Fast-Food Workers Seeking $15 Wage Planning Civil Disobedience

From NYT September 1 by Steven Greenhouse:

The next round of strikes by fast-food workers demanding higher wages is scheduled for Thursday, and this time labor organizers plan to increase the pressure by staging widespread civil disobedience and having thousands of home-care workers join the protests.

The organizers say fast-food workers — who are seeking a $15 hourly wage — will go on strike at restaurants in more than 100 cities and engage in sit-ins in more than a dozen cities.

But by having home-care workers join, workers and union leaders hope to expand their campaign into a broader movement.

“On Thursday, we are prepared to take arrests to show our commitment to the growing fight for $15,” said Terrence Wise, a Burger King employee in Kansas City, Mo., and a member of the fast-food workers’ national organizing committee. At a convention that was held outside Chicago in July, 1,300 fast-food workers unanimously approved a resolution calling for civil disobedience as a way to step up pressure on the fast-food chains.

“They’re going to use nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to call attention to what they’re facing,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has spent millions of dollars helping to underwrite the campaign. “They’re invoking civil rights history to make the case that these jobs ought to be paid $15 and the companies ought to recognize a union.”

President Obama, in a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee, mentioned the fast-food campaign, saying, “All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity.”

Mr. Obama added that if he had a service-sector job, and “wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union.”

Fast-food chains and many franchise operators have said that $15 an hour was unrealistic and would wipe out profit margins at many restaurants. Some business groups have attacked the campaign as an attempt by a fading union movement to rally a new group of workers.

Some franchise operators have dismissed the walkout, saying that in previous one-day strikes, only a handful of employees at their restaurants walked out, barely disrupting business. But organizers say that workers walked out at restaurants in 150 cities nationwide during the last one-day strike in May, closing several of them for part of the day, with solidarity protests held in 30 countries.

The S.E.I.U., which represents hundreds of thousands of health care workers and janitors, is encouraging home-care aides to march alongside the fast-food strikers. The union hopes that if thousands of the nation’s approximately two million home-care aides join in it would put more pressure on cities and states to raise their minimum wage.

“They want to join,” Ms. Henry said. “They think their jobs should be valued at $15.”

S.E.I.U. officials are encouraging home-care aides to join protests in six cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle. Union leaders say the hope is to expand to more cities in future strikes.

Jasmine Almodovar, who earns $9.50 an hour as a home-care aide in Cleveland, said the $350 she took home weekly was barely enough to support herself and her 11-year-old daughter. “I work very hard — I’m underpaid,” she said. “We deserve a good life, too. We want to provide a nice future to our kids, but how can you provide a good life, how can you plan for the future, when you’re scraping by day to day?”

Within the S.E.I.U., there has been some grumbling about why has the union spent millions of dollars to back the fast-food workers when they are not in the industries that the union has traditionally represented.

But Ms. Henry defended the strategy, saying that underwriting the fast-food push has helped persuade many people that $15 is a credible wage floor for many workers. She said it prompted Seattle to adopt a $15 minimum wage and that San Francisco was considering a similar move. She also said the campaign helped persuade the Los Angeles school district to sign a contract for 20,000 cafeteria workers, custodians and other service workers that will raise their pay, now often $8 or $9 an hour, to $15 by 2016.

“This movement has made the impossible seem more possible in people’s minds,” Ms. Henry said. “The home-care workers’ joining will have a huge lift inside our union.”

Growth Without Jobs

From yesterday’s NYT editorial:

In a statement last Wednesday — just hours after the government reported headline-grabbing economic growth of 4 percent in the second quarter —the Federal Reserve said it would continue to stimulate the economy because, despite overall growth, the labor market remained weak. In a speech the same day in Kansas City, Mo., President Obama echoed the Fed. “I’m glad that G.D.P. is growing, and I’m glad that corporate profits are high, and I’m glad that the stock market is booming,” he said, (which it was before profit-taking at week’s end dented its performance). “But what I really want to see is a guy working 9 to 5, and then working some overtime.”

Those cautionary views were validated on Friday, when the employment report for July showed slower job growth, flat earnings, stagnant hours and stubbornly high long-term unemployment. The challenge now, as always, is to translate official concern over the job market into change for the better.

The economy added 209,000 jobs last month, a decent enough figure in and of itself, but a slow start to the third quarter compared with the average monthly gain of 277,000 last quarter. Worse, July’s relatively slow pace of growth may not be sustainable. Many of last month’s job gains were in automobile manufacturing, which could reflect a statistical blip from shorter-than-usual factory shutdowns in July rather than new positions added.

Moreover, the upswing in the auto industry is tied to a surge in high-cost auto loans to uncreditworthy borrowers, an unstable foundation for future growth. In addition, the sectors that generally add the most jobs each month all slowed in July from their pace in June, including bars and restaurants, retail, health care and temporary services. As for the president’s vision of a 40-hour week plus overtime — well, if only. For the fifth straight month, the average workweek for most of the labor force was stuck at 33.7 hours. Factory overtime, once a mainstay in the lives of working-class Americans, dropped in July for the second straight month. Average hourly wages have, at best, kept pace with inflation over the past year. Pay is languishing, but working longer hours is not an option.

In its statement, the Fed said it was basically a tossup whether the economy would speed up or slow down. Faster growth, however, generally requires a healthy real estate market and that requires a healthy job market, especially for younger workers.

But in July, the jobless rate for workers ages 25 to 34 was 6.6 percent, compared with 6.2 percent over all. Among young people who are working, many are in low-wage or part-time jobs, or jobs that otherwise do not make use of their education or experience. So it is not surprising that the sale of new homes plummeted recently at the fastest pace in nearly a year. Sales of existing homes have risen, a positive sign but a questionable trend given the still-ailing job market.

The most likely scenario is for the economy to continue to muddle along at an overall annual pace of 2 percent to 2.5 percent. The Fed has affirmed its commitment to keep interest rates low until the labor market recovers, but the real test of its resolve will come if and when inflation meets or exceeds its preferred annual rate of 2 percent. In a sluggish economy with significant employment slack, continued stimulus policy would be called for even if inflation exceeded the target, but whether the Fed will oblige is unknown.

As for Mr. Obama, he seems to understand that with a Republican-dominated House and Republican senators keen on winning a majority in the Senate, he is on his own to push for change. He can and should continue to issue executive orders to improve pay and working conditionsfor the federal contract work force. He should work with the Labor Department on upcoming rules to re-establish a broad right to time-and-a-half for overtime. And he should continue to rally public support for Democratic legislation to raise the minimum wage and to combat the growing use of unpredictable part-time scheduling.

None of that is enough to counter significantly the forces responsible for job growth that is too weak, wages that are too low and workweeks that are too short. For that, a functional political climate is needed, one in which leaders find compromise solutions to the nation’s problems. Without that, the Fed’s modest prediction that the economy has an even chance of getting better may in fact be too optimistic.

Higher Minimum Wage, Faster Job Creation

From yesterday’s NYT “Taking Note” Blog by Teresa Tritch:

The standard argument against a higher minimum wage is that it will lead to job loss as employers, unable to pay more, lay off current workers or don’t hire new ones.

It’s important to state up front that research and experience don’t bear that out. The minimum wage has been raised many times without hurting employment. Rather than cut jobs, employers have offset the cost of higher minimums through reduced labor turnover. Employers also cope with a higher minimum by giving lower raises further up the wage scale, raising prices modestly or other adjustments.

Bolstering what we already know, new evidence shows that job creation is faster in states that have raised their minimum wages. The Center for Economic and Policy Research used federal labor data to tally job growth in 13 states* that raised their minimums in 2014. In all but one, New Jersey, employment was higher in the first five months of 2014 (after the wage increase) than it was in the last five months of 2013 (before the wage increase). In nine of the 12 states with faster growth, employment gains were above the national median.

That doesn’t mean that a higher minimum wage caused the job growth, a point clearly stated by the researchers at CEPR.  But it indicates that raising the minimum didn’t hurt job growth, as opponents claim ad nauseam.

That hasn’t stopped those opponents — especially in the restaurant industry — from attacking the findings. But their only argument is bluster. They don’t dispute the job gains in states that have raised their minimums. Rather, they claim that it may mask job loss among low-wage workers directly impacted by the raise. To support that conjecture, they have pointed to a study from 2010, sponsored by the restaurant lobby, which found a link between a higher minimum wage and lower teen employment.

The fact of the matter is that no one knows why job growth has been above trend in states with higher minimum wages. A plausible explanation is that a minimum-wage hike may have a more pronounced stimulus effect in a generally weak economy than it would have in a strong economy, as workers who long have struggled to make ends meet quickly spend their extra dollars, providing an economic boost that help job growth.

What is clear is that there is no need to fear a minimum wage increase — unless, apparently, you are a restaurant lobbyist, whose job depends on keeping wages low for already very low paid waitresses, waiters and fast-food servers.

*Four states passed legislation to raise their minimum wages in 2014: Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island. Nine states automatically increased their minimums in line with inflation: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Germany and the Minimum Wage

From the New York Times Editorial Board:

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is obviously too low. So is the Democrats’ proposed increase to $10.10 an hour by 2016. If the minimum wage had merely kept pace over time with inflation, average wages or productivity growth, it would be between $11 an hour and $18 an hour today.

It would also be higher if it kept pace with what other advanced economies are prepared to pay.

Last week, the lower house of Parliament in Germany voted to set a nationwide minimum wage of 8.50 euros an hour, about $11.60, effective in 2015. The upper house is expected to approve the measure this week. With the passage of it, Germany, France, Britain and the Netherlands have or soon will have higher minimum wages than the current and proposed minimums in the United States, and only six countries in the European Union will be without a statutory minimum wage: Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden.

The expected German minimum is noteworthy not only for its level. For nearly 70 years, most wages in Germany have been set by agreements that are collectively bargained between unions and employers. In recent decades, however, and particularly following reunification with the former East Germany, the share of workers who are effectively covered by union agreements has fallen. By enacting an adequate minimum wage, the German Parliament is responding constructively to that development, because a solid wage floor ensures that economic growth is broadly shared even by those who fall outside the collectively bargained framework.

In a global economy that has long relied on low wages to lift profits, a relatively high minimum wage in Germany would also reflect a growing consensus there that a high-wage, high-productivity economy is, in fact, an advantage in stabilizing the nation economically and socially.

In Germany, as in the United States, business lobbyists and some economists have warned that a robust minimum wage will lead to job losses and higher prices, but that has not been the historical experience. Rather, higher wages for low-wage workers are generally offset by lower labor turnover, while the boost in consumer spending from higher wages is good for the economy. Boosting consumer demand is especially important in Germany, whose economy is overly reliant on exports.

Germany’s move offers the United States important lessons, if only lawmakers in Washington would learn.

Review: Lost Jobs, Missing Workers, and Stagnant Wages

From NYT’s “Business Day” by ALICIA PARLAPIANO, SHAILA DEWAN and NELSON D. SCHWARTZ:

In the five years since the United States began its slow climb out of the deepest recession since the 1930s, the job market has undergone a substantial makeover. The middle class has lost ground as the greatest gains have occurred at the top and bottom of the pay scale, leaving even many working Americans living in poverty. The housing industry, once the primary engine of growth and a fountain of jobs, has shrunk, while health care, technology and energy have led the recovery.

After a long climb from the valley, the number of jobs has finally reached the previous peak of January 2008, with gains of more than 8.5 million jobs since early 2010. Still, the working-age population has grown substantially in the last six years, and the nation’s economy, by reliable estimates, is at least seven million jobs below its potential. That has cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars in lost output.

With the weak recovery from the recession, more than four million people are still considered among the long-term unemployed, out of work for at least half a year. They face considerably dimmer prospects of finding another job as their skills deteriorate and their contact with the world of work fades.

And that does not count the more than six million who have opted out of the labor force altogether, even taking into account demographic factors like the aging of the population.

Economists hope that many such people will be lured back to work as business improves and that wages will rise as the labor market tightens. But for now, the slack in the economy has served to hold down pay; wages for roughly four-fifths of American workers have declined since 2007, after adjusting for inflation.

Read the entire article and review the interactive graphs here.

The Economy May Be Improving. Worker Pay Isn’t.

From NYT’s “The Upshot” by Neil Irwin:

The latest economic data out Tuesday morning was generally good. Home building activity remained above the one million a year rate. Consumer prices rose 0.4 percent in May, such that inflation over the last year is now 2.1 percent, about in line with what the Federal Reserve aims for.

But that inflation news carried with it a depressing side note. Now that the Consumer Price Index for May has been published, it is possible to determine inflation-adjusted hourly earnings for the month. And the number is not good.

Average hourly earnings for private sector American workers rose about 49 cents an hour over the last year, to $24.38 in May. But that wasn’t enough to cover inflation over the year, so in real or inflation-adjusted terms, hourly worker pay fell 0.1 percent over the last 12 months. Weekly pay shows the same story, also falling 0.1 percent in the year ended in May.

Pause for just a second to consider that. Five years after the economic recovery began, American workers have gone the last 12 months without any real increase in what they are paid.

Read the entire article here.

Room for Debate: Overcoming the New Low-Wage Economy

From the NYT “Room for Debate” by Robert Reich:

By raising its minimum wage to $15, Seattle is leading a long-overdue movement toward a living wage. Most minimum wage workers aren’t teenagers these days. They’re major breadwinners who need a higher minimum wage in order to keep their families out of poverty.

Across America, the ranks of the working poor are growing. While low-paying industries such as retail and food preparation accounted for 22 percent of the jobs lost in the Great Recession, they’ve generated 44 percent of the jobs added since then, according to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project. Last February, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that raising the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would lift 900,000 people out of poverty.

Seattle estimates almost a fourth of its workers now earn below $15 an hour. That translates into about $31,000 a year for a full-time worker. In a high-cost city like Seattle, that’s barely enough to support a family.

The gains from a higher minimum wage extend beyond those who receive it. More money in the pockets of low-wage workers means more sales, especially in the locales they live in – which in turn creates faster growth and more jobs. A major reason the current economic recovery is anemic is that so many Americans lack the purchasing power to get the economy moving again.

With a higher minimum wage, moreover, we’d all end up paying less for Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance the working poor now need in order to have a minimally decent standard of living.

Some worry about job losses accompanying a higher minimum wage. I wouldn’t advise any place to raise its minimum wage immediately from the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour to $15. That would be too big a leap all at once. Employers – especially small ones – need time to adapt.

But this isn’t what Seattle is doing. It’s raising its minimum from $9.32 (Washington State’s current statewide minimum) to $15 incrementally over several years. Large employers (with over 500 workers) that don’t offer employer-sponsored health insurance have three years to comply; those that offer health insurance have four; smaller employers, up to seven.

My guess is Seattle’s businesses will adapt without any net loss of employment. Seattle’s employers will also have more employees to choose from – as the $15 minimum attracts into the labor force some people who otherwise haven’t been interested. That means they’ll end up with workers who are highly reliable and likely to stay longer, resulting in real savings.

Research by Michael Reich (no relation) and Arindrajit Dube confirms these results. They examined employment in several hundred pairs of adjacent counties lying on opposite sides of state borders, each with different minimum wages, and found no statistically significant increase in unemployment in the higher-minimum counties, even after four years. (Other researchers who found contrary results failed to control for counties where unemployment was already growing before the minimum wage was increased.) They also found that employee turnover was lower where the minimum was higher.

Not every city or state can meet the bar Seattle has just set. But many can – and should.

Read other views in the debate here.

Breaking News: Seattle adopts $15 minimum wage, setting standard

From today’s NYT’s by Kirk Johnson:

SEATTLE — The City Council here went where no big-city lawmakers have gone before on Monday, raising the local minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double the federal minimum, and pushing Seattle to the forefront of urban efforts to address income inequality.

The unanimous vote of the nine-member Council, after months of discussion by a committee of business and labor leaders convened by Mayor Ed Murray, will give low-wage workers here — in incremental stages, with different tracks for different sizes of business — the highest big-city minimum in the nation.

“Even before the Great Recession a lot of us have started to have doubt and concern about the basic economic promise that underpins economic life in the United States,” said Sally J. Clark, a Council member. “Today Seattle answers that challenge,” she added. “We go into uncharted, unevaluated territory.”

But some business owners who have questioned the proposal say that the city’s booming economy is creating an illusion of permanence. The fat times and the ability to pay higher wages, they warn, will not go on forever.

“We’re living in this bubble of Amazon, but that’s not going to go on,” said Tom Douglas, a prominent restaurateur in Seattle, referring to the local boom in jobs and economic growth from hiring at Amazon, the online retailer, which has its headquarters here. Mr. Douglas said the new law will inevitably result in costs being passed on to consumers. “There’s going to be some terrific price inflation,” he said.

The measure has the support of Mr. Murray, who ran last year on a pledge to raise the wage to $15 and made it one of his first priorities in office.

Cheers and jeers repeatedly erupted in the City Hall meeting room, which was packed with supporters of the plan, who often interrupted speakers in the 90-minute debate before the vote with chants.

“We did it — workers did this,” said Kshama Sawant, a socialist who campaigned for a $15 minimum wage when she was elected to the Council last year. Ms. Sawant sought to accelerate the carrying out of the measure and to strip out a lower youth wage training rate, but the council rejected her proposals.

The vote, economists and labor experts said, accentuates the patchwork in wages around the country, with places like Seattle — and other cities considering sharply higher minimum pay, including San Diego, Chicago and San Francisco — having economic outlooks increasingly distinct from those in other parts of the nation. Through much of the South, especially, the federal minimum of $7.25 holds fast.

Eight states plus the District of Columbia have already increased their minimum wages this year, the most to have done so in a single year since 2006, and at least eight other states and municipalities could put minimum wage ballot measures before voters by November. But it is the scale of ambition that is catching the attention of economists, labor leaders and business owners.

Read the entire article here.