A Leader in Fast-Food Workers’ Campaign

Interesting article in the New York Times today. Click here.

On Thursday, Dec. 4, the Fight for 15 campaign staged another wave of one-day strikes, this time in more than 150 cities, with home care aides and convenience store workers joining the protests in several of them. Terrance Wise was at the forefront in Kansas City, demonstrating outside McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s restaurants. Steve Greenhouse of the NY Times tells his story.

Close to the Edge

Michael Hiltzik of The Los Angeles Times writes about a new first-person account of the descent into poverty. Click here for the column.

One little-recognized reality of poverty in America is how closely it lurks beneath the surface of even a successful professional life. A bad career turn, a couple of financial missteps, and — here comes the dizzying plunge from middle class to underclass.

That’s the lesson of a remarkable first-person account in the latest issue of the Hedgehog Review, published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture of the University of Virginia. Entitled “Falling,” its author is William McPherson, 81, a published novelist, former editor of the Washington Post Book World and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, in 1977.

A link to McPherson’s account is here.

THR - Fall 2014

San Francisco Votes $15 Minimum Wage; Votes in 4 States Advance Wages

Clare O’Connor Forbes Staff, Forbes Magazine

11/05/2014 @ 8:52AM

Low-wage retail and fast food workers can claim a second victory in a fight for a $15 minimum wage that has resulted in strikes, protests and arrests over the last two years.

On Tuesday, San Francisco voters approved a minimum wage of $15 across the city, joining Seattle, which raised its pay to the same sum in June. As in Seattle, San Francisco workers will see their wage increase incrementally. By next May, it’ll hit $12.25, climbing to $13 in 2016. By 2018, it’ll be $15, meaning a full-time minimum wage worker in the liberal California city can expect to make $31,000 a year.

Minimum wage also got a boost in four traditionally Republican states following Tuesday’s midterm elections, with voters approving ballot measures in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

In Alaska, low-wage workers will see their hourly pay boosted to $9.75 by 2016 (the federal minimum remains $7.25). In Arkansas, that number will be $8.50, while Nebraska voters approved a new hourly salary of $9. South Dakota workers will see their wage upped to $8.50 next year.

These red state wage hikes follow a campaign by President Obama to see the federal minimum raised to $10.10 per hour. The bill died on the Senate floor in April. Continue reading

4 States Voting on Minimum Wage Hikes

Huffington Post 10/31/2014

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress may be in no mood to hike the minimum wage, but four conservative-leaning states are poised to do it on their own next week.

Initiatives to raise the minimum wage appear on the ballot in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota on Tuesday. Alaska, Arkansas and South Dakota all have Republican-controlled legislatures, and Nebraska is solidly red despite the official lack of party affiliation in its statehouse.

Recent polls have shown strong support for each of these ballot initiatives. That should come as no surprise. The idea of hiking the wage floor tends to receive bipartisan backing among Americans, with around two-thirds of voters saying they favor such proposals in most surveys.

“We’re expecting them all to go through,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, an attorney with the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, which advocates for a higher minimum wage. “I would be shocked if it didn’t go through in any of the states.”

If the ballot measures pass, they will mark a milestone of sorts for the minimum wage.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia currently have their own minimum wage set higher than the federal level of $7.25 per hour, and Maryland and Hawaii will soon join them thanks to laws passed earlier this year. Of the four states weighing proposals next week, three of them — Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — have their wage floors set at just $7.25.

If all four ballot measures make it through, a majority of states will have effectively determined that the federal minimum wage set by Congress is too low. They would include large swaths of the U.S. where the cost of living is generally lower than average — a common argument among conservatives against raising the federal wage floor.

Alaska’s measure would hike the state’s minimum wage from $7.75 to $9.75 by 2016. Arkansas’ minimum wage would go to $8.50 by 2017, Nebraska’s to $9 by 2016, and South Dakota’s to $8.50 by next year. The measures in Alaska and South Dakota would also tie the minimum wage to an inflation index, so that the wage floor would rise with the cost of living. Ten states have already indexed their minimum wages.

Illinois also has a minimum wage measure on the ballot Tuesday, though it’s nonbinding and merely allows voters to send a message to state lawmakers.

The last time the country saw so many minimum-wage ballot initiatives in a midterm election was 2006, when there were six — in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio. The fate of those measures bodes well for the backers of this year’s initiatives: Every one of them passed.

Democrats in Congress have proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and tying it to inflation, a measure backed by President Barack Obama. House Republicans have so far refused to give the bill a vote, however, and Senate Democrats haven’t managed to round up enough votes to overcome a GOP filibuster. If Republicans win control of the Senate next week, the prospects of a federal minimum wage hike anytime soon will become even dimmer.

Given the gridlock in Washington, the president has urged cities and states to bypass Congress and raise their own minimum wages.

“To every mayor, governor and state legislator in America, I say, ‘You don’t have to wait for Congress to act,'” Obama said in his State of the Union speech in January. “Americans will support you if you take this on.”

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Doctor Says No Overtime; Pregnant Woman’s Boss Says No Job

The New York Times OCT. 19, 2014

Angelica Valencia put the doctor’s note in her pocketbook and stepped out of her apartment in the early morning darkness. Then she started praying.

She prayed on the crowded buses and on the subway train that carried her from Queens into the Bronx to the potato-packing plant where she worked. “Please let me keep my job,” she repeated during her two-hour commute. “Please let everything work out.”

She punched in at 7:30 a.m. and handed her manager the note. Then Ms. Valencia, who was 39 and three months pregnant, went straight to work. Last year, she had a miscarriage. This time, her doctor said, she was once again high risk. No overtime, he ordered, just eight hours a day.

But it was the busy season at the Fierman Produce Exchange, and her bosses had already told her she had to work overtime. So as Ms. Valencia sorted potatoes on that Aug. 8 morning, she worried: How would her supervisors respond to the doctor’s note? At the end of her shift, would she still have a job?

This month is the first anniversary of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which was signed into law by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Oct. 2, 2013. The law, which went into effect in January, represents a big step forward for working women. Continue reading

Mapping Out the Jimmy John’s Noncompete Requirement for Minimum-Wage Workers

Posted: 10/17/2014 5:55 pm EDT Updated: 10/17/2014 5:59 pm EDT

WASHINGTON — As Huffington Post reported on Monday, many workers at Jimmy John’s sandwich shops have been asked to sign the sort of strict noncompete agreement usually reserved for high-level executives. According to the clause, the worker agrees not to take a job at a competing sandwich shop for a period of two years following employment at Jimmy John’s.

The company’s definition of “competitor” is rather broad: any business that derives 10 percent or more of its revenue from the sale of sandwiches, and that resides within 3 miles of a Jimmy John’s location.

After HuffPost posted a copy of the agreement, many readers wondered just how badly such a contract could restrict workers’ job options in the unlikely situation it were actually enforced. Thanks to Sean Maday, founder of the news mapping site SigActs, we now have an answer to what he calls “an interesting geospatial question.”

Using the addresses of Jimmy John’s roughly 2,000 locations, Maday created a map that reveals the effective blackout areas under the restaurant chain’s noncompete clause. The red circles indicate zones in which a worker who signed the agreement would technically be forbidden to pursue sandwich-related work:

As the map shows, if a franchisee were to enforce the clause — and if a judge were to uphold it in the case of a challenge — a former Jimmy John’s employee could effectively be run out of Chicago, Minneapolis and Denver for the purposes of deli employment. Large swaths of other major metropolitan areas would also be off-limits, and former Jimmy John’s workers would have to head to the fringes of the nation’s college towns if they still wanted to make hoagies.

According to one franchisee, the clause is included in the standard-issue hiring packet distributed by Jimmy John’s corporate offices, although individual store owners decide who must sign it. The franchisee said many owners have jettisoned the language from the hiring packet since it came under scrutiny.

HuffPost still knows of no cases in which a franchisee tried to enforce the clause, which many judges would likely find unreasonable anyway. Several low-level employees, however, did confirm that they were required to sign the noncompete as a condition of employment. Use of the clause has apparently varied from store to store; in some, only management-level employees have been asked to sign.

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