Tag Archives: employees

Walker says White House interested in Wisconsin anti-union law

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said this week that he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence about how the White House can implement on a federal level parts of the Republican governor’s contentious measure that all-but eliminated collective bargaining for public sector unions in the state.

Pence, when he was governor of Indiana, frequently sparred with public employee unions and only awarded pay increases to state workers who received positive performance reviews.

And President Donald Trump has talked about wanting to weaken collective bargaining protections for federal workers.

Walker’s claim to conservative fame is he severely restricted union power in the state.

The Wisconsin law passed in 2011 barred collective bargaining over working conditions or pay increases greater than inflation, for most public workers while requiring them to pay more for health care and pension benefits.

The fight over its passage led to protests as large as 100,000 people and Walker’s recall election in 2012, which he won. Walker was the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall attempt.

Now the governor is talking with those in the Trump administration about “how they may take bits and pieces of what we did” with the union law and civil service reform and “apply it at the national level.”

“It’s something the vice president has brought up before,” Walker told reporters following a speech in Wauwatosa.

The AP reports that union membership in Wisconsin has dropped 40 percent since the law passed. In 2016, 8 percent of Wisconsin’s public and private-sector workers were in a union, below the national average of 10.7 percent.

“I don’t think that the model that Scott Walker has put forward is a model for success,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “That’s the model that the Koch Brothers have tried to spread everywhere.”

Charles and his brother David Koch operate one of the most powerful conservative groups in the nation and have supported efforts across the country to curtail union rights.

Trumka said collective bargaining is the best way to ensure workers get fair wages.

“If you’re going to get workers a raise you have to give them the right to collective bargaining unless you’re willing to impose a straightjacketed minimum wage on everybody,” Trumka said.

 

Fast food workers set sights on presidential candidates

The fast food protests were planned by organizers at more than 270 cities nationwide, part of an ongoing campaign called “Fight for $15.” Janitors, nursing home workers and package delivery workers also joined some protests, organizers said.

Dominique McCrae, who serves fried chicken and biscuits at a Bojangles’ restaurant for $7.55 an hour, joined a protest outside a McDonald’s in Durham, North Carolina. Her pay isn’t enough to cover rent or diapers for her child, the 23-year-old said. She dropped out of college to care for her grandfather, making finances tight.

“We just want to be able to support our families,” said McCrae, who has worked at Bojangles’ for two months.

Bojangles’ Inc., based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in a statement that it offers employees “competitive compensation.”

The campaign began about three years ago and is funded by the Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage workers. Several protests have been scheduled in front of fast food restaurants, garnering media attention.

This time workers are pledging not to vote for presidential candidates that do not support the campaign. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both showed their support through tweets on Nov. 10, and Sanders showed up at a protest outside the Senate in Washington. A protest also took place outside the Republican debates in Milwaukee.

McDonald’s worker Adriana Alvarez said she plans to vote for the first time next year, but only for a candidate who wants to raise wages to $15 an hour. Alvarez, who is 23 and lives in Chicago, said she makes $10.50 an hour, and higher pay can help her move out of the moldy basement apartment she shares with her 3-year-old son.

“I can find a better place,” she said.

The protests are occurring against a backdrop of weak wage growth nationwide. Average hourly pay has increased at roughly a 2.2 percent annual rate since the recession ended more than six years ago.

In the retail, hotel and restaurant industries, average hourly pay for front-line workers – the roughly 80 percent who aren’t managers or supervisors – is below $15. It was $14.90 in the retail industry in October, the Labor Department said last week, and $13.82 for hotel employees. Restaurant workers, on average, earned $11.51 an hour.

McDonald’s Corp., based in Oak Brook, Illinois, said in a statement on Nov. 10 that wages at U.S. restaurants it owns increased $1 over the local minimum wage in July, affecting about 90,000 employees. But the vast majority of U.S. McDonald’s locations are franchised.

Rival Burger King, which is owned by Canada-based Restaurant Brands International Inc., said it supports “the right to demonstrate” and hopes “any demonstrators will respect the safety of our restaurant guests and employees.” It also said its franchisees that own the restaurants make wage decisions, not the corporate company.

Yum Brands Inc., the Louisville, Kentucky-based company behind Taco Bell and KFC, said its employees are paid above minimum wage at its 2,000 company-owned stores.

At a New York rally, a few hundred people cheered and clapped. Some carried signs saying, “Lift all boats, not just yachts.”

Some at the rally were not fast food workers. Liz Henry, 38, who works in environmental services at a New York hospital, makes more than $15 per hour but supports the effort for other workers.

“Even what I’m making right now is not even enough,” she says. “How do they really get by? It’s hard.”

Minnesota mayor backed by labor crosses picket line for lunch

The mayor of Duluth, Minnesota, faces a lifetime ban from a union hall after the union says he crossed a picket line to eat lunch at a restaurant.

Two-term Democrat Don Ness is backed by labor. But President Dan O’Neill of the Duluth AFL-CIO Central Labor Body said Ness crossed a picket line to enter the Radisson Hotel Duluth.

The Painters and Allied Trades Local 106 ran the picket line at the hotel because union members believe the hotel hired nonunion workers to renovate some of its hotel rooms, O’Neill said. He said Ness approached the picket line, shared a few words with the picketers and then went into the building.

“We were really surprised that the mayor went in,” O’Neill said.

Last month, union members attending a Duluth Central Labor Body meeting voted to ban Ness from the Labor Temple’s Wellstone Hall.

Ness, whose wife worked for the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone’s Duluth office, told his supporters on Facebook that he’s confused and upset by the ban. He wrote that he had been invited to lunch at the hotel and spoke to the picketers on his way in.

“This is still an incredibly hurtful situation,” he wrote on Facebook, adding that it will tarnish his final months in office. Ness announced last year that he doesn’t plan to run for a third term.

Ness said unionized restaurant employees crossed the same picket line, and that it was his understanding that others were allowed to cross without problems.

“If this was a strike, I absolutely would NOT have crossed the line,” he added.

O’Neill and Ness both told the Star Tribune that they thought the ban might be rescinded.

Swift and fierce response to Walker’s call to ban federal labor unions

Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker is hoping to pull his campaign off the mat by taking on unions —a familiar foe for the Wisconsin governor — in a sweeping plan to upend pillars of organized labor nationwide.

Walker’s plan calls for eliminating unions for employees of the federal government, making all workplaces right-to-work unless individual states vote otherwise, and scrapping the federal agency that oversees unfair labor practices.

Union leaders are livid. Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union that represents 150,000 federal workers, said Walker is “declaring a war on middle class workers.”

But in an interview with The Associated Press, Walker said no one should be surprised.

“I think people would be shocked if the governor who took on big government special interests wouldn’t do it at the federal level,” Walker said by telephone as he waited to board a plane to Las Vegas where he was to spell out his “Power to the People” proposal in a speech later on Sept. 14.

The move comes as Walker tries to gain traction heading into the second GOP presidential debate, being held Sept. 16 in California. A weak performance in the first debate and a series of missteps has contributed to his tumble from the polls after his strong start months ago.

Walker won nationwide recognition for eviscerating public-sector union powers in Wisconsin and becoming the first governor to prevail in a recall election, which followed huge protests against his anti-union steps. Now he’s proposing to go national with an effort to curb union clout.

“It’s reminding people of the reason they liked us in the first place,” Walker said, brushing aside with laughter a question about whether the move was a sign of desperation.

The reaction from labor groups and Democrats, their traditional political ally, was fierce.

“Scott Walker can now add one-trick pony to his resume, right underneath national disgrace,” said AFL-CIO spokesman Eric Hauser. “His campaign is floundering and so he does what he always does when he can’t think of real solutions. He attacks workers.”

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union of federal workers, representing about 750,000 people, said it’s a last-ditch effort by a failing candidate.

“It appears to me that Scott Walker is pretty much desperate in his campaign right now as he’s sinking to the bottom of the polls,” Cox said. “This is desperate action on the part of a very desperate candidate.”

The Democratic National Committee, through spokesman TJ Helmstetter, called the plan a “desperate and disgusting” attempt to revive a “flailing campaign on the backs of middle-class workers and families.”

And Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, piled on, saying in a sarcastic statement, “If Scott Walker thinks the way to save his ever-sinking campaign is to disparage Nevada’s and America’s working class, well then best of luck to him.”

Labor law experts were taken aback by the scope of Walker’s proposal, which seek to undo decades of law and would gut the landmark National Labor Relations Act – adopted in 1935 and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of the Great Depression.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Ann Hodges, a professor at the University of Richmond who has studied labor law for more than 40 years. “This will take the breath away from anyone who’s worked in labor relations for any length of time. … It’s pretty draconian.”

Walker’s plan also calls for prohibiting the automatic withdrawal of union dues to be used for political purposes and forbidding union organizers from accessing employees’ personal information, such as their phone numbers.

While Walker could enact some of the proposals via presidential executive order, the most far-reaching ones would require an act of Congress, a major barrier by any measure.

Wisconsin DNR disciplined 20 workers in 2014 | Infractions included sex-toy business, harassment, online insults

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources disciplined several employees last year for alleged infractions including sexual harassment, running a sex toy business on state time and posting insulting remarks about the public online, agency records show.

The records also indicate a ranger was fired for trying to use his badge to avoid a traffic citation. Another was suspended for involving a ride-along observer in a high-speed chase.

The agency sent 20 letters reprimanding, suspending or firing workers in 2014. The DNR, which employs about 2,300 workers, released 19 of the letters to The Associated Press as part of an open records request. It withheld the 20th letter because it said that worker is challenging its release in court.

The disciplined employees amount to less than 1 percent of the agency’s roughly 2,300 workers.

A February letter accuses Teague Prichard, a state lands specialist, of sexually harassing three female co-workers in a hotel bar in Appleton following a forestry meeting in January. The letter alleges he rubbed one of the women’s thighs and called her beautiful and sexy. He then began rubbing another co-worker’s back while simultaneously rubbing the third woman’s thigh. When the third woman commented on his conduct, Prichard allegedly suggested she was dressed inappropriately. The letter counts as an unpaid three-day suspension.

Prichard didn’t respond to email and voicemail messages seeking comment.

Arahseris Cerna, an employee at the DNR’s Sturtevant Service Center, was reprimanded in April for allegedly conducting personal business on the job. According to her letter, she worked on the side for a company that sells sex products during in-home gatherings and she passed out brochures and delivered items to DNR colleagues at the service center.

Another letter indicates Caitlin Carmody, an employee who answered the phone at the Wausau Service Center, was suspended for one day in August. According to the letter, Carmody posted comments on Facebook using her work computer on state time in June. One comment stated she hated her job and another series of posts made fun of calls she had received.

No listing for Cerna or Carmody could be found on the DNR’s website or in the state employee directory and no residential listings could be found for them. Neither call center had contact information for them.

Ranger Eric Wachdorf was fired in September for improperly using his DNR-issued badge to avoid a citation for a traffic violation, another letter shows. The letter doesn’t offer any additional details but online court records don’t list any traffic citations against Wachdorf. He didn’t respond to a voicemail left at what may be his home number.

Ranger Matthew Wilhelm was suspended for a day in December for improperly engaging in a high-speed pursuit of a vehicle in Palmyra in June with a ride-along observer in his vehicle, another letter said. The chase reached speeds of about 85 mph in foggy conditions with limited visibility, greatly increasing the risk of injury or death, the letter said. Wilhelm didn’t respond to an email or a voicemail left at his office.

Another letter shows that Robert Lauer, a fisheries worker who was suspended for five days in 2013 for punching a co-worker, was fired in July for failing to notify a supervisor he intended to take vacation time, arriving for work late and leaving early, sleeping overnight in the Asylum Bay Fish Station and using the station’s stove to cook his dinner. No residential listing for Lauer could be found.

Elizabeth Warren: America’s middle class is in deep trouble

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., addressed the AFL-CIO National Summit on Raising Wages earlier this week.

Here is the text of Senator Warren’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Good morning, and thank you MaryBe for the introduction, and for your work with the North Carolina AFL-CIO. Your efforts make a real difference for our families.

I want to start by thanking Rich Trumka and Damon Silvers for your leadership on economic issues, for your good counsel, and, for a long time now, your friendship. I also want to give special thanks to my good friends from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO who are here today, Steve Tolman and Lou Mandarini.

I love being with my labor friends, and I’m especially glad to join you today for the AFL’s first-ever National Summit on Wages.  You follow in the best tradition of the American labor movement for more than a century-always fighting for working people, both union and non-union.  Today you’ve spotlighted an economic issue that is central to understanding what’s happening to people all over this country.

I recently read an article in Politico called “Everything is Awesome.” The article detailed the good news about the economy: 5 percent GDP growth in the third quarter of 2014, unemployment under 6 percent, a new all-time high for the Dow, low inflation.

Despite the headline, the author recognized that not everything is awesome, but his point has been repeated several times:  On many different statistical measures, the economy has improved and is continuing to improve. I think the President and his team deserve credit for the steps they’ve taken to get us here. In particular, job growth is a big deal, and we celebrate it.

I’ve spent most of my career studying what’s happening to America’s middle class, and I know that these four widely-cited statistics give an important snapshot of the success of the overall economy. But the overall picture doesn’t tell us much about what’s happening at ground level to tens of millions of Americans.  Despite these cheery numbers, America’s middle class is in deep trouble.

Think about it this way:  The stock market is soaring, and that’s great if you have a pension or money in a mutual fund. But if you and your husband or wife are both working full time, with kids in school, and you are among the half or so of all Americans who don’t have any money in stocks, how does a booming stock market help you? 

Corporate profits and GDP are up. But if you work at Walmart, and you are paid so little that you still need food stamps to put groceries on the table, what does more money in stockholders’ pockets and an uptick in GDP do for you? 

Unemployment numbers are dropping. But if you’ve got a part-time job and still can’t find full-time work — or if you’ve just given up because you can’t find a good job to replace the one you had — you are counted as part of that drop in unemployment,(iv)  but how much is your economic situation improving?

Inflation rates are still low. But if you are young and starting out life with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt locked into high interest rates by Congress, unable to find a good job or save to buy a house, how are you benefiting from low inflation? 

A lot of broad national economic statistics say our economy is getting better, and it is true that the economy overall is recovering from the terrible crash of 2008.  But there have been deep structural changes in this economy, changes that have gone on for more than thirty years, changes that have cut out hard-working, middle class families from sharing in this overall growth.

It wasn’t always this way.

Coming out of the Great Depression, America built a middle class unlike anything seen on earth. From the 1930s to the late 1970s, as GDP went up, wages went up pretty much across the board.  In fact, 90% of all workers-everyone outside the top 10%-got about 70% of all the new income growth.(v)  Sure, the richest 10% gobbled up more than their share-they got 30%.  But overall, as the economic pie got bigger, pretty much everyone was getting a little more.  In other words, as our country got richer, our families got richer.  And as our families got richer, our country got richer.  That was how this country built a great middle class.

But then things changed.

By 1980, wages had flattened out, while expenses kept going up. The squeeze was terrible. In the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much, adjusted for inflation, on mortgages as they had a generation earlier. They spent more on health insurance, and more to send their kids to college.  Mom and dad both went to work, but that meant new expenses like childcare, higher taxes, and the costs of a second car.  All over the country, people tightened their belts where they could, but it still hasn’t been enough to save them.  Families have gone deep into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, or just to stay afloat a while longer.  And today’s young adults may be the first generation in American history to end up, as a group, with less than their parents.(vii) 

Remember how up until 1980, 90% of all people-middle class, working people, poor people-got about 70% of all the new income that was created in the economy and the top 10% took the rest? Since 1980, guess how much of the growth in income the 90% got? Nothing.  None.  Zero. In fact, it’s worse than that.  The average family not in the top 10% makes less money than a generation ago.(viii)  So who got the increase in income over the last 32 years?  100% of it went to the top ten percent.  All of the new money earned in this economy over the past generation-all that growth in the GDP-went to the top. All of it.

That is a huge structural change.  When I look at the data here – and this includes years of research I conducted myself – I see evidence everywhere about the pounding that working people are taking. Instead of building an economy for all Americans, for the past generation this country has grown an economy that works for some Americans. For tens of millions of working families who are the backbone of this country, this economy isn’t working.  These families are working harder than ever, but they can’t get ahead. Opportunity is slipping away. Many feel like the game is rigged against them – and they are right.  The game is rigged against them. 

Since the 1980s, too many of the people running this country have followed one form or another of supply side – or trickle down – economic theory.  Many in Washington still support it. When all the varnish is removed, trickle-down just means helping the biggest corporations and the richest people in this country, and claiming that those big corporations and rich people could be counted to create an economy that would work for everyone else. 

Trickle-down was popular with big corporations and their lobbyists, but it never really made much sense. George Bush Sr. called it voodoo economics.(x)  He was right, and let’s call it out for what it is:  Trickle-down was nothing more than the politics of helping the rich-and-powerful get richer and more powerful, and it cut the legs out from under America’s middle class.

Trickle-down policies are pretty simple.  First, fire the cops-not the cops on Main Street, but the cops on Wall Street.  Pretty much the whole Republican Party – and, if we’re going to be honest, too many Democrats – talked about the evils of “big government” and called for deregulation.  It sounded good, but it was really about tying the hands of regulators and turning loose big banks and giant international corporations to do whatever they wanted to do-turning them loose to rig the markets and reduce competition, to outsource more jobs, to load up on more risks and hide behind taxpayer guarantees, to sell more mortgages and credit cards that cheated people.  In short, to do whatever juiced short term profits even if it came at the expense of working families.

Trickle down was also about cutting taxes for those at the top.  Cut them when times are good, cut them when times are bad.  And when that meant there was less money for road repairs, less money for medical research, and less money for schools and that our government would need to squeeze kids on student loans, then so be it.  And look at the results: The top 10% got ALL the growth in income over the past 30 years-ALL of it-and the economy stopped working for everyone else.

The trickle-down experiment that began in the Reagan years failed America’s middle class.  Sure, the rich are doing great.  Giant corporations are doing great.  Lobbyists are doing great.  But we need an economy where everyone else who works hard gets a shot at doing great!  

The world has changed beneath the feet of America’s working families. Powerful forces like globalization and technology are creating seismic shifts that are disrupting our economy, altering employment patterns, and putting new stresses on old structures.  Those changes could create new opportunities-or they could sweep away the last vestiges of economic security for 90% of American workers.  Those changes demand new and different economic policies from our federal government.  But too many politicians have looked the other way.  Instead of running government to expand opportunity for 90% of Americans and to shore up security in an increasingly uncertain world, instead of re-thinking economic policy to deal with tough new realities, for more than 30 years, Washington has far too often advanced policies that hammer America’s middle class even harder.  

Look at the choices Washington has made, the choices that have left America’s middle class in a deep hole:

  • the choice to leash up the financial cops,
  • the choice in a recession to bail out the biggest banks with no strings attached while families suffered,
  • the choice to starve our schools and burden our kids with billions of dollars of student loan debt while cutting taxes for billionaires,
  • the choice to spend your tax dollars to subsidize Big Oil instead of putting that money into rebuilding our roads and bridges and power grids,
  • the choice to look the other way when employers quit paying overtime, reclassified workers as independent contractors and just plain old stole people’s wages,
  • the choice to sign trade pacts and tax deals that let subsidized manufacturers around the globe sell here in America while good American jobs get shipped overseas.

For more than thirty years, too many politicians in Washington have made deliberate choices that favored those with money and power.  And the consequence is that instead of an economy that works well for everyone, America now has an economy that works well for about 10% of the people.

It wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way. We can make new choices – different choices – choices that put working people first, choices that aim toward a better future for our children, choices that reflect our deepest values as Americans. 

One way to make change is to talk honestly and directly about work, about how we value the work that people do every day.  We need to talk about what we believe:

  • We believe that no one should work full time and still live in poverty – and that means raising the minimum wage.
  • We believe workers have a right to come together, to bargain together and to rebuild America’s middle class.
  • We believe in enforcing labor laws, so that workers get overtime pay and pensions that are fully funded.
  • We believe in equal pay for equal work.
  • We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions.

We also need a hard conversation about how we create jobs here in America.  We need to talk about how to build a future.  So let’s say what we believe:

  • We believe in making investments – in roads and bridges and power grids, in education, in research – investments that create good jobs in the short run and help us build new opportunities over the long run.
  • And we believe in paying for them-not with magical accounting scams that pretend to cut taxes and raise revenue, but with real, honest-to-goodness changes that make sure that we pay-and corporations pay-a fair share to build a future for all of us.
  • We believe in trade policies and tax codes that will strengthen our economy, raise our living standards, and create American jobs – and we will never give up on those three words: Made in America.

And one more point.  If we’re ever going to un-rig the system, then we need to make some important political changes.  And here’s where we start:

  • We know that democracy doesn’t work when congressmen and regulators bow down to Wall Street’s political power – and that means it’s time to break up the Wall Street banks and remind politicians that they don’t work for the big banks, they work for US!

Changes like this aren’t easy.  But we know they are possible.  We know they are possible because we have seen David beat Goliath before.  We have seen lobbyists lose.  We’ve seen it all through our history. We saw it when we created the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, when we passed health care reform.  We saw it when President Obama took important steps to try and reform our immigration system through executive order just weeks ago.  Change is difficult, but it is possible. 

This is personal for me. When I was 12, my big brothers were all off in the military.  My mother was 50 years old, a stay at home mom.  My daddy had a heart attack, and it turned our little family upside down.  The bills piled up.  We lost the family station wagon, and we nearly lost our home.  I remember the day my mother, scared to death and crying the whole time, pulled her best dress out of the closet, put on her high heels and walked to the Sears to get a minimum wage job.  Unlike today, a minimum wage job back then paid enough to support a family of three.  That minimum wage job saved our home-and saved our family.

My daddy ended up as a maintenance man, and my mom kept working at Sears.  I made it through a commuter college that cost $50 a semester and I ended up in the United States Senate.  Sure, I worked hard, but I grew up in an America that invested in kids like me, an America that built opportunities for kids to compete in a changing world, an America where a janitor’s kid could become a United States Senator.  I believe in that America.

I believe in an America that builds opportunities. An America that ensures that all hardworking men and women earn good wages.  An America that once again grows a strong, vibrant middle class.

I believe in that America, and I will fight for that America!  And if we fight-side-by-side-I know we will build that America again.

Around the country, fast-food workers to strike on Sept. 4

Fast-food workers in more than 150 cities — including Milwaukee, Madison and Wausau — will walk off their jobs on Sept. 4 as their movement to build a union and raise the minimum wage intensifies.

A day after President Barack Obama praised their campaign during a speech at LaborFest in Milwaukee, workers from Oakland, California, to Opelika, Alabama, said they will strike at the country’s major fast-food restaurants, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC.

Obama, addressing the Labor Day rally, said on Sept. 1, “All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity.”

Fast-food workers in Little Rock, Arkansas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Rochester, New York, are among those who will walk off their jobs for the first time, according to an announcement from organizers, who were still preparing a complete list of planned actions.

Fast-food workers in the St. Louis area will note strike onsite but instead will join workers on strike lines in New York City, Memphis, Nashville and Little Rock.

Fast-food workers from four continents are expected to travel to the U.S. to support strikers in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Raleigh, according to a news release from strike organizers.

Home-health care workers are expected to join in the demonstration demanding higher pay and better benefits. In several cities, both non-union and union home care workers will join striking fast-food workers in the Fight for $15, a campaign for a higher minimum wage.

Organizers also say there will be civil disobedience actions that coincide with the strike activity, including in Wisconsin, where fast-food workers are preparing for the day with coordination from Wisconsin Jobs Now, which on its website is asking people to stand with underpaid workers, demand fair wages and share support on Twitter at #strikefastfood.

The fast-food workers’ campaign started in New York City in November 2012, with 200 fast-food workers walking off their jobs demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation. 

Many fast-food workers do not make much more than $7.25 per hour, or about $15,000 a year for 40 hours a week.

The National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group, said in a statement to the AP that the fast-food protests are attempts by unions “to boost their dwindling membership.”

On the Web…

Support Wisconsin workers at http://action.wisconsinjobsnow.org/page/s/workersunited?source=wp.

Seattle could set highest minimum wage in nation

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray this week proposed a phased-in increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next seven years — a compromise endorsed by both business and labor that would make the city’s pay baseline the highest in the nation.

A group called 15 Now, led by socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant, wanted to see an immediate wage hike for large businesses and a three-year phase-in for organizations with fewer than 250 full-time employees. They are gathering signatures to get their competing $15 wage initiative on the November ballot.

The mayor’s proposal is the latest by cities and states nationwide to raise minimum wages. Last month, Minnesota raised the state’s guaranteed wage by more than $3, to $9.50, by 2016. California, Connecticut and Maryland also have passed laws increasing their respective wages to $10 or more in coming years, and other states are going well above the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

If Seattle’s plan is approved, the city would move toward having the highest wage of any U.S. city. San Francisco, at $10.55 an hour, has that distinction now.

The mayor’s proposal gives businesses with more than 500 employees nationally at least three years to phase in the increase. Those providing health insurance will have four years to complete the move.

Smaller organizations will be given seven years, with the new wage including a consideration for tips and health care costs over the first five years.

Once the $15 wage is reached, future annual increases will be tied to the consumer price index.

Murray said 21 of 24 members of his minimum wage task force, which included representatives of business, labor and community groups, voted in favor of the plan.

“I think that this is an historic moment for the city of Seattle,” Murray said. “We’re going to decrease the poverty rate.”

Howard Wright, CEO of the Seattle Hospitality Group and a co-chairman of the task force, said he thought the plan would have support from the business community.

“While I know not everyone in the employer community will be satisfied, I believe it is the best outcome given the political environment,” he said.

The measure now goes to the City Council for discussion. Council member Nick Licata, a member of the task force, said he would work to get the proposal approved with minimal tinkering.

Washington state already has the nation’s highest minimum wage among states at $9.32 an hour. According to a chart prepared by the mayor’s office, many Seattle workers will reach $11 an hour by 2015. The state’s minimum wage is scheduled to be $9.54 at that time.

Business leaders had pushed for the phase-in and wage credits for tips and health care benefits.

Fewer than 1 percent of the businesses in Seattle have more than 500 workers in Washington state, according to a study for the city by the University of Washington. Those businesses have a total of about 30,000 employees, representing about a third of those earning under $15 an hour in Seattle.

Murray called the plan a compromise and dismissed concerns that he would face opposition at the city’s May Day events, which include a “15 Now” theme.

“I wanted 15, but I wanted to do 15 smart,” he said.

Labor leaders congratulated the mayor for starting a national conversation, which many credit to Sawant, the socialist City Council member.

“Raising Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 reaches far beyond the 100,000 workers who will benefit with the city limits,” said David Rolf, president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW and co-chair of the task force. “Today, Seattle workers send a clarion call to all working people in America.”

Milwaukee County board votes today on living wage ordinance

The Milwaukee County Board is scheduled to vote on a proposed living wage ordinance today (Feb. 6).

An announcement said more than 8,000 employees of private companies that profit from county tax dollars stand to benefit if the board votes “yes” on the ordinance proposed by Supervisor David Bowen of the 10th District.

In late January, the county board’s finance committee approved the ordinance, which would set a minimum “living wage” of 100 percent of the poverty line — $11.33 — for workers employed by companies doing business with the county. The committee vote was 7-2.

The measure would raise wages for employees in several sectors, from home health care to the airport, that have county contracts.

“It’s been a long time coming. Working two full jobs just to get by is no way to live.” said Kevin Walker, a guard working for county-contracted security firm Orion. “No one who works as hard as we do, day in day out, should have to worry about paying their bills because their pay is too low.”

Workers, along with a coalition of 40 organizations, are calling on supervisors to follow the lead set by President Barack Obama who recently announced he would use an executive order to raise the minimum wage for those who work for companies under new federal contracts.

The Milwaukee County Democratic Party has endorsed the living wage ordinance. A statement from the Democrats said, “The proposed Milwaukee County living wage ordinance would boost the local economy by putting more money in the hands of working people who will spend it here, instead of public resources subsidizing large, profitable corporations.”

Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, also backed the county push.

“For-profit corporations are making a killing off our tax dollars while their workers are often forced to rely on public assistance,” she said. “The county board has an opportunity to do the right thing tomorrow. It’s time to pass the living wage!”

The board meeting will take place at 9 a.m. at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

ExxonMobil to offer spousal benefits to married gay employees

ExxonMobil, which for years has resisted appeals for change from shareholders and civil rights advocates, will recognize same-sex marriages and will offer health benefits to the spouses of gay employees.

However, the company has not amended its non-discrimination policy to ban bias based on gender identity or sexual orientation. And apparently it will not reinstate the domestic partnership program that Mobil offered before the merger.

In a statement, ExxonMobil said, “The decision is consistent with the direction of most U.S. government agencies. We have made no change in the definition of eligibility for our U.S. benefit plans. Spousal eligibility in our U.S. benefit plans has been and continues to be governed by the federal definition of marriage and spouse.”

“Granting health benefits to all married couples is a step toward equality, but it is certainly not the kind of leadership exhibited by ExxonMobil’s competitors,” said Deena Fidas, director the workplace equality program for the Human Rights Campaign. “There is no federal law protecting employees from discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity and ExxonMobil refuses to join the majority of their Fortune 500 colleagues in adopting their own such policies.”

Before the merger in 1999 between Mobil Corp and Exxon Corp., Mobil offered health benefits to domestic partners of its employees and prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.

When Exxon acquired Mobil, the non-discrimination policy was eliminated and the domestic partner benefits program was closed to new employees.


In HRC’s rating system for corporations, Chevron, BP, Shell and Spectra received scores of 85 or higher out of a possible 100. ExxonMobil received a minus 25 score. 

A growing number of companies are updating benefits policies to come into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a provision in a 1996 law that barred the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages.