Posts from Michele Petrovsky

What is the Meaning of Minimum Wage if It's Not a Living Wage?

California has been the source of sea changes of a number of kinds.  One that comes quickly to mind is the Internet.  The Information Super Highway to which we’ve all become so accustomed began in 1969 as a consortium of interconnectivity, known as ARPANET, and hosted by four Universities in the Golden State.

Recently, California again moved society forward.  This time, though, it wasn’t equal access to information that was championed.  Instead, income equality, or at least fairness, is the goal.

Emeryville, California, a small town across the Bay from San Francisco, recently established the highest minimum wage in the country.  Two months ago, the minimum in Emeryville was $9.  Now, it’s at least $12.25, and scheduled to go beyond that to a ceiling of $14.44 at the rate of $1.00 per year.

Emeryville’s mayor, Ruth Atkin, in announcing the hike, said “What meaning does a minimum wage have if it's not a living wage?  We should have a living wage."

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The Wackiness of Enclosing the United States in Border Walls

Late in August, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin appeared to try to thumb a ride on Donald Trump’s coattails.  Walker’s statements lacked the overt xenophobia that Trump seems to cultivate.  There was, for example, no mention of murderers or rapists.  But like Trump, Walker put forward the idea of a wall.  Trouble was, Walker envisioned a wall, not along the border between Mexico and the United States, but between Canada and us.

Walker claimed that law enforcement officials had concerns about the world’s longest unarmed border.  According to the Wisconsin governor, those officials saw our border with Canada as a possible source of a sort of “commuter crime.” with wrongdoers travelling back and forth with ease.  Such ideas are, in my opinion, ludicrous.

I lived and worked in Canada for a year, teaching at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Halifax is an active, busy sea port; the capital of the province; and an urbane, multicultural environment.  My time there was completely comfortable, enjoyable and safe.  Not once in those months did I feel myself to be in danger.

Not only Halifax, but Canada in general refute the idea that multi-culturalism is dangerous, and a possible precursor to crime and even terrorism.  If a wall on the United States – Mexico border is ludicrous, how much more so would one on our northern border be?

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America – Oligarchy or Democracy?

Recently, former President Jimmy Carter said that he felt the United States had become an oligarchy.  That sentiment can’t be brushed off as the emotionalism of a liberal.  Well-respected institutions like Princeton University, as well as progressive organizations such as, have also put forth that idea.

The Princeton effort is particularly germane to this discussion.  In April 2014, two researchers, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, published a study that concluded that the United States had become an oligarchy, rather than continuing to be a democracy. defines oligarchy as

a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people, and / or: the people that control a country, business, etc.

Gilens and Page investigated over 1,800 policy initiatives taken during the time frame 1981 to 2002 by the Federal government.  Here’s how they summed up their work.

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An Impossible Dream?

In May just past, protestors at a national meeting of McDonald’s shareholders demanded that the company establish a minimum wage of $15.00 an hour.  In reporting that protest, NBC News noted that what had seemed an impossible dream had gained not only credibility but also momentum and popular support.  Two organizations, (a group backed by the Service Employees International Union), and, have been set up with the sole purpose of accomplishing what their names suggest – an immediate $15.00 minimum wage.

Kendall Fells, a director of Fightfor15, said recently “They used to think $15 was impossible. Now it's popping up everywhere.”  Everywhere, as of this writing, includes Los Angeles, San Francisco (tentatively in the latter case), Oregon, Philadelphia and Minneapolis. 

What’s particularly interesting about this development is that many of those advocating for a $15.00 minimum wage also assert the need for unions.  In particular, some folks in Los Angeles made that clear.  Acting in support of southern California fast food and retail workers’ demands for a wage that would allow them to live above the poverty line, the Los Angeles Workers Assembly not only made their support for a $15 minimum wage known to Los Angeles’ City Clerk and City Attorney, but also linked that support to the need for union representation for low-wage workers.

We should all join in these efforts. Contact your Members of Congress; tell them “we need $15 now!”


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Re-establishing Voting Rights

Nothing is more precious than the right to vote, unless it’s the ability to exercise that right.

Some of my earliest, and fondest, memories are of my two bubbas discussing the politics of the 1950s in exceedingly heavily accented English.  One can only imagine what they would have thought of the gutting by our Supreme Court of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

While they didn’t live to see that legislation, my bubs cherished, and religiously applied, what it upheld – the right of every adult American citizen to vote.  Both Grandma Boytim and Grandma Petrovsky voted in every Presidential election from the time they became naturalized citizens in the 1930s, until they passed away.  The only other folks I’ve known who voted as faithfully were former students, one originally from Bangladesh and the other from Turkey - naturalized citizens both.  Syeda, my Bangladeshi, told me she cried when she voted for the first time.

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Work Longer!

In the science fiction film “When Worlds Collide,” there’s a scene in which those attempting to save humanity from Earth’s impending destruction are urged, in a harsh, discordant tone, to work harder!

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it might be because recently Jeb Bush, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for President, opined something similar.  Trouble is,  Bush meant it as an integral part of his economic plan.

Under that plan, the former Florida governor stated that “people should work longer hours" if the economy is to achieve faster and larger growth.  While Bush’s staff maintains the “longer hours” comment was referred only to part-time workers, that’s not what Bush said at the time.

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RTW (AKA Busting Unions)

The U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear a case that, should it be decided in favor of the plaintiffs, could do to unions what King v. Burwell sought to do to the Affordable Care Act.

The case in question involves public sector unions.  Specifically, a group of California teachers have petitioned the Court, claiming their First Amendment rights have been violated.  How so?  They cite having to pay fees to a union for services the union might perform on their behalf, whether or not want to join it, as the violation they allege.

Trouble is, a ruling in agreement with this position would overturn a legal precedent of almost four decades.  That precedent, set in 1977 in the case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, established the principle that public workers can pay what are called "fair share" fees if they are represented by a union, even if they are not members.  The status of Abood as settled law has been upheld by both a federal district court, and by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  But that may not be enough.  For instance, in a 5-4 opinion last year, Justice Samuel Alito called Abood questionable on several grounds, implying at least some support for the concept of right-to-work.

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Trickle-Down Goes Belly-Up

The conservative activist Grover Norquist once famously said that government should be small enough to drown in a bathtub.  Almost equally thoughtless was his pledge, eventually signed by multitudes of legislators on the right, never to raise taxes.

That pledge, and with it possibly Mr. Norquist’s influence among conservatives, just went belly-up.  Here’s what seems to be behind the change of heart.

Kansas is among several Republican-dominated states  that must either raise taxes or drastically cut programs like education and the social safety net.  Other states faced with a similar Hobson’s choice include Louisiana, whose Republican governor Bobby Jindal is said to be considering a run for the Presidency, and Wisconsin, whose  Republican Gov. Scott Walker has already expressed interest in that job.

In Kansas, the state’s sales tax will become one of the highest in the country.  In addition to this move, cigarette taxes in Kansas will go up by 50 cents per pack.  Two things should be pointed out regarding these tax hikes.

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Protecting Health Care

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced earlier this month that he had asked the federal government to allow the state to take over its health care exchange.  Wolf made the request in an effort to protect Pennsylvanians’ ability to continue to receive federal subsidies toward purchasing health insurance, should the Supreme Court gut the Affordable Care Act.

If Wolf’s move is to succeed, the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania state legislature would also have to approve a state-run, rather than the current federally-administered, exchange.  That approval might or might not be forthcoming.  A spokesman for the Pennsylvania House Republicans recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “There is no reason to deal with it right now.”

One might reasonably interpret that statement as meaning: Let’s wait to see how the Supreme Court rules on Obamacare.  If SCOTUS upholds the law, the whole question becomes moot.  If it overturns the statute, we’ll have to decide how much political risk we’re willing to take on.  Challengers to Obamacare maintain that current federal subsidies for health insurance in 37 states are invalid, simply because the wording of the statute describes such subsidies as being intended only for exchanges established by the State.  Should the Supreme Court uphold that interpretation, about 382,000 Pennsylvanians might lose all or part of the federal subsidies that finance their health care.

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Fretting on the Far Right

It may be that for once, progressives need not be on the defensive.  With the Supreme Court’s deciding yet another challenge to Obamacare in a few weeks, conservatives appear to be the ones on edge.  At least, some conservatives are.

And they have reason to be.  Of the 34 states that might lose health insurance for millions of their citizens, 26 have Republican governors, and 22 have Republican Senate seats up for possible grabs in 2016.

Plaintiffs in the hearing before the Supreme Court took the tack that the ACA’s wording allows the federal government to subsidize coverage only in states that set up their own health insurance markets. If the Supreme Court invalidates subsidies in those states, an estimated 8 million people could lose coverage.

That wouldn’t happen, though, without some serious fallout.  Sandy Praeger, a former Kansas insurance commissioner, said recently "People who are reasonably healthy would just drop coverage. . .and. . .only the unhealthy would keep buying health care. [That in and of itself] would really exacerbate the problem of the cost of health insurance."  Praeger, a Republican who retired this year, went even further, saying a ruling against Obamacare could bring about "a classic death spiral."  That’s insurance-speak for a collapse of the health insurance market.

A piece posted by on May 25th summed up the situation nicely:

“If the subsidies survive, the Affordable Care Act will look like settled law to all but its most passionate opponents. But if they are overturned, the shock could carry into next year's elections.”

We should know if and how this knot gets untied sometime before the end of June.


To submit a blog to Union Matters, e-mail it to Keep it to 250 words or fewer. You MUST include your full name, hometown, and state. You may attach a photograph of yourself. Please include a phone number. This WILL NOT be published. Posting any given blog is within the discretion of the USW. No blog using foul language (this is a family site), false information (we don’t want to get sued), or unnecessary personal attacks (again, we don’t want to get sued) will be used. Wait a reasonable period of time, then blog again!

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