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420,000 More Workers in Cook County Will Soon Have Paid Sick Leave

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ltcoyngtThe United States of America: land of liberty, bastion of opportunity, the world’s leading economic power.

But if you’re a low-wage worker and wake up sick, you’d better clock in on time or you risk losing your wages and even your job.

Paid time off for illness, taken for granted in professional sectors and much of the developed world, remains out of reach for millions of American workers. The United States is the only major developed country that does not guarantee paid sick days to all workers by law. Federal data show that more than one-third of private sector workers throughout the United States do not receive paid sick leave.

A disproportionate number of those without paid sick days are women, people of color and people with low incomes. Though women are the primary caregivers in most families, they also make up the majority of workers in low-wage jobs that do not offer paid sick days. Access is particularly bad for Hispanic workersresearchers have found that less than half get paid sick days, compared to 60 percent of workers overall. And for both women and men, federal data show that the highest paid workers overwhelmingly have access to paid sick days, while most of the poorest workers do not.

But this month, the Cook County Board of Commissioners in Illinois took a major step toward changing that. The board approved legislation that guarantees paid sick days to all workers in the county, bringing the Chicago suburbs in line with the city. Chicago passed its own paid sick leave ordinance in June.

Under the ordinance, Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 900,000 workers in the county don’t currently have paid sick days, including 420,000 in the suburbs. The new laws in Chicago and Cook County will take effect July 1, 2017.

Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy for the advocacy group Women Employed, helped campaign for the law.

“All employees—no matter their occupation—should have the peace of mind to know they can take time off work for their own illness or to care for a sick family member without fear of losing their job or a day’s pay,” says Josephs.

Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. (Arise Chicago Facebook)
Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. (Arise Chicago Facebook)

Cook County’s decision is the most recent victory in what seems to be a growing movement for paid sick leave. Since 2006, 38 localities in the United States have passed sick leave legislation. This year alone, 12 paid sick leave laws have been passed across the country, including in Vermont and major cities like Los Angeles and San Diego.

Also this year, the momentum for paid sick leave reached the Obama administration. At the direction of the President, the Department of Labor issued new rules requiring federal contractors to provide up to 56 hours, or more than a week, of paid sick leave per year, which will impact more than a million workers when they go into effect.

Tamara Green, 29, did not have access to paid sick leave until recently. A few years ago, she was working for a major fast-food chain in New York City. She was also taking care of her mother, who is HIV positive. One day, her mother fell ill unexpectedly and Green asked her boss if she could leave. Her boss told her that if she left, she would consider it a walk-off and she would not be paid.

“How do you keep going if someone you love is ill or, God forbid, dies, and you’re not there because your boss said she needed you to drop some more fries?” asked Green. “That’s not OK.”

Paid sick leave benefits more than individual workers like Green. Research has found that giving workers the ability to stay home when they’re sick without sacrificing their wages benefits public health and the economy. Paid sick dayslead to higher rates of preventative medical care, including mammograms and Pap tests, decrease workplace injuries and reduce rates of illness.

Opponents have argued that sick leave laws burden businesses or force them to make pay cuts. But an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that sick leave poses minimal costs to employers. The cost of paid sick leave policies to employers in Seattle, for example, was less than one percent of revenue on average. What’s more, research indicates that the costs of paid sick leave would be at least partially offset by benefits to employers like reduced turnover, increased morale and increased productivity.

The building momentum for paid sick days suggests that local lawmakers as well as the general public are seeing these benefits. National surveys have shown that the majority of the public supports laws that would mandate paid sick leave.

But at the state and federal level, it’s an uphill battle. Between 2000 and 2013, state legislatures in 10 states—the majority of which were controlled by Republicans—passed laws that prohibit local governments from mandating paid sick days. The Healthy Families Act, which would mandate paid sick time to most workers nationwide, has been stuck in Congress for years.

At her new job, Tamara Green finally has access to paid sick days. She says knowing that she can care for herself or her mother during an emergency means she no longer has to choose “health over wealth,” and she hopes to see the day when no one in the world has to make that choice.

“To know that I have that option to take the day off without losing a way to pay my bills, that’s a relief that some people can’t even understand,” Green says. “One missed doctor’s appointment could be the last time to say goodbye.”

This blog originally appeared at inthesetimes.com on October 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Jonathan Timm is a freelance reporter who specializes in labor and gender issues. Follow him on Twitter @jdrtimm.


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Minimum Wage Increases On the Ballot In Four States

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Terrance HeathThere’s a lot more going on in this election than the presidential race between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. Borne out of the dedication and hard work of activists, ballot initiatives give citizens the opportunity to vote directly on legislation and constitutional amendments at the state and local level, sometimes even bypassing the legislature.

This year, People’s Action affiliates in four states have seen their hard work pay off by successfully getting initiatives to increase the minimum wage on the ballot.

 

Arizona

In Arizona, voters will decide whether to pass The Fair Wages and Healthy Families Initiative. The ballot initiative, if passed, will raise Arizona’s minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2017, and gradually raise it to $12 by 2020. It also provides “earned paid sick time,” which workers can use if they or a family member gets sick, and prohibits retaliation against employees who use the benefit. The measure does, however, retain the state’s law on tipping, which allows employers to pay workers who receive tips up to $3.00 less than minimum wage.

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According to Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families:

– A minimum wage worker in Arizona only earns $17,000 per year.
– More than half of minimum wage workers in Arizona are women.
– More than 27 percent of Arizona’s low-wage earners are parents.
– 45 percent of Arizonans don’t have access to earned sick days.

Those numbers tell the stories of people like Riann Norton, a single mother two, who often has to miss work in order to care for her chronically ill young daughter, or Iraq War veteran Luis Cardenas, who came home only to join the ranks of veterans struggling to meet their basic needs with low wages.

The measure is supported by a number of coalition partners, including Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), which is part of the Fight for $15 movement, and organized community members to petition fast-food chains like McDonald’s and grocery stores like El Super to pay their workers living wages.

Colorado

Colorado’s State Minimum Wage Amendment will raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.30 per hour effective January 1, 2017, and increase it by $0.90 every January, until it reaches $12 per hour in 2020. After 2020, the wage will be adjusted for increases in the cost of living. The law allows employers to pay employees who also make tips up to $3.02 less than minimum wage.

The Colorado People’s Alliance, which worked to get the initiative on the ballot, says that nearly half a million Coloradans will see their wages increase if the measure passes — including 263,000 women, or 22 percent of female workers in the state. One in five Coloradans would get a raise, and 86 percent of them will be adult workers over 20 years old. Currently in Colorado, full-time minimum-wage workers earn about $300 per week, or $17,000 a year.

According to a recent University of Denver study, increasing Colorado’s minimum wage would pump up to $400 million into the state’s economy and raise the standard of living for one in five households.

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About 400,000 Colorado households, half of those families with children, will see higher incomes if the amendment passes.

Colorado’s minimum wage amendment currently holds a 13-point lead in the first publicly released poll on the proposal. Of likely 2016 general-election voters, 55 percent support the amendment, while 42 percent oppose it, and 3 percent remain undecided. That’s good news for workers like Marilyn Sorenson, a home health care worker who finds after more than 20 years, her paycheck hasn’t kept up with her basic expenses; and business owners like Vine Street pub owner Kevin Daily, who says that increasing the wage will boost productivity by lowering workers’ financial stress, and increase the number of people “with more money in their pockets so they can afford a beer and a meal.”

Maine

The Minimum Wage Increase Initiative, Question 4 on Maine’s state ballot this year, will increase the general minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. The initiative also increases the wage for tipped workers from half of minimum wage to $5 an hour in 2017, then increases it by $1 every year, until it is equal to the general minimum wage by 2024.

Republican Governor Paul LePage joined business groups in an attempt to push a smaller wage increase through the state legislature. Republicans on the legislative budget committee took the budget hostage, saying they would only negotiate new spending if Democrats supported a smaller wage increase. However, none of the competing proposals passed the House, so there is no competing measure on the ballot.

According to a study by the nonprofit poverty relief group Oxfam, Maine has the highest percentage of low-wage workers in the Northeast. “So 32 percent of Maine workers are currently paid less than $12 an hour,” says Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance. Neighboring states Vermont and New Hampshire came in at 26 and 24 percent, respectively.

Washington

Washington state’s Initiative Measure No. 1433 will increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 per hour in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019, and $13.50 in 2020. The initiative will also require employers to provide paid sick leave and follow related laws. Washington’s Democratic governor Jay Inslee volunteered to help Raise Up Washington collect signatures for the initiative, and spoke out in favor of it:

“No one who works 40 or more hours a week should struggle to make ends meet,” Inslee said. “And no parent should have to choose between staying home to take care of a sick child or losing a paycheck. Initiative 1433 will lift up workers and families across this state and boost our local economies.”

Washington’s initiative will help women in two important ways. Women are the primary breadwinners in almost half of all households with children. But women make up 60 percent of minimum wage workers in Washington state. Women are also 10 times more likely to stay home with a sick child than their male partners.

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If the initiative passes, women will earn more, and will no longer have to choose between their jobs and their families.

Other Initiatives

Increasing minimum wage isn’t the only progressive issue on the ballot this year:

– In Maine, Question 2 will create an additional 3 percent tax surcharge on incomes exceeding $200,000 per year. The revenue from the increase will be earmarked to help fund K–12 public education.

– In Howard County, Maryland, voters will decide if they want a citizen-funded campaign system, to boost the power of small, individual donations, and encourage more candidates to run without the burden of raising major funds. The initiative, Question A, is supported by Fair Elections Howard, Progressive Maryland, and other progressive organizations.

State and local progressive activists are leading the way and not waiting for Congress to act on important issues that impact America’s working families. As a result, this year’s election could yield a number of progressive victories.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on September 15, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

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U.S. Supreme Court To Decide Whether Class Action Defendants Can Bribe Their Way Out Of Legal Trouble

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TLeslie Bruecknerhe U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide an issue of huge importance to everyone who cares about access to justice. The question, in Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, is whether corporate defendants in class actions are entitled to bribe class representatives to abandon the rest of the potential class members.

Yes, you read that right. According to the corporation who was sued, it should be allowed to cancel out a class action against it simply by offering to settle the named plaintiff’s individual claims. Under the defendant’s view of the law, corporations accused of ripping off millions of people could avoid accountability by repeatedly picking off the few named plaintiffs who are willing to step forward. Campbell-Ewald has even gone so far as to argue that class representatives are bound by such offers, accepted or not, even if it effectively denies all other class members the ability to obtain any relief at all.

The craziest part about the theory they’ve put forth is that it turns the whole notion of adequacy of representation 180 degrees. As we explained in an amici brief we just filed with the Court (along with the AARP), one of the most basic rules of class actions is that class representatives are supposed to represent the others impacted by the wrongdoing. Not only is this required by Rule 23 (the federal class action rule), it’s also required by the U.S. Constitution (due process, anyone?). This means not just that the class representatives are supposed to be competent, they are also supposed to be loyal to the rest of the class members. And that means the class representatives are not supposed to file potential class actions just to make money for themselves, they are supposed to be standing up for everyone in the class.

But if Campbell-Ewald’s lawyers are to be believed, the basic ethical and constitutional premises of class actions were just flipped. They say that corporate defendants in class actions have the right to bribe class representatives to abandon everyone else. And in their view, even if a class representative wants to do the right thing and reject an individual payday so they can stand for the entire class, Rule 68 strips away that possibility, and the court must dismiss the whole case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

If the Supreme Court agrees with Campbell-Ewald, it could spell disaster for the ability of injury victims to obtain any compensation whatsoever via class action suits. Class actions make it economically possible for injured consumers, civil rights plaintiffs, and low-wage workers to pursue claims for relatively small damage amounts for wrongs that would otherwise go unremedied. A Supreme Court ruling that would allow defendants to shut down class actions simply by “picking off” named plaintiffs could wipe countless cases – and countless consumers and others who would benefit from those cases – off the litigation map.

Hopefully, the Court will see this tactic for what it is: a form of bribery that turns the very idea of class representation on its head.

This blog was originally posted on Public Justice on September 02, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Leslie Brueckner.  In 2011, Leslie became the director of Public Justice’s new Food Safety & Health Project. In addition to her litigation work, Ms. Brueckner has taught appellate advocacy at American University Law School and Georgetown University School of Law. She is a senior attorney at Public Justice.


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Low-wage industry tries to fearmonger on overtime pay, fails

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Laura ClawsonThe Obama administration will soon unveil its new overtime pay rules, which will mean that millions of additional workers will get overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. Many low-wage employers are obviously upset about this—they’ve been using the weak overtime rules to make salaried employees work more than 40 hours a week for no extra pay, and they like it that way. Industry groups have been trying to make the case for keeping the overtime eligibility level low—it’s currently less than $24,000 a year—but the Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey shows just how weak those arguments are, taking a National Retail Federation report to the woodshed:

If the threshold is raised to $42,000, the NRF predicts significant changes in retail employment: while some employers will raise salaries for employees near the threshold to guarantee that they continue to be excluded from overtime protection, many salaried employees (some of whom work 60-70 hours a week for no extra pay) will have their hours reduced and as a result, 76,000 new jobs will be created averaging 30 hours per week. Altogether, half of the retail workforce that is currently excluded from coverage will be guaranteed coverage by the law’s overtime protections. That all sounds pretty good to me.The NRF’s projections are intended to be critical of the Labor Department’s rules update, but I have a hard time seeing why it would be a bad thing to create 76,000 new retail jobs, given that 8.6 million Americans are currently unemployed. Moreover, if I were a poorly paid bookkeeper or clerk in a department store, working 60 hours a week and getting paid no more than if I worked 40 hours, I’d be happy to see my hours cut and the extra work shifted to hourly employees.

Eisenbrey also points out that the NRF report suggests that the lobby group doesn’t think its members are following existing law: One of the requirements to exempt workers from overtime eligibility is that a worker have a managerial role, but the NRF report lists many traditionally non-managerial jobs such as bookkeepers, clerks, and secretaries as exempt from overtime.

Raises for some, fewer hours of work for others, and job creation. Gosh, those are some terrifying predictions for changes in overtime rules.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on June 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a Labor editor since 2011.


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Your Manicurist is Likely Being Paid Illegal Starvation Wages

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Ariel ZiontsAfter investigating 150 nail salons over 13 months, New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir found that “manicurists are routinely underpaid and exploited, and endure ethnic discrimination and other abuse.” The findings are presented in a long-form multimedia story and offered in English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.

Nir followed manicurists who, after leaving their cramped living arrangements, hop into vans that shuttle them to nail salons in the city and even into different states. When they first begin work, many are forced to pay a training fee of around $100-$200, sometimes more. Many remain unpaid during an “apprenticeship period” until they can prove they are skilled enough to deserve payment, but this payment is usually below minimum wage.

Twenty-one-year-old Jing Ren’s story illustrates this process. She paid $100 in a training fee, then worked three months without pay before earning a wage of less than $3 an hour.

Because nail salon workers are considered “tipped workers” under state and federal labor laws, they can be paid below the state’s $8.25 minimum wage; employers are required to make up the remainder of the worker’s pay if their hourly rate comes out to below minimum wage. The investigation found that bosses rarely provide that legally mandated supplemental pay. Overtime pay is similarly rare for manicurists, who may work up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Nir also found that manicurists’ pay is often taken away for minor transgressions. When 47-year-old Qing Lin spilled a drop of nail polish remover on a client’s Prada sandals, she was forced to pay for damages and fired from the salon she worked at for 10 years. “I am worth less than a shoe,” she stated.

Pay also can correlate to ethnicity. Nir found that Koreans are paid the most, followed by Chinese and Latino workers. Non-Korean workers Nir spoke with are sometimes prohibited from speaking and forced to eat in a separate location. Other documented abuses include workers being monitored on video, physical and verbal abuse and poor safety standards that lead to cancer and miscarriages caused by exposure to chemicals and dust.

Nail salon owners are rarely investigated or punished for their labor violations. New York’s Department of Labor investigates a few dozen—around 1%—of the over 3,600 salons in the state per year. When investigated, the department finds wage violations 80 percent of the time. The Times said all but three of the more than 100 workers they interviewed have had wages withheld in illegal ways.

Because many manicurists are undocumented and are often unaware of labor laws and speak limited English, many do not report on their bosses’ illegal activities.

Nir is hosting a Facebook chat on Monday, May 11 at 1 PM EST. Participants are asked to submit questions ahead of time. If you want an ethical manicure, the Times has tips on that.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on May 7, 2015. Reposted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Ariel Zionts. Arielle Zionts is a Spring 2015 In These Times editorial intern and freelance reporter. In August she will join the Interfaith Voices radio show as a producer. She studied anthropology at Pitzer College and radio at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Arielle loves to ride her bike and listen to public radio. She tweets at @ajzionts and her website is ariellezionts.com.


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In Streets of Chicago, Fast Food Workers Celebrate Small Victories

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kari-lydersenChicago workers continued the roving fast food and retail strike Thursday, joining strikers and picketers around the nation calling for increased wages and better working conditions for the thousands of low-wage workers who staff some of the nation’s largest companies but are not paid even enough to scrape by.

A crowd of workers and supporters sporting employee uniforms or red “Fight for 15” t-shirts—referring to the call for a $15 hourly wage—snaked through downtown streets all day, stopping to rally outside businesses, ranging from fast food outlets such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Chik-Fil-A to more expensive stores like Nike, Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret. Pharmacies, delis, health food stores and beauty salons were also on the route.

The mood was celebratory. Many workers said they had gotten raises, better schedules, more hours and better working conditions since the April 24 strike by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC) union. While the union doesn’t have any contracts with employers or even official collective bargaining power, it has already leveraged the power of public pressure to gain concessions from major businesses. It is supported by a wide range of labor unions and community groups, as Jeff Schuhrke reported yesterday for Working In These Times.

Krystal Maxie-Collins, 29, says that, about a week after the April protest, she was promoted from part-time to full-time and got a raise from $8.25 to $8.50 an hour at her job at Macy’s. A mother of four, she said it is nearly impossible to make ends meet on retail wages that hover at or just above the state minimum wage of $8.25.

“You have rent, gas, lights, just the cost of living in Chicago,” she said. “Even being able to go to lunch and participate in society here in Chicago, you need more than $8.50 an hour. You should be able to afford to shop where you work, but I can’t do that unless there is a 60 percent off sale. It’s hard to even buy personal necessities. We’re not talking about wanting to get rich. We just want to get by and take care of ourselves.”

Outside one of downtown Chicago’s numerous McDonald’s franchises, one worker after another called in Spanish and English for higher wages.

Robert Wilson, 25, described working for a McDonald’s at Water Tower Place for seven years and getting only a single, 10-cent-per-hour raise. He finally got a 25-cent-per-hour raise after Black Friday last year, thanks to the retail-fast food workers movement, he tells Working In These Times.

Wilson described to the crowd how he has worked 15-hour days at two different stores when McDonald’s managers were in a pinch.

“It’s a shame to know I’ll give that kind of dedication to work, and not even receive paid sick days or a steady schedule, and have to negotiate for days off when I have an emergency,” he said. “We work too hard for this company to back down…we’ll keep fighting until we get what we deserve.”

The crowd went into the restaurant to try to deliver a petition, but police officers ordered them out.

“They’re just trying to raise the minimum wage,” said Monica A., 20, a passerby who saw the workers earlier in the day outside a Walgreens and, sympathizing with their message, decided to continue walking with them.

“$8.25, you can’t do anything on that, especially after they take taxes out and everything,” said Monica, who declined to give her last name.

McDonald’s unintentionally gave the fast food workers movement a boost last month when it published a sample budget for workers that was apparently meant to help them manage their money but instead highlighted for the country how nearly impossible it is to survive on their wages. The budget included a “second job” and even so did not cover realistic living expenses. Health insurance was penciled in at $20 a month, heat (in an earlier version) as “$0,” and gas and child care were not included at all.

It’s not only employees serving customers at private companies who make such low wages. Grace Hill works in the kitchen at Homewood-Flossmoor high school in the south suburbs, earning $9.87 an hour. Even as she makes healthy food for the students, she told Working In These Times, she can’t afford to buy healthy food for herself—a particular problem since she is diabetic.

“Half the time I can’t pay all my bills,” she said. “The school does have the money, they just aren’t giving it to us.”

Union employees of the Chicago Public Schools, including teachers, janitors and food service workers, were on hand to support the Fight for 15.

“Like all movements, it starts small, and then it will grow,” said Eric Ortega, 30, who works as a prep cook on Navy Pier.

Campaign organizer Deivid Rojas said it’s clear the movement has already made an impact and will continue to do so.

“We’ve had workers having victories in all kinds of ways,” he told In These Times. “They’re getting raises of $1 or $2 an hour, or moving from part time to full time. People have more predictable scheduling and report being more respected at work, by their managers and their co-workers.”

This article originally appeared on Working In These Times on August 1, 2012.  Reprinted with permission.  

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications.


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Boston’s Low-Wage Workers Affected by City’s Shutdown

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Kenneth QuinnellWhile most attention in the Boston tragedy is rightfully focused on the victims of last Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, the damage done by the terrorist attacks didn’t end with the explosions or the subsequent shootout that led to additional deaths. Much of the city shut down during the manhunt for the terror suspects; and while most salaried employees could take the day off without losing pay, low-wage workers did not have that luxury. Other workers were forced to work long hours or brave dangerous conditions to get their jobs done.

Salon took a look at the various ways that the bombings affected workers in Boston, including a fear that many businesses will not compensate low-wage workers for the time off the city’s shutdown required:

“Most low wage workers can’t afford to lose a day’s pay, and there’s no doubt this lockdown will adversely impact the city’s working poor,” said Jessica Kutch, a labor activist who co-founded the organizing site coworker.org, in an email to Salon. “I’d really like to see employers state on the record that their hourly workers will be paid for the time they were scheduled to work today—but I suspect that most employers will place the burden of this shutdown squarely on the backs of people who can least afford it.”

Salon also reported that some businesses are requiring workers to use vacation time, although some relented in the face of internal pushback.

First responders, of course, have been working extended hours, with police and medical personnel working much longer than normal days:

Steven Tolman, the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, told Salon, “They’re doing God’s work,” he said. “They’re exhausted, they’ve been working constantly. The heroism of the people who were there and saw things that they never thought they’d see in their life is just incredible.”

“It’s justification why public employees are entitled to a decent pension and the best health care because they put so much on the line in a time of need,” he said.

Workers in some industries have been necessary for supporting law enforcement engaged in the hunt for the suspects or stranded tourists while transportation has been limited:

Brian Lang, the president of UNITE HERE Local 26, told Salon that many of the hotel workers he represents have been working double shifts with little time off, as many of the guests have been unable to leave the city. Police from out of town have completely occupied some hotels, while authorities set up a command center at the Westin downtown, just blocks from the bombing.

“Those hotels were full of people all week, so our members in there were like the second responders,” Lang said. “There were the first responders who aided the people who were directly affected by the bombings, but many of the folks who were affected were from out of town and they were staying at these hotels. They were exhausted, they were traumatized, and it was the hotel workers who comforted them, fed them, who made sure they had clean, safe rooms to say in.”

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 22, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

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


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Low-Wage Workers Hit Hardest by Workplace Injuries, Illnesses

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It’s a double whammy for low-wage workers when they get hurt or fall ill on the job.

First, they lose pay because the vast majority (more than 80%) of low-wage workers do not have any paid sick leave to take time off to recover. Second, not only does the pay check shrink, but because of inadequate workers’ compensation laws, they must shoulder a bigger portion of their health care costs with those smaller paychecks. That means workers and their communities must bear a larger share of the $39 billion (in 2010) that workplace injuries and illnesses cost the nation.  

A new policy brief, “Mom’s Off Work ’Cause She Got Hurt: The Economic Impact of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in the U.S.’s Growing Low-Wage Workforce,” examines the growing problem.  

Using information from a study, by University of California, Davis, economist J. Paul Leigh, on the number and cost of injuries and illnesses among low-wage workers, Celeste Monforton, a professorial lecturer in environmental and occupational health at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), and SPHHS researcher Liz Borkowski explore how workplace injuries and illnesses impact the lives of low-wage workers. Says Monforton:

Workers earning the lowest wages are the least likely to have paid sick leave, so missing work to recuperate from a work-related injury or illness often means smaller paychecks. For the millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, a few missed shifts can leave families struggling to pay rent and buy groceries.

Leigh’s study classifies about 31 million people—22% of the U.S. workforce—in 65 occupations for which the median wage is below $11.19 per hour as low-wage workers. The janitors, housecleaners, restaurant workers and others earning that wage full-time will bring home just $22,350 per year—an amount that means a family of four must subsist at the poverty line

In 2010, 596 low-wage workers suffered fatal on-the-job injuries and 12,415 died from occupational ailments, including certain kinds of cancer. Another 1.6 million suffered from non-fatal injuries, and 87,857 developed non-fatal occupational health problems such as asthma. The costs of the 1.73 million injuries and illness amounted to $15 billion for medical care and another $24 billion for lost productivity—the cost when injured or sick workers cannot perform their jobs or daily household duties.

But as Monforton and Borkowski point out, workers’ compensation insurance either does not apply or fails to cover many of these costs, which can bankrupt families living on the margin. In some cases, employers do not have to offer this kind of insurance to employees.

And even workers who do have the coverage often get an unexpected surprise after an on-the-job injury or illness: Insurers generally do not have to provide wage replacement until the worker has lost between three and seven consecutive shifts. And workers at the low end of the wage scale are often discouraged from reporting on-the-job injuries as work-related—which leaves them with no insurance benefits at all.

According to Leigh, insurers cover less than one-fourth of the costs of occupational injuries and illnesses. The rest falls on workers’ families, non-workers’ compensation health insurers and taxpayer-funded programs like Medicaid.

When low-wage workers miss even a few days of pay while recovering from an occupational injury or illness, the effects spread quickly,” says Borkowski.

They will usually have to cut back on their spending right away, which affects the local economy. And families with children might skip meals or cut back on the heat, money-saving tactics that can put vulnerable family members such as children at risk of developmental delays and poor performance in school.

The authors call on policymakers to address this public health problem more forcefully by improving workplace safety and strengthening the safety net to reduce the negative impacts caused by the injuries and illnesses that still occur. Says Monforton:

On average, more than 4,000 workers are injured on the job each day. If we make workplaces safer, we not only stop losing billions of dollars each year, but we also could reduce the pain and suffering and financial impact on thousands of low-wage, hard-working Americans and their families.

The reports are posted here: http://defendingscience.org/low-wage-workers.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on December 14, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is is a a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was “still blue,” he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse.


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