Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

More ...

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

More ...

Union Proud: A Conversation with Pride@Work Executive Director Jerame Davis

Working People Win in Delaware

From the AFL-CIO

Delaware recently became the latest state to allow more public employees to collectively bargain for fair wages and working conditions and improve access to apprenticeship programs, thanks to the advocacy of union members in public office.

The first law, which Delaware Gov. John Carney signed on May 30, solidifies collective bargaining rights for 2,000 additional state employees.

“This is a proud moment for our unions that represent state workers,” said James Maravelias (LIUNA), president of the Delaware State AFL-CIO. “This shows our constant commitment to their livelihood and our ever-present representation.”

Carney signed a second bill into law on Friday during the 2019 Delaware Building and Construction Trades Council’s graduation banquet for apprentices at the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA) Local 74 Executive Hall in Newark.

More ...

A Few Hundred Million Good Reasons Not to Care

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Millions of American families are still reeling from the aftershocks of the financial crash a dozen years ago. But a key architect of that debacle, Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo, is feeling no pain — and no remorse either. In the decade before the crash, Mozilo took $650 million out of Countrywide, a hefty chunk of that just before the subprime mortgage scam Countrywide exploited started to implode. Earlier this month, Angelo described Countrywide as a “great company” at a conference appearance and declared subprimes as “not the cause at all” of the nation’s 2007-2008 financial wreckage. Added Mozilo: “Somehow — for some unknown reason — I got blamed.” The former CEO is acknowledging that all the blame did at one point bother him. And now? The famously always tanned Mozilo notes simply: “I don’t care.” 

***

#BuildForTomorrow

From the AFL-CIO

It’s Infrastructure Week, a time to call on our elected leaders to rebuild and modernize America’s crumbling infrastructure.

This year’s Infrastructure Week comes at a time when 79% of voters say investing in America’s infrastructure is a top priority.

Here is what inaction is costing us:

Inaction is costing Americans an average of $3,000 every year.

It’s time to tell Washington to stop delaying. Take action and fix our infrastructure. Learn more at Infrastructure Week.

 “We cannot and will not tolerate more inaction. The future prosperity of working families and our communities across America is at stake, as is our national commitment to the simple but powerful idea that when we invest in the nation’s infrastructure, our economy expands and working people thrive.” —2017 AFL-CIO Convention Resolution 7: Reviving Our Communities and Putting Millions to Work Rebuilding the Country

 

Is It Time for Labor to Return to Its Socialist Roots?

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

“I have raised hell all over this country.  You don’t need a vote to raise hell!  You need convictions and a voice!” – Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

Since its inception, the American labor movement has had a progressive, socialist voice aiding in its efforts to produce agreements with corporations that have included health care, pensions, strongly worded language on worker equality, civil rights issues and many more important benefits which some of us still enjoy to this day.

As the decades ensued, socialist ideals like those instituted by noted, founding member of the IWW and five-time Socialist Party of America candidate for President, Eugene V. Debs, came under heavy fire from red-baiters, such as the late Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

And as some of those same ideals, enjoyed by millions of American union workers and their families were deemed “un-American” ways of thinking, and as the country, pushed over the years to a much more neo-liberal (aka neo-conservative) leaning philosophy, began to take on a more unabashed, nationalistic tone, the voices of socialist union leaders were banished to the dust bins of history under the ever present oversight of scurrilous government watchdogs, such as the House Un-American Activities Committee.

More ...

This Steel Town Is Celebrating Again. Here's Why.

Granite City, Ill., suffered a devastating blow when its steel mill was idled in 2015, but now this working-class town has reason for celebration. Host Scott Paul speaks with the city's mayor, economic development director and the president of USW Local 1899 to learn what got Granite City back to work -- and what lies next.

A Shrill Health Insurance Chief Goes in for the Kill

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann doesn’t much like all the talk going around these days about “Medicare for All.” In comments to stock analysts earlier this month, Wichmann intoned that proposals for Medicare for All would, if enacted, “destabilize the nation’s health system” and “surely have a severe impact on the economy and jobs.” He’ll likely prove right about the severity of that impact on his job. Medicare for All proposals introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal envision absolutely no role for private insurance execs who take home $83.2 million a year, Wichmann’s 2017 realized compensation. Share prices at UnitedHealth have nosedived since Sanders introduced his latest Medicare for All bill, as have shares at other big insurers. Their gravy train is clearly slowing. But what lush gravy that train has carried! Over the last decade, a business group has reported, average executive pay at leading U.S. health insurers has been growing at an annual 13 percent rate.

***

Fighting to Fix the New NAFTA

From the AFL-CIO

For the better part of a generation, our global trading system has been rigged to enrich corporations at the expense of working people—and no deal has done more damage than NAFTA. We are hungry for a North American trade deal that lifts wages and improves livelihoods. The new NAFTA, also known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), as proposed falls short, and that’s why America’s working families will keep fighting to fix it.

Here are three reasons why the labor movement opposes the new NAFTA:

  1. There is nothing in the current deal to fix the outsourcing of good-paying American jobs to Mexico and other low-wage countries. 851,000 U.S. jobs were lost already due to NAFTA.
  2. Unless Mexico finishes and implements full labor reform and stronger rules and enforcements are added to the NAFTA text, Mexico’s workers will continue to face wages as low as $2 per hour or less and receive no protection from threats and violence when trying to unionize.
  3. Monopoly rights for Big Pharma would keep drug prices sky high, and new rules would undermine protections such as workplace safety.
More ...