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COVID-19 highlights gross inequality on this Latina Equal Pay Day

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It’s Oct. 29, and it’s Latina Equal Pay Day. That means that on this day, the typical Latina has been paid as much since Jan. 1, 2019 as the typical white man was paid between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019. That’s because Latinas are paid just 54 or 55 cents on the white man’s dollar overall.

It’s a particularly grievous injury in this year of the pandemic. “We may be valued less, but Latinas are among the pandemic’s most essential workers,” actor and activist America Ferrera writes. “When most Americans were told to stay safe at home, many Latinas didn’t have the luxury of protecting themselves and their families first. They were called to the front lines to protect other Americans; to do the work of caring for sick Americans in hospitals, working the fields to keep Americans fed, or supporting other families through domestic work. Even though the Latinx community makes up less than 20% of the U.S. population, we make up over 40% of workers in both the meatpacking and farming industries.”

But it’s not all about what industries Latinas work in. Latinas are also paid just 67 cents “relative,” the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) notes, “to non-Hispanic white men with the same level of education, age, and geographic location.” This is not just a pay disparity coming from differences in education or age, in other words, so don’t try to make that argument. In fact, “Latina doctors, many of whom are currently treating coronavirus patients, are paid 68% of the average hourly wage of non-Hispanic white male doctors (a difference of $20.46 per hour).”

Medicine isn’t the only industry of critical importance during the coronavirus pandemic in which Latinas are underpaid, EPI reports. It’s also true of restaurant wait staff, cashiers, child care workers, and elementary and middle school teachers.

There can be no serious argument that this isn’t about both sexism and racism. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on October 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson is a staff writer on labor for 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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How much would it cost consumers to give farmworkers a significant raise?

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The increased media coverage of the plight of the more than 2 million farmworkers who pick and help produce our food—and whom the Trump administration has deemed to be “essential” workers for the U.S. economy and infrastructure during the coronavirus pandemic—has highlighted the difficult and often dangerous conditions farmworkers face on the job, as well as their central importance to U.S. food supply chains. For example, photographs and videos of farmworkers picking crops under the smoke- and fire-filled skies of California have been widely shared across the internet, and some data suggest that the number of farmworkers who have tested positive for COVID-19 is rivaled only by meat-processing workers. In addition, around half of farmworkers are unauthorized immigrants and 10% are temporary migrant workers with “nonimmigrant” H-2A visas; those farmworkers have limited labor rights in practice and are vulnerable to wage theft and other abuses due to their immigration status.

Despite the key role they play and the challenges they face, farmworkers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the entire U.S. labor market. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that it would not collect the data on farmworker earnings that are used to determine minimum wages for H-2A workers, which could further reduce farmworker earnings.

This raises the question: How much would it cost to give farmworkers a significant raise in pay, even if it was paid for entirely by consumers? The answer is, not that much. About the price of a couple of 12-packs of beer, a large pizza, or a nice bottle of wine.

The latest data on consumer expenditures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides useful information about consumer spending on fresh fruits and vegetables, which, in conjunction with other data, allow us to calculate roughly how much it would cost to raise wages for farmworkers. (For a detailed analysis of these data, see this blog post at Rural Migration News.) But to calculate this, first we have to see how much a typical household spends on fruits and vegetables every year and the share that goes to farm owners and their farmworker employees.

The BLS data show that expenditures by households (referred to in the data as “consumer units”) in 2019 was $320 on fresh fruits and $295 on fresh vegetables, amounting to $615 a year or $11.80 per week. In addition, households spent an additional $110 on processed fruits and $145 on processed vegetables. Interestingly enough, on average, households spent almost as much on alcoholic beverages ($580) as they did on fresh fruits and vegetables ($615).


Data
 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service show that, on average, farmers receive less than 20% of every retail dollar spent on food, but a slightly higher share of what consumers spend for fresh fruits and vegetables. Figure A shows this share over time for fresh fruits and vegetables: Between 2000 and 2015, farmers received an average 30% of the average retail price of fresh fruits and 26% of the average retail price of fresh vegetables (2015 is the most recent year for which data are available). This means that average consumer expenditures on these items include $173 a year for farmers (0.30 x 320 = $96 + 0.26 x 295 = $77).

Farmers received an average 30% of the retail price of fresh fruit and 26% for fresh vegetables between 2000 and 2015

Farm share of fruit and vegetable retail sales, 2000–2015
DateFruitsVegetables
200026%26%
200128%28%
200229%26%
200328%26%
200425%23%
200528%25%
200630%26%
200730%24%
200827%26%
200928%25%
201029%27%
201133%25%
201236%23%
201335%27%
201435%25%
201538%27%

ChartData

Note: Data for 2015 are the most recent data available from United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer [Excel]. Share Tweet Embed Download image

According to studies published by the University of California, Davis, farm labor costs are about a third of farm revenue for fresh fruits and vegetables, meaning that farmworker wages and benefits for fresh fruits and vegetables cost the average household $57 per year (0.33 x $173 = $57). (However, in reality, farm labor costs are less than $57 per year per household because over half of the fresh fruits and one-third of fresh vegetables purchased in the United States are imported.)

To illustrate, that means that farm owners and farmworkers together receive only about one-third of retail spending on fruits and vegetables even though most, and in some cases all, of the work it takes to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables for retail sale takes place on farms (the exact share of the price farmers receive varies slightly by crop). For example, strawberries are picked directly into the containers in which they are sold, and iceberg lettuce is wrapped in the field. Consumers who pay $3 for a pound of strawberries are paying about $1 to the farmer, who pays one-third of that amount to farmworkers, 33 cents. For one pound of iceberg lettuce, which costs about $1.20 on average, farmers receive 40 cents and farmworkers get 13 of those 40 cents.

So, what would it cost to raise the wages of farmworkers? One of the few big wage increases for farmworkers occurred after the Bracero guestworker program ended in 1964. Under the rules of the program, Mexican Braceros were guaranteed a minimum wage of $1.40 an hour at a time when U.S. farmworkers were not covered by the minimum wage. Some farmworkers who picked table grapes were paid $1.40 an hour while working alongside Braceros in 1964, and then were offered $1.25 in 1965, prompting a strike. César Chávez became the leader of the strike and won a 40% wage increase in the first United Farm Workers table grape contract in 1966, raising grape workers’ wages to $1.75 an hour.

What would happen if there were a similar 40% wage increase today and the entire wage increase were passed on to consumers? The average hourly earnings of U.S. field and livestock workers were $14 an hour in 2019; a 40% increase would raise their wages to $19.60 an hour.

For a typical household or consumer unit, a 40% increase in farm labor costs translates into a 4% increase in the retail price of fresh fruits and vegetables (0.30 farm share of retail prices x 0.33 farm labor share of farm revenue = 10%; if farm labor costs rise 40%, retail spending rises 4%). If average farmworker earnings rose by 40%, and the increase were passed on entirely to consumers, average spending on fresh fruits and vegetables for a typical household would rise by $25 per year (4% of $615 = $24.60).

Many farm labor analysts consider a typical year of work for seasonal farmworkers to be about 1,000 hours. A 40% wage increase for seasonal farmworkers would raise their average earnings from $14,000 for 1,000 hours of work to $19,600. Many farmworkers have children at home, so for them, going from earning $14,000 to $19,600 per year would mean going from earning about half of the federal poverty line for a family of four ($25,750 in 2019) to earning about three-fourths of the poverty line. For a farmworker employed year-round for 2,000 hours, earnings would increase from $28,000 per year to $39,200, allowing them to earn far above the poverty line.

Raising wages for farmworkers by 40% could improve the quality of life for farmworkers without significantly increasing household spending on fruits and vegetables. If there were productivity improvements as farmers responded to higher labor costs, households could pay even less than the additional $25 per year for fresh fruits and vegetables.

If average farmworker earnings were doubled (rose by 100%) through increased spending on fresh fruits and vegetables, a typical household would see costs rise by $61.50 per year (10% of $615). That extra $61.50 per year would increase the wages of seasonal farmworkers to $28,000 for 1,000 hours of work, taking them above the poverty line for a family of four.

This blog originally appeared at Economic Policy Institute on October 15, 2020. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Daniel Costa is an attorney who first joined the Economic Policy Institute in 2010 and was EPI’s director of immigration law and policy research from 2013 to early 2018; he returned to this role in 2019 after serving as the California Attorney General’s senior advisor on immigration and labor.

Philip Martin is Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Davis. He edits Rural Migration News, has served on several federal commissions, and testifies frequently before Congress. He is an award-winning author who works for UN agencies around the world on labor and migration issues. His latest book is Merchants of Labor: Recruiters and International Labor Migration, a pioneering analysis of recruiters in low-skilled labor markets explaining the prominent role of labor intermediaries, from Oxford University Press.


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Study: Repeal Of Wisconsin’s Prevailing Wage Law Led To Drop In Wages For Construction Workers

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A new study from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) released exclusively to Wisconsin Public Radio finds the repeal of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws has resulted in lower wages for construction workers in Wisconsin, despite having no statistically significant impact on the cost of public construction projects.

Prevailing wage laws set minimum pay requirements for wages paid to workers on public construction projects, like school buildings or highway construction. 

Former Gov. Scott Walker along with GOP lawmakers in the state Legislature repealed Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law for local construction projects in 2015. Two years later, the GOP repealed Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law for state construction projects. 

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the study shows that before the laws were repealed, the average annual income for full-time construction and extraction workers was close to $49,000. After the laws were repealed, average annual income was a little over $46,000, a drop of more than 5 percent. When the study removed factors such as education and age, the average annual income for workers was 6 percent less than income pre-repeal.

“Prevailing wage provided ladders of access into the middle class for Wisconsin construction workers,” Frank Manzo IV, policy director for the MEPI, said, adding that repealing it has had negative consequences for those same workers. 

Two of Wisconsin’s neighboring states with prevailing wage laws in place showed a smaller drop in annual average income between 2015 and 2018. In Illinois and Minnesota, annual incomes dropped by under 2 percent combined.

The study further found that at the same time, construction industry CEOs saw an increase in pay after the repeal of the prevailing wage, worsening economic inequality, according to the authors. Researchers estimate construction industry CEOs in Wisconsin saw slightly more than a 54 percent increase in inflation-adjusted total income after the laws were repealed.

The data also showed that, following repeal, there was a decrease in the likelihood that skilled construction workers had employer-sponsored health insurance. 

“Repeal has lowered wages and reduced health coverage for skilled construction workers, and resulted in less work for local contractors,” Manzo said. “At the same time, repeal has failed to deliver cost-savings on public projects and to increase bid competition — both of which were promised by politicians.”

Kevin Duncan, an economics professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo who was part of the study’s research team, said when construction workers have a lower income and less health insurance coverage, it has broader effects on local economies.

“When income goes down for construction workers they have less to spend in local retail and service industries,” Duncan said. “And then also with a decrease in health insurance … benefits, that results in greater reliance on public assistance. When construction workers are paid less they have to rely more on public assistance — (food stamps), that sort of thing — so that tends to increase the taxpayer burden.”

Fewer Wisconsin Contractors, No Effect On Construction Costs

At the time of the repeal on state construction projects, many Republicans criticized the law, saying itinflated the costs on public projects, and arguing that repealing the laws would save taxpayers money. 

But researchers with MEPI said the data shows repealing prevailing wage had no statistically significant effect on the costs for public construction projects.  

Researchers also found that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation saw fewer bids from Wisconsin-based contractors after the laws were repealed compared to before. Between January 2015 and September 2017, more than 2,600 bids for DOT projects came from Wisconsin contractors. But between October 2017 and December 2019, following the repeal of the laws, that number dropped to a little over 1,700 bids.

The drop meant the share of bids from out-of-state contractors increased from 9 percent to 13 percent in the same timeframe.  

“What that means is … Wisconsin tax dollars that previously went to Wisconsin contractors and construction workers, (are) now being used to pay workers from out of state,” said Duncan. “When that happens, Wisconsin tax money leaks out of Wisconsin and it stimulates economies in neighboring states instead of supporting the local economy.”

The MEPI study also found there was no statistically significant impact on the racial or ethnic diversity of construction workers before and after repeal. The study did find a drop in the share of women working in construction in Wisconsin after the repeal of prevailing wage, despite that number being extremely low prior to the repeal. 

This blog originally appeared at Wisconsin Public Radio on October 2, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rachel Vasquez is a producer at Wisconsin Public Radio.


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Working Life Episode 190: Big Pharma’s Greed, Lies and Poisoning of America: Wages for All!

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Here is something we can all agree on I think—drug companies are blood-sucking, greedy cheats who cannot be trusted with the health and welfare of tens of millions of people. Am I right? And that’s even more true as we watch the global scramble to be the first company to profit big-time from a vaccine for COVID19. So, I’m going to focus on the Big Pharma corruption today with a friend and investigative reporter, Gerald Posner who is the author of a mind-boggling expose, “Pharma: Greed, Lies And the Poisoning of America”.

Looking for the single most important thing you can do between now and the end of July to slow the pandemic? As I mentioned last week in outlining my proposal for a $6.5 trillion stimulus bill, badger everyone you know, and of course your members of Congress, to get behind Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s bill, and a similar bill in the Senate co-sponsored by Bernie Sanders, to pay people up to $90,000 a year until the unemployment rate declines below 7 percent for three straight months. I talk more about the bill (and you can see last week’s episode for the full plan) which would pay people enough money so they can pay bills like rent and food, and allow them to stay home, either because they are sick or simply to allow a community-wide lockdown for a number of weeks until the so-called curve is dramatically going down.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on July 15, 2020. 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.


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Breanna Stewart’s injury adds another layer of urgency to WNBA collective bargaining negotiations

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The 23rd season of the WNBA tips off in a little over a month, and it looks to be a momentous one for the leagues’s athletes. On court, the 12 teams and 144 players will be looking to capitalize on last year’s blockbuster season, which saw a healthy increase in ratings, a new franchise in Las Vegas get off to a promising start, and a level of league-wide talent and parity that produced an indelible array of can’t-miss match-ups on a night in, night out basis.

This year, there will be no small amount of drama off the court as well, as the players will be fighting to secure themselves a bigger piece of this expanding pie. Last October, they opted out of their current collective bargaining agreement, which will now expire at the end of the 2019 season. So they’re not just fighting for wins and titles; they’re literally fighting for better pay, better travel conditions, better marketing, and a better future for the league they love.

Unfortunately, they’re going to have to do all of this without their reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP), Breanna Stewart.

Last week, while playing in the EuroLeague Final Four championship game in Hungary with her team, the Russia-based Dynamo Kursk, Stewart ruptured her right Achilles tendon. It’s a terrible blow to a player whose last 11 months have been among the most accomplished in basketball history. During that time Stewart was recognized as the WNBA’s MVP, the WNBA Finals MVP, the FIBA World Cup MVP, and the FIBA EuroLeague Women regular season MVP. She took home a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm and a FIBA World Cup championship with Team USA for good measure. Now, her injury will force her to sit out the entire 2019 WNBA season.

When Stewart collapsed to the ground in pain during the EuroLeague championship, her WNBA colleagues around the world stopped in their tracks. Imani McGee-Stafford, a center for the Atlanta Dream, gasped. McGee-Stafford’s Dream teammate, Elizabeth Williams, was watching the game live from Turkey when she saw Stewart fall. At the sight of Stewart’s injury, she screamed, “Nooo!” Elena Delle Donne, a forward for the Washington Mystics and good friend of Stewart’s, was simply heartbroken.

And for all of the WNBA’s players, coaches, and fans, Stewart’s devastating injury highlighted how absurd it is that the biggest stars in the WNBA still have to go overseas to play basketball during the WNBA offseason in order to earn their living, instead of spending the offseason recharging and recuperating. Stewart’s base salary this WNBA season is $64,538; overseas, elite players can sometimes earn $1 million or more per season. The current WNBA maximum salary for veterans is $117,500.

“This is harmful to our league. It effects the product on the floor. And we’ve got to find a solution to this,” said Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.

The players are certainly trying. The executive committee of the WNBA Player’s Association (WNBPA) — which includes Delle Donne and Williams, along with Nneka Ogwumike, Layshia Clarendon, Chiney Ogwumike, Sue Bird, and Carolyn Swords — has been talking with WNBPA leadership regularly during the offseason to engineer a new path forward.

“Playing overseas should always be a choice, but not a necessity,” Delle Donne said. “There are so many reasons it makes sense for the NBA and WNBA to invest in us as players. Injury prevention is obviously a top reason.”

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A couple of weeks ago, the executive committee members who weren’t currently playing in overseas competition had their first official meeting with WNBA brass — including NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner and interim WNBA president Mark Tatum, and several WNBA owners. The meeting was essentially a listening session, where the WNBPA laid out its priorities heading into negotiations: Salary and compensation, player experience, health and safety, and establishing a lasting business model for the league.

And while fostering the health and safety of players by limiting the need to seek employment opportunities overseas was already on the agenda, there’s little doubt that Stewart’s injury will add weight to to the conversation.

“This brings it more to the forefront and brings some urgency to the cause,” Williams said.

Injury prevention isn’t the only reason why its important to ensure that players have more opportunities to stay in the United States during the WNBA offseason. Going overseas for long stretches of time and playing competitive basketball without some sort of meaningful break contributes to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.

“We virtually put our lives on hold when we play overseas,” McGee-Stafford said. “We miss holidays, events, time with loved ones. But furthermore, we miss marketing moments and accessibility from our fans.”

Take Williams, for example. She has only had approximately three weeks of downtime since the Dream lost in the semifinals of last year’s WNBA playoffs in September. She’s currently in Turkey, competing in the first round of their playoffs. If her team makes it to the finals, she could be coming back more than a week into Dream training camp next month. And then the cycle would start again.

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Similarly, it’s an incredible frustration for WNBA coaches, who spend training camps unable to work with their full roster due to so many absences because of overseas play; then, when players finally return, they’re nowhere near refreshed or ready to go.

“When our players come back, we are constantly making concessions,” Reeve said. “We have to change how much time we can spend on the court with them, so you just lose the ability to have this individual improvement when there’s no offseason.”

Of course, the only way to solve this problem is money. And that’s where the conversation usually hits a roadblock. Silver has been outspoken about the fact that the WNBA is still a fledgling league, subsidized by the NBA. Partially because of those comments, there has been an erosion of trust between the WNBA players and WNBA leadership — a fact that isn’t helped by the fact that the WNBA still has not named its next president, six months after Lisa Borders resigned.

Silver has insisted that he’s committed to rebuilding that trust, but the only way to truly do it is by making a significant investment in the players during this collective bargaining session.

“I just think we have a unique opportunity, the NBA does, in that they’re seen as a progressive league, and they’re an iconic brand,” Reeve said. “The idea of being a leader in society, that would mean you’re the one putting your foot forward and saying, ‘Do this with us, treat women this way with us.’ You sort-of create a chain reaction by you stepping forward and saying, ‘You will do this, because it’s important.’ And I think when you see that opportunity, minds will change.”

Delle Donne agrees. It’s time for the chicken vs. egg fight with investment vs. success to stop. The WNBA is growing. The fans are watching. The players are getting better by leaps and bounds every generation. But the only way to continue this growth is if the best players in the world play in the WNBA. And they can’t do that if they’re getting injured playing for teams on other continents that pay them significantly more money.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest, especially the league’s and the owners’, to invest in us as players – our safety, our physical and mental well-being – to grow the game,” she said.

“Everything else, and especially the future growth of the game, hinges on the WNBA being the best and most elite place to play basketball.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.


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It’s time for ending NCAA amateurism to become a 2020 campaign issue

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As the 2020 presidential campaign kicks off, a slew of issues have already come to the forefront, including immigration, income inequality, the future of health care, reparations, and climate change. But, as another March Madness wraps up, it’s time for the crowded field of candidates to add another issue to their platforms: Ending NCAA amateurism.

During this year’s men’s basketball tournament, the NCAA earned almost $800 million from television rights alone. Coaches, schools, and conferences received millions of additional dollars worth of bonuses. And the athletes that actually played in those games earned absolutely no money. This might sound like a niche problem that only impacts a handful of the most talented student-athletes in the world — student-athletes that one would assume have better-than-even chance of turning pro, and raking in the millions. But this is not the case.

Every year, there are more than 460,000 student-athletes competing in 24 NCAA-sanctioned sports. Thirty-six percent of all student-athletes are people-of-color, and in the major revenue-generating sports, the student-athletes are disproportionately black: football is 48 percent black, men’s basketball is 56 percent black, and women’s basketball is 47 percent black. As their predominately white and male coaches and administrators continue to get richer, these athletes are cut out from earning a fair share.

It is an issue of inequity, and at this point, political pressure is the only thing that is going to fix it.

One candidate is already out in front on this issue. Andrew Yang — yes, the candidate who is running on a platform of universal basic income — lists “NCAA should pay athletes” as one of the tenets of his platform.

“We should create a new type of college athlete—’Performer athlete’—who is entitled to market-based compensation,” Yang says on his website. “This would not affect the status of any other student-athletes nor the tax-exempt status of the university. However, each university with a ‘Performer athlete’ would be required to start an affiliated taxable for-profit entity through which both corporate sponsorships and Performer-athlete salaries would flow.”

But this isn’t just a fringe issue parroted by a long-shot presidential candidate. Currently, there is a bipartisan push in Congress to address this issue. Three weeks ago, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) introduced the Student-Athlete Equity Act, a bill that aims to modify the tax code to remove the current rule that prevents student-athletes from using or being compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness.

“A lot of these student-athletes come from impoverished communities, and there is a lot of money made on the backs of these young men and women. And these students, they can fight in the war, but they can’t have any access to their image or likeness,” Walker told ThinkProgress.

“I say, if you see injustice and you don’t do something about it, I think, shame on you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other battles to fight.”

A couple of weeks after Walker unveiled his bill in the House, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) released a report, which highlighted, among other things, the fact that in the last 15 years, the revenue for college athletics has more than tripled to a $14.1 billion high.

“Under the current system, students in big-time athletic programs are shortchanged on their education as the college sports machine demands more of their time and more pressure to win,” Murphy said. “Meanwhile, coaches, universities, broadcasters, and even shoe companies are raking in the cash and sending a relatively small percentage of the money to students in the form of scholarships. The NCAA needs to come up with a way to compensate student-athletes, at least in the sports that demand the most time and make the most money. It’s an issue of fairness. It’s an issue of civil rights.”

Murphy has not yet proposed his own bill, but he says he will continue to release reports that dig into the impact of amateurism, and will keep loudly calling for the NCAA to pay its athletes.

“Is there an easy solution? No. But the NCAA has created a complicated system of sponsorship and broadcast rights by which lots of adults get rich,” Murphy said. “They can figure out a way to get a percentage of that money to the students who are kept poor by a system that is designed to make lots of people rich except for the kids.”

Even as the end of amateurism gains momentum on the federal level, states have begun to take up this issue as well. In California, for example, state Senate majority whip Nancy Skinner (D) has put forth Senate Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow student-athletes in California to earn money through corporate sponsorships, in a fashion similar to the amateur athletes who compete in the Olympic Games.

The truth is, ending amateurism isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s an increasingly popular position as well. It turns out, despite the NCAA claiming that if players were getting paid, nobody would want to watch college sports, this — shockingly! — is not the case. As SUNY Buffalo history professor Patrick F. McDevitt pointed out in HuffPost this time last year, the logic doesn’t track: “Surely, if people were put off by the idea of paying college athletes, then Division III schools (which do not offer scholarships, let alone give their players stipends) would have the largest fan bases and Division I schools caught funneling money to their star players would lose fans in the wake of pay-for-play scandals.”

Nothing’s changed in a year’s time. Last year, a big FBI investigation unveiled Adidas executives and agents helping facilitate payments to athletes if they agreed to go to certain Adidas-sponsored schools. This year, during March Madness, lawyer Michael Avenatti tried to make a big splash by claiming he had evidence that Nike paid families of top college basketball recruits. The news barely caused a ripple. And, despite all of this being public knowledge, ratings for March Madness have been just fine.

The public is ready for amateurism to end. The players are deserving of their due. The fans will cheer, no matter what. But unless the NCAA’s hand is forced, nothing about the current system is ever going to change. That’s why it’s crucial for the people who are running for the most powerful role in our nation to speak up and propose solutions to change the status quo.

Is this the most pressing problem facing society? Of course not. But, it is an injustice. And it can be fixed with just a little leadership.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.


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Fast food workers declare victory after McDonald’s withdraws opposition to minimum wage hikes

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After six years of strikes, lawsuits, and damning public scrutiny of how the fast food business model relies on taxpayer-subsidized poverty wages, McDonald’s formally withdrew from efforts to block a federal minimum wage hike on Tuesday.

The chain will also stop working against minimum wage increases at state and local levels, its executives told lobbying partners at the National Restaurant Association in a letter.

Workers and organizers involved in the six-year campaign of walk-outs, demonstrations, and litigation, dubbed the “Fight for $15,” immediately celebrated the about-face and pressed their advantage.

“It’s also time the company respect our right to a union. Since day one, we’ve called for $15 and union rights and we’re not going to stop marching, speaking out, and striking until we win both,” Kansas City McDonald’s worker and prominent Fight for $15 leader Terrence Wise said in a statement. “McDonald’s decision to no longer use its power, influence and deep pockets to block minimum wage increases shows the power workers have when we join together, speak out, and go on strike.”

Wise’s mix of praise and warning reflects some murkiness attending the company’s decision. McDonald’s hasn’t renounced its membership in the “other NRA,” just forsworn corporate support for an ongoing lobbying effort funded in part through its own dues payments to the group. And it’s unclear if the company now welcomes the $15 wage floor workers have consistently sought since 2012, or if it merely accepts some smaller increase is inevitable.

The details of how minimum wage hike policies come together are always tricky, as business organizations fight to carve out certain sizes of business and to slow the phase-in period of a wage hike beyond what workers and progressive economists say is reasonable. The nation’s first $15 hourly wage floor deal was the product of months of vigorous negotiations where “everybody left… a little bit of blood on the floor,” as Seattle Hospitality Group leader Howard Wright told ThinkProgress after that city brokered the first low-wage labor peace of the conflict-oriented era workers like Wise created.

Despite Tuesday’s letter, McDonald’s is also continuing to fight a federal labor board’s finding that its franchise business model does not protect the corporate parent from liability for how its franchisees operate their stores. That dispute over whether or not “joint employer” legal doctrines apply to the franchise models common to the fast food industry likely presents a more fundamental threat to McDonald’s ability to funnel money to its shareholders and CEOs than do wage floors.

But if the war between McDonald’s and workers like Wise isn’t exactly over, it’s radically reshaped by Tuesday’s letter, which was first reported by Politico.

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Retail and service workers paid at or near the legal minimum have become a staple of the stock price-obsessed modern U.S. business world. Congress’ multi-generation failure to hike the federal minimum pay has meant that corporate reliance on low-wage work steadily eroded the traditional social contract in which having a job meant being able to afford a decent standard of living. Instead, as people who work substantial hours found themselves impoverished anyhow, government programs funded by taxpayers stepped into the gap — effectively subsidizing the profits McDonald’s and its peers reaped from their low-wage business models.

Stark partisanship within federal government coincided with the rapid, coast-to-coast spread of Fight for $15 strikes and protests, preventing legislative action in response to the mounting labor strife for years. A bill to gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 was among the first legislative proposals Democrats introduced after taking the House in last year’s midterm elections.

The same month, Chamber of Commerce officials announced they’d entertain some pay hike provided Democrats were willing to negotiate some flavor of concessions. Like the chamber’s announcement, Tuesday’s high-profile maneuver from McDonald’s carries major symbolic weight but leaves lingering unanswered questions about just how far major corporate interests that have taken publicly-subsidized wage serfdom for granted for decades are now willing to move in the name of economic justice.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Alan Pyke is a reporter for ThinkProgress covering poverty and the social safety net.


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Amazon delivery drivers report wage theft and other abuses

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Amazon’s labor practices, from its warehouses to its corporate offices, are terrible—and of course its delivery workers don’t have it any better. Many of Amazon’s packages are delivered by third-party courier companies and drivers face a range of abuses, from wage theft to being pressured into risky behaviors to deliver packages on time, Business Insider reports based on interviews with 31 current or former drivers at 14 of the companies:

Four drivers across three companies said their employers misrepresented the job by promising health benefits without following through. One worker said that when he started his job, his employer promised that he would get health benefits within 90 days of employment. He said he was fired within days of qualifying.

Eight workers across four companies said drivers were denied overtime pay, despite working well over 40 hours a week. Thirteen workers across five companies complained about wages missing from paychecks.

Workers reported being pressured to be on the job on their days off, to work through injury, to ignore stop signs if they were running late, and being fired for challenging illegal practices.

Amazon, of course, says these are contractors and Amazon is trying to work with them to do the right thing, and so on and so forth. But plausible deniability is a key reason companies like Amazon do so much outsourcing of work, and the deniability is that much less plausible coming from a company with Amazon’s labor record in other areas of its business.

Generally speaking, if a giant corporation really really cares about something, its contractors get the message … and if it doesn’t care so much, well, this is what you get. There is one way Amazon can push back against coverage like this: by improving its practices and those of its contractors.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos Labor on September 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Worker wages remain stagnant as wealthy executives are rolling in cash

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Congressional Republicans and President Trump continue to push their sole legislative accomplishment, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, as a game-changer for average working Americans — but the benefits of that bill appear to be going mostly to the people at the top.

Rather than delivering an “economic turnaround of historic proportions,” as Trump boasted last week, the bill will likely end up costing well over $1.4 trillion dollars and will instead provide corporations and the wealthiest Americans a giant hand-out.

A recent Politico review of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings also revealed corporate executives, who often receive most of their compensation in stock, have been profiting enormously off the bill, which slashes the corporate tax rate to 21 percent.

Following the bill’s passage in December last year, Oracle Corp. CEO Safra Catz sold $250 million worth of shares in her company, the “largest executive payday this year,” according to Politico. The company’s president of Product Development,  Thomas Kurian, also sold $85 million worth of shares, directly after the company announced a $12 billion share repurchase.

Oracle isn’t the only company whose top brass have benefited from the tax bill: in May, Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga sold $44.4 million of stock. Only a few months earlier, the company had announced it would buy back $4 billion in shares. According to Reuters, Mastercard also announced that month it had “increased its quarterly cash dividend to 25 cents per share, a 14 percent increase over the previous dividend of 22 cents a share.”

Similarly, after Eastman Chemical announced in February it would purchase $2 billion of its own stock, its CEO, Mark Costa, sold 55,000 shares, raking in at least $5.4 million in the process.

Data from Americans For Tax Fairness found that powerful Fortune 500 companies have spent a total of over $238,244,348,330 in stock buybacks since December. The numbers showed few corporations have actually used their respective tax windfalls to benefit workers directly, as many pledged they would do.

Out of the over 1,500 companies from which Americans for Tax Fairness collected data, only 359 of them actually promised to increase wages for their employees. Of those that promised to bump wages, the majority only offered an increase up to $15 an hour in entry-level pay — which, by all accounts, should already be what companies pay entry-level employees in a tightening labor market.

Despite what Republicans in Washington have suggested, stock buybacks do absolutely nothing to help struggling middle America. Instead, they traditionally enrich both the company buying back shares and those who own corporate stock, which typically means the already-rich. The wealthiest 10 percent of American households own 84 percent of all shares, while the top 1 percent own 40 percent. Roughly one-half of American households don’t own stock at all.

The AFL-CIO’s annual Executive PayWatch database, released in May, also revealed just how stark income inequality is among CEOs and their workers. On average, data showed, CEOs are paid 333 times more than an average employee at their company.

The disparity between CEO and worker pay is consistent with income inequality on a wider scale. While average worker wages have been stagnant for decades, the top 1 percent of U.S. income earners have “more than doubled their share of the nation’s income” since the 1970s, the Institute for Policy Studies observed.

The Trump administration continues to tout the nation’s record low unemployment rate as a sign that the country’s economy is thriving. But as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich detailed in a recent op-ed for The Guardian, 80 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

“The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation,” Reich wrote. “When Republicans delivered their $1.5 trillion tax cut last December they predicted a big wage boost for American workers. Forget it. Wages actually dropped in the second quarter of this year.”

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 30, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 


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