Tag Archives: low wage

Low-wage earners demonstrate in ‘Fight for $15’

The Fight for $15 campaign to win higher pay and a union for fast-food workers is expanding to represent a variety of low-wage workers and become more of a social justice movement.

In New York City on April 15, more than 100 chanting protesters gathered outside a McDonald’s around noon, prompting the store to lock its doors to prevent the crowd from streaming in.

Demonstrators laid on the sidewalk outside to stage a “die-in,” which became popular during the “Black Lives Matter” protests after recent police shootings of black men. Several wore sweatshirts that said “I Can’t Breathe,” a nod to the last words of a black man in New York City who died after he was put in a police chokehold.

Timothy Roach, a 21-year-old Wendy’s worker from Milwaukee, said the police brutality black men face is linked to the lack of economic opportunity they’re given. He said the protests were necessary to send a message to companies.

“If they don’t see that it matters to us, then it won’t matter to them,” Roach said.

Organizers said demonstrations were planned for more than 230 U.S. cities and college campuses, as well as dozens of cities overseas. Among those who joined the latest day of protests were airport workers, Walmart workers and adjunct professors.

The campaign began in late 2012 and is being spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage workers in areas like home care, child care and building cleaning services. Mary Kay Henry, the SEIU’s president, said the push has already helped prompt local governments to consider higher minimum wages, nudged companies to announce pay hikes and made it easier for SEIU members to win better contracts. Those results are inspiring other groups of workers, she said.

“It has defied a sense of hopelessness,” she said.

In Jackson, Mississippi, around 30 people protested in a McDonald’s before being kicked out, with one of the demonstrators being arrested for trespassing. Protesters also gathered outside McDonald’s restaurants in cities including Denver, Los Angeles and Albany, New York.

Even if fast-food workers and others never become union members, winning higher pay for them would benefit the SEIU by helping lift pay for its members, said Susan Schurman, dean of Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.

“By raising the wage floor, it really benefits everyone,” she said.

Ann Hodges, a professor of labor employment law at the University of Richmond, said engaging different types of workers also broadens the appeal of the movement by increasing the chances people know someone who’s affected.

And the push to make Fight for $15 more of a social justice movement makes those who might have negative perceptions about unions more likely to join, she said.

“It becomes easier to organize workers if they view it as something positive and socially desirable,” Hodges said.

In the meantime, McDonald’s said this month it would raise its starting salary to $1 above the local minimum wage, and give workers the ability to accrue paid time off. It marked the company’s first national pay policy, and indicates McDonald’s wants to take control of its image as an employer. But the move only applies to workers at company-owned stores, which account for about 10 percent of more than 14,300 locations.

McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s say they don’t control the employment decisions at franchised restaurants. The SEIU is working to upend that position and hold McDonald’s responsible for labor conditions at franchised restaurants in multiple ways, including lawsuits.

In a statement, McDonald’s said it respects the right to “peacefully protest.” In the past, it said only about 10 to 15 McDonald’s workers out of about 800,000 in the U.S. have participated.

In a recent column in The Chicago Tribune, McDonald’s Corp. CEO Steve Easterbrook described the company’s pay hike and other perks as “an initial step,” and said he wants to transform McDonald’s into a “modern, progressive burger company.”

But that transformation will have to take place as labor organizers continue pressuring employers over wages. Ahead of the protests this week, a study funded by the SEIU found working families rely on $153 billion in public assistance a year as a result of their low wages.

Flashback 2014: Workers strike for living wages

In the brutally wicked winter of 2014, Wisconsin lawmakers turned a cold shoulder to the plight of the minimum-wage worker.

The state Senate, by a party-line vote, defeated a Democratic push to raise the state’s minimum wage. Meanwhile, Republicans at the Capitol offered up a proposal to “allow” people in manufacturing and retail to work seven days a week.

The GOP’s hostility toward workers earning low wages continued throughout the year — at both the state and federal levels, despite public opinion polls and voter-approved initiatives showing strong support for basic wage increases. And also despite repeated strike actions by workers in Wisconsin and other the other 49 states.

“I work hard. I exhaust myself and I don’t get paid enough to live a comfortable life,” said Milwaukee resident and fast-food worker Tim Roach, who joined strikers nationwide on Sept. 4 in demanding better benefits and a minimum-wage increase to $15 per hour.

Fast-food workers went on strike again on Dec. 4 in the fight for $15. A week earlier, workers at Wal-Mart stores staged strikes, also demanding better benefits and the right to organize.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration had answered pleas with a finding that $7.25 an hour — about $15,080 a year — is a fair wage and dismissing workers’ complaints.

Progressives, however, understood the difficulties low-wage workers face and paid attention to the polls. Minimum wage increases were approved in major cities, including Chicago. In some cases the increases applied only to municipal workers and government contractors. In other cases, the increases were broader.

At the federal level, progressive lawmakers unsuccessfully pushed legislation to raise the minimum wage from $7.25, which U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT,  called “a starvation wage.”

Congressman Keith Ellison, D-MN, said, “Too many hardworking fast-food workers don’t make enough to live on while the company executives pocket $9,200 an hour. Even after a year and a half of organizing, workers are continuing to march until they get a wage increase and the right to organize.”

At the White House, the president took executive action to raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour.

The president also took executive action to ban discrimination based on gender identity in the federal government and to ban federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees.

Laura W. Murphy of the ACLU said the “critical, long overdue protections … build on a bipartisan tradition dating back over 70 years of prohibiting taxpayer-funded discrimination.”

Milwaukee County voters to face referendum on minimum-wage hike

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors on June 26 voted to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters whether the state minimum wage should be raised to $10.10.

Supervisor Khalif Rainey proposed the resolution that brought the vote.

The board voted 13-4 to place the “Raise Wisconsin” minimum wage referendum on the ballot, which also will contain the governor’s race, as well as other offices. Along with Rainey, Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Supervisor Gerry Broderick, and Supervisor Willie Johnson, Jr. were co-sponsors of the resolution.

The vote followed a short press conference at which the supervisors, Raise Wisconsin activists, low-wage workers and others spoke in support of raising the minimum wage.

Devonte Yates, a national leader in the movement of fast food workers and a Milwaukee County resident, said after the vote, “No one can survive on $7.25, and believe me, I have tried.  For over a year, workers like me have been taking to the streets, fighting to win higher wages.  Now, we are going to bring this movement to the ballot box in November.”

Wisconsin’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum. On a 40 hour a week schedule, that means $15,080 per year, or $290 per week. That’s below the federal poverty line for a single parent with a child.

Twenty-two other states have higher minimum wage levels. Massachusetts passed legislation last week setting its state minimum wage to $11 per hour, while Connecticut and Maryland set $10.10 minimum wage levels in the past month. In the Midwest, Michigan and Minnesota already have set higher minimum wage levels and Illinois is expected to follow.

Raise Wisconsin campaign director Peter Rickman, who lives in Milwaukee County, said, “It’s time to raise the wage so that we can raise our economy and raise Wisconsin.  Working people in our state need a raise, and we will win the higher wages necessary to address staggering income inequality, to increase economic opportunity, and to improve living standards.”

Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, added, “For too long, our communities have needed more economic opportunity and security.  Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 is a critical first step to transform the low-wage jobs of today into family-supporting jobs that can build a new middle class for Milwaukee’s future.”

Earlier in the week, Raise Wisconsin activists submitted signatures to qualify similar referenda in the cities of Neenah and Menasha. Previously, Eau Claire and Kenosha counties placed similar referenda on the November ballot.

The Dane County Board was expected to vote on a resolution later on June 26.

Trickle up economics in the fast food industry

Fast-food workers across the country went on strike in more than 130 U.S. cities on Dec. 5 to demand better wages. We enthusiastically support their efforts and others to raise the minimum to a livable rate.

Protesters in Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay were among the thousands nationally who raised picket signs against companies such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC for paying unlivable wages while banking billions in profits and using tax loopholes available only to the very rich to avoid paying Uncle Sam at the same rate as their middle-class workers. At the same time, a portion of the average American’s tax payments end up going toward food stamps for fast-food workers living near poverty. 

McDonald’s is an excellent example of what’s happened over the past three decades since elected officials began altering tax codes and re-engineering economic policy to redistribute the nation’s wealth to their rich donors. 

In 2012, McDonald’s Corp. made $5.5 billion in profit. The company has increased shareholder dividends for 25 consecutive years. CEO Don Thompson recently got a raise to $13.8 million, up from the $4.1 million he made in 2011.

But front-line fast-food workers earn only a median hourly wage of $8.94. For a single mother of two working 40 hours per week, that comes out to less than the federal poverty level. If the worker also must pay for child care, which averages $11,666 per year, then she can’t afford to work at all.

More than half the families of front-line, fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public programs, compared to 25 percent of the workforce as a whole, according to a study from the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Your tax dollars contribute $7 billion in public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry, the study found.

All of this means that your Big Mac takes more out of your wallet than you pay at the cash register. In order to maintain the extreme wealth of McDonald’s corporate chiefs, you pick up some of the company’s cost of maintaining a workforce.

Of course, there’s also an issue with the quality of fast food, which is harmful to public health. Since it’s cheap and heavily consumed by poor people, fast food also ends up costing you additional bucks when you pay your insurance premiums. Poor people often lack adequate health insurance, and they have no regular or preventive health care. So when they get sick, they go to the emergency room, which cannot turn them away by law. The cost of treating them for free is transferred to you. 

The corporate right has warned that raising the minimum wage for fast-food workers would increase the cost of their products. But padded by big profits, McDonald’s could easily absorb the cost. And maybe if the price of their poor-quality food rose a little, people would eat less of it, thus reducing overall health costs.

There’s no excuse for keeping hardworking people in economic misery and making the middle class pay for it while a few people become fabulously wealthy pushing junk food. 

Temporary jobs becoming permanent fixture in U.S. employment

Hiring is exploding in the one corner of the U.S. economy where few want to be hired: Temporary work.

From Wal-Mart to General Motors to PepsiCo, companies are increasingly turning to temps and to a much larger universe of freelancers, contract workers and consultants. Combined, these workers number nearly 17 million people who have only tenuous ties to the companies that pay them – about 12 percent of everyone with a job.

Hiring is always healthy for an economy. Yet the rise in temp and contract work shows that many employers aren’t willing to hire for the long run.

The number of temps has jumped more than 50 percent since the recession ended four years ago to nearly 2.7 million – the most on government records dating to 1990. In no other sector has hiring come close.

Driving the trend are lingering uncertainty about the economy and employers’ desire for more flexibility in matching their payrolls to their revenue. Some employers have also sought to sidestep the new health care law’s rule that they provide medical coverage for permanent workers. Last week, though, the Obama administration delayed that provision of the law for a year.

The use of temps has extended into sectors that seldom used them in the past – professional services, for example, which include lawyers, doctors and information technology specialists.

Temps typically receive low pay, few benefits and scant job security. That makes them less likely to spend freely, so temp jobs don’t tend to boost the economy the way permanent jobs do. More temps and contract workers also help explain why pay has barely outpaced inflation since the recession ended.

Beyond economic uncertainty, Ethan Harris, global economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, thinks more lasting changes are taking root.

“There’s been a generational shift toward a less committed relationship between the firm and the worker,” Harris says.

An Associated Press survey of 37 economists in May found that three-quarters thought the increased use of temps and contract workers represented a long-standing trend.

Typical of that trend is Latrese Carr, who was hired by a Wal-Mart in Glenwood, Ill., two months ago on a 90-day contract. She works 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., helping unload trucks and restocking shelves. Her pay is $9.45 an hour. There’s no health insurance or other benefits.

Carr, 20, didn’t particularly want the overnight shift.

“I needed a job,” she says.

The store managers have said some temps will be kept on permanently, Carr says, depending on their performance.

Carr isn’t counting on it.

The trend toward contract workers was intensified by the depth of the recession and the tepid pace of the recovery. A heavy investment in long-term employment isn’t a cost all companies want to bear anymore.

“There’s much more appreciation of the importance of having flexibility in the workforce,” says Barry Asin of Staffing Industry Analysts, a consulting firm.

Susan Houseman, an economist at the Upjohn Institute of Employment Research, says companies want to avoid having too many employees during a downturn, just as manufacturers want to avoid having too much inventory if demand slows.

“You have your just-in-time workforce,” Houseman says. “You only pay them when you need them.”

This marks a shift from what economists used to call “labor hoarding”: Companies typically retained most of their staff throughout recessions, hoping to ride out the downturn.

“We clearly don’t have that anymore,” says Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The result is that temps and contract workers have become fixtures at large companies. Business executives say they help their companies stay competitive. They also argue that temp work can provide valuable experience.

“It opens more doors for people to enter the labor market,” says Jeff Joerres, CEO of ManpowerGroup, a workplace staffing firm.

But Houseman’s research has found that even when jobs are classified as “temp to permanent,” only 27 percent of such assignments lead to permanent positions.

About one-third of temporary workers work in manufacturing. Temps can be found on production lines, repairing machinery and stocking goods in warehouses. About a fifth are administrative.

Shortages of doctors and nurses have led some hospitals to turn to temp agencies. Staffing Industry Analysts forecasts that spending on temporary doctors will grow 10 percent this year and next.

Some school districts now turn to temp firms for substitute teachers. This lets them avoid providing retirement benefits, which union contracts might otherwise require.

Manufacturing unions have pushed back against the trend, with limited success.

“We run into this across all the various industries where we represent people,” says Tony Montana, a spokesman for the USW, which represents workers in the steel, paper, and energy industries.

Todd Miller, CEO of software company Gwabbit in Carmel Valley, Calif., says about a third of his 20 employees are temporary. An additional one-third are contractors.

He says he’s had no trouble filling such positions. People are “willing to entertain employment possibilities that they would not have six or seven years ago,” Miller says.

If the economy were to accelerate, Miller says he might hire more permanent staff. But “I don’t have tremendous confidence in this economy.”

Only the health care and leisure and hospitality sectors have added more jobs during the recovery. But each is roughly five times as large as the temp industry. The proportion of all jobs in the temp industry is about 2 percent, just below a record set in 2000.

Temp hiring has accelerated even though the economy has 2.4 million fewer jobs than it did five years ago. Temp jobs made up about 10 percent of jobs lost to the recession. Yet they’ve made up nearly 20 percent of the jobs gained since the recession ended.

A survey of companies with more than 1,000 employees by Staffing Industry Analysts found they expect 18 percent of their workforces to be made up of temps, freelancers or contract workers this year, up from 16 percent in 2012.

Shane Watson, who in November lost a job providing tech support for Blackberry maker Research In Motion, says contract work has helped him recover. He’s on his third such position. Still, Watson, 36, misses the security of a permanent job.

Wal-Mart says it’s been hiring disproportionately more temporary workers. “Flexible associates,” it calls them. Spokesman Dave Tovar says temps allow store managers to provide permanent workers with more reliable schedules.

Online competitors are seeking to upend the temp industry just as Amazon and eBay disrupted retail. Employers spent $1 billion last year hiring workers for short-term projects through online labor exchanges, such as oDesk and Elance, according to Staffing Industry Analysts. That’s 67 percent more than in the previous year.

Freelancers in the online exchanges can be evaluated by employers, post portfolios and take online tests to demonstrate their abilities.

Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk, says his clients are mainly small or startup companies. But giants like AOL and Unilever are using the service, too.

When Hans Hess of Arlington, Va., was seeking a lawyer to do a trademark search for his Elevation Burger chain, he turned to Elance. He found a lawyer to do it for under $500.

“When I was using a big law firm, it could cost me $5,000 to get to the point of just filing a trademark,” Hess says.

Gigwalk recruits temps for brief projects in retail, merchandising and marketing. Anyone who downloads Gigwalk’s app can see pinpoints on a map signifying available jobs nearby.

Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, used Gigwalk this year to hire workers to check in-store displays of its products to ensure that a seasonal promotion was being handled properly.

“You can hire 10,000 people for 10 to 15 minutes,” says Gigwalk CEO Bob Bahramipour. “When they’re done, those 10,000 people just melt away.”

Workers at Milwaukee fast food, retail chains walk off jobs

Hundreds of workers at some of Milwaukee’s largest fast food and retail chains walked off their jobs on May 15 as they demanded the right to form a union without fear of retaliation and wages of $15 an hour.

A news release from the Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee said employees at some McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Simply Fashion and Taco Bell operations walked off the job. Milwaukee is the fifth city hit by low-wage worker strikes in five weeks. Workers at fast food restaurants and retail stores also have gone on strike in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit.

Also, workers nationwide have demonstrated recently against retail giant Walmart in a campaign called the Black Friday Strike.

“We’re on strike because we’re tired of struggling just to survive,” said Kenneth Mack, a McDonald’s employee. “There is no reason why I should go to work every day and not make enough to take care of myself and my daughter.”

“Jobs that pay $15 an hour can save lives in Milwaukee,” said Javon Walker, an employee at Old Country Buffet. “Too many people – youth especially – turn to crime because they don’t make enough to make ends meet. Good paying jobs will change lives in this city for the better.”

The Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee estimates that about 100,000 family-sustaining manufacturing jobs have been lost in metro Milwaukee since the early 1980s. This has left some workers to rely on low-paying jobs in fast food or retail.

Yet, the workers maintain, there’s no justification for such low wages – minimum wage is $7.25 an hour – since fast food is a $200 billion a year industry and retail is a $4.7 trillion industry.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology report stated that a single adult in Milwaukee with one child needs to earn nearly $21 an hour to get by.

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