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.

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Raw milk is a raw deal for consumers

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

NCL has recently signed onto a consumer group letter opposing two shocking federal bills introduced to weaken restrictions on the sale of raw milk. Raw milk – which by definition is milk that hasn’t been pasteurized to kill dangerous bacteria – can kill you. NCL’s first leader, Florence Kelley, watched children get sick and die from raw milk. She was disconsolate that states were slow to require pasteurization – Louis Pasteur’s great discovery that heating milk kills pathogens. (Pasteur also developed the rabies vaccine.)  Heating milk to 161 degrees for 15 seconds, known as flash pasteurization, is all it takes to make milk safe.

The ignorance of those who champion the so-called benefits of raw milk is astounding. Its one thing if an adult wants to consume raw milk, but parents feed raw milk to their children putting their kids’ lives at risk.  The CDC reported in 2012 that unpasteurized products are 150 times more likely to cause food borne illnesses than pasteurized versions.

One of the federal bills would end the interstate ban on raw milk sales and the second would allow interstate transport between states where raw milk is legally sold. There are 40 bills to allow raw milk sales at the state level.

Bill Marler is a food lawyer in Seattle who has handled two-dozen cases involving illnesses from raw milk consumption in children or the elderly.  “It’s a high risk product and in most cases, I’m representing the most vulnerable in society,” Marler said.

In November, five-year-old Maddie Powell was one of nine children in her family, all younger than seven, who were sickened by E. coli from raw milk. Maddie, along with two of the other children, developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal kidney disease that is known to coincide with E. coli infections. After this frightening and costly experience, Maddie’s mother said they would not return to drinking raw milk.

Why in the world would any parent knowingly subject their child to such a dangerous product to begin with? Because raw milk advocates are peddling a message that their product has health benefits superior to pasteurized milk. Nothing could be more misguided. We hope these federal bills will generate an informed discussion that will demonstrate the folly of consuming raw milk.

Women CAN have it all!

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I finally got around to reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. I confess that from the reviews, I wasn’t sure if I’d like or hate the book.  I liked it a lot, but even more, I think it’s an important book. It’s a feminist manifesto for the current generation of working women.  Sandberg counsels her peers not to drop out of the workforce because someone convinced you that “you can’t have it all.” I’ve always disliked that phrase.  It’s self defeating and ultimately meaningless.  She tells women to use their brains, their education, their families, spouses and moxie to figure out a work-life balance. Having children and working full time is do-able with the right support systems in place. She acknowledges that not every woman has those support systems; but if you do, don’t shy away from a promotion, a new job, or new opportunity.

This is an inspiring book. It’s true that Sandberg’s led a charmed life –which is why I had my doubts about the advice she was dispensing – she’s has two degrees from Harvard – undergrad and the Business School (when I lived in Boston they called it Preparation H!) , she’s a protégé of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and his chief of staff at Treasury, was recruited by Eric Schmidt to work at Google, then recruited to be CEO at LinkedIn and turned it down, and is now one of Mark Zuckerberg’s general’s at Facebook.  She’s also a Jewish girl who managed to find the ideal, supportive Jewish husband and have two perfect kids. Plus, she’s reported to be worth over a billion dollars. I’ll get to that point in a minute.

In spite of this gilded path, it’s hard not to like Sandberg:  she’s supportive of colleagues and friends, she’s funny and self deprecating, she acknowledges leading a privileged life, and notes that she learned  along the way – to her surprise – that she’s actually a feminist, a description she rejected in her younger years. Many in my generation of working women cheer when we hear that, since so many younger men and women have accepted the negativity foisted on the word “feminist” by a culture threatened by empowered women.

Sandberg’s had a few bumps in the road. She got divorced after a hasty marriage right out of college and experienced some old fashioned sexism while serving as a page to a New York Congressman. When she was introduced to House Speaker Tip O’Neill he commented “She’s pretty,” and turning to Sandberg asked her “Are you a Pom Pom girl.”  Every working woman has experienced that kind of sexism.

But her advice to working women is solid. History is replete with examples of women who did it all – raised families and had remarkable careers.  The women who first ran the National Consumers League are a case in point.  Florence Kelley had three children, fled an abusive husband to land at Hull House in Chicago, relied on friends to care for her small children while she pursued her remarkable career of exposing the evils of child labor, drafting the nation’s first minimum wage laws and getting the Supreme Court to hear the first maximum hours’ case laws. She traveled far and wide, speaking at women’s clubs and conferences. Frances Perkins served as Secretary of Labor all four of FDR’s terms and is largely responsible for lifeline programs like social security, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance. She lived in Washington, traveling to see her husband (who suffered from mental illness so she couldn’t depend on him to care for their daughter) and daughter on weekends. Neither of them was rich, nor did they have parents they could rely on for support. Both Kelley and Perkins felt guilty about being away from their families, but each had a calling and what an enormous debt we owe them for their impact on social reforms in America – and what a loss it would have been had they chosen not to work.

So thank you to Sheryl Sandberg advising working women to lean in and to stay in the workplace if they want to. Don’t believe that adage that you “can’t have it all.” What bunk!  Women in America today have far too much education, talent, and valuable skills to let themselves be talked out of a fulfilling career. I recommend Sheryl Sandberg’s book women of all generations.

That said, I also think Sandberg should put some of the cash – of which she has so much – toward bettering the lives of low income working women and families. Below are six organizations that I would put on my Hanukah giving list if I was worth what she’s worth (of course, the National Consumers League get my first $100 million!):

National Employment Law Project (NELP) – NELP works in partnership with national, state and local allies, promotes policies and programs that create good jobs, strengthen upward mobility, enforce hard-won worker rights, and help unemployed workers regain their economic footing through improved benefits and services.

National Partnership for Women and Families – Founded in 1971 as the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, the Partnership promotes  fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care, and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.

MomsRising – MomsRising combines the best of American innovation and ingenuity. They are a transformative on-the-ground and online multicultural organization of more than a million members and over a hundred aligned organizations working to increase family economic security, to end discrimination against women and mothers, and to build a nation where both businesses and families can thrive.

9to5 – 9to5 is one of the largest, most respected national membership organizations of working women in the U.S., dedicated to putting working women’s issues on the public agenda. Their mission is to build a movement for economic justice, by engaging directly affected women to improve working conditions.

Interfaith Worker Justice  – IWJ has many work and job sites around the country where workers, many of them low income women, can come for advice when they’ve been deprived of fair wages, are being discriminated against for being pregnant or are facing dangerous working conditions    http://www.iwj.org/

Economic Policy Institute – EPI was created as an economic think tank to address the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security.  To achieve this goal, EPI conducts research and analysis on the economic status of working America, with a focus on low and moderate income workers.

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

?

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!

With Communities of Color Consumer Protection Symposium, NCL helps celebrate Black History Month

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By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

February is Black History Month and reminds us of NCL’s deep historical connections to the Black community. W.E.B. DuBois, the renowned civil rights leader was appointed in 1910 to be the first editor of the NAACP’s newspaper, The Crisis. He was a brilliant scholar and close friend of Florence Kelley, NCL’s General Secretary. Kelley came from a Philadelphia Quaker family, raised with fiercely abolitionist beliefs and she had no tolerance for racial prejudice and discrimination. She was furious when racial segregation practiced in hotels and restaurants made it difficult for her African American colleagues to attend meetings on minimum wage and child labor. 4

Earlier this month, NCL sponsored the Communities of Color Consumer Protection and Financial Services Symposium. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies – the only African America think tank in the US – co-hosted the program with the Center for Responsible Lending. The conference focused on telecom, fraud, student loans, auto loans and mortgage financing, with an emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable communities. These communities experience higher interest rates, rip off contract terms, and have had their family wealth wiped out by the subprime mortgage crisis in far larger proportions than their white counterparts.

We organized this conference to bring new voices into the consumer protection discussion. Representatives from La Raza, LULAC, NAACP and Urban League spoke at the event, along with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN).

I learned a lot at about how financial institutions, car dealers and lenders, for profit colleges, and so many others target the black community for predatory practices and make billions in profits at the expense of these communities.

So as we celebrate Black History Month in 2014, it’s more important than ever that communities of color have the benefit of consumer protections and that regulators and legislators work on their behalf. NCL hopes to do a conference like this at least once a year. We will be following the wonderful example of great leaders like Florence Kelley and W.E.B. Dubois who 100 years ago worked together as partners and colleagues for the cause of social justice in America.

50 years after LBJ declared a War on Poverty, progress but more work to do

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

In his 1964 State of the Union address President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty; that was 50 years ago. Today, Martin Luther King Day – a day where we celebrate equality, justice, and progress – we reflect on how the war on poverty has positively impacted struggling families across this great nation. While there is still much work to do to eradicate poverty and ensure every American worker has enough money in her pocket to pay the bills, provide for for her family, and guarantee a stable household, we have made great leaps in the last 50 years. Johnson put in place a series of anti-poverty programs – VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Job Corps, Head Start, Legal Services, and the Community Action Program the likes of which we’ve never seen again. These programs significantly tempered the impact of poverty for millions of Americans. Indeed, in the decade following the 1964 introduction of the war on poverty programs, poverty rates in the U.S. dropped to their lowest level since comprehensive records began in 1958: from 17.3 percent in the year the Economic Opportunity Act was implemented to 11.1 percent in 1973. They have remained between 11 and 15.2 percent ever since.

We can be proud that the legacy of Frances Perkins and the New Deal programs of FDR’s administration – Social Security and Medicare and more recently Medicare Part D which covers the cost of medications – have vastly improved the lives of elderly Americans: the most dramatic decrease in poverty is among Americans over 65, which fell from 28.5 percent in 1966 to 10.1 percent today.

Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesota Senator and the man who served as Vice President to LBJ, talks in his spellbinding book “A Public Man” about making a real dent in poverty with these programs. Sadly, the Nixon administration that came into power after LBJ’s reign dismantled many of them. There was a tide that swept over America that offered a few egregious examples that these programs made people “too dependent on government” and unwilling to work.  Yes, there are some lazy people looking for a handout; but there are far more who use these safety net programs to feed their families and get back on their feet so they can work and be productive members of society.

Today the biggest drag on the economy and the notion that “a rising tide lifts all boats” is that the gains in GDP have landed disproportionately in the wallets of the top 1 or 2 percent whereas in the 60s and 70s these gains were shared far more broadly. The number of union jobs that offer good wages and benefits has fallen dramatically. Unionization of the workforce today is at its lowest level since 1916, when it was 11.2 percent. Sadly, our labor laws do not favor union organizing and there’s been a steady drumbeat by the business community, including the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, against ceding any power to unions to organize and negotiate on behalf of workers.

So, the War on Poverty, though successful in offering relief programs to the poor, has been undermined by the lack of decent jobs and poor educational opportunities. There’s a little light at the end of the tunnel, however. I’m personally thrilled and delighted to see the wave of state laws increasing minimum wage and the bipartisan support from red and blue states alike in favoring these increases. More than 70 percent of voters in March of this year told Gallup pollsters they would like to see the minimum wage increase. By November that percentage had risen to 76 percent including 58 percent of Republicans supporting an increase.

If the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 is passed into law, 30 million Americans will see an increase in their paycheck. Providing an increased minimum wage may not be a panacea for these struggling Americans, but it will go a long way toward lifting families out of poverty.  It’s good for kids too, because they suffer the most when there’s not enough food in the cupboard. President Johnson had it right – we have to treat the problem of poverty in America like a war –and many strategies need to be deployed to combat the problem. With the recent gains in minimum wage in states around the country and momentum building, we may indeed be opening the next chapter in President Johnson’s War on Poverty.