Voters spoke very clearly on Nov. 8, when they elected to raise the minimum wage in Arizona and Maine, along with Colorado and Washington State.
But those wins, the democratic process, and the express will of the people are being defied and denied in Arizona and Maine, where corporate lobbyists and their legislative allies are working to block, delay, even rewrite the laws approved on Election Day.
These efforts to flout voter-approved laws are part of ongoing conservative and corporate-backed strategies to keep wages low.
In Arizona, where 58 percent of voters approved Proposition 206, a measure that would raise the minimum wage to $12 and hour by 2020 and allow workers to earn paid sick days, the state and several local Chambers of Commerce have gone to court to block the first phase of the law’s implementation scheduled for Jan. 1.
That phase would raise the wages for more than 700,000 workers from $8.05 to $10.00 an hour. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s request for a temporary injunction to stop implementation was denied on Dec. 21.
Tomas Robles, chairman of the coalition that ran the campaign for Proposition 206, commented on the ruling, saying:
“I’m glad that the judge chose to be on the right side of history, and really protecting democracy more than anything. The chamber themselves are looking to completely disregard the will of the people, the will of the voters, because they want to keep their pockets fat.”
But the chamber has announced they will appeal the injunction decision to the Arizona Supreme Court. The chamber’s underlying case is continuing through the courts.
In Maine, Question 4 raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 won the approval of 55 percent of voters on Nov. 8. The law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 7, would raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour and raise the state minimum wage for tipped workers, such as waitresses, from $3.75 an hour to $5 an hour.
But Gov. Paul LePage, who has long opposed raising the minimum wage along with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Restaurant Association, has ordered officials not to enforce parts of the raise until the state legislature has had a chance to pass a new law that would eliminate the minimum wage hike for tipped workers.
“Gov. LePage has now gone beyond ignoring the will of Maine voters and is flat-out encouraging employers to commit wage theft,” said Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted.
The governor’s action’s are part of a power struggle going on all over America, pitting corporate lobbyists, their legislative allies, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, against popular efforts to raise the minimum wage.
The state of Ohio just joined 20 other states that have preempted local control over wages making it illegal for cities and counties to raise their standards above the state’s level. The law signed this week by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Cleveland proposed raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Several states, including Iowa and Minnesota are expected to consider bills to preempt local minimum wage, paid sick time, and fair scheduling initiatives in their coming legislative sessions.
In addition to passing state preemption laws to limit the power of local lawmakers to advance wage hikes and other progressive policies, Republican-led groups such as the Center for Conservative Initiatives are working make it harder for citizens to use the ballot to move initiatives forward.
On Nov. 8 in Colorado, for example, voters approved Amendment 71, a constitutional amendment that would make it harder and more expensive for citizens to amend the state constitution.
The “Raise the Bar” campaign that worked to pass Amendment 71 was largely funded by the oil and gas industry, which was eager to make it harder for citizen-backed anti-fracking amendments to qualify for the ballot. Environmental advocates were looking to ballot measures to circumvent state preemption and end fracking,
“Make no mistake: 71 is a de facto repeal of the people’s constitutional right to participate in the legislative process,” said Phil Doe, environmental director for Be the Change.
“It’s what democracy looks like when corporate interests and their political stooges conspire to take away our fundamental rights using a flood of outside money.”
Republicans emerged from the November elections holding their greatest level of power in decades. Not only will Republicans control the White House and Congress, but the GOP also will hold 33 governors’ offices and have majorities in 33 state legislatures. A look at the GOP agenda for state legislative sessions.
• Ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
• Ban dilation and extraction abortions, a procedure more commonly used in the second trimester.
• Lengthen the time women must wait to have an abortion after receiving counseling about its effects.
• Block government funding from going to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.
• Reduce or eliminate corporate income taxes.
• Relax business regulations and professional licensing requirements.
• Expand the availability of vouchers, scholarships or tax credits that allow taxpayer money to cover K-12 tuition costs at private schools.
• Expand opportunities for charter schools.
• Allow people with concealed gun permits to carry weapons on college campuses.
• Reduce the costs for concealed gun permits and ensure that permits from one state are recognized elsewhere.
• Allow people to carry concealed guns without needing permits or going through training.
• Limit how much money plaintiffs can win in medical malpractice and personal injury cases.
• Restrict where lawsuits can be filed in an attempt to prevent plaintiffs from bringing suit in jurisdictions perceived to be favorable.=
• Restrict who can qualify to provide expert witness testimony.
• Reduce the rates used to calculate interest on monetary judgments.
• Enact right-to-work laws, which prohibit workplace contracts that have mandatory union fees.
• Restrict the collective bargaining powers of public employee unions.
• Require members of public employee unions to annually affirm their desire for dues to be deducted from paychecks.
• Curtail or repeal prevailing wage laws, which set minimum pay scales on public construction projects.
On the Web
Pew’s Stateline reports.
Police on Nov. 29 handcuffed fast-food cooks and cashiers, Uber drivers and home health aides and airport workers who blocked streets outside McDonald’s restaurants from New York to Chicago.
The demonstrators had launched a nationwide wave of strikes and civil disobedience by working Americans in the Fight for $15.
In Detroit, dozens of fast-food and home care workers wearing shirts that read, “My Future is My Freedom” linked arms in front of a McDonald’s and sat down in the street. As the workers were led to a police bus, hundreds of supporters chanted, “No Justice, No Peace.”
In New York City’s Financial District, dozens of fast-food workers placed a banner reading “We Won’t Back Down” on the street in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway and a sat down in a circle, blocking traffic, until they were hauled away by police officers.
In Chicago, scores of workers sat in the street next to a McDonald’s as supporters unfurled a giant banner from a grocery store next door that read: “We Demand $15 and Union Rights, Stop Deportations, Stop Killing Black People.” Fast-food, home care and higher education workers were arrested, along with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
The strikes rolled westward, as workers walked off their jobs in 340 cities. They were demanding decent wages and union rights. Among them were baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and skycaps on picket lines at Boston Logan International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport to protest.
“We won’t back down until we win an economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few at the top,” said Naquasia LeGrand, a McDonald’s worker from Albemarle, North Carolina. “Working moms like me are struggling all across the country and until politicians and corporations hear our voices, our Fight for $15 is going to keep on getting bigger, bolder and ever more relentless.”
The wave of strikes, civil disobedience, and protests follows an election defined by workers’ frustration with an economy and business practices that have meant only stagnant wages.
“To too many of us who work hard, but can’t support our families. America doesn’t feel fair anymore,” said Oliwia Pac, who was on strike from her job as a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare. “If we really want to make America great again, our airports are a good place to start. These jobs used to be good ones that supported a family, but now they’re closer to what you’d find at McDonald’s.”
U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, joined striking workers on the picket line and Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia got arrested supporting strikers.
In New York City, Councilmembers Brad Lander, Mark Levine and Antonio Reynoso got arrested alongside workers outside a McDonald’s in Lower Manhattan.
Some voices from the Fight for $15:
Dayla Mikell, a child care worker in St. Petersburg, Florida: “Risking arrest today isn’t the easy path, but it’s the right one. My job is all about caring for the next generation, but I’m not paid enough to be able to afford my own apartment or car. Families like mine and millions others across the country demand $15, union rights and a fair economy that lifts up all of us, no matter our race, our ethnicity or our gender. And when it’s your future on the line, you do whatever it takes to make sure you are heard far and wide.”
Sepia Coleman, a home care worker from Memphis, Tennessee: “For me, the choice is clear. I am risking arrest because our cause is about more than economic justice—it is about basic survival. Like millions of Americans, I am barely surviving on $8.25/hour. Civil disobedience is a bold and risky next step, but our voices must be heard: we demand $15, a union and justice for all Americans.”
Scott Barish, a teaching assistant and researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina: “I do research and teach classes that bring my university critical funding, but the administration doesn’t respect me as a worker and my pay hasn’t kept up with the rising cost of living. I could barely afford to repair my car this year. And I’m risking arrest today because millions of American workers are struggling to support their families and the need for change is more urgent than ever. We are ramping up our calls for $15 and union rights, healthcare for all workers, and an end to racist policies that divide us further.”
Justin Berisie, an Uber driver in Denver: “Everyone says the gig economy is the future of work, but if we want to make that future a bright one, we need to join together like fast-food workers have in the Fight for $15 and demand an economy that works for all. Across the country, drivers are uniting and speaking out to fight for wages and working conditions that will allow us to support our families and help get America’s economy moving.”
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota: “When I talk to people on the picket lines in Minnesota and around the country, they tell me they’re striking for a better life for their kids and their families. They tell me they’re working harder than ever, and still struggling to make ends meet. In the wealthiest country in the world, nobody working full time should be living in poverty. But the power of protest and working people’s voices can make all the difference. Politics might be the art of the possible, but organizing is the art of making more possible. Workers around the country are fighting to make better working conditions and better wages possible. And I stand with them.”
Income inequality has surged near levels last seen before the Great Depression. The average income for the top 1 percent of households climbed 7.7 percent last year to $1.36 million, according to tax data tracked by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That privileged sliver of the population saw pay climb at almost twice the rate of income growth for the other 99 percent, whose pay averaged a humble $48,768.
But why care how much the wealthy are making? What counts the most to any family is how much that family is bringing in. And that goes to the heart of the income-inequality debate: Most Americans still have yet to recover from the Great Recession, even though that downturn ended seven years ago. The average income for the 99 percent is still lower than it was back in 1998 after adjusting for inflation.
Meanwhile, incomes for the executives, bankers, hedge fund managers, entertainers and doctors who make up the top 1 percent have steadily improved. These one-percenters account for roughly 22 percent of all personal income, more than double the post-World War II era level of roughly 10 percent. One reason the income disparity is troubling for the nation is that it’s thinning out the ranks of the middle class.
WHERE THEY STAND
Hillary Clinton has highlighted inequality in multiple speeches, with her positions evolving somewhat over the past year. Bernie Sanders held her feet to the fire on that subject in the primaries. Clinton hopes to redirect more money to the middle class and impoverished. Clinton would raise taxes on the wealthy, increase the federal minimum wage, boost infrastructure spending, provide universal pre-K and offer the prospect of tuition-free college.
Donald Trump offers a blunter message about a hollowed-out middle class and a system “rigged” against average Americans. Still, he has yet to emphasize income inequality in the campaign. To bring back the factory jobs long associated with the rise of the middle class, Trump has promised new trade deals and infrastructure spending. But Trump has also proposed a tax plan that would allow the wealthiest Americans to keep more of their earnings.
WHY IT MATTERS
President Barack Obama has called rising inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” And experts warn that it may be slowing overall economic growth. Greater inequality has created a festering distrust of government and of corporate leaders whose promises of better times ahead never fully materialized.
The result has been a backlash against globalization that many Americans feel tilted the economy against them. For the top 1 percent, the ability to move money overseas and reach markets worldwide concentrated pay for “superstars,” according to economists. At the same time, factory workers now compete with 3 billion people in China, India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere who weren’t working for multinational corporations 20 years ago. Many now make products for Apple, Intel, General Motors and others at low wages. This has depressed middle-class pay. These trends have contributed to a “hollowed out” labor market in the United States, with more jobs at the higher and lower ends of the pay scale and fewer in the middle.
Social factors have amplified the trend as well. Single-parent families are more likely to be poor than other families and less likely to ascend the income ladder. Finally, men and women with college degrees and high pay are more likely to marry each other and amplify income gaps.
This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.
California and New York — where almost 1 in 5 Americans live — are on their way to raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the activists who spearheaded those efforts are now setting their sights on other similarly liberal, Democratic-led states.
Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington are among the states with active “Fight for $15” efforts, and even economic experts who oppose the increased rate see it gaining momentum.
“There is lots of pressure to do this,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director who is now president of the conservative American Action Forum, which says big minimum-wage increases cost jobs.
The idea faces headwinds in more conservative and rural states in the South and the Midwest. But activists believe the movement is picking up steam, even if their two big victories so far were achieved in two highly receptive places: trend-setting, liberal, labor-friendly states with a high cost of living and yawning gaps between rich and poor, especially in New York City and Silicon Valley.
Since the $15-an-hour movement planted roots with a 2012 New York City fast food workers strike, it has gained ground amid the broader debate over income inequality. Cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco have recently agreed to go to $15 in the coming years, and Oregon’s minimum wage is headed to $14.75 in Portland.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been pushing for a $15-an-hour standard nationally, while President Barack Obama has called more generally for raising the minimum wage. The federal minimum is currently $7.25; 29 states and Washington, D.C., have set theirs higher.
Sanders’ primary opponent and a former New York senator, Hillary Clinton, has supported raising the federal minimum wage to $12. Her campaign website says she also believes “we should go further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts, and by workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, such as the Fight for 15.”
New York and California are now on track to have the highest. California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is set Monday to sign a measure boosting the current $10 rate to $15 by 2022.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have agreed on a more complex plan. The $9 minimum would gradually rise to $15 in New York City by the end of 2018 and then in some prosperous suburbs by the end of 2021, but only to $12.50 in 2020 in the rest of the state, with further increases to $15 tied to inflation and other economic indicators. The measure headed to Cuomo’s desk after passing the Legislature on Friday.
New York’s graduated approach stemmed from negotiations with Republicans who worried such a sharp increase would devastate businesses, particularly in the more fragile economy outside the New York metropolitan area.
Similar dynamics may play out in other parts of the country. While $15 may seem reasonable in high-paying areas, “it’s a much harder lift in low-wage areas,” said Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
Also, California and New York have politically influential unions, strong community organizing activity and Democratic politicians eager to translate the movement into legislation.
“That’s not going to happen in some states, particularly in the South and maybe some of the Midwest,” said Peter Dreier, a politics professor at Occidental College.
Idaho lawmakers, for example, recently passed a measure barring local governments from raising the statewide minimum of $7.25, and Republicans in Arizona are trying to do the same.
The income gap has been widening in every state for at least 30 years but is particularly pronounced in states with large financial or information technology industries, according to economists Mark Price of the Keystone Research Center and Estelle Sommeiller of the Institute for Research in Economics and Social Sciences in France.
The top 1 percent of New York taxpayers, for instance, earned 40 times the average income of the state’s remaining 99 percent in 2011, according to research from University of California at Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. Nationally, the top 1 percent made 24 times that of everyone else; in California, the top earned 26 times more.
Economists have long debated the impact of raising the minimum wage, and some recent research has found that modest increases seldom cost many jobs. But the jumps to $15 are larger than those economists have tested in the past, and there are fears of widespread job losses in some places.
In New York City, Joseph Sferrazza worries that paying $15 will cost him his bakery, La Bella Ferrera. The rate is nearly double what he now pays his employees, mostly students working part time.
“The rent is so high, the profit margin is already so low, I don’t see how we can make it work,” he said. “You can only charge so much for a cookie.”
But $15 an hour would be a 50 percent raise for Maria Velez, 29, who makes $10 an hour working at a children’s program and helps support her parents and grandparents.
“This city is crazy expensive and only getting worse,” she said. If the boost took effect immediately, “it would make my life and my family’s life better — but in five years? I can’t say.”
Klepper reported from Albany. Associated Press writers Colleen Long in New York; Paul Wiseman and Christopher Rugaber in Washington; and Jonathan Cooper and Alison Noon in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.
Oregon lawmakers have approved landmark legislation that propels the state’s minimum wage for all workers to the highest rank in the U.S., and does so through an unparalleled tiered system based on geography.
On Feb. 18, the state House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 1532, which now heads to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who said in a statement she will sign it into law.
“I started this conversation last fall, bringing stakeholders together to craft a workable proposal; one that gives working families the much-needed wage boost they need, and addresses challenges for businesses and rural economies presented by the two impending ballot measures,” Brown said.
The move makes Oregon a trailblazer in the broader debate about minimum wage unfolding nationwide as the federal threshold remains unchanged from Great Recession levels.
Oregon now joins 14 other states that have raised their rates over the past two years. Another dozen or so are considering taking up the issue this year, either through legislative action or ballot initiative, as issues of wage inequality and middle-class incomes have climbed to the forefront of presidential campaigns by Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton.
Wisconsin’s Republican leadership does not believe in minimum wage laws.
The bill was crafted as a compromise for what unions, businesses and farmers want and as an attempt to thwart more aggressive proposals that could go before voters in November. Those two proposals call for a statewide minimum of $13.50 or $15, and would be phased in over half the time. Labor unions have not yet indicated whether they’ll follow through with ballot initiatives.
Oregon follows moves in states such as Massachusetts, California and Vermont that recently boosted statewide minimums above $10. That stands in stark contrast to more conservative states such as Idaho, which has blocked previous efforts to raise its minimum beyond the federal level, and Arizona, where lawmakers are considering a bill that would block state funding to municipalities that set a local minimum wage.
Oregon’s new plan imposes a series of gradual increases over six years. By 2022, the state’s current $9.25 an hour minimum – already one of the highest in the nation – would climb to $14.75 in metro Portland, $13.50 in smaller cities such as Salem and Eugene, and $12.50 in rural communities.
Those minimums dethrone Massachusetts — where the statewide rate will climb to $11 an hour next year — from the top spot, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a D.C.-based think tank that tracks wage laws across the nation.
While there are varying approaches to raising the minimum wage, the three-tiered regional system is uniquely Oregon’s.
Some states have targeted wage hikes for only government employees or certain industries, as seen recently in New York for fast-food workers, while others allow local jurisdictions to set their own rates above the state threshold, prompting recent hikes in cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles.
Oregon, however, has made the unprecedented move to be the first state without a one-size-fits-all statewide minimum.
“Oregon has always been at the forefront of new ideas in the country. We were the first to actually have a minimum wage,” said Rep. Paul Holvey, a Democrat from Eugene. “Trust me, we’re not solving all the problems, but we are making a substantial dent in it by pushing up from the bottom some wage equality … from the huge disparity we have in incomes.”
The state is deeply divided between west and east by economic, cultural and political differences. The goal of the tiered approach is to balance the needs of the more urban west, where living costs have soared in rapidly growing Portland-and struggling farming communities in the east.
Division over the minimum wage — currently at $7.25 in federal law — is also often split along party lines and pits low-wage workers against business groups, as has been seen in Oregon this year. Republicans, the minority party in the Oregon Statehouse, have opposed the increase.
The President of Oregon Farm Bureau said the vote shows Democrats don’t value family agriculture.
“This enormous increase will force many family farmers to try to find ways to mechanize or transition away from labor-intensive products Oregon is known for, like apples, pears, milk and berries. Unfortunately, some will give up and sell, while others will simply go out of business,” said Barry Bushue, President of Oregon Farm Bureau.
David Cooper, an economic analyst the Economic Policy Institute, said wage increases have never lead to widespread damaging effects, but he also expressed hesitation about Oregon’s regional approach.
“I think any time you create these sorts of somewhat arbitrary geographic districts, that’s when you can create opportunities for some sort of economic disruption,” he said. “I would prefer the whole state got to the same wage level but at a slower pace by region so that everyone is held to the same standard.”
Fast-food workers across Wisconsin today — Democratic debate day in Milwaukee — are demonstrating, repeating their demand for $15 an hour and union rights.
Later today, Feb. 11, they will join a protest outside the debate forum and candidates on the 2016 political field to stand with the 46 percent of workers in Wisconsin who are paid earn less than $15 an hour.
Many of the protesters are young and will be voting in their first presidential primary this year.
“I never thought my voice could make a difference,” said Kyesha Lee, a McDonald’s worker form Milwaukee who is paid $8.25 an hour and will be voting for the first time in the April presidential preference primary. “The fight for $15 has shown me that’s not true. Across the country, politicians have responded to workers out in the street marching for $15/hour and union rights, and we’re seeing workers win pay raises everywhere from L.A. to New York.”
Demonstrators gathered at about noon at the McDonald’s restaurant at 420 E. Capitol in Milwaukee.
At about 5 p.m. they planned to join a rally at Lake Park and march to the debate forum.
“I am a first-time voter and the honor and responsibility of that isn’t lost on me,” said Cornelius Powell, a home-care worker from Milwaukee who is paid $9.50 an hour. “Home care workers help hold our communities together and care for one another, and now we’re calling on politicians to do the same. Low-wage workers and young people have the most at stake in this election. I know every politician wants a 19-year-old’s vote, but if they want it they’ll have to stand for $15 and union rights!”
The debate is taking place at the Helen Bader Concert Hall in the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Dear Governor Walker,
I’ve read that you’re touring the state to hear from constituents as a way to get caught up after spending so much time out of state during your presidential campaign last year, and since I live over 250 miles north of Madison, I thought I’d address you on Blogging Blue rather than expect you to travel all the way up here.
I know that two of your biggest problems since you took office in 2011 seem to be job creation and overall business climate. Wisconsin has kind of been circling the drain on both counts for many years now, but I have some good news for you. Minnesota, right next door, is leading the nation on both counts! Last June CNBC rated Minnesota #1 in the nation for business, and over the weekend a new report shows that the Gopher state is #1 in job creation as well.m
This is great news, because not only is Minnesota very similar to Wisconsin in a number of ways, but Mark Dayton took over as Governor there the same year you did here, and with an even bigger budget deficit than you inherited!. In spite of all that, they’re now leading the nation in a pair of top economic indicators, and have a budget surplus of 2 billion dollars. That’s a lot of scratch, man!
I’m no scholar, and I can’t make an in-depth argument about how all this happened, but I can lay out some general points that I think can help you turn Wisconsin around pronto.
1. The CNBC report cites Minnesota as a ” union friendly ” state, so you might want to consider repealing Act 10 and that god-awful Right to Work bill since neither could, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered union friendly.
2. I know you went out of your way to repeal Wisconsin’s living wage law, but you should restore it immediately. Minnesota raised their minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, which isn’t nearly enough, but it’s better than the meager $7.25 workers are making over here.
3. Governor Dayton campaigned in 2010 on raising taxes on the wealthy, (something that seems to have escaped the attention of Wisconsin Democrats), and that’s just what he did, though none of the scare mongering about how everyone would leave actually came to pass. And Minnesota is #1 in business climate, job creation, AND they have a 2 billion dollar surplus! Woo Hoo!
4. Minnesota took the federal bucks to expand their Medicaid program, (Minnesota Care), since it was tax money Minnesotans had already sent to Washington DC, and they also created their own state exchange to maximize the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for their residents. I think they probably embraced the wildly experimental notion that a healthier population is happier and, as such, better able to get up and go to work in the morning. I don’t know for sure, I’m just taking a stab in the dark.
I’m sure there’s a lot more to all this than I’ve listed, and I know you have a ton of staff who could dig into it and sort it all out, but I just wanted to fill you in on some of the basics. I know how much you love Wisconsin and all of its people, but I also know what a busy guy you’ve been , what with all that presidential nonsense and the Koch brothers retreats and so forth.
So I just wanted to give you a hand. You’re welcome.
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