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In Sacramento, CA teachers fight for “what’s right” with strike

From today’s CBS Evening News:

Teachers in Sacramento went on strike Thursday for the first time in 30 years. They’re accusing the school district of backtracking on promises of better pay and smaller classes.

In the past year, more than 400,000 teachers in nine states have gone on strike, affecting more than 5 million children.

Raising three boys on her own in costly California is a daily struggle for Victoria Carr, who has been teaching for 12 years.  

“It’s hard. It really is. Am I making a difference? Is it impacting people,” she said.

With teachers on the brink of a strike, Carr went to a school board meeting to confront the district superintendent.  
 
“I want them to see me fight for what’s right. I want my students to know that they’re important enough to me that I’ll fight for them and I’ll say what needs to be said as best I can,” said the seventh-grade teacher.

Nationwide, the average teacher salary has decreased by 4 percent in the past decade, when accounting for inflation. Eighteen months ago, the Sacramento School District avoided a strike by giving their teachers a raise. Thursday’s strike is solely about the students. The teachers say the district did not hold up the rest of that deal, which included smaller classroom sizes, more nurses, psychologists and after school programs.

Read the complete article here.

He Has Driven for Uber Since 2012 and He Makes About $40,000 a Year

From today’s New York Times:

Uber’s public stock offering next month will make a bunch of people remarkably rich. Peter Ashlock is not one of them, although he has toiled for the ride-hailing company almost since the beginning.

Mr. Ashlock, who will be 71 next week, has racked up more than 25,000 trips as an Uber driver since 2012. His Nissan Altima has 218,000 miles on it — nearly the distance to the moon. His passengers rate him 4.93 out of five stars. His favorite review: “Dude drove like a cabdriver.”

While he is an integral part of Uber’s success, Mr. Ashlock is barely getting by. His 2018 tax return will show an adjusted gross income in the neighborhood of $40,000, better than 2016 and 2017. But he has maxed out his $3,200 credit limit at the local Midas car-repair shop and needs to come up with $5,000 to pay his taxes. He has Social Security but no savings to buy a new car that will let him keep working.

Silicon Valley has always been a lottery where immense wealth is secured by a few while everyone else must hope for better luck some other time. Rarely, however, has the disparity been on such stark display as with Uber. Its stock market value is expected to be about $100 billion, which would make it one of the richest Silicon Valley public offerings of all time.

Among those with something to celebrate: Uber’s founders, the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, the elite venture capitalists Benchmark and Google’s GV, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the mutual fund giant Fidelity. Some have already cashed in. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and chief executive until he was forced out after a series of scandals, reaped $1.4 billion by selling fewer than a third of his shares to private investors in 2017.

As independent contractors, drivers are not eligible for employee benefits like paid vacations or stock options. Uber said Thursday that it would offer bonuses of $100 to $10,000 to long-serving drivers. Its chief competitor, Lyft, did the same when it went public in March.

Read the complete article here.

Interior nominee David Bernhardt’s ethics problems aren’t going away

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

President Trump’s pick to the lead the Interior Department heads for a confirmation vote as early as Thursday, with his career as a lobbyist raising ethical and legal concerns and doubts about his independence from the energy and water industry groups he long represented.

Acting Secretary David Bernhardt spent about eight years as a partner in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, one of the nation’s top-grossing law and lobbying firms, according to public rankings. There he represented energy, mining and Western water interests that deal with the Interior Department, including two California entities, Westlands Water District — the nation’s largest irrigation district — and Cadiz Inc.

Bernhardt’s firm sued the department four times on Westlands’ behalf. He personally argued one appeals case challenging federal endangered species protections for imperiled salmon. He did legal work for Cadiz, which wants to build a water pipeline on a railroad right of way that crosses federal land in the California desert.

When Bernhardt was confirmed as deputy secretary in 2017, he had to sign the administration’s ethics pledge and recuse himself from participating in “particular matters” involving more than two dozen former clients. Some of the recusals were effective for two years, others for one. In the last year, he has helped put policies in place that benefit businesses he once represented as a lobbyist.

Read the complete article here.

Lawmaker in Congressional hearing on bank CEOs’ pay: “It doesn’t look good”

From today’s CBS News Online:

Making their first appearance before Congress since the financial crisis a decade ago, the CEOs of America’s biggest banks told lawmakers their financial institutions are now smaller and are taking on less risk.

With Democrats in control of the U.S. House, banks and the men that lead them are facing renewed scrutiny over their practices and record profits.

Since the massive taxpayer-funded bank bailout in 2009, large U.S. banks have raked in $780 billion in profits — nearly five times the amount they paid in fines. “[N]o one has made out better than the CEOs,” Maxine Waters, D.-California, chair of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, said in starting the hearing. 

The financial giants represented at the gathering include seven of eight global “systemically important” banks, which paid a total of nearly $164 billion in fines during the last 10 years, according to a committee memorandum. Because their profits greatly exceed the penalties, Waters questioned whether banks view regulatory fines as simply the cost of doing business.

New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to a litany of what she described as bank misdeeds, from JPMorgan’s failure to oversee its trading practices in 2013 to last month’s $25 million fine against Citibank for violating the Fair Housing Act. “I have concerns about how much things have changed,” she told the bankers. 

Ocasio-Cortez also questioned the fairness of a legal system that fines banks for legal violations but imprisons low-income people for relatively minor offenses. Mentioning that Riker’s Island is part of her congressional district, the lawmaker said: “I represent kids who go to jail for jumping a turnstile because they couldn’t afford a metro card.” 

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon responded by saying he did not support prison for turnstile jumping. He drew praise from the freshman lawmaker for JPMorgan’s decision last month to halt financing of private operators of prisons and detention centers.

The last time the panel convened such a hearing, the country was in recession and the CEOs had to explain taking billions in taxpayer bailouts. Banks have since by-and-large repaid taxpayers and bounced back to record profits.

Read the complete article here.

The Gig 101: The Con of the Side Hustle

From today’s New York Times:

An attractive woman behind the wheel of a gray car says to the camera, “These days anyone can have a side hustle.” She then whisks off to the gym, for her other job as a personal trainer, beaming as she goes from one gig to another. This ad for the ride-share company Uber seeks to entice new drivers to join their ranks by using the “side hustle” come-on. The company isn’t alone.

Similarly laborious “side hustles” are celebrated in popular media and advertising, from self-help articles and other web content that exhort us to, say, work for a design studio part-time or sell CBD oil (great as a side hustle for moms, supposedly). Even pastors can use a side hustle, according to one evangelical blogger.

During tax season, you will also find filing suggestions for side hustlers. (Report all of your income! Deduct expenses!)

The truth is, working multiple gigs creates complications when you do your taxes. Compared with those with salaried jobs, who pay their taxes seamlessly through withholding, for side hustlers “the process will be a lot messier,” according to Steven Dean, the faculty director of the Graduate Tax Program at New York University Law School. You have to estimate and pay taxes on your own, he notes, and your expenses may not be reimbursed by your employer. In other words, paying quarterly tax estimates gives workers with side hustles yet another side hustle — being their own accountant, although this gig doesn’t even pay.

Nevertheless, this nouveau moonlighting continues to be exalted ­as cool, empowering or freeing. This mantra is false: Side hustles are not simply a new version of working as a “wage slave” so that we can do what we love in our off hours. Instead, far more often, people take on second or third side hustles because of wage stagnation or low pay at their full-time jobs.

Read the complete article here.

Amendment 4 restored voting rights to felons In FL–Now that’s back in doubt

From today’s NBC News Online:

Desmond Meade thinks he may have talked to more Floridians about felon voting rights than anyone else. Since 2009, he has put thousands of miles on his car each year, driving to every corner of the state talking to people about felon disenfranchisement.

By the time a formal campaign to amend the Florida Constitution and restore felon voting rights ended in 2018, it was clear to him which arguments worked with the largest share of people. Among them: second chances and redemption are moral and national values that Americans have a collective duty to uphold, and making way for redemption is the right thing to do.

Eventually, Meade, who is black, and Neil Volz, a white man convicted of felonies in connection with the former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, connected with a bipartisan funding and support network. It included the Koch brothers. And the redemption narrative — one that pushed the racist origins and racially disparate impact of felon disenfranchisement laws just beyond the spotlight — won a whopping 64 percent of deeply purple Florida’s votes in the November referendum on Amendment 4.

“The messaging was totally organic, totally grassroots,” said Meade, a convicted felon who after his release from prison earned a law degree. “It wasn’t a black or white thing, a conservative or liberal thing. It was a real people thing, people understood.”

But just as the campaign settled into victory, both the politics and the policy of felon voting have become unsettled again.

On Thursday, a committee of the Florida House of Representatives voted along party lines to advance a bill that could bar from the ballot box many of the estimated 1.5 million convicted felons who just regained the franchise.

Now the issue of voting rights for ex-felons is back in doubt. It looks as if the limited talk about race and partisanship during the Amendment 4 campaign created space for opponents to engage in debates about the bill’s language without attending to the racial impact of any legislative tweaks.

Read the complete article here.

The $70,000-a-Year Minimum Wage

From today’s New York Times:

Staff members gasped four years ago when Dan Price gathered the 120 employees at Gravity Payments, the company he had founded with his brother, and told them he was raising everyone’s salary to a minimum of $70,000, partly by slashing his own $1.1 million pay to the same level.

The news went viral and provoked a national debate about whether efficient capitalism could have a heart. Some Americans lauded Price for treating employees with dignity. However, on Fox Business he was labeled the “lunatic of all lunatics,” and Rush Limbaugh declared, “I hope this company is a case study in M.B.A. programs on how socialism does not work, because it’s going to fail.”

So I came to Seattle to see what had unfolded: Did Gravity succeed or crash?

There were bumps, no doubt about it. A couple of important employees quit, apparently feeling less valued when new hires were close to them in pay. The publicity forced Gravity, which processes credit card payments for small businesses, to hire additional people to handle a deluge of inquiries. Worst of all, Price’s brother, who owned a stake in the company, sued and alleged that Price hadn’t consulted him on decisions.

For a while, it wasn’t clear that the gamble was going to pay off.

But eventually it did: Business has surged, and profits are higher than ever. Gravity last year processed $10.2 billion in payments, more than double the $3.8 billion in 2014, before the announcement. It has grown to 200 employees, all nonunion.

Read the complete article here.

Labor Department moves to ease franchise liability for wage violations

From today’s Reuters News:

The U.S. Department of Labor on Monday issued a proposal that would make it more difficult to prove companies are liable for the wage law violations of their contractors or franchisees, a top priority for business groups.

If adopted, the rule would likely help fast-food companies and other franchisors who have been sued by workers in recent years for wage-law violations by franchisees.

The department in 2017 had already repudiated legal guidance issued by the Obama administration that had expanded the circumstances in which a company could be considered a so-called joint employer under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in a statement said Monday’s proposal would reduce litigation under the FLSA and provide clarity to businesses and courts. The FLSA mandates that workers be paid the minimum wage and overtime, among other requirements.

Publication of the rule kicked off a 60-day public comment period.

Under the proposal, companies would be considered joint employers only if they hire, fire, and supervise employees, set their pay, and maintain employment records. That would likely exclude many franchisors and companies that hire contract labor.

Read the complete article here.

McDonald’s Announces It Will No Longer Lobby Against Minimum Wage Hikes

From today’s CNBC News Online:

McDonald’s will no longer take part in efforts to lobby against raising the minimum wage at the federal, state or local level, the fast-food giant told the National Restaurant Association Tuesday. 

Genna Gent, McDonald’s vice president of U.S. government relations, said in a letter to the association that the company believes wage increases “should be phased in and that all industries should be treated the same way.”

“The conversation about wages is an important one; it’s one we wish to advance, not impede,” Gent wrote. The fast-food chain also stated that outlets owned by the company have an average starting wage that exceeds $10 per hour while franchisees pay “likely similar” wages in their own restaurants.

A McDonald’s spokeswoman declined to comment further to CNBC. Politico was the first to report the news of the letter. 

The move from McDonald’s, one of the largest employers in the world, could boost House Democrats and their efforts to raise the minimum wage. Earlier this month, the House Committee on Education and Labor advanced a bill to raise the U.S. wage floor to $15 per hour by 2024. Currently, the minimum wage is $7.25.

Read the complete article here.

Kavanaugh Seems Conflicted About Gerrymandering at SCOTUS Arguments

From today’s NPR News Online:

The Supreme Court appeared sharply divided on the question of whether there’s any limit on what the courts can impose on partisan redistricting, also known as gerrymandering, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the newest member of the court, appearing at least somewhat conflicted.

“I took some of your argument in the briefs and the amicus briefs to be that extreme partisan gerrymandering is a real problem for our democracy,” Kavanaugh told the lawyers arguing the case, “and I’m not going to dispute that.”

On Tuesday, the court considered challenges to congressional district maps in North Carolina, drawn by Republicans, and in Maryland, drawn by Democrats.

The question of how political boundaries are drawn has taken on increasing importance for both parties over the past decade.

After the 2010 midterms, Republicans used their control of many state legislatures to draw favorable congressional maps for the GOP. An analysis this month by the Associated Press found that Republicans very likely won about 16 more House seats last fall than they would have been expected to based on their share of the vote owing to those lines. Still, Democrats did win control of the House.

Read the complete article here.