden White House

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The U.S. workplace will look much different with Joe Biden in the Oval Office — with some significant changes possible even if Republicans maintain a majority in the Senate.

“Biden, who won the endorsement of almost every major union in the country, has made labor reform a fundamental part of his program and is widely expected to name at least one union leader to his Cabinet,” your host reports. And “as the coronavirus pandemic continues to stoke permanent job losses and compromise worker safety, the case for structural change may be stronger than ever.”

What Biden can do will to some extent depend on which party controls the Senate, which won’t be determined until a pair of key Georgia runoffs in early January. “Still, the transition will be a sharp turn from the Trump White House, under which union membership has droppedpay inequity has widened and enforcement has dwindled.”

Here’s some of what you can expect:

— Heightened worker safety enforcement: One of the first things a Biden administration will likely do is instruct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to step up worker safety enforcement by enacting an emergency temporary standard, or a set of guidelines governing how employers must protect their employees from Covid-19. He’s also likely to ramp up penalties for violators.

— A reversal of Trump executive orders: Biden will be able to immediately rescind some of President Donald Trump’s executive orders — including those restricting employment-based visasbanning diversity training in the federal government and peeling back civil service protections — as well as reinstate Obama-era executive orders that Trump had undone.

— A more labor-friendly NLRB: The former vice president is widely expected to appoint more Democrats to the National Labor Relations Board, the agency responsible for settling disputes between unions and employers. Right now, it’s three Republicans, one Democrat — and an empty seat.

— Pursuit of progressive labor policy: Biden campaigned heavily on enacting Democratic labor legislation similar to that passed out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House in 2020 and 2019, including a measure to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 and the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would strengthen workers’ ability to unionize. This, of course, will hinge on the balance of power in the upper chamber, as many of the provisions are opposed by Republicans.

Union leaders rejoice: “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory in this free and fair election is a win for America’s labor movement,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. Said AFSCME President Lee Saunders: “[C]ome January 20, we will have a White House that honors our work, respects our sacrifice and fights for the aid to states, cities and towns that we need.”

WHO WILL BE BIDEN’S LABOR SECRETARY? There are already several names in rotation as Biden’s transition team gets to work, our Megan Cassella reports.

“Biden is widely expected to choose a more progressive candidate to lead the Labor Department, one that would help balance out more moderate nominees he’s expected to place at other agencies,” she writes.

“Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), a former union organizer who also has Labor Department experience, is high on the list of potential nominees, as is California Labor Secretary Julie Su. Levin comes from a potentially vulnerable district, however, and Democrats may be wary of a special election there, given their unexpectedly narrow control of the House.”

“Other possibilities for Biden’s Labor secretary include DNC Chairman and former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez, AFL-CIO Chief Economist Bill Spriggs and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who POLITICO reported is interested in the position.”

CALIFORNIA’S PROP 22 GIVES GIG COMPANIES A NEW ROAD MAP: The success of a California ballot measure allowing Uber, Lyft and other gig companies’ drivers to be independent contractors — while still enjoying a few employee-like perks — may provide employers with a model to use across the country, Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson reports.

Proposition 22 promises drivers “a guaranteed minimum pay rate while they’re assigned a task; a review process for terminations; and health stipends if they work enough hours,” he writes. “A University of California at Berkeley analysis concluded that after accounting for full expenses and wait times, the proposition’s pay guarantee is worth less than $6 an hour. (The companies dispute this.)”

“The companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ads … [and] it was money well spent. Uber and Lyft alone gained more than $10 billion in market value after the vote, and defanged a recent state court injunction that would have required them to reclassify their drivers as employees.”

“The companies don’t plan to stop there,” Eidelson writes. “‘You’ll see us more loudly advocate for new laws like Prop 22,’ Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said on a Nov. 5 earnings call. DoorDash CEO Tony Xu said in a statement: ‘We’re looking ahead and across the country, ready to champion new benefits structures that are portable, proportional, and flexible.’”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 9, 2020. 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.


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What a Biden victory will mean for the American workforce

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With Joe Biden about to enter the Oval Office, the American workplace is going to look much different.

The former vice president and U.S. senator has four decades of relationships with union leaders behind him, setting him up to potentially be the most labor-friendly president the U.S. has ever had.

Biden, who won the endorsement of almost every major union in the country, has made labor reform a fundamental part of his program and is widely expected to name at least one union leader to his Cabinet.

“I don’t think [Obama] ‘got’ labor. And I think Biden gets it,” said Bill Spriggs, the AFL-CIO’s chief economist. “When Biden walks in a room with labor leaders, he feels like ‘Oh, I’m at home.’”

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to stoke permanent job losses and compromise worker safety, the case for structural change may be stronger than ever.

“The coronavirus has raised public consciousness and awareness about the plight of the working class in America, including low-wage workers and the kind of people who used to be unionized, and revealed the utter lack of worker protections,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich told POLITICO.

The scope of what Biden can accomplish could be limited by the Senate, where two crucial races — both in Georgia — won’t be decided until runoffs take place in January. If Republicans maintain control of the chamber, that could curtail many of Biden’s plans.

Still, the transition will be a sharp turn from the Trump White House, under which union membership has droppedpay inequity has widened and enforcement has dwindled. Some of the Democrats’ highest priorities will be counteracting action taken — or in some cases, not taken — by the current administration.

“There’s a litany of things the Trump administration has done that we have to undo,” said Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee.

Here are some things lawmakers and experts say workers and employers can expect from a Biden White House:

1. Heightened worker safety enforcement

One of the first things a Biden administration will likely move to do is instruct the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to step up worker safety enforcement, including by enacting an Emergency Temporary Standard, or a set of guidelines governing how employers must protect their employees from Covid-19, and ramping up penalties on violators.

With an estimated 72,015 workers having tested positive for coronavirus and 315 fatalities in the food system alone, Democrats and labor advocates have become increasingly vocal in criticizing the Labor Department for what they say is leniency. Despite having received more than 10,000 complaints since the pandemic started, the agency hasn’t proposed a penalty greater than $30,000 for coronavirus-related risks, even in cases where workers died. And Republicans have shot down an emergency standard, insisting that employers need extra flexibility during the recession.

Biden’s campaign advocated to “immediately release and enforce an [ETS] to give employers and frontline employees specific, enforceable guidance on what to do to reduce the spread of COVID” and “double the number of OSHA investigators to enforce the law and existing standards and guidelines.”

2. Pursuit of progressive labor policy

Biden campaigned on enacting much of the Democratic labor legislation passed out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House in 2020 and 2019. He said in July that he would push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminate the so-called tipped wage, which allows employers to count tips toward servers’ mandated wages — both provisions included in the House-passed Raise the Wage Act. The federal minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 2009, when it was hiked to $7.25.

Biden also pledged he would sign the House-passed Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would strengthen workers’ ability to unionize, including by allowing them to form unions via card-check elections, where employees sign forms authorizing the union to represent them.

“The PRO Act would be the most important labor law reform since the Wagner Act itself in 1935 or the National Labor Relations Act,” Levin said.

Passing these bills will be highly unlikely if Republicans control the Senate. And even if some of the measures made it through, signing them would be an uphill battle for Biden, who will have to balance unions’ demands with competing business interests and some of the more moderate voices that helped win him the office.

“The business community is going to place a lot of demands on Biden and the Biden administration,” Reich said. “It’s not going to like his tax increases on the wealthy and on big corporations; it’s not going to like his environmental regulations and laws he has promised.”

“And there’s only a limited amount of political capital that a new president has.”

3. A boost to manufacturing via trade

Biden has been outspoken against Trump’s trade war with China, labeling some of the White House’s tariffs “damaging” and “disastrous.” Were he to lift some of the Trump administration’s trade restrictions, it could provide an immediate boost to the manufacturing workforce. Despite gaining 66,000 jobs in September, factory employment is still down 647,000 jobs from February because of the pandemic, according to Labor Departments statistics.

In his manufacturing plan, Biden advocates for “a Pro-American worker tax and trade strategy to fix the harmful policies of the Trump Administration and give our manufacturers and workers the fair shot they need,” along with a series of tax credits and executive actions. Although Biden could in theory lift any tariff as soon as he took office, he must also answer to business and other interests that might want the restrictions to stay in place for months as he forms a plan. A top trade adviser said his administration wouldn’t rule out imposing new tariffs on imports.

Unions including the United Steelworkers, which represents over a million workers and retirees across several manufacturing industries, say they have confidence in Biden’s plan whatever it may entail.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Voters pass pro-worker laws where the Congress lags, this week in the war on workers

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The presidential and Senate elections were the headlines on Tuesday and through the rest of the week, but it’s worth noting a few key places where voters said yes to ballot measures making life a little better for working families. In Florida, voters passed a $15 minimum wage amendment. It phases in very slowly, not reaching $15 until 2026, but it’s progress. If you’re wondering WTF is going on with more than 60% support for a minimum wage increase while Donald Trump won the state, welcome to Florida. The state’s voters did the exact same thing in 2004, voting for George W. Bush and a minimum wage increase.

Colorado voters passed paid family leave. The state legislature had failed to pass such a bill, so organizers took it to the voters, and won. The law, which doesn’t go into effect until 2024, will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave at between 65% and 90% of their pay, up to $1,100 per week. It’s funded by a payroll tax.

And Arizona voters approved a tax on high-income households that will raise hundreds of millions of dollars for education. That comes after Arizona teachers went on strike for school funding in 2018.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Increasing the minimum wage would help, not hurt, the economy

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The minimum wage in the United States hasn’t budged in 11 years. Whether it should was a hotly contested question during Thursday’s final presidential debate.

President Donald Trump asserted that increasing the minimum wage would crush small businesses, many of which are already struggling as a result of the pandemic, arguing that the decision should be left to the states. Democratic nominee Joe Biden repeated his campaign pledge to raise the minimum wage from its current $7.25 to $15.

Establishing a $15 wage floor has been a long-term goal of union-backed advocacy groups, which began putting pressure on big companies like McDonald’s and Walmart to pay workers $15 an hour in 2012. The Democratic Party made a $15 minimum wage part of its platform ahead of the 2016 election season. A handful of states with high costs of living — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — as well as some cities have adopted laws that will raise the minimum wage to $15 over time, and 29 states as well as the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal one.

The issue clearly resonates with voters: “Wages” was the most-searched topic in 44 states during the debate (the top search in the remaining six states was “unemployment”). Surveys indicate, though, that Trump’s view is out of step with that of most Americans: Two-thirds want to see a $15 minimum wage, according to the Pew Research Center.

Business groups have argued that raising the minimum wage forces business owners to fire workers, a claim echoed by Trump in the debate. The reality is more complex: The evidence of job loss is inconsistent, and the benefits are accrued by some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.

In terms of reducing income and wealth disparities, a rising minimum wage is a good thing. “The benefits in terms of reducing inequality — getting money into people’s pockets, stimulating the market — are very well proven,” said Till von Wachter, professor of economics and director of the California Policy Lab at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“The best evidence is that judiciously set minimum wages make a lot of sense. They raise earnings, reduce individual and family poverty, and have no measurable negative effects on employment,” said David Autor, an economics professor at MIT and co-chair of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future.

report last year by the Congressional Budget Office found that a $15 minimum wage would increase the income of 27 million workers, 17 million of whom currently earn below that amount with the remaining 10 million earning just over $15 an hour, but all of whom would see their wages rise due to what economists call the “spillover effect.”

When adjusted for inflation, today’s minimum wage gives workers far less buying power than it once did. Since peaking 52 years ago, purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen by 31 percent — the equivalent of $6,800 for someone working full-time at minimum wage for a year.

“The real value of the federal U.S. minimum wage is at a historic low,” Autor said. “I’d be happy to see something like $12 or $13, indexed to inflation so it doesn’t again sink to irrelevance within 10 years.”

A $15 wage would lift 1.3 million households above the poverty line — but the flip side could be fewer jobs. The CBO estimated a median loss of 1.3 million jobs, although it also acknowledged considerable ambiguity with that figure. “Findings in the research literature about how changes in the federal minimum wage affect employment vary widely,” the agency said.

A 10 percent increase in base pay is associated with a 1.5-percentage-point increase in the likelihood that workers will remain with their current employer, which can translate to significant cost savings for companies.

Given the sweeping societal impact a higher minimum wage would have on the lives of the poorest Americans, von Wachter said policymakers should deem this potential an acceptable risk. “We accept these small efficiency costs because we think it’s valuable to provide that redistribution. We accept a trade-off between costs and benefits,” he said, adding that most of the studies have yielded no evidence of higher minimum wages triggering job losses.

Some research has even found the opposite — that is, a higher minimum wage can increase employment in some situations. When studying employment practices of big chain stores, von Wachter found that raising the minimum wage had the most positive effect in labor markets dominated by just a few large employers.

Other data suggests that higher pay improves worker satisfaction and leads to lower turnover, which can help mitigate employers’ higher payroll costs. According to Glassdoor, a 10 percent increase in base pay is associated with a 1.5-percentage-point increase in the likelihood that workers will remain with their current employer, which can translate to significant cost savings for companies. Replacing a low-wage worker costs about 16 percent of that worker’s annual salary.

A minimum wage that hasn’t risen since 2009 will only become increasingly unsustainable for the people relying on it, experts say. “There’s a lot of headroom to raise it [and] workers would benefit,” Autor said. “We can afford to do better.”

This blog originally appeared at NBC News on October 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Martha C. White is an NBC News contributor who writes about business, finance and the economy.


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Minimum wage rises some places, but it’s still the COVID-19 economy

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Unemployment remains sky-high (no matter what Donald Trump tries to tell you), and four million workers have had their pay or hours cut due to the pandemic. For people who are still on the job, there’s some good news in some cities and states in the form of minimum wage increases that went into effect on July 1.

In Illinois, the minimum wage went from $9.25 an hour to $10. In Oregon, it went from $11.25 to $12. In Nevada, workers with health insurance will have an $8 minimum wage and workers without health coverage will get $9, up from $8.25. The minimum wage in Portland, Oregon, went from $12.50 to $13.25. Chicago rose from $13 to $14. More than a dozen other cities—most of them in California—and three counties had increases, too. The problem is that many workers, even those who are still employed, aren’t getting the hours they need to get by. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Raising the minimum wage prevents suicides, but Republicans won’t do it

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third study in less than a year has found that raising the minimum wage would prevent suicides. The latest study, in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, adds the finding that a higher minimum wage would be an especially strong suicide prevention measure during times of high unemployment.

The researchers used states with minimum wages above the federal level to analyze the years from 1990 to 2015, writing that “We estimated a 6% reduction in suicide for every dollar increase in the minimum wage among adults aged 18–64 years with ?high school education.” Accounting for other factors lowers it to a 3.5% reduction in some cases. There’s no effect for people with a college education—a finding that both supports the result for people with a high school diploma or less and one “suggesting that minimum wage increases may reduce disparities in mental health and mortality between socioeconomic groups.”

We’re talking about 27,000 lives that could have been saved by raising the minimum wage by $1.

Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages above the federal level of $7.25 an hour. The House, controlled by Democrats, has passed a $15 minimum wage bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republicans have blocked even a vote.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Washington, D.C., lawmakers add insult to injury after overturning tipped minimum wage increase

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Sadly, it’s not just Republican lawmakers who overturn the will of the voters to keep workers underpaid and vulnerable. The Washington, D.C., mayor and council seem to be going out of their way to show that both sides do it.

D.C. voters passed Initiative 77, a measure gradually raising the tipped worker minimum wage to the full minimum wage, back in 2018, by a 12-point margin. Months later, the council and mayor overturned the will of the voters and booted tipped workers back down. To make that repeal vote seem more palatable, the lawmakers passed some provisions that would supposedly make life better for tipped workers—but more than a year later, those provisions haven’t been funded.

The District was supposed to publicize the rights of tipped workers, form a commission to support them, and set up an anonymous tip line for workers to report wage theft. Neither Mayor Muriel Bowser nor Council Chair Phil Mendelson included funding for those measures in the budget. Bowser isn’t commenting, while Mendelson, who pushed for the repeal of Initiative 77, told The Washington Post essentially that it was the fault of everyone who didn’t want Initiative 77 repealed to begin with. “The mayor should try harder this year to include it in her budget, but I would also note the so-called, self-proclaimed worker advocates did not lobby us as far as I know,” Mendelson said. Those worker advocates were putting their energy toward electing better council members and eventually passing—again—something raising the tipped worker minimum wage, but sure, it’s their fault that the jerks who repealed a voter-passed measure then didn’t fund their own so-called compromise measures.

This is obnoxious assault on workers layered on top of obnoxious assault on workers, and the lawmakers responsible should pay with their jobs.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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