With Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. Barber evokes comparisons to MLK

From today’s Charlotte Observer:

When Democratic presidential candidates met for their final debate in Iowa, more than a hundred protesters gathered just outside on the snowy grounds of Drake University.

Their goal: to urge the candidates to debate poverty. Holding signs, they carried a coffin representing the tens of thousands of people they said die every year from its effects.

Leading them was Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina pastor who co-chairs the national Poor People’s Campaign. Coming days before the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., the rally was the latest in a series of events designed to carry King’s legacy into the 21st Century.

“I believe Dr. King would be right beside us,” Barber told the Observer. “He would say nothing would be more tragic than to turn back now.”

Barber, 56, is in the middle of a 25-state tour that will culminate in June with a mass march in Washington, where thousands are expected to call for an end to poverty and inequality and for greater access to health care and education.

Barber, who was born two days after King’s historic march on Washington, frequently invokes the civil rights leader in rallies and sermons even as he himself has invited comparisons with King.

“Brother William Barber is the closest thing we have to Martin Luther King Jr. in American culture,” said Cornel West, a Harvard professor and political activist.

Read the complete article here.

Pay Is Rising Fastest for Low Earners. One Reason? Minimum Wages.

From today’s New York Times:

These days, wages in the United States are doing something extraordinary: They’re growing faster at the bottom than at the top. In fact, recent growth for workers with low wages has outpaced that for high-wage workers by the widest margin in at least 20 years.

The main story here is the long economic recovery, now entering its 11th year. For much of the early phase of this recovery, wage growth for the bottom group was weaker than for others, but it began gradually accelerating in 2014 as unemployment continued to fall. This was around the same time the labor market started tapping into people some economists had all but given up on as work force participants, such asthose who had been citing health reasons or disability for not having a job.

But there has been another factor at play: the rise in state and local minimum wages.

For the last decade, the federal minimum wage has been unchanged at $7.25 an hour. But over that period, dozens of states and localities have enacted their own minimum wages or raised existing ones. As a result, the effective U.S. minimum wage is closer to $12 an hour, most likely the highest in U.S. history even after adjusting for inflation.

And with two dozen states and four dozen localities set to raise their minimums further in 2020, the effective minimum wage will keep rising this year.

These state and local actions are affecting wage data, especially for workers at the bottomTo get a sense of this impact, Ihaveused data in the Current Population Survey to look at minimum wage workers as a group and calculate the pressure their wage gains have put on aggregate wage growth over time, controlling for compositional changes in the share of minimum wage work.

Read the complete article here.

Fashion Nova’s Secret: Underpaid Workers in Los Angeles Factories

From today’s New York Times:

Fashion Nova has perfected fast fashion for the Instagram era. The mostly online retailer leans on a vast network of celebrities, influencers, and random selfie takers who post about the brand relentlessly on social media. It is built to satisfy a very online clientele, mass-producing cheap clothes that look expensive.

“They need to buy a lot of different styles and probably only wear them a couple times so their Instagram feeds can stay fresh,” Richard Saghian, Fashion Nova’s founder, said in an interview last year.

To enable that habit, he gives them a constant stream of new options that are priced to sell. The days of $200 jeans are over, if you ask Mr. Saghian. Fashion Nova’s skintight denim goes for $24.99. And, he said, the company can get its clothes made “in less than two weeks,” often by manufacturers in Los Angeles, a short drive from the company’s headquarters.

That model hints at an ugly secret behind the brand’s runaway success: The federal Labor Department has found that many Fashion Nova garments are stitched together by a work force in the United States that is paid illegally low wages. Los Angeles is filled with factories that pay workers off the books and as little as possible, battling overseas competitors that can pay even less. Many of the people behind the sewing machines are undocumented, and unlikely to challenge their bosses.

“It has all the advantages of a sweatshop system,” said David Weil, who led the United States Labor Department’s wage and hour division from 2014 to 2017.

Every year, the department investigates allegations of wage violations at sewing contractors in Los Angeles, showing up unannounced to review payroll data, interview employees and question the owners.

In investigations conducted from 2016 through this year, the department discovered Fashion Nova clothing being made in dozens of factories that owed $3.8 million in back wages to hundreds of workers, according to internal federal documents that summarized the findings and were reviewed by The New York Times.

Read the complete article here.

For 53 million Americans stuck in low-wage jobs, the road out is hard

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Unemployment is hovering near a five-decade low, workforce participation is at the highest level in six years and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell recently called the labor market “strong.”

Yet, 44% of Americans age 18 to 64 are low-wage workers with few prospects for improving their lot, according to a Brookings Institution report.

An estimated 53 million Americans are earning low wages, according to the study. That number is more than twice the number of people in the 10 most populous U.S. cities combined, the report notes. The median wage for those workers is $10.22 an hour and their annual pay is $17,950.

Although many are benefiting from high demand for labor, the data indicated that not all new jobs are good, high-paying positions. The definition of “low-wage” differs from place to place. The authors define low-wage workers as those who earn less than two-thirds of the median wage for full-time workers, adjusted for the regional cost of living. For instance, a worker would be considered low wage in Beckley, W.Va., with earnings of $12.54 an hour or less, but in San Jose, Calif., the low wage bar rises to $20.02 an hour.

“We have the largest and longest expansion and job growth in modern history,” Marcela Escobari, coauthor of the report, said in a phone interview. That expansion “is showing up in very different ways to half of the worker population that finds itself unable to move.”

Read the complete article here.

Worker rights are shaping up a key issue in 2020. Who has the best ideas?

From today’s New York Magazine:

Never before have I seen Democratic candidates do so much to woo workers and win over union leaders. Elizabeth Warren kicked off her campaign at the site of the famous 1912 Bread and Roses textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Julián Castro marched in Durham, North Carolina, with fast-food workers demanding a $15 wage, while Pete Buttigieg spoke outside Uber headquarters in San Francisco alongside drivers demanding to be considered employees. Joe Biden held his first official campaign event at a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh. Kamala Harris has called for a raise averaging $13,500 for the nation’s schoolteachers, while Bernie Sanders has bolstered labor’s cause by using his email lists to urge supporters to join union picket lines.

Why all this sudden attention and affection for workers and unions — far more than I’ve ever seen during my nearly 25 years of writing about labor? Part of it is that this year’s Democratic candidates are doing what any smart politician would do when the field is so large — court one of the party’s largest constituencies, i.e., unions and their members. Part of it is that the candidates see that something is seriously broken in our economy: that income inequality, corporate profits, and the stock market have all been soaring while wages have largely stagnated for decades. Also, Democrats realize that a big reason Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 was that she didn’t show enough love to labor. The field seems to recognize that if a Democrat is going to win the presidency in 2020, the surest route is to win back the three longtime union strongholds — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that were key to Donald Trump’s victory. So the candidates have loosed a flood of pro-worker ideas, not just to make it easier to unionize, but to extend paid sick days and family leave to all workers, provide protections to pregnant workers, and safeguard LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination on the job.

Four of them — Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rouke, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker — have put forward remarkably detailed platforms of pro-worker and pro-union proposals, while Elizabeth Warren’s elaborate plan on trade goes far beyond what many union leaders have called for. Andrew Yang says his universal basic income will be a boon for workers, providing a lifeline to those who lose their jobs because of artificial intelligence and robots. Biden has been vague so far on labor matters, calling himself a union man and saying he supports a $15 minimum. Booker has introduced a fairly radical bill, the Worker Dividend Act, which would require corporations that do stock buybacks to pay out to their employees a sizable chunk of the money going to the buyback.

Considering how many candidates there are and how many proposals and speeches they’ve made, it’s hard to keep track of who stands for what — and which plans are substantively the most pro-labor. Below, I give grades to the Democratic front-runners, based not just on the positions they’ve espoused during the campaign, but also on their track records. (Some candidates seem to have discovered the cause of workers only after announcing that they were running for the presidency.)

Read the complete article here.

Walmart CEO to shareholders: America’s minimum wage is ‘too low’

From today’s CNN News Online:

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon thinks the federal minimum wage is “too low.” Now the head of the country’s largest private employer is calling on Congress to raise it beyond $7.25 an hour.

“The federal minimum wage is lagging behind,” Doug McMillon said at Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas on Wednesday.

Congress has not raised the minimum wage since 2009, but McMillon’s surprise comments may give lawmakers an incentive to act. McMillon’s call may also ease pressure on Walmart.Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, along with workers’ rights groups, have called on Walmart to raise its wages above the company’s current $11-an-hour minimum.

McMillon said “it’s time for Congress to put a thoughtful plan in place” to increase wages. It was the first time he has pushed Congress to raise pay nationwide, according to the company.

Any plan to increase the minimum wage, however, should take into account cost of living differences around the country “to avoid unintended consequences,” McMillon said. He also noted that a hike may need to be phased in over time.

McMillon defended Walmart’s moves to raise wages, expand benefits and train its 1.5 million US workers in recent years. The company has steadily been raising its minimum wage, boosting it to $11 an hour more than a year ago. That’s up 50% in the last four years, McMillon said.

McMillon added that Walmart pays more than $11 in some markets to “recruit and retain the talent we need to run a good business.”In a hotel ballroom near Walmart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Sanders pressed the world’s largest retailer to increase its wages and called out McMillon for his nearly $24 million in total pay last year. Sanders also introduced a shareholder resolution that would put hourly workers on Walmart’s board of directors. The resolution was voted down on Wednesday.

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.

Why does Congress allow contractors to exploit immigrants in detention?

From today’s New York Times:

There are more than 48,000 people being held in immigrant detentionin more than 200 facilities in the United States. More than two-thirds of them, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center, are confined by private companies, working on contracts with the federal government. Those numbers have ballooned in the last two years under the Trump administration, drawing new attention to the terrible conditions detainees are living in.

One feature of privately run centers — the Voluntary Work Program — is the subject of six separate lawsuits, which say that privately run immigrant detention centers are coercing detainees into working for a dollar a day and punishing those who don’t. The lawsuits demand, among other things, that the practice stop and that detained workers be paid minimum wage.

Congress should not wait for these lawsuits to be decided. Democrats have won the House, so even if they can’t stop the president’s anti-immigrant push, they can push to raise the obsolete and exploitative $1-a-day wage. And, just as they have rejected Mr. Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for the border wall, they should reject the request for $2.8 billion to expand detentions to 52,000 beds.

Prison labor is nearly as old as the American prison system itself, and it is protected by the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and indentured servitude except as punishment for a crime. This exception means that prisons can require their prisoners to work, even without compensation.

Read the complete article here.

New Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Would Remedy Decades of Injustice

From The Nation Magazine:

There are about 2 million domestic workers in the country, a workforce that is only growing larger as baby boomers age and millennials have children. But despite the size of the workforce and the importance of the work it performs, domestic workers are excluded from basic workplace protections and face rampant abuse and exploitation. Eight states and Seattle have passed bills of domestic-worker rights that extend some of these protections, but outside of those places, domestic workers labor in people’s homes with little recourse if they get hurt or taken advantage of.

That could change under legislation that was just unveiled in Congress. On Wednesday, Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jayapal announced a federal bill of rights for domestic workers, the first-ever nationwide legislation that would extend working rights to domestic workers and offer them financial stability and safety. The bill would ensure that domestic workers are covered by some basic labor laws: the right to overtime pay when they put in more than 40 hours a week, to the protections of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to form unions, and to recourse against harassment and discrimination. It also extends new ones, such as the right to meal and rest breaks, paid sick days, advanced notice of scheduling, written agreements, and privacy and other protections for live-in workers.

As of 2012, domestic workers made less than $11 an hour at the median, while nearly a quarter were paid less than their state’s minimum wage. They very rarely get health insurance or retirement benefits from work. Their schedules are usually dictated by their employer’s whims and wishes, even when this interferes with sleeping and eating. Rates of injury are high, as are incidents of discrimination and harassment.

Read the complete article here.

Amazon announces it’s raising minimum wage for U.S. workers to $15 per hour

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Amazon is boosting its minimum wage for all U.S. workers to $15 per hour starting next month.

The company said Tuesday that the wage increase will benefit more than 350,000 workers, which includes full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal positions. It includes Whole Foods employees. Amazon’s hourly operations and customer service employees, some who already make $15 per hour, will also see a wage increase, the Seattle-based company said.

Amazon raising minimum wage for U.S. workers to $15 per hour

Amazon has more than 575,000 employees globally. Pay for workers at Amazon can vary by location. Its starting pay is $10 an hour at a warehouse in Austin, Texas, and $13.50 an hour in Robbinsville, N.J. The median pay for an Amazon employee last year was $28,446, according to government filings, which includes full-time, part-time and temporary workers.

Amazon said its public policy team will start pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

“We intend to advocate for a minimum wage increase that will have a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people and families across this country,” Jay Carney, senior vice president of Amazon global corporate affairs, said in a statement.

Read the complete article here.