• print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Tipped workers face added sexual harassment during the pandemic, this week in the war on workers

Share this post

In the fight for a $15 minimum wage, don’t forget about tipped workers. While the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since 2009—and Congress hasn’t passed an increase since 2007—the tipped worker minimum wage has been at $2.13 an hour since 1991. The theory is that workers get at least minimum wage thanks to tips, or else employers make up the difference. The reality can be very different: “the federal Department of Labor’s wage and hour division has estimated that 84% of restaurants violate labor standards including tip violations. In other words, far too often, workers don’t get the tips they’re due,” Saru Jayaraman of One Fair Wage writes.

And working for tips opens workers up to racism, sexism, and sexual harassment. Research shows that Black waiters get lower tips, and waiters viewed as attractive get higher tips. Now, there’s a new twist, Jayaraman reports. “Male customers are making lewd and sexualized comments about servers’ masks and saying things to women servers like, ‘Take off your mask so I can see how much to tip you.’ In other words, while tips and, thus, wages for restaurant workers are plummeting, sexual harassment is rising.”

This is gross and awful, and while it would be great to see immediate justice in the form of drinks in faces and food dumped on laps, it would be still better if workers didn’t have to put up with that kind of harassment to make a living wage.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on March 6, 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

AFL-CIO to explore taking a stance on eliminating filibuster

Share this post

The AFL-CIO’s executive board will meet next week to determine its position on eliminating the filibuster, the labor federation’s president, Richard Trumka, told POLITICO Thursday.

Two of organized labor’s highest priorities in Congress — boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour and legislation containing a long list of union priorities known as the PRO Act — are unlikely to garner the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate.

“There are several ways to get them done,” Trumka said. Ending the filibuster “is one of them.”

“And quite frankly, we — we being my executive board — are going to have a discussion about that next Wednesday,” he said. “We’re going to have that discussion [about] where we ought to be on that very issue.”

If organized labor coalesces around overturning the filibuster, a priority for many progressives, it could give the movement significant momentum. A major ally of Democrats and the president’s election campaign, unions have seen early success in lobbying the Biden White House. Unions pressed Biden, after weeks of silence, to speak out on a high-stakes union election at an Amazon factory in Alabama — which some say was the most pro-union statement a president has ever made.”

The Raise the Wage Act, which Democrats had been hoping to clear as part of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief bill, would hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 and eliminate the subminimum wage for workers who earn tips. But the Senate parliamentarian last week ruled the wage provisions ineligible for enactment via the budget reconciliation process Democrats are using to shield the relief legislation from a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

The PRO Act would dramatically expand workers’ ability to join and form unions, including by empowering the National Labor Relations Board to levy fines on employers who retaliate against workers for attempting to organize, and by extending collective bargaining rights to more workers.

“The PRO Act is our litmus test,” Trumka said. “It has to get done.”

“I don’t want to hear, ‘Oh my, we don’t have 60 votes, woe is we.’ Figure out a way to do it. Let’s figure out a way to do it.”

The White House is weighing whether to compromise with Republicans — who recently offered their own, scaled-down minimum wage hike — in order to get a raise enacted once Congress passes its Covid relief bill. But asked if he would be willing to back down from $15 an hour, Trumka was blunt: “I’m not willing to move from it.”

“I think that’s the absolute minimum that’s necessary to dignify people, reward work and help a family get out of poverty,” he said. “The easiest path forward would be for [Republicans] to come to their senses and say, ‘$15 by 2025.'”

In addition to eliminating the filibuster, the labor federation will also explore whether Democrats can “find another bill that the Republicans want and append” the wage increase to it, Trumka said, “or do three or four other kinds of machinations that we can do.”

Rebecca Rainey contributed to this report.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on March 4, 2021. 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.

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

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

Working Life Episode 214: Your Future Talking Points for $15-an-hour Minimum Wage; Alabama is Amazon Unionizing Ground Zero

Share this post

Right before our eyes, in these very days and at this time of crisis, you can see so clearly this bankrupt system, defended and promoted by greedy CEOs and spineless politicians, but a system people are trying to rebel against and take down. And that’s the picture of two really important fights—the fight to get millions of workers a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the organizing campaign at Amazon.

It’s infuriating to keep reading about these so-called Democrats, and, of course, every single Republican, who oppose raising the federal minimum wage to $15-an-hour? How deeply out of touch are these people who oppose giving people a semi-livable wage to try to survive on? So, in service to my listeners, I’ve given you four—just four!—easy talking points to argue for hiking the immorally low minimum wage.

Then, I return to the organizing campaign underway at Amazon’s huge warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. There is never enough conversation about organizing Amazon because of its power and how a victory in this campaign will inspire workers at other Amazon warehouses, not to mention labor as a whole. I am joined by Joshua Brewer, a main organizer of the campaign for the Retail Wholesale & Department Store Workers, for the latest on-the-ground intel.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on February 17, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


Share this post

‘Protect us, respect us, and pay us,’ Rev. Barber says of the necessity for a $15 minimum wage

Share this post

Including a minimum wage increase in a bill passing the Senate under budget reconciliation got a procedural boost on Monday. The Congressional Budget Office responded to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ queries with an assessment that the minimum wage would have broader budgetary effects than some other measures that have passed the Senate through reconciliation. That means the minimum wage should be eligible for inclusion in a COVID-19 relief package. Unfortunately, there’s also been a setback for the effort to raise the wage in the form of President Biden offering a pessimistic assessment of the likelihood of a minimum wage increase getting through the Senate—at least in its current form.

That’s not a reason to give up, though. It’s a reason to keep pressing on why this is so very important. The federal minimum wage has not gone up since 2009, and it’s literally a poverty wage. Full-time work at $7.25 an hour is barely above the poverty threshold for a single adult, and would leave a parent with one child in poverty. Increasing it to $15 gradually over years—such that by 2025, as in the current bill, inflation would have brought its value downto the equivalent of $13.33 to $14.41 in today’s dollars— would give nearly 32 million people a raise.

If simply lifting people out of poverty is not enough for you, understand that for every common objection to raising the minimum wage, there is a fact-based answer. Voters understand that. Raising the minimum wage is popular enough that voters in some unexpected states have passed increases. Most recently, Florida voters said yes to a gradual increase to a $15 minimum wage, so the Joe Manchins and Kyrsten Sinemas of the Senate should reconsider what they think they know about public support for raising the minimum wage.

They definitely don’t have a moral leg to stand on, as the Rev. William Barber recently pointed out.

“Listen: 55% of poor, low-wealth people voted for this current ticket. That’s the mandate,” he said. “The mandate is in the people who voted, not in the back slapping of senators and congresspeople. It’s the people who voted. And if we turn our backs now, it will hurt 62 million poor, low-wealth people who have literally kept this economy alive, who were the first to have to go to jobs, first to get infected, first to get sick, first to die. We cannot be the last to get relief and the last to get treated and paid properly. Protect us, respect us, and pay us.”

The minimum wage is also a racial justice issue, Barber said. “We cannot address racial equity if we do not address the minimum wage of $15. There’s no such thing as racial equity when you just address police reform and prisons but you don’t address the issue of economic justice. And if you address economic justice, guess what? It helps Black people, and white people, and brown people, and Latino people. It helps everybody. Everybody in, nobody out.”

The case is clear. What do opponents of minimum wage increases have? As the push to pass the Raise the Wage Act continues, expect to see some arguments that just don’t hold up.

For instance, opponents of raising the minimum wage themselves sometimes talk about racial justice—Sen. Rand Paul, for instance, said in January, “the people who lose their jobs first when you hike up the minimum wage are Black teenagers. So, you know, ‘why does Joe Biden hate Black teenagers’ should be the question. Why does Joe Biden want to destroy all these jobs?” 

Who are you going to turn to on racial and economic justice questions—Rand Paul or Rev. Barber? This is Paul telling us right off the bat that his objections are dishonest. The job losses Paul projects are also highly questionable, as in, most of the economists who have most seriously studied the effects of minimum wage increases on job loss or creation have found “negligible or zero effects on jobs.”

The funny thing is, teenage workers are often a favored Republican talking point against raising the minimum wage, in a completely different way. 

More commonly, the claim is that most of the people who’d get raises would be teenagers saving up for designer jeans or whatever. That it’s paid to people who don’t really need the money, so why put the burden on business owners? Concern for teenagers’ jobs of the sort Paul is feigning is not usually the posture. But when the “it’s teenagers who don’t need it” argument does come out—because someone’s probably going to raise it—consider this: just 17% of minimum wage workers are teenagers, and many of those are helping support their families. When the New Jersey minimum wage rose from $8 to $10 in 2018, 19-year-old Fiona Joseph told USA Today, “I didn’t have to work 25 hours a week in order to pay the electricity bill.”

Opponents of raising the minimum wage often claim to worry about small businesses. Some small business owners also worry. But while coverage of those worries, such as a New York Times story on how the $14 minimum wage is playing out in Fresno, California, may lead with a restaurant owner’s claims that “Every year we have had to make hard decisions to let labor go,” buried in the article you’ll often find a statistic casting doubt on those claims. Like the fact that Fresno’s restaurant employment rose 7% between 2016 and 2019. Reverse the emphasis and you get “Restaurant employment rises as minimum wage rises, but some restaurant owners say that’s why they’re cutting jobs.” Which … has a different feel than several paragraphs of regretful restaurant owner talking about the job cuts they’ve sadly been forced to make. 

Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. The arguments against it don’t actually hold up. Unfortunately, there’s an entire political party opposed to ensuring that work pays a wage above poverty levels, and all they need to do is scare off a Democrat or two—that would be Manchin and Sinema—and they can keep tens of millions of people from getting a raise. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 15, 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

COVID-19 highlights the racism of the tipped minimum wage, this week in the war on workers

Share this post

Black workers have been hit so hard during the coronavirus pandemic, and a full accounting of the hits is not yet complete. We know that Black people have been disproportionately likely to get sick, to be hospitalized, and to die from COVID-19. That they’ve been more likely to face job loss during the pandemic (when they aren’t being exposed to the virus at essential but underpaid jobs). That they’ve been less likely to get unemployment benefits. A recent report from One Fair Wage adds another angle to this litany of racist impacts: racist tipping practices.

Black tipped workers already earned less than white ones before the pandemic. It got worse.

“Since the pandemic, Black tipped workers were far more likely to report their tips had decreased by half or greater compared to workers overall (88% v 78%)—confirming that the racial bias that existed in tipping prior to the pandemic was exacerbated during the pandemic,” One Fair Wage reports. “Black workers were also far more likely to report their tips had decreased due to enforcing COVID-19 safety measures than workers in general—in other words, Black workers were penalized far more than other workers for trying to enforce social distancing and mask rules (73% v 62%)—making it more challenging for them to enforce these rules and thus further exposing themselves and the public to the virus.”

The answer is obvious: Tipped workers should be paid the full minimum wage (which should itself be raised) so that they’re not so dependent on individual customers.

? Union members from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will be picketing the Super Bowl to protest Frontier Communications—which has a corporate partnership with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—proposing to cut health care and retirement benefits in ongoing contract negotiations.

Ohio auto parts workers went on strike to unionize, and when that didn’t succeed, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for recognition.

How the PRO Act would restore workers’ freedom to join a union.

In the shadow of COVID-19, ACLU joins nonprofit unionization surge.

Former AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is dead at 86. Sweeney was a major figure in moving the labor federation to a more activist and inclusive stance.

Enormous VA union contract moves toward uncertain conclusion under Biden administration:

In early January, members voted to reject a proposed contract that they say was insufficient and one-sided. After that, a 30-day mediation period began. That mediation period expires this week. Because of some delays on the VA’s side in appointing a negotiator, the union is hoping for an extension, though it is unclear what a final timetable will be. What is certain is that after a process that has been marked by lawsuits, intransigence, political battles, and charges of bad faith, there are still significant outstanding issues to be settled.

“We’ve alleged from the beginning that the VA’s never really come to the table with a sincere desire to reach agreement. There’s been a lot of bad faith behavior,” says Thomas Dargon, AFGE’s acting supervisory attorney working on the National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC). ?“What we’ve been asking for all along is for them to come to the table seriously.”

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 6, 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

Whines about raising the minimum wage don’t hold up, full stop

Share this post

More than a decade after the federal minimum wage last went up, an increase may be included in the COVID-19 relief package under consideration in Congress. That bill is planned to be passed through reconciliation—in other words, through a simple majority vote—in the Senate, which makes it a great place for the minimum wage, since Republicans would certainly filibuster that.

As a reminder, more than 60% of Florida voters passed a $15 minimum wage measure in 2020 even as the state went for Donald Trump. This is a popular issue with the public, even though Republicans have made it a contentious issue in Congress. 

Conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Tuesday that he doesn’t support a $15 minimum wage because he thinks $11 an hour, adjusted for inflation, would be adequate for his state of West Virginia. In fact, $11 an hour is a living wage for a single adult in West Virginia right now. For a single parent with a child, it’s half of a living wage. And the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 doesn’t get to $15 until 2025. It doesn’t even get to $11 until 2022. 

Opponents of raising the minimum wage from its current historically low level also often claim that it would reduce jobs. The best available research contradicts that: Work by University of Massachusetts economist Arindrajit Dube looks at every border between counties where the minimum wage went up on one side of the border and not on the other, finding no job loss in key industries.

So the minimum wage is popular and most of the arguments against it just simply don’t hold up. Can it pass now, through reconciliation, if Democrats can bring Manchin along?

The reason the Senate doesn’t just pass everything through reconciliation is that it can only be used for “legislation that changes spending, revenues, and the federal debt limit.” Showing that the minimum wage meets that test is a key procedural hurdle, which the Economic Policy Institute is taking head on. In short, raising the minimum wage should qualify to pass under reconciliation because it will affect federal spending on public assistance programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Ben Zipperer, David Cooper, and Josh Bivens look at multiple economic models of the effects of a $15 minimum wage and estimate big savings:

  • Earned income tax credit (EITC) and child tax credit (CTC) expenditures would decline by somewhere between $6.5 billion and $20.7 billion annually.
  • Expenditures on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other major government transfers would fall by between $5.2 billion and $10.3 billion annually.
  • Reduced annual expenditures on SNAP alone would range from $3.3 billion to $5.4 billion.

Adding those things up, at the low end it’s an estimated $11.7 billion a year in decreased expenditures, and as much as $31 billion. Additionally, because 32 million people would have larger paychecks, payroll taxes could go up by $7.0 billion to $13.9 billion. 

It’s time. Raise the minimum wage, index it to median wage growth, and never again have the nation go for more than 10 years without a raise.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 3, 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

3 Tips For Handling This Year’s Minimum Wage Increases

Share this post

Workers in half of the United States are seeing minimum wage increases in 2021, meaning employers and employees alike will need to stay abreast of changes that can affect various types of compensation beyond workers’ regular pay, experts told Law360.

The statewide wage floor will go up in 25 states this year, according to a Law360 tally. And several major cities, including Los Angeles; Chicago; Denver; and Portland, Oregon, are seeing increases as well.

Some of the changes are small, like in Minnesota, where the wage floor went up this year from $10 to $10.08 per hour. In other places, the increase is more significant. Virginia will see the biggest boost of any state this year on May 1, when the minimum wage rises to $9.50 per hour from the federal minimum of $7.25.

Here, Law360 takes a look at what employment lawyers should keep in mind as wages rise around the country.

Update Your Processes In Time

While many minimum wage increases went into effect New Year’s Day, some will take effect later this year. But whenever the change happens, employers and workers need to be ready for it, attorneys said.

Some worker advocates who spoke with Law360 predicted the increases could lead to an uptick in wage and hour lawsuits.

“We have seen cases where, once COVID hit, people were shaving hours, manipulating time cards [and] things like that. And I certainly would expect to see it as a result of this as well,” said Ryan Morgan, the co-chair of the employee rights group at Morgan & Morgan PA.

The responsibility to ensure workers get paid what they’re owed ultimately falls to the employer, but businesses that work with a payroll company should make sure their providers’ systems are updated to reflect new minimum wage rates, Morgan suggested.

Awareness can be more of a challenge for workers, said Edgar Ndjatou, the executive director of the worker advocacy group Workplace Fairness.

Even though state minimum wage levels are a matter of public record, workers may not be aware that they can go to the U.S. Department of Labor and its state-level counterparts for information, he said.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited worker interactions that might otherwise allow for peer-to-peer information sharing.

“It’s one thing if people get together and say, ‘Did you hear about this? There’s a minimum wage increase.’ But now, if people are not in the same room as much, the ability to provide awareness might be curtailed,” Ndjatou said.

Get Into the Weeds

Minimum wage laws can differ greatly across jurisdictions, so it’s important to know which one applies where.

“As states and local municipalities continue to pass regulations and the federal-level minimum wage stays pretty stagnant, employers are going to have to keep track and understand what the current minimum wage is in the jurisdictions in which they have employees,” said Chuck McDonald, a shareholder at management-side firm Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC.

Large employers with workers in many different jurisdictions should pay special attention to the details of each jurisdiction. Some legislation sets different minimum wage rates for employers of different sizes, or those that offer certain benefits versus those that don’t.

“Ten years ago, state law was mostly all anybody had to worry about,” McDonald said. “Now you’ve got to go down one more level to the county, city and municipalities.”

Beyond simply complying with the law, businesses should consider the implications of rising minimum wage rates on workforce morale, said Michael Schmidt, the vice chair of the labor and employment practice at management-side firm Cozen O’Connor.

“If you’re raising the wages that the lowest rung of employees get, that’s by definition going to be closing the gap between those lower wage earners and some of your other wage earners in the company,” he said.

Employers should also make sure they’re not opening themselves to discrimination claims if they change workers’ schedules in response to pay floors going up, said Ndjatou of Workplace Fairness.

“If they think that they can’t afford to pay everyone the new minimum wage, they might decide to cut back hours or readjust schedules,” he said. “Where sometimes employers may run afoul is if they don’t do those things equitably.”

Keep an Eye On Other Obligations

A rise in the minimum wage doesn’t only affect workers’ hourly pay. It might also have impacts on other compensation obligations that are based on employees’ regular rate of pay.

“If the minimum wage goes up, then what you’ve got to pay for paid sick leave, report-to-work pay [and] some of those other ancillary requirements are going to be impacted as well,” said Ogletree’s McDonald.

Additionally, a rise in the minimum wage could also affect whether certain employees qualify as exempt from overtime and other pay requirements.

In California, for instance, certain employees must earn at least twice what they would be paid for 40 hours per week of work at the state minimum wage rate in order to qualify as exempt from overtime requirements. When the minimum wage goes up, so does that threshold, said Zach Hutton, a partner at management-side firm Paul Hastings LLP.

“It’s important that employers not just increase the minimum wage paid to non-exempt employees, but also see whether they need to increase the salaries of some exempt workers,” Hutton said.

Lew Maltby, the president of the National Workrights Institute, predicted that such exemptions will be the basis for an increasing number of complaints against employers.”It happens all the time and it’s going to happen more now,” Maltby said. “When the minimum wage goes up, especially when it goes up substantially, an employer’s potential benefit from cheating goes up too.”

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Mike LaSusa is a senior employment reporter for the legal news service Law360, where he focuses on the laws and regulations surrounding pay for workers.


Share this post

With Minimum Wage Victory in Reach, The Fight for $15 Vows Bigger Things to Come

Share this post

After nearly a decade of activism, the Fight for $15 stands closer than ever to achieving its most visible goal: a $15 federal minimum wage. Leaders of the campaign, however, say that their work is only beginning. 

“The next two years is the biggest window [of opportunity] we’ve had in my 40 years in the labor movement,” says Mary Kay Henry, the president of SEIU, the two-million-member union that has funded the Fight for $15. Her union committed to spending $150 million to get Biden elected, and the time has now come to reap the rewards. The $15 federal minimum wage is included in the latest Covid relief bill Democrats are pushing in Congress, although Republicans are strenuously opposed, and many believe it may get dropped before the final bill is passed. Separately, a group of congressional Democrats today are reintroducing the Raise the Wage Act, which would gradually move the federal minimum wage up to $15 over a period of five years. Though success is not certain, it appears for the first time ever that both the White House and the majority leadership in Congress is committed to a goal that was derided as unrealistic and pie-in-the-sky when the campaign began in late 2012. 

“I view it as elected officials answering demands of the workers who had the guts to persist in making the demand since the early years, when they were ridiculed,” Henry says. Though the Fight for $15 has won an impressive string of victories on the local and state level?—?most recently a successful ballot measure to raise the wage in Florida to $15 by 2026?—?the federal minimum wage has stayed stubbornly locked at $7.25 an hour for more than a decade. With Democrats in control of the federal government, and years of good PR under their belts, that may soon change. 

The SEIU’s enormous funding commitment to the Fight for $15, which has been well over $20 million annually in some years, has been controversial in the labor world. Critics have often pointed out that despite the movement’s political and economic gains, it has not actually unionized the fast food sector, meaning that the campaign is being effectively subsidized by SEIU members without creating any new stream of dues revenue back to the organization. But Henry sees it as the sort of long-term structural fight that is necessary given the nature of today’s economy. Ten years ago, ?“we recognized that the right wing attack on working people and their unions was at a 40-year high,” she says. ?“We really thought what was required was for the labor movement to back a bold demand that was led by workers in a sector of the economy… that really needed the power of a workers movement.” 

From the beginning, the Fight for $15’s call has been “$15 and a union.” As the “$15” part of that nears success, the ?“union” part remains a dream. The biggest legal barrier to collective bargaining in the fast food industry has long been the ?“joint employer” rule, which dictates whether or not it is possible to hold a company like McDonald’s directly responsible for the labor conditions in its many franchises. Under Obama’s National Labor Relations Board, the rule was changed to be friendlier to labor; under Trump, it was rolled back. Under Biden, it is widely expected to be flipped back once again. And Mary Kay Henry says that the Fight for $15 now plans to press hard for what would be an even more meaningful win than a $15 minimum wage: a national collective bargaining agreement for fast food workers. 

“We’ve never given up that dream, as much as Fight for $15 has been characterized as a minimum wage movement,” says Henry. ?“We’ve always believed that what we have to do is create the way for workers to have the power to make those jobs good jobs, which is way beyond just raising the wage.” To that end, she says that SEIU is not planning on any reductions in the Fight for $15’s budget, even as victory on its economic plank is tantalizingly close. 

The movement’s successes should not obscure the fact that even now, fast food jobs do not always offer enough for workers to get by. Nobody knows that better than Terrence Wise, a McDonald’s worker in Kansas City who has become the nation’s most visible Fight for $15 activist over the past seven years. He was even invited to star at an event with Barack Obama at the White House in 2015. Wise’s optimism is tempered with weariness, and full of the realization that it took work to get here, and that only more work lies ahead. 

“Now we know the vast majority of Americans support $15 an hour. That didn’t just happen. Politicians didn’t just wake up and think that $15 an hour was cool,” he says. ?“We’ve only got to this point because of what workers have been doing: organizing. The [Biden] campaign didn’t decide, ?‘It’s our idea to pass a $15 wage federally.’ You know we had to push.” 

Henry says unequivocally that ?“we’re not stopping until all the fast food workers have a union.” For Wise, the goal has always been much more than a wage increase. ?“It’s always been a civil rights movement. A human rights movement,” he says. ?“Take the number out?—?it’s always been about a fight.”

Though Wise has become well known, his life has not become easy. When the pandemic struck, he and his family were living with his brother-in-law’s family, 10 people in a single house. He faced the threat of eviction as recently as a few weeks ago. When he joined the Fight for $15 in 2014, he was making $7.47 an hour at McDonald’s. Today, he is making $14 an hour there. If the Democrats do manage to raise the minimum wage, Terrence Wise?—?a grown man with a family, a job, and years of activism that have taken him all over America?—?would get a raise. 

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

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, 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.