You are browsing the archive for minimum wage.

Capitalists for a Higher Minimum Wage

5:53 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Wisconsin Jobs Now (flickr)

Originally published at In These Times

A Silicon Valley multimillionaire and conservative pundit wants to give his state’s poorest workers a raise. Huh?

Entrepreneur Ron Unz, known for his reactionary views on immigration (along with controversial commentary on race, crimeIQ and social policy), is campaigning for a state ballot measure to lift California’s minimum wage to $12—well above the $10 minimum currently set to take effect in 2016 (and a giant step above the federal wage floor of $7.25).

Some progressives might be puzzled that Unz, who in the late 1990s famously pushed a ballot measure to scrap bilingual education programs in California, has taken on this populist fight, albeit with an odd neo-Fordist air.

Of course, the Right’s resistance to this has never been realistic; empirical research shows that lifting the federal minimum wage could boost earnings for a third of the country’s workforce and drive broad economic growth. The opposition is mostly ideological, based on overblown charges that high labor costs will harm employers, along with the business community’s general antipathy toward state regulation of wages.

But some conservatives, including Unz and pundits Phyllis Schlafly and Bill O’Reilly, have come around to seeing a minimum-wage hike as an anti-poverty measure that’s good for capitalism—and perhaps more importantly, a market-based alternative to government welfare. Unz’s initiative still contains kernels of his anti-immigration leanings, though not as explicitly as his earlier ballot initiative. He believes that increased wages for American workers would help those who are legally authorized to work while, over time, squeezing out workers who are not. Read the rest of this entry →

Corporate-Approved State Bills Kick Low-Wage Workers While They’re Down

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Originally published at In These Times

President Obama called for a modest raise in the federal minimum wage to $9 in his State of the Union Address, and several Democratic legislators have upped his bid with a proposed increase to $10.10.

But an insidious effort to lower the wage floor is already underway much closer to the ground—in the state legislatures where right-wing lobbyists have been greasing the skids for years for an onslaught of anti-worker policies.

An extensive analysis recently published by labor advocacy organization the National Employment Law Project tracks more than 100 bills introduced in 31 states since January 2011 that “aim to repeal or weaken core wage standards at the state or local level.” Each bears the fingerprint of notorious super-lobbying organization the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which acts as a forum for “private sector leaders” to advise public officials. Most of the anti-worker bills were proposed by lawmakers directly linked to ALEC and include language that echoes that of “model legislation” developed by ALEC. Among the proposals are measures to undercut minimum wages for teenage workers, restrict overtime pay and repeal or ban local laws to improve working conditions.

ALEC has been called out by activists for pushing legislation that advances a classic right-wing agenda, from school privatization to rolling back healthcare reform. But the “wage suppression” tactics are a particularly callous attempt by ALEC-affiliated legislators to feed corporate profits by starving workers. Read the rest of this entry →

Restaurant Workers Target Unsavory Labor Practices at Darden

3:45 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

ROC United / Dignity at Darden

Cross-posted from In These Times

America is what it eats, and our restaurants, where we wolf down everything from Belgian fries to sushi, serve up the best and the worst of our economy.  Behind every elegant table is a churning, stressed out kitchen, staffed with workers who may be barely able to feed their own families.

While restaurant owners scarf up profits, workers with the Restaurant Opportunities Center are biting back with a multi-city campaign against a company that represents the one-percent of the food service industry. They have launched protests as well as legal action against Darden, which runs Capital Grille, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and other prominent eateries.

According to the lawsuit, Capital Grille workers in Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago  were subjected to grueling work schedules and underpayment of wages, and sometimes were forced to work “off the clock” and denied overtime. Some tipped workers allegedly had their wages siphoned off to supplement the pay of non-tipped employees. There are also allegations of systematic racial discrimination—complaints that black workers were pushed out of the job and told they “didn’t meet Capital Grille standards.” In recent months, workers from other cities have also come forward with complaints about mistreatment.

The litigation is part of a grassroots campaign to expose unsavory labor practices throughout the restaurant sector. ROC’s organizing work in New York, Chicago, the Washington, DC area, Los Angeles and Miami has revealed patterns of exploitation that reflect business as usual in an industry that routinely fattens its profit margins by skirting regulations and squeezing labor costs. Read the rest of this entry →

Free Agents: Will Micro-Labor Shrink Workplace Rights?

11:26 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Cross-posted from In These Times.

The universe of the Web-based marketplace allows you to sell just about anything online today—so why not your labor? The “help wanted” page has now upgraded itself for an Information Age economic crisis, with a new crop of services that link odd jobs to people looking to make a buck.

Some websites offer a vast pool of local jobbers who do tasks ranging from driving a delivery truck to fishing keys from a sewer. While this may seem like a killer-app version of a traditional hiring hall, the market for “micro-labor” raises questions about the privatization and personalization of work today.

The Wall Street Journal featured one rapid-fire online job marketplace based in San Francisco, awash in venture capital:

After launching six months ago, Zaarly is processing more than 1,000 transactions a week for jobs that cost around $50 a pop. Chief Executive and cofounder Bo Fishback, 33, says about half the requests involve tangible goods, and the rest involve some sort of service. One of his favorites: a person who hired someone to buy a Michael Jackson-themed dog costume for a puppy.

Read the rest of this entry →

As Helping Hands for Elders, Home Care Workers Push for Respect

5:30 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Photo: SEIU.org

Cross-posted from In These Times.

Somewhere in your community today, an elder person is wondering when she’ll be able to take her medicine today, or have a chance to see the sun. And her mind will be put at ease once her aide arrives to help her get dressed, eat breakfast or take a walk in the park. For millions of aging households, a home care worker is the only person who provides the day-to-day assistance and emotional interaction they need to function. Yet, typically, that worker is neglected herself–by the government.

Workers caring for our greying population are intimately woven into our family lives, but are alienated from essential labor protections–though that could change soon. As we’ve reported previously, a longstanding loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act excludes home care or “companionship” workers from minimum wage and time-and-a-half overtime regulations. Nationwide, about 2.5 million home care and personal assistance aides–projected to grow to about 3.8 million by 2020–work around the clock to help their clients handle the basics of life, while often themselves scraping by on poverty wages.

Back in the early 1970s, Rep. Shirley Chisholm called attention to the plight of home-based workers who had been shut out of regular labor standards. A generation later, workers’ rights advocates are pushing the Labor Department to follow through on a proposed rule change to extend federal minimum wage and overtime protections to currently excluded home care workers–who are disproportionately female and of color. Read the rest of this entry →

Study: Restaurants Feed on Exploited Women’s Labor

7:08 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Next time you plunk down some change on the table before leaving a restaurant, think about what might be behind that service with a smile. A new study warns that when Americans eat out, they feed into an industry fueled by exploitation and rampant discrimination against women.

The report, published by the labor advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC) in partnership with a coalition of labor and women’s rights groups, details the restaurant industry’s secret recipe for fattening profits: low wages, harsh working conditions, erratic hours and multiple racial and gender barriers to job advancement–all served with a side of broken immigration laws and a powerful industry lobby.

In a testimony in the report, Claudia Muñoz recalled how her job at a national pancake chain restaurant in Texas demanded round-the-clock hours without overtime pay. Scrounging for tips, she earned as little as $160 per week. Muñoz says:

I had to eat less than $6.50 for the employee meal. … I could only afford pancakes. If you were on the schedule for only 5 hours, you couldn’t get a meal. There were days when I wouldn’t eat all day.

Surrounding her was a cross-section of the country’s forgotten workforce:

There were a lot of older people—women in their 50’s. They had children, families, some were single mothers … and $2.13 plus tips was all they had. … It really opened my eyes. It was Latinos cooking, white women working graveyard shifts, men working during the day. I saw the racism, sexism, and low wages in the industry. Everything I remember from that place was horrible. Read the rest of this entry →