Summer grill season is here, think American union-made

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

With the unofficial start of summer right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about firing up the grill and looking forward to our favorite summer foods. This summer, make your grocery shopping mean more than just great food and support good paying American jobs.

As a consumer, you can support the actions of thousands of hard working Americans by buying American-made products and union-made products.  Check out the list below and try to serve some union-made treats this Memorial Day weekend and all summer.

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Text MADE to 235246 for more union-made-in-America product lists.
Our list comes courtesy of Union Plus, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s website Labor 411.

Nearly 100 days into 2014, women finally earn what men earned in 2013

 

FBBy Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

“Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. … It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”

Today is the day we can start to put these words from President Obama during his State of the Union address into action. In a matter of hours, the U.S. Senate will vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act — a bill that would deter wage discrimination.

Today, 98 days into 2014, is Equal Pay Day. This day symbolizes the extra time needed for women to earn the same salary as their male counterparts in 2013.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would deter wage discrimination by updating the nearly 50-year-old Equal Pay Act, in part by barring retaliation against workers who disclose their own wages to coworkers. It’s ridiculous, but right now, no federal law broadly prohibits employers from penalizing and even firing employees just for talking about their salaries.

The wage gap does not only affect women, it affects whole families. At a time when women increasingly are the breadwinners, 71 percent of mothers are part of the labor force, a pay gap unfairly targets children in households with single mothers or where both parents work. The pay gap, when calculated over the course of a year, means women receive on average $10,784 less than males performing similar work. The pay disparity is increased among African American women and Hispanic women, who make $19,575 and $23,873 less respectively than a white non-Hispanic male performing the same job. Using these figures, the Department of Labor estimates that women make on average $380,000 less over the course of their careers. That is a huge sum of money when trying to put a child through college, buying healthy groceries for the dinner table, or paying the rent.

Despite the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill signed into law by President Obama in 2009, more work needs to be done to ensure women have the resources and tools they need to confront discrimination and challenge unfair practices in the courts. Current law forces women to jump through too many hoops in order to make claims of gender discrimination.

For Lilly Ledbetter, she was told on her first day of work at Goodyear never to discuss her salary with anyone. It wasn’t until she found an anonymous note in her locker years later that Lilly realized she was being paid as much as 40 percent less than her male colleagues in the same position. This is exactly why these pay-secrecy policies that punish employees and hide discrimination must go!

It’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act!

 

Amidst a flurry of economic theories about the minimum wage, personal struggles tell the story

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

These days, issues of economic security are finally getting their due. Cities and states – and in some cases counties – have decided to strike it out on their own and take matters into their own hands. Thirteen states and a few cities and counties have increased their minimum wages in the past year. Still, the federal government lags behind.

A few weeks ago, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held its first hearing on the Senate Fair Minimum Wage Act (S.460 & H.R. 1010) that would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, increase the tipped minimum wage from a paltry $2.13 an hour to 70% of the ‘regular’ minimum wage ($7.07), and index both to the rate of inflation – thus stopping this vital wage from being used as a political football.

The hearing witness list included the usual heavyweights: the U.S. Department of Labor‘s (DOL) Secretary Tom Perez and the Director of the Congressional Budget Office Douglas Elmendorf as well as Dr. Heather Boushey, the Executive Director and Chief Economist of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the NETWORK, but most importantly, Alicia McCrary – a mother of four trying to make ends meet as a fast food worker on a minimum wage salary.

Alicia McCrary’s voice brought the discussion out of the battling economic studies, partisan posturing, and election year sound bites and back to reality. McCrary simply told her truth and the truth of many families. She spoke of how she moved her four boys out of Chicago after leaving an abusive relationship and shared with the Committee the routine of deciding each month which of her four sons would be the lucky one to get a haircut because she can’t afford for them all to have haircuts in the same month.

Alicia is a good example of what life is like for millions of American families struggling on the minimum wage. Besides demands from work, these working parents face many hurdles at home from finding affordable housing and childcare to feeding their growing children and providing them with health care. With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour, a single mother that works full time and has one child, lives in poverty at $15,080 (before taxes) a year. This qualifies them for food stamps because without it, they would have little left after paying rent, utilities, transportation, and health care.

The New York Times and the Economic Policy Institute have both released minimum wage calculators/budgets that demonstrate just how far a minimum wage paycheck goes. They highlight the many costs faced by families and just how unlivable the current minimum wage is. Not surprisingly, the numbers show the writing on the wall that families across the country already know. With the recent cuts to the federal food stamp program, low-wage workers are seeing their budgets get stretched even farther. In many metropolitan areas affordable housing is a myth – in a recently published report Out of Reachfrom the National Low Income Housing Coalition – in no state can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent. In Washington D.C., where a District minimum wage earner makes $8.50 an hour – more than the federal minimum wage, it would take that same worker 137 hours per week to afford rent. How many hours would a minimum wage earner need to work in your state to afford rent

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If raised to $10.10 an hour, as those in both houses of Congress and worker advocates are calling for, then 30.3 million workers would get a raise. American families need a break – we need to raise the minimum wage!

This holiday season, a present for DC’s workers: Part 2

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

Second in a two-part series examining the new worker protection bills just passed by DC City Council.

Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 (click here for bill text)

The bill extends protections to more than 20,000 new workers as well as boosting enforcement to help ensure that the hundreds of thousands of workers already covered are actually able to get the leave they earn under the law. The bill as a whole will go into effect once funds for implementation are included in DC’s spring 2014 budget.

Covering Tipped Restaurant Workers

First and foremost, the bill extends paid sick days to tipped restaurant workers, who were carved out by an amendment when the original Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act passed in 2008. The bill guarantees that these workers will receive their normal base wage or the full minimum wage (currently $8.25) for each hour of leave they use, whichever is higher. They will accrue one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to five days per year.

No More Year of Waiting for Leave

Current law allows employers to wait a whole year before letting their employees accrue even a single sick day. The bill would guarantee that workers in all industries can start earning sick days from their first day on the job and could start using them after 90 days and would close a loophole where workers could be fired and then rehired in order to cancel their accrued leave. Especially in high turnover industries like child-care, cleaning, security, construction, and restaurants, these changes are huge victories.

Real Enforcement Mechanisms

The bill includes some of the best enforcement mechanisms in the country for any paid leave bill. Employees who are denied paid sick days will get to choose between filing an administrative claim with the DC Office of Wage-Hour or suing in court. Either way, in addition to any lost pay for the days they took off, they would be owed $500 in damages for each day they were forced to work instead of taking leave they had earned, interest for pay owed, reinstatement if they were fired or demoted for taking leave, and attorneys fees and court costs to help enable them to bring a claim.

Workers will have three years to file a claim and longer if their employer failed to post the required notice of paid sick leave rights. Businesses will be required to keep records of hours worked and leave accrued for at least that long and, if they fail to keep required records, employees’ testimony about the failure to be paid leave will be presumed true. The District government will also be able to assess enforcement costs and $1000 or higher civil penalties for violations as well as suspend business licenses until the violations are cured.

To encourage employees to come forward and speak out about violations, the bill includes strong retaliation protections not only when workers file official complaints, but also when they advocate for their rights directly to their supervisor, share information during an investigation, or share information about the right to sick leave with their co-workers.

Public Education

Finally, the bill provides for a public education campaign to ensure workers and employers know about the new law and how to comply with it.

This holiday season, a present for DC’s workers: Part 1

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

First in a two-part series examining the new worker protection bills just passed by DC City Council.

Congratulations to all DC workers and to the advocates who helped push the Washington, DC City Council to unanimously pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 and the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 on Tuesday, December 17th without allowing the bills to be weakened by industry-sponsored amendments.

Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2013 (click here for bill text)

The bill increases the minimum wage, which is currently $8.25, to $11.50 in three steps:

  • $9.50 on July 1, 2014
  • $10.50 on July 1, 2015
  • $11.50 on July 1, 2016

Just as importantly, starting on July 1, 2017 and every July 1 thereafter, the bill requires that the minimum wage be increased to reflect changes in the cost of living, as measured by the Consumer Price Index in the Washington, DC area. This will stop the real value of the minimum wage from declining over time, which is a big reason why there are numerous fights to raise it.

This is a huge win for workers, and an issue that has received tremendous public attention—and support—in recent months. Hooray for this minimum wage victory!

What About Tipped Workers?

Although the bill does not raise the base minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers (which stands at a miserable $2.77 an hour and hopefully will be raised with other legislation), it does require that employers of tipped workers verify and certify every quarter that all of their employees do end up making at least the full minimum wage through a combination of their base wages and tips actually received. This will hopefully reduce one form of wage theft, which is common in the restaurant industry, where employees are not compensated when their tips are short for the week and don’t make up the difference between $2.77 and the full minimum wage.

Thanksgiving day is a time for family not shopping

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

Black Friday – the term alone can strike fear and excitement in even the most seasoned shoppers. But what consumers often don’t see or understand is what happens on the other side of the counter.

Many stores have announced that they will be open on Thanksgiving to maximize consumer’s Black Friday enthusiasm. They have determined that shoppers are willing to curb their Thanksgiving festivities and traditions to start their holiday shopping on a day that is supposed to be centered on family and giving thanks for the blessings in one’s life. Stores like Costco, Nordstrom, Dillard’s and T.J. Maxx have resisted the urge to open on the holiday, however, many stores including Walmart, Macy’s, Toys “R” Us, and Best Buy will be open to shoppers on Thanksgiving day with some stores opening as early as 6am.Thanksgiving

But what does that mean for the workers who have to man the registers and stock the shelves? Many can’t show up to work at 6am on Thanksgiving – they have get to their stores at least an hour before the doors open. What happened to their holiday? What happened to their time for family festivities and traditions?

These workers tend to be low-wage earners that struggle to make ends meet. If a single mother with two children is making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and is working full time, she’s only earning $15,080 a year – well below the poverty rate for a family of three. If she’s making $10 an hour, she’s only earning $20,800 a year – still below the poverty rate and she would qualify for public assistance.

Consumers need to be aware of the reality facing these retail workers. Below is John Paul Ashton’s story of his constant struggle to put food on the table and support his family with meager wages. Ashton happens to work for Walmart, the largest private employer in the US, who also has a proven track record of using illegal retaliation and firings to intimidate and curb worker’s collective bargaining actions. Walmart, is also one of the most profitable retailers in the world. This holiday shopping season, Walmart workers will be taking a stand and protesting the company’s abusive labor practices, including poverty-level wages, stingy benefits, and irregular work schedules that make it impossible for their families to make ends meet.

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Senate briefing: How congressional mandates are thwarted by our broken regulatory process

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

From the safety of the food we eat to the air we breathe and the cars we drive—Congress has enacted landmark laws to tackle these threats to the public. Yet today, many of the rules required to execute these laws have been delayed and/or weakened as a result of a sluggish regulatory process. Due to unnecessary delays, Congressional mandates and sensible safeguards are being held up, and the results can be catastrophic.

While most people understand the basics of how a bill becomes a law, many don’t realize that federal laws that create new regulations must first clear the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) before going into effect. OIRA might be the most powerful federal agency consumers haven’t heard of.

OIRA analyzes the costs and benefits of new rules passed by Congress and takes into consideration comments by the public and affected industries. Many significant rules have been trapped in OIRA purgatory. NCL and partnering organization will hold a Senate briefing tomorrow, October 25, to discuss our broken regulatory process. These common sense rules, passed by Congress, should not face years of unnecessary delays.

Sign up for the event here.

A plea to USDA, stop playing chicken with our poultry

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a scathing report on the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service’s (FSIS) pilot program for overhauling the nation’s chicken and turkey inspection regulations.  While the report focused on the food safety risks of program there are worker safety concerns as well. The poultry industry and USDA hope to roll out the regulation changes nationwide as a “modernization” to the current inspection model.

The pilot, part of the HAACP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), and USDA have been sharply criticized by food and worker safety groups, including NCL, because the proposed changes increase public health risks and the safety of plant employees. The changes would replace government trained federal inspectors with untrained private plant employees and increase the speed of inspection to 175 birds per minute – 3 birds per second.

The report finds that USDA “has not thoroughly evaluated the performance of each of the pilot projects over time [15 years] even though the agency stated it would do so when it announced the pilot projects.” GAO also accuses the program of using “snapshots of data” instead of comprehensive figures reflecting all data from the entire duration of the pilot during their analysis. FSIS’s own testing has shown that some plants in the pilot program are failing to detect foodborne illness, including salmonella.

Food and worker safety groups have not been alone in calling attention to this egregious regulation change. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have been sounding the alarm on the Hill. “Our food safety system is being ‘modernized’ at the expense of worker safety and public health,” said Rep. DeLauro, who had also previously raised concerns about the rule with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The proposed rule has long been a problem, with 10 percent of chicken plants in a related program recently failing a round of salmonella testing.”

It’s time for the USDA to stop playing chicken with our health, halt this ill-conceived pilot program and scrap this so-called “modernization.”

The time to raise the minimum wage is now

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

Every day we see news reports of low-wage workers going on strike for better working conditions. What we really don’t understand or are not told in those 30 to 45 second news spots is the reality facing theses workers. When low-wage workers take the extraordinary step to go on strike they not only forfeit that day’s pay but they put themselves in their employer’s crosshairs. While the law states that retaliating against an employee who exercises their right to assemble, protest and go on strike is illegal, most employers who engage in retaliation; i.e. reducing the worker’s hours, changing the employee’s shifts, dropping their benefits or firing the employee; are never held accountable.

These workers have taken this enormous risk because life as they know it, simply can not continue. With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour, a single mother that works full time and has one child, lives in poverty at $15,080 (before taxes) a year. This qualifies them for food stamps because without it, they would have little left after paying rent, utilities, transportation, and health care. Even McDonald’s convoluted monthly budget planning guide assumes that workers have two jobs simultaneously and are working both nearly full-time. What’s laughable is that McDonald’s assumes that rent is $600, health care is $20 a month and that is costs nothing to feed and clothe oneself. Through their budget planning guide, they basically admit that workers can not survive on one full-time job that pays the minimum wage.

So why not pay workers more? Low-wage employers, including McDonald’s and Walmart, made billions of dollars in profits in the past few years, yet instead of sharing the wealth with their employees, they pay their top executives on average $9.4 million per year – that’s over $4,517 an hour. Why not shift some of that to the low-wage employees?

American voters, consumers and small business owners want change. Seventy-three percent of likely 2012 general election voters support raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour – including 50% of Republicans and 74% of independents. Close to nine in ten consumers (87%) strongly agree or agree that the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour should be increased. Even a majority of small business owners (67%) support raising the minimum wage. With an exceptionally small raise to $9 an hour, $3,500 would be added to the annual income of full-time low-wage workers and can be used for a year’s worth of groceries or utilities. If raised to $10.10 an hour, as those in both houses of Congress and worker advocates are calling for, then 30.3 million workers would get a raise. It’s time for a real change – we need to raise the minimum wage!

STRIKE: Workers protest wage theft at the Reagan Building

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

On Tuesday July 2, low-wage workers employed at the largest U.S. federal office building, Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Building, went on strike. They were not striking for better health benefits (most don’t receive any health benefits), they were not striking for higher wages, and they were not striking for pensions (most will never see a pension). They went on strike to standup against their employers after being victims of wage theft – they have not been paid legally.

These low-wage workers are employees of federal contractors operating on federal land – the Reagan Building is owned by the federal government and paid for by our tax dollars. However the federal contractors are NOT following the law. Some of these workers have not been paid the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) much less than the D.C. minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, while others have not been paid the overtime they’ve earned after 40 hours of work a week. Most fear retaliation if they dare to speak up. In many cases, these workers continue to work while being victimized by their bosses because they’re struggling to survive paycheck to paycheck.

Good Jobs Nation, the group responsible for organizing the protest, is made up of workers, community members, and clergy. They have partnered with worker groups and unions to stand with and support disenfranchised workers and raise awareness of the plight of low-wage workers. Today’s protests included speeches by D.C. City Council Members Tommy Wells and Kenyan McDuffie, clergy, and, most importantly, the workers who have been suffering from wage theft. The D.C. City Council recently passed a law allowing workers to not only receive their back wages, but also receive triple the amount of damages.

This is a problem with a simple solution. Since the employers are federal contractors leasing space from the federal government, the federal government needs to add a lease provision that makes all contractors adhere to all the labor laws in their jurisdiction, ensure routine labor enforcement, and have concrete consequences for breaking the law.

For more information on Good Jobs Nation please check out their website and sign the petition asking that President Obama to make sure that federal contractors pay living wages and respect worker rights to join together and have a voice on the job.