Opponents of raising the minimum wage to $15 like to say that sure, $15 might be a reasonable wage in New York City or Los Angeles, but it’s just too high in the heartland. Guess what, guys? There are more than 3,000 counties in the United States, but only 218 in which a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Out of Reach report. There is not one city or state in which a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent. And there’s only one state in which full-time work at $15 an hour is currently enough for a two-bedroom market rate rental home. It’s not enough in Alabama or Mississippi, Iowa or Nebraska. It’s for damn sure not Texas or Utah. Congratulations, Sen. Joe Manchin: It’s West Virginia, sliding in 17 cent an hour under $15. But West Virginia’s current minimum wage of $8.75 an hour doesn’t come close.
Nationally, on average, a full-time worker would need to be paid $24.90 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental without paying more than 30% of their income. By contrast, the average renter in the U.S. earns $18.78 per hour. Nearly 60% of all wage and salary workers earn less than the $24.90 needed to make the average two-bedroom rental affordable.
Today’s minimum wage? Ha. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Thirty states, the District of Columbia, and some counties and cities have higher minimum wages, but even so, “the average minimum wage worker must work nearly 97 hours per week (more than 2 full-time jobs) to afford a two bedroom rental home or 79 hours per week (almost 2 full-time jobs) to afford a one bedroom rental home at the fair market rent.”
In five states—Hawai’i, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland—the average renter’s wage falls more than $10 short of the wage needed to afford a two-bedroom rental.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought billions in federal rental assistance, though it’s being paid out too slowly, with the expiration of a federal eviction moratorium looming on July 31. But as the comparison between the cost of modest rental housing and the wages people are actually being paid shows—and as past years of this report show—even before the pandemic, housing was a crisis that demanded policy solutions. The National Low Income Housing Coalition is calling on Congress to expand rental assistance to every eligible household that needs it—current programs fall far short of the need—as well as to invest in affordable housing and bolster public housing. Another key policy would prevent landlords from refusing to rent to people with housing vouchers, since many people with vouchers struggle to find housing they can use the vouchers for.
Republicans will never, ever allow these policies—or a minimum wage increase—to pass if they have the power to block them. Democrats need to find a way to get Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on board with doing something, because the situation is dire.
This blog originally appeared at DailyKos on July 19, 2021. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.
Wednesday was “a day to celebrate and appreciate the heroes who often go unsung,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said last month in announcing a parade to honor the essential workers of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re going to sing about them this day.”
Many of the workers, though, feel so unappreciated that they boycotted the parade supposedly held in their honor, saying a better way to honor them would be with better pay and working conditions. One of the groups with the biggest complaint is emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Those workers, who are more than half people of color and more than a quarter women, are paid dramatically less than firefighters, three out of four of whom are white and 99% of whom are male—and the truly essential role they played in the pandemic response did not stop de Blasio from opposing a move toward pay parity.
“A parade does not bring this workforce out of the poverty wages they are now being paid,” Oren Barzilay, the president of a union that represents more than 4,000 first responders, told the New York Daily News, describing attendance at the parade as like crossing a picket line. “It is far past time that the city gives this workforce the respect they deserve in livable wages. If taxpayer dollars can be allocated to put on this parade, then Mayor de Blasio, you can easily find the means to financially support our FDNY EMT’s, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors.”
The union has been in contract negotiations with the city since before the pandemic, and the city appears to remain intent on treating these workers as second-class first responders.
Another union representing social workers, contact tracers, health inspectors, and other workers similarly boycotted the parade, citing struggles to get personal protective equipment during the pandemic and saying in a statement, “To participate in a parade is an injustice to how we have been treated and continue to be treated. The Early Retirement Incentive was not passed, and Essential Worker pay seems to have disappeared.”
The parade included 14 floats and 260 groups of essential workers, including first responders (some of them, anyway), child care workers, transit workers, delivery workers, and more. Funeral industry workers who had to deal with the many, many bodies the pandemic produced were initially left out, then included after protest.
Eric Adams, the newly announced winner of the Democratic mayoral primary, did attend the parade, telling reporters, “We need to honor them [essential workers] with pay equity … we need to show them the respect they deserve.”
This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 7, 2021. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.
For most, attendance was taught to be a priority. The American Educational system, in particular, stresses that without near-perfect attendance, it would be impossible to hold a job or manage the business world. As a result, Illness and extemporary circumstances are associated with failure, weakness, and irresponsibility.
However, the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic forced a reshuffling of priorities for businesses and governments across the world as they realized that a humanistic approach to worker policies just might improve the survival rate of their industries.
Now, long-avoided workplace protection policies are being considered and implemented that focus on worker well-being first. However, there are many problems to recognize before true progress can be made in cementing worker’s rights.
Here’s what you need to know.
Recognizing the Problems
Everywhere, workers combat inequality and safety risks due to the lack of protective policies. These obstacles are clear in the data, which shows systemic issues of corporate disdain for low-wage workers as well as dehumanizing conditions that put employees at risk.
Laying the groundwork for better workplace policies requires understanding the problematic circumstances we face. The following is just a sampling of the data regarding workplace inequality in the U.S:
Income inequality levels are nearing those just before the Great Depression.
CEOs make over 185 times more than the average worker.
750,000 Americans are homeless on a given night, many of them disproportionately male, black, veterans, or individuals with disabilities.
Women earn about 80% of what men earn.
30% of workers in low-wage jobs don’t have health insurance.
The number of discouraged workers is on the rise and disproportionately includes minorities.
These problems have long been standards of American working environments, and the coronavirus has only served to exacerbate them. With millions of people in the service industry now expected to put their and their loved ones’ health at risk, the wage inequality and limited employee protections have never been so clear.
If any good can come from this realization, it will be in the advancement of solutions for workplace protections for all kinds of issues.
Advancing the Solutions
In the emergency circumstances of the pandemic, the U.S. government elected to pass the CARES Act — legislation that provided working people with some necessary protections. These protections included enhanced unemployment insurance benefits as well as extended family and medical leave provisions. At the same time, many private financial institutions came together to offer deferment plans for many loans and rental programs.
However, these protections are simply patches on systemic problems that are much greater than the pandemic. As millions of American workers lose their employer-tied health insurance plans along with their jobs, many recognize that it is time to institute worker protections on a larger scale.
Luckily, however, literature, science, and proposed legislation are out there attempting to advance solutions to workplace injustices of all kinds. These efforts include:
Expansions to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Right now, the FMLA protects up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a certain group of qualified workers and should be laid out in any business’ policy handbook along with other working-hour and PTO benefits, in order to protect the employee and the business alike. A legal expansion of FMLA benefits might broaden the ability of a worker to earn PTO, leave, and vacation time, protecting their economic status against unfortunate circumstances.
Public health insurance. Broader public protections, like Medicare-for-All, have been proposed to fill the needs of low-wage workers. Having insurance not tied to employment could help navigate the problems and inequalities that arise in managing workplace illness.
Robust premium pay. A legally protected living wage that ensures higher pay for workers on the front lines of the service industry—especially in the middle of a health crisis—could combat wage inequality and more fairly support disproportionately affected groups like women and minorities.
While these solutions are sure to be hotly debated by decision-makers, advancing these policies will ensure better protections for all American workers.
After all, the pandemic should have taught us that workers are above all human beings—not machines whose attendance and well-being we can simply demand.
This blog is printed with permission.
About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business and technology topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.
The drop in overall employment that white-collar industries have seen in five months is already on par with or worse than the hits they took during the Great Recession.
The coronavirus recession that began as a short-term shutdown devastating low-wage workers is now bearing down on white-collar America, where employers have been slower to rehire and job losses are more likely to be permanent.
Lower-paid workers are losing their jobs at about three times the rate of higher-wage employees. But the drop in overall employment that white-collar industries like real estate, information and professional and technology services have seen in five months is already on par with or worse than the hits they took during the Great Recession — underscoring how even highly paid workers with the ability to telework are vulnerable now.
As the economy begins to crawl back toward its pre-coronavirus normal, lower-paying industries are recovering at a faster clip than those at the higher end of the pay scale, where new job postings have been weak by comparison. Job postings for higher-wage occupations — those offering roughly $50,000 or more annually — remain 28 percent below last year’s trend, while lower-wage postings for jobs offering around $30,000 or lessare down only 12 percent, according to the hiring platform Indeed.
Thetrend suggests that white-collar employers are increasingly unwilling to take expensive risks and hire more higher-wage employees at a time when the economy is precarious at best, economists say. That could spell trouble for the broader economy in the longer-term, in part because spending by high-income consumers supports low-wage jobs. Some economists fear how much more damage higher-paying industries could see in the coming months if economic growth stalls or dips downward again.
“This is not just a low-wage recession,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, who compared job losses in industries paying at least $30 an hour between February and July to the share lost between December 2007 and June 2009.
Swonk found that employment in the information industry is down 11.4 percent now compared to 7.7 percent during the Great Recession, as one example, while employment in management services is down 4.7 percent now compared to 2.4 percent then.
For lower-wage workers who have lost their jobs, “their situation is clearly much more desperate,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that the pain isn’t still broader-based than we’ve acknowledged.”
Layoffs in high-wage industries have been mostly overshadowed by those in low-wage occupations that have rolled in at unprecedented levels — more than 28 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, the Labor Department says — and comprise the bulk of the country’s job losses. More than 9 million workers in the bottom 40 percent of wage earners remained out of work at the end of June, compared to 3.3 million in the top 40 percent.
Lower-paid workers are also likely to have a harder time recovering from a period of joblessness, in part because they tend to have fewer savings and are less likely to own a home.
But judged by any other measure — including against previous recessions — the damage to higher-wage workers has been significant.
These industries saw smaller initial declines in employment, but in many cases their losses have since grown even as other sectors of the economy have begun to recover. Employment in finance and insurance was down just over 1 percent between February and late April but nearly 5 percent between February and late June, according to economists from the Federal Reserve and University of Chicago, who analyzed data from the payroll processor ADP.
Each of the 14 other industries analyzed — from food services and retail to construction and manufacturing — had seen larger overall losses but had improved between April and June, the study showed, with the exception of educational services.
“Those are typically fairly recession-proof industries now that are continuing to lose jobs, even though every other industry is recovering to some degree,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with the job-posting platform ZipRecruiter. “That’s really cause for concern and pause.”
Data suggests that layoffs in white-collar industries are more likely to be permanent than those in frontline sectors such as restaurants or retail. The so-called core unemployment rate, which excludes all layoffs that are classified as temporary, has increased more for workers with more education, even as the unemployment rate has generally increased more rapidly for those with less education, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Jed Kolko, Indeed’s chief economist.
The core unemployment rate has risen by 1.7 percentage points for workers with a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with 0.7 percentage points for those with a high school degree or less, Kolko found.
Nearly 7 million workers have also seen their pay cut since the pandemic began, according to the ADP analysis — most in high-wage industries.
Persistent white-collar layoffs and wage cuts would hold significant effects for the rest of the economy, particularly because spending among wealthier Americans helps support jobs in blue-collar service sector jobs at restaurants, for example, and hair salons or workout studios.
To be sure, if the economic recovery accelerates, higher-paying industries could ultimately emerge relatively unscathed, and continued spending among those workers would help repair damage the shutdowns caused to lower-paying service sectors. Wells Fargo economists acknowledged concerns that layoffs could spread throughout high-wage sectors, hindering any recovery, but said they expect those job losses to be limited.
Still, high-income spending remains down more than 8 percent compared to January levels, more than any other income bracket, according to the Opportunity Insights tracker. Economists warn that trend could continue even after businesses fully reopen if a share of white-collar workers remain unemployed.
“It’s in those kinds of high-wage cities like New York and San Francisco where low-wage workers have actually seen the steepest losses, and one reason is because of the decline in spending in higher-wage households,” Pollak said.
White-collar layoffs could also spark a trend of underemployment, where better-educated workers are applying for jobs below their skill level, edging out applicants who might be more suited for the position, economists say. More than 2 in 5 active job seekers already say they are applying for jobs for which they are overqualified, according to a ZipRecruiter survey published this month.
And more broadly, the sluggish uptick in hiring in high-wage sectors could be a warning sign from employers who see so much uncertainty that they would rather wait and see where the economic recovery is headed before bulking up their workforce.
“It’s a red flag for the job market,” Kolko said. “I think it’s telling us something about where those employers think the economy is going to be in quarters or even a couple years from now.”
It’s both expensive and time-consuming for high-paying employers to recruit and hire new employees, and that process likely won’t begin for many until they feel certain the economy is picking up again.
“If you’ve weathered the storm so far,” Swonk said, “you don’t want to place big bets until you get to the other side of it.”
The relative lack of attention these job losses have gotten could be creating a false sense of security among some high-wage workers who so far have felt removed from the effects of the coronavirus shutdowns battering frontline industries, some economists say.
Murphy Whitsitt was earning $105,000 annually as a national service manager for Polytype America, a company that builds printer machinery for product labels. He was able to work from home for the first few months of the pandemic, but his company furloughed him in June once “there was no end in sight.”
He and his family moved from New Jersey back to Iowa, where they owned a home, to save on rent costs. They’ve gotten a delay in paying their Iowa mortgage, and he recently received his first unemployment check after eight weeks of waiting.
He recognizes that he’s far better off than lower-paid workers who have fewer resources to lean on. But he’s not expected back at work until at least January, and without further help from Congress, he’s not sure how he’ll pay his mortgage bill when it comes due in the fall.
“We’ll eventually be okay,” Whitsitt said. “But it’s definitely been stressful.”
This article originally appeared at Politico on August 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.
Americans are not happy. And for good reason. They continue to suffer financial stress caused by decades of flat income. And every time they make the slightest peep of complaint about a system rigged against them, the rich and powerful tell them to shut up because it is all their fault.
One percenters instruct them to work harder, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop bellyaching. Just get a second college degree, a second skill, a second job. Just send the spouse to work, downsize, take a staycation instead of a real vacation. Or don’t take one at all, just work harder and longer and better.
The barrage of blaming has persuaded; workers believe they deserve censure. And that’s a big part of the reason they’re unhappy. If only, they think, they could work harder and longer and better, they would get ahead. They bear the shame. They don’t blame the system: the Supreme Court, the Congress, the President. And yet, it is the system, the American system, that has conspired to crush them.
It’s bad out there for American workers. Last month, their ranking dropped for the third year running in the World Happiness Report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a U.N. initiative.
These sad statistics reinforce those in a report released two years ago by two university professors. Reviewing data from the General Social Survey, administered routinely nationally, the professors found Americans’ assessment of their own happiness and family finances has, unambiguously, declined in recent years.
But if Americans would just work harder, everything would be dandy, right?
Americans labor 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more than Brits, and 499 more than the French, according to the International Labor Organization.
And the longer hours aren’t because American workers are laggards on the job. They’re very productive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the average American worker’s productivity has increased 400 percent since 1950.
If pay had kept pace with productivity, as it did in the three decades after the end of World War II, American workers would be making 400 percent more. But they’re not. Their wages have flat lined for four decades, adjusting for inflation.
If only Americans would work harder. And longer. And better.
Much as right-wingers have pounded that into Americans’ heads, it’s not the solution. Americans clearly are working harder and longer and better. The solution is to change the system, which is stacked against workers.
Workers are bearing on their backs tax breaks that benefited only the rich and corporations. They’re bearing overtime pay rules and minimum wage rates that haven’t been updated in more than a decade. They’re weighted down by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hobbled unionization efforts and kneecapped workers’ rights to file class-action lawsuits. They’re struggling under U.S. Department of Labor rules defining them as independent contractors instead of staff members. They live in fear as corporations threaten to offshore their jobs – with the assistance of federal tax breaks.
Last year, the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court handed a win to corporatists trying to obliterate workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and conditions. The court ruled that public sector workers who choose not to join unions don’t have to pay a small fee to cover the cost of services that federal law requires the unions provide to them. This bankrupts labor unions. And there’s no doubt that right-wingers are gunning for private sector unions next.
In a minority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the court in recent years has routinely deployed the law to deny to employees and consumers “effective relief against powerful economic entities.”
No matter how hard Americans work, the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court has hobbled them in an already lopsided contest with gigantic corporations.
The administrative branch is no better. The Trump Labor Department just issued an advisory that workers for a gig-economy company are independent contractors, not employees. As a result, the workers, who clean homes after getting assignments on an app, will not qualify for federal minimum wage (low as it is) or overtime pay. Also, the corporation will not have to pay Social Security taxes for them. Though the decision was specific to one company, experts say it will affect the designation for other gig workers, such as drivers for Uber and Lyft.
Also, the Labor Department has proposed a stingy increase in the overtime pay threshold, that is, the salary amount under which corporations must pay workers time and a half for overtime. The current threshold of $23,660 has not been raised since 2004. The Obama administration had proposed doubling it to $47,476. But now, the Trump Labor Department has cut that back to $35,308. That means 8.2 million workers who would have benefited from the larger salary cap now will not be eligible for mandatory overtime pay.
It doesn’t matter how hard they work, they aren’t going to get the time-and-a-half pay they deserve.
Just like the administration and the Supreme Court, right-wingers in Congress grovel before corporations and the rich. Look at the tax break they gave one percenters in 2017. Corporations got the biggest cut in history, their rate sledgehammered down from 35 percent to 21 percent. The rich reap by far the largest benefit from those tax cuts through 2027, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. And by then, 53 percent of Americans – that is workers not rich people – will pay more than they did in 2017 because tax breaks for workers expire.
The White House Council of Economic Advisers predicted the corporate tax cut would put an extra $4,000 in every worker’s pocket. They swore that corporations would use some of their tax cut money to hand out raises and bonuses to workers. That never happened. Workers got a measly 6 percent of corporations’ tax savings. In the first quarter after the tax cut took effect, workers on average received a big fat extra $6.21 in their paychecks, for an annual total of a whopping $233. Corporations spent their tax breaks on stock buybacks, a record $1 trillion worth, raising stock prices, which put more money in the pockets of rich CEOs and shareholders.
No wonder they’re unhappy. The system is working against them.
This article was originally published at Our Future on May 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Leo Gerard, is the International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) union and is the second Canadian to head the union. He is also a vice president of the AFL-CIO. Gerard is co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.
Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the country, just enacted the most sweeping bill yet to give low-wage workers some control over their schedules.
The city’s new law, which passed the city council on Thursday, will require businesses with more than 250 employees and more than 30 locations worldwide to provide employees their schedules at least 10 days in advance. If any changes are made to their schedules after that, employers will owe employees more money. Employers will also be required to offer more hours as they become available to existing employees who want them rather than hiring new people, and they’ll be banned from retaliating against those who either request or decline more hours.
The law is poised to have a huge impact: A recent survey conducted by UC Berkeley found that among food and retail sector workers in Philadelphia, 62 percent receive their schedules less than two weeks ahead of time and two-thirds work irregular or variable schedules. Almost half usually work 30 hours or less each week even though less than 15 percent have a second job to supplement their incomes.
“It seems that employers are being less and less cognizant of their workers’ needs and home lives,” noted Nadia Hewka, an employment lawyer with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which advocated for the bill. “This would just put a little bit of balance back into that equation.”
The effort to help workers control their schedules started around a year ago, when advocates convened to discuss how Philadelphia could take action on its own to improve living standards for its residents. “Philadelphia is a very high-poverty city,” Hewka noted. More than a quarter of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. So advocates were interested in “anything that we can do to raise the bottom just a little bit.” But thanks to a state preemption law, the city can’t raise the minimum wage—that power is reserved for the state government. So the city council has turned to a number of other measures that can make life for working people easier: paid sick leave, an anti-wage theft ordinance, a salary history ban, ban the box legislation and now a fair scheduling law.
“What I know is that I can’t be paralyzed just because the state has limited our capacity to be able to directly raise the minimum wage,” said Helen Gym, the first-term councilmember who introduced the fair workweek bill. “We have to talk about other things that impact people’s lives and could also improve them.”
The former community organizer came into the council looking for something that could “really grapple with this incredibly vast and intractable situation around deep and entrenched poverty in our city.” As she spoke with low-wage workers and those who work with them—teachers, lawyers, anti-poverty advocates—everyone brought up how unstable schedules were disrupting people’s lives. “This was a major, major issue,” she said.
“As a municipality, we have to do something,” she added. “We have the authority and the responsibility to act here as one of the largest cities in the country.” Her colleagues apparently agreed: “It has been one of the most popular bills to move through our council in a while,” she said.
While other places, such as Oregon, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle, have similar scheduling legislation, Philadelphia’s goes further by covering workers in all industries, not just those in retail. “Of all the bills that exist around the country, ours will be the most far-reaching,” Gym noted. Hewka credits the involvement of UNITE HERE Philly, which represents hotel and restaurant workers and advocated for the bill.
Hewka sees the new law as an anti-poverty measure. It’s difficult “when you don’t know how many hours you’re working and how much you’ll be earning by the end of the week or the end of the month to make the bills you need to make,” she said. Someone’s income isn’t just determined by her wage, but by how many hours she works. A more predictable set of hours, and the ability to get more as they become available, can make a big difference.
And there are other benefits to a steady schedule. Hewka noted that many people feel that if minimum wage workers don’t like their pay they should get better jobs. “How are you supposed to improve your lot in life and go to school if your class schedules are set and your work schedule always changes?” Hewka noted. It’s also nearly impossible to hold down a second job to make ends meet if the first one is constantly shifting.
The bind is particularly tight for parents. “When [workers] are not allowed to have a say in their schedules,” Hewka said, “it impacts their entire family.” One big hurdle is finding childcare to fit a work schedule when that work schedule is constantly shifting.
On top of that, parents have to get their children to school, doctors’ offices, after-school activities and other appointments. Poor families are also often navigating the demands of welfare offices or child services, Hewka pointed out, all of which typically require daytime appointments. “All of these systems assume that you’re available to do these tasks,” she said. She has even had clients fail to show up to meetings in her office because they had to be at work instead.
“Jobs don’t recognize [workers’] humanity, let alone these kinds of demands on their lives,” she added. “You’re spinning plates up in the air with all of these things in your life. A work schedule changing can really cause everything to come crashing down.”
Gym hopes not just to improve Philadelphians’ working lives, but to make a bigger impact. “We’re trying to change the way in which we talk about poverty and the nature of work these days,” she said. “Not only did we set a standard for what happens around the state, but we sent a message across the nation that we need to see an economic justice agenda.”
This article was originally published at In These Times on December 6, 2018. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bryce Covert, a contributing op-ed writer at the New York Times, has written for The New Republic, The Nation, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, New York Magazine and Slate, and has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC and NPR. She won a 2016 Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Paid family leave is becoming law in Washington state. The state legislature passed and Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a law giving workers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for birth, adoption, or the worker’s own or a family member’s medical condition, and up to 16 weeks in a year:
The Washington state program would benefit low-wage workers because those earning less than half of the state’s weekly average would receive 90 percent of their income—to a maximum of $1,000 per week. The benefits are based on a percentage of the worker’s average weekly wage and the state’s weekly average wage, which was $1,133 in 2016.
The program is largely funded by workers, who will pay a premium of 0.4 percent of their wages each paycheck into a state-run insurance fund. This would cost a minimum-wage worker about 3 cents an hour, according to the bill’s sponsor. Employers are responsible for picking up at least 55 percent of the medical leave premium—or more if they choose to do so.
“This new law is an affordable and predictable solution to providing an important benefit for life’s emergencies,” Sara Reilly, co-owner of Darby’s Café and Three Magnets Brewing Co. in Olympia, Washington, said in a statement.
How’s that for a much-needed piece of good news? But of course every time a state or city passes a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, or paid family leave, it’s a reminder of how far short our federal laws fall, and how much of a fight we have to elect Democrats to Congress and the presidency before we can change this.
This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor for DailyKos.
On International Women’s Day, the organization that spearheaded the Women’s March over Inauguration Weekend is leading “A Day Without a Woman”—a call to action for women around the world to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, to shop only at women-only or minority-owned businesses, and to wear red in solidarity. They’re hoping to send a strong message about women’s economic power and build a coalition in support of women’s rights to counter the Trump administration’s agenda.
But some women—particularly immigrants, low-wage workers, and working mothers—cannot participate in a national strike because they’re worried about losing their jobs or because they rely on their daily income.
Maricela, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who didn’t want to be identified by her full name because of fear of reprisal from federal immigration agents, is one of many women who is unable to take the day off work on Wednesday, even though she is supportive of the strike’s goals.
“I would like to support this strike, but I can’t do that,” Maricela said.
Maricela has worked as a housekeeper in Austin, Texas for the past 17 years. Losing a day’s worth of income would strain her family’s finances. One day’s wages translate to having money for groceries, gas, financial support for her children, and remittances saved up to send to her parents in Mexico, she told ThinkProgress in a phone interview.
Taking Wednesday off could also put her at risk of being fired. She said her employers rarely sympathize with the significance of these nationwide labor events. And if she is fired, her lack of immigration status would make it difficult for her to find other clients.
Maricela wishes she could participate because she is otherwise a staunch advocate for civil and immigrant rights.
“That feels uncomfortable for me because I’m always involved in civil rights and I would like to continue to support and fight,” Maricela said. “It’s important for me and other women.”
But she said she will support the day in other ways. As suggested by national organizers, Maricela will not buy anything on Wednesday.
This kind of abstention could have strong economic impact on the U.S. economy since immigrants like Maricela make up a growing share of the consumer buying power. As the nonpartisan policy center Immigration Policy Council pointed out in 2015, Latinos and Asians “wield $2 trillion in consumer purchasing power, and the businesses they owned had sales of $857 billion and employed 4.7 million workers at last count.”
And after Wednesday passes, Maricela will remain an advocate for progressive immigration policies in her community. After the recent enforcement raids throughout the country, she has been “very involved” in holding weekly “Know your rights” workshops to help people understand what to do if agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency show up at their door and ask to see their papers.
President Donald Trump’s comments about Latinos have made her feel targeted and “like a criminal,” a feeling that has only heightened her fear of deportation since he was elected. She said the stereotypes and slurs against the immigrant community are unfounded.
Aside from advocating for her rights as a woman, she wants people to see her as simply human.
“Trump says we are bad people, but I don’t think we are bad people,” Maricela said. “We are working really, really hard. Nobody gave us nothing, only our work. I do not feel safe.”
This blog was originally posted on ThinkProgress on March 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Esther Yu-Hsi Lee is the Immigration Reporter for ThinkProgress. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Middle East and Islamic Studies and a M.A. in Psychology from New York University. A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, Esther is passionate about immigration issues from all sides of the debate. She is also a White House Champion of Change recipient. Esther is originally from Los Angeles, CA.
Contributing to this inequality is the fact that while more Americans are working than at any time since August 2007, more people are working part time, erratic and unpredictable schedules—without full-time, steady employment. Since 2007, the number of Americans involuntarily working part time has increased by nearly 45 percent. More Americans than before are part of what’s considered the contingent workforce, working on-call or on-demand, and as independent contractors or self-employed freelancers, often with earnings that vary dramatically month to month.
These workers span the socioeconomic spectrum, from low-wage workers in service, retail, hospitality and restaurant jobs—and temps in industry, construction and manufacturing—to highly educated Americans working job-to-job because their professions lack fulltime employment opportunities given the structure of many information age businesses. As Andrew Stettner, Michael Cassidy and George Wentworth point out in their new report, A New Safety Net for an Era of Unstable Earnings, what all these workers have in common are highly volatile, unstable incomes and a lack of access to the traditional U.S. unemployment insurance safety net.
“The programs we have to help people are very biased toward traditional incomes,” says Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “Volatility in earnings is a really big problem.”
“Those with the least to lose are most likely to lose it”
It also found that because of this situation, between 2008 and 2013, three out of five prime earners experienced at least as much as a 50 percent drop in their month-to-month income. Half experienced month-to-month income drops of more than 100 percent.
“This broad issue of underemployment,” says NELP senior counsel George Wentworth, “there’s less of a light on it and these people are not showing up in national unemployment figures. But these workers are struggling and many of them are not making ends meet.”
Central to this problem is that most workers now employed part time are making less than what they made previously, working full time. At the same time, their part-time or independent contractor status means they are likely not eligible for a full complement—if any, in the case of self-employed freelancers—of standard employment benefits, including employer paid health insurance or any form of unemployment insurance, explains Wentworth.
As the report notes, “Those with the least to lose are most likely to lose it.”
Both Stettner and Wentworth explain that historical policy responses—and those set up to help workers laid off during the Great Recession—focus on traditional employment situations. Typical unemployment insurance is also biased against those who take up part-time or self-employment gigs while they’re looking for new full-time jobs by reducing unemployment payments. Some states have partial unemployment benefits designed for part-time workers, including those who’ve involuntarily had their hours reduced, but these vary widely. The report found that for workers whose hours are cut from full time to part time, “ten states would replace half of their lost earnings while fourteen states would provide no benefits at all.”
To address what’s becoming the new normal for U.S. workers, the report makes several recommendations. It proposes that states offer partial unemployment benefits to workers earning less than 150 percent of what they’d qualify for weekly if they were laid off (rather than working part time). This would substantially improve coverage for workers whose hours have been cut or who take part-time jobs after losing fulltime jobs.
“It also should be easier to file for these benefits,” says Stettner, explaining that current work documentation requirements don’t necessarily reflect the reality of how part timers work and get paid.
The report also recommends broadening unemployment insurance support for work-sharing programs. Work-share programs, explains Wentworth, are designed to help employers avoid layoffs by retaining their existing workforce but with reduced hours.
The report proposes beefing up existing financial support for work-share programs to reduce the impact to employees of reduced hours. “This is basically for high road employers,” says Wentworth.
The report also recommends a pilot program to provide unemployment insurance to freelancers who don’t have a traditional employer relationship. This is perhaps the most challenging of the report’s proposals since it seeks to address circumstances that extend well beyond the issue of reduced hours. Ideas include giving freelancers better access to certain tax credits in ways that help even out swings in earnings. It could also involve building on international examples such as professional guilds in Europe, where people contribute in order to draw benefits when needed, Stettner explains.
These proposals go beyond and build on those already being discussed at the state, local and federal level to require employers to provide more stable scheduling, pay a minimum number of hours if workers are called for a shift and that protect workers who request schedule changes. They would also begin to address the situations of the estimated 19.1 million Americans who depend solely on freelance income and are currently without any employment safety net.
“We’re just scratching the surface to understand how to come up with a better set of market-based and government solutions,” says Stettner. “We’ve created a whole view of the world that now applies to only about half the working people in America,” he says. “We have this huge divide we need to hammer on. It should concern everyone.”
This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on December 28, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.
Chicago—The movement known as Fight for $15 started in New York City as a surprise one-day strike. The workers’ demands then were simple and bold. They wanted a minimum wage of $15 an hour and the right to organize a union.
The workers who initiated the campaign could no longer tolerate lengthy debates over penny increases to the state, local and federal minimum wages. They called for more than double the federal minimum wage, which stood then—and now—at $7.25 an hour.
This was a dream that seemed not only aspirational but downright crazy when Fight for $15 first launched. And it was put forward by some of the workers with the greatest need—occupants of the virtually interchangeable jobs of the vast modern low-wage economy. These are the jobs that people take not just as a first job, but as the first of dozens of similar jobs in a career with little progress.
To mark its fourth anniversary this week, the Fight for $15 organization staged its largest and “most disruptive” national action to date, which included strikes, non-violent civil disobedience and actions at major airports like the Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
Even though it still has a long way to go, Fight for $15 had reason to celebrate.
A new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) credits Fight for $15 with winning an increase of $61.5 billion in annual wages over its first four years, mostly through state and local minimum wage increases. In other instances, employers boosted workers’ pay under public pressure.
On balance, these victories for roughly 19 million workers yielded a total raise more than 10 times larger than the raise U.S. workers received from the last federal minimum wage hike in 2007, according to NELP. By Fight for $15’s accounting, its actions have raised wages for 22 million workers.
Still, employers in the United States pay less than $15 an hour to some 64 million workers.
Over the past four years, Fight for $15 has reached beyond its base in fast food restaurants and launched organizing efforts with a broad range of poorly-paid workers: home care and child care workers, early childhood teachers, university teaching assistants, Uber and other ride-share company drivers, airport workers and many others. It has also inspired more tightly organized, conventional unions to reach out to other low-paid, low-skilled workers, such as car washers and retail sales clerks.
As the organization has grown, Fight for $15 has taken up new tactics and demands, in part reflecting the preoccupations of its members. While its two core demands remain a $15 minimum wage and union rights, the organization now also calls for an end to structural racism, to police killings of black people and to deportations of immigrants.
“We can’t keep living like this”
Before 6 a.m. Tuesday, a cool fall day, a crowd of several hundred protestors gathered outside a McDonald’s restaurant in the gentrifying but still largely working-class and immigrant neighborhood of Ukrainian Village on Chicago’s northwest side. Supporters unfurled a banner from a nearby grocery store. It read: “We Demand $15 and Union Rights, Stop Deportations, Stop Killing Black People.” The crowd chanted slogans, ranging from the humorously blunt (“We work, we sweat. Put $15 on our check!”) to the bluntly militant (“If we don’t get it. Shut it down!”) and the over-optimistically heroic (“El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido!” Spanish for “United, the people will never be defeated”).
The crowd included local politicians like Cook County Commissioner and recent insurgent mayoral candidate, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and workers whose jobs worsened recently as well as many others whose jobs have never been good. Uber driver Darrell Imani represented one of the newest companies whose workers have turned to Fight for $15 to protect what they fear losing. When he started driving for Uber a couple of years and about 12,000 rides ago, he typically earned roughly $25 an hour, or $40,000 a year.
“Now we can barely pay for gas and services,” he lamented. “We can’t keep living like this. We can’t. Uber drivers are on strike for living wages. I love doing it, but I want to be able to pay the bills. I’m trying to organize the group to be a union. Uber is making billions of dollars, but we are the ones who are making it for them.”
Also in the crowd was Keith Kelleher, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas, a large local union. He has a long history of trying, and often succeeding in organizing implausible groups of workers. In Detroit, Kelleher briefly organized hamburger chain outlets. He managed to organize widely dispersed home care workers in Chicago and other parts of Illinois. And just a few years ago, he led a march of retail clerks and fast food workers down North Michigan Avenue, the swank shopping strip of downtown Chicago.
“It has solidified in my mind that organizing can’t just be about wages, hours and working conditions,” Kelleher says. “It also is not just traditional organizing. This [Fight for $15] is the wave of the future. Workers want a union, and you can build organizations off of this. That’s the challenge.”
Organizing in the future may look much more like earlier periods of American labor history when “open shops” were common, meaning that individual workers could join or not join a union, Kelleher said. Open shops could become the rule again, as a result of the spread of right-to-work laws and the possibility of conservative judges overruling unions’ right to collect a “fair share” of normal dues to cover expenses of representing workers who do not join the union.
Kelleher’s home care workers’ union started along the model of an open shop, then won an agreement to have the state government “check off,” or collect, dues. But the Supreme Court later ruled that the home and child care workers in Kelleher’s union were not full-fledged state employees and, therefore, the union could not have dues deducted from their paychecks. The union now collects dues itself from about 65,000 of its more than 90,000 members, a remarkable achievement given how dispersed those workers are.
If employers think an open shop will weaken unions by making them less stable, Kelleher cites an unattributed maxim: “Where you don’t have permanent organization, you have permanent war.”
“With a union, you’re stronger”
The airport strike at O’Hare, the world’s fourth busiest airport, was one of the more dramatic actions. A year ago, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 launched a campaign to organize about 2,000 O’Hare workers, employed by a modest number of contractors for tasks that include cleaning airplane cabins, providing transport for passengers with mobility problems, handling baggage and other services.
Forty years ago, these workers were employed directly by each airline and wages and benefits were attractive. But those arrangements collapsed under pressure from strong outside forces. Airlines increasingly subcontracted work to independent, specialized firms, which competed for work from the airlines and thus felt pressure to cut labor costs. And with deregulation of the airline industry, the carriers were subject to pressures to cut cost, which was easier to do when they employed contractors rather than direct hires.
Also, there was an economy-wide shift towards what David Weil, now the administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, called the “fissured workplace,” where more powerful elements of the enterprise or workplace try to minimize their responsibility for anything except maximizing profits. President Ronald Reagan’s breaking the strike and union of the air traffic controllers further legitimized an anti-worker strategy that airline managers can deploy. One of the consequences is that from 2002 to 2012 outsourcing of baggage porter jobs more than tripled from 25 percent to 84 percent.
Despite having multiple employers, with a varied workforce, “workers’ resolve is very strong,” says Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU Local 1. An estimated 400 workers at O’Hare took part in the strike Tuesday.
“I think workers know the airlines can pay,” Balanoff says. “The airlines haven’t talked to us yet, but I think we got their attention,” and he believes the union has the political as well as industrial strength to prevail.
Andrew Pawelko hopes that’s true. A former auto paint detail worker, he now works as the lead in a cabin cleaning crew for Prospect, a major contractor to big airlines.
“I like cleaning and detail work,” he says, but “the job needs more pay.”
Pawelko, who took part in the strike, makes $12.50 an hour; members of his crew make $10.75. At a previous job, the employer persuaded workers to get rid of their union. A short time later, Pawelko’s benefits were cut.
“Union rights,” he says, “100 percent we need it, all of us.”
Rasheed Atolagbe-Aro, 50, a recent immigrant from Nigeria, is another strong union supporter who joined the strike, partly because of issues concerning safety and the high pressures at work.
“It’s high risk,” he says. “The spray used to clean is at a very serious level. But you’re fired if you refuse to come to work. With a union, you’re stronger.”
Although Fight for $15 is not a union, it can provide a way to fight on behalf of broad policies that help all low-wage workers, even if it has not yet created or even defined more localized vehicles to deal with individual member grievances, contracts and other traditional union tasks like signing up members, collecting dues and providing services. Such are some of the concerns about the group’s unconventional, loose structure, its lack of emphasis on formal membership and dues and its heavy financial dependence on the 1.8 million-member SEIU.
Can even a financially-strong union continue to underwrite such an ambitious undertaking? What is the optimal amount of SEIU control over Fight for $15?
“We’re hoping to build this movement,” Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, said as she stood on a balcony at O’Hare along with more than a thousand members and supporters of Fight for $15, noting that Fight for $15 mustered actions in 340 cities and 20 airports in a single day, combining rallies and marches with more logistically-complicated tactics, such as civil disobedience. “Our plan is not to shape the organization into unions as we have known them, but something different.”
Henry takes inspiration from the way that the labor movement in Denmark, for instance, has raised fast food worker wages and workplace standards dramatically by sitting down and talking with corporate leaders in the field to negotiate an agreement. She says she hopes to do the same, perhaps within the coming year, by sitting down with McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s—the big three in burgers—to negotiate an industry-wide agreement.
“Workers say a union is the way jobs become good jobs, the way to have a voice,” she said. “Organizing is the way to improve our lives.”
This blog was originally posted on In These Times on December 1, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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