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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Walmart Plans to Abandon Minimum Wage


The latest sign that the tide is turning in favor of better pay for low-wage workers: Walmart’s CEO on Wednesday announced the company’s intention eventually to abandon the minimum wage.

Walmart chief executive Douglas McMillon told reporters after an investor conference that the company plans to pay all of its workers at a rate higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. He did not say how much more.

“It is our intention over time that we will be in a situation where we don’t pay minimum wage at all,” McMillon said, according to multiple sources. The move to pay all Walmart employees more than the minimum wage would be largely symbolic: McMillon said less than 1 percent of Walmart’s U.S. employees currently make the minimum wage.

Walmart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan on Thursday confirmed McMillon’s statement to HuffPost, and said that only 6,000 of the company’s 1.3 million U.S. employees currently make the minimum wage. Buchanan said she couldn’t offer a timeline for when the company would make the change.

When asked what motivated the decision, she said, “We’re looking at how we can take care of our associates and engage them, not only to transform our workforce here at Walmart, but also to transform the workforce here in the U.S.”

McMillon is the latest executive whose comments reflect an apparent trend in corporate America to shift slowly away from the current federal minimum wage. The CEOs of Subway, Dairy Queen and McDonald’s have recently spoken out in favor of a higher federal minimum wage. Ikea increased its lowest pay tier for U.S. workers, bringing a raise to more than 13,000 employees. Overall, surveys have found that a majority of employers think the minimum wage should be higher than it is.

Such an intention is particularly notable coming from the CEO of Walmart, which is the country’s largest private employer, and one that is often accused of paying its workers low wages.

Walmart has disputed such claims, saying its average hourly pay is $12.92, which is significantly higher than the federal minimum. That calculation, however, does not include the wages of its part-time workers.

The announcement came as hundreds of Walmart workers and other low-wage retail and fast-food employees protested on Wednesday and Thursday in four cities, demanding full-time jobs and a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

In New York, protesters picketed the Park Avenue apartment of Walmart heiress Alice Walton, where protesters said they would deliver a petition asking for livable wages.

The battle for a higher guaranteed wage has been fought not just on the street but also in Congress. President Barack Obama has called for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, but his efforts have met staunch resistance from Republicans.

The minimum wage hasn’t been raised since July 2009, and its purchasing power has fallen dramatically since it peaked in 1968. According to the National Employment Law Project, if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, today it would be $10.90 an hour.


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NY AG Schneiderman Ad on Car Wash Worker

This message is being distributed on behalf of NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman featuring Patricio, a car wash worker, who benefited from legal help to regain more than $18 million in wage theft cases.

As a car wash worker, I work hard to support my three children. But when my employer wouldn’t pay me my full wages and tips, it became nearly impossible to make ends meet. See:  www.ericschneiderman.com/toughfights


Areas with Poorest Wages

An Oxfam America report details the congressional districts with the poorest wages, with maps by district that show the greatest needs are in the South. The average district shows that 19 percent of workers earn less than $10.10 an hour, the proposed federal minimum wage.  Click here.

Oxfam’s site has this more personalized look here.


Housekeeper Maria Antonieta prepares a room at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla. Nearly a million people work as maids and housekeepers in the US, with a median hourly wage of under $10, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images Housekeeper Maria Antonieta prepares a room at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla. Nearly a million people work as maids and housekeepers in the US, with a median hourly wage of under $10, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Mary Babic, regional communications officer for Oxfam in the US.

Slicing cheese at a grocery store, scrubbing toilets in a dorm, making copies in a real estate office, walking dogs, changing diapers, cleaning houses… yes, I’ve worked my share of low-wage jobs. For days, weeks, months. Clock in, log the hours, clock out. Take a shower, sit down on the couch, fall asleep.

I actually enjoyed these jobs a lot. There is great satisfaction in doing a simple, necessary task well, and with other people. And the best thing about the work was the other workers. Most were women: moms and grandmas, intelligent, funny, resilient, enduring, and accepting.

But stuck.

In the world of dead-end jobs, I was a tourist. I wasn’t staying. I flew in, did the work, and then flew out. I had good luck: My folks were born poor, but got through college on the GI Bill and scholarships, secured solid middle-class jobs back when they paid enough to enable you to buy a house and save for college and retirement. They sent me to college and then grad school. I’ve worked these jobs, throughout my life, as a way to keep alive for a while and tide me over.

But these women are not going anywhere. They stay, and they work, harder and harder every year, for wages that decline in value every year. Continue reading

Vermont Raising Minimum Wage

BOSTON, June 9 (Reuters) – Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin on Monday signed a law that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.50 an hour by 2018, higher than any other U.S. state. The move to raise the entry-level salary from $8.73 comes in a year when Democrats, including Shumlin, have sought to make worker pay an election issue.

U.S. President Barack Obama pushed Congress to raise the federal minimum wages to $10.10 per hour from its current $7.25 but failed to win support in either the Republican-controlled House of Representatives or Democratic-controlled Senate. Seven U.S. states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws this year raising their minimum wages, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut, Hawaii and Maryland all plan to raise their minimums to $10.10 per hour, with the District adopting an $11.50 minimum in 2016.

“States like Vermont realize that working people can’t support their families on the current minimum wage, and we’re moving ahead to do the right thing on our own,” Shumlin said at a signing ceremony.

Vermont will raise its minimum wage in three steps, first to $9.60 in 2016, to $10 in 2017 and finally to $10.50 in 2018.

Some U.S. cities have approved higher wages, with Seattle’s city council last week agreeing to raise its minimum to $15 per hour over the next seven years.