Posts Tagged ‘$15/hour minimum wage’

Low Wage Workers Deserve More: Senator Rubio Doesn’t

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

By Robby Stern 

I think of our foster daughter as the debate over the $15 minimum wage rages. Hodaviah lives with my wife, Dina, my 89 year old father-in-law, Mordy, and me. She is almost 24. She is an asylum immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo who has known great hardship in her young life. She speaks three languages: Lingala, French and English. She is hard working, spirited and very determined. She received a B.A. degree from Seattle University as part of the Foster Scholars program. She is a Certified Nurses Assistant and has taken the pre-requisites to become an R.N.

Working full time at an assisted living facility, she earns more than the state minimum wage, but quite a bit less than $15 per hour. Despite working hard, she does not have sufficient income to live on her own and also pay for her looming educational expenses. The $15 minimum wage would help her enormously.

Hodaviah is one of the reasons I feel so ambivalent about the proposal from the Mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee. After listening to the debate, I decided to support the proposal because I believe it would be an advance for minimum wage workers, although not of much immediate assistance to Hodaviah, as she hopes to enter nursing school in the fall of 2014 or early in 2015. I am clear that Hodaviah deserves $15 per hour. She delivers compassionate and very competent care. (She volunteered to assist Imogene Williams in caring for Will Parry and also cared for my father-in-law when he had heart surgery).

A majority of people in our community and country do not get the compensation they deserve. (And some people get way more than they deserve!!) We sometimes need to embrace advances, even if they are not as much as we hoped.

However, Mayor Murray delivered what seemed like a gut punch. It was reported in an article in the Seattle Times that the Mayor would support a “training wage” as part of the minimum wage proposal, despite the “training wage” not being a part of the final negotiated proposal from the Advisory Committee. Perhaps most difficult to swallow, the article reported that the city would assist Seattle employers in their petitions to L & I to pay a training wage. In a subsequent statement by the Mayor on his blog, he stated that “no ‘training wage’ is included in my proposal.” He went on to say, “A training wage is not something I endorse and is not part of this deal.”

What was going on? Evidently, the Mayor was referring to a provision in the state minimum wage law. That law contains a training wage provision that allows for a subminimum wage in very limited circumstances of special programs, and that exception would be in the proposal he submitted to the City Council. According to the Mayor’s blog, these exceptions are allowed after a “rigorous application process” to the Department of Labor & Industries (L & I). Such a petition from employers has been approved five times in five years.

The Advisory Committee and Mayor’s proposal did include a “temporary” tip credit and a temporary deduction from the minimum wage for employers who provide additional benefits like health care. This allowance is not allowed in state law. But given these deductions go away within several years, it was grudgingly accepted by Labor negotiators as necessary to reach a final agreement. The addition of the “training wage” provision has added a new negative piece to the proposal. The Mayor indicated in his statement that the Labor representatives on the Advisory Committee would have preferred no exceptions to allow subminimum wages.

I will wait and see the content of the final ordinance that passes the Seattle City Council. At the recent City Council hearing at Rainier Beach High School, I testified on behalf of PSARA after a vote by our Executive Board. I stated that PSARA will support the Advisory Committee’s proposal provided it is not weakened by City Council action.

Hodaviah and the hundreds of thousands of low wage workers in Seattle and throughout the country deserve better. I have decided to sign and urge others to sign the initiative now being circulated by $15 Now. We need a fall-back position if this legislative effort with the Mayor and the Seattle City Council goes awry. At the same time, it is preferable to accomplish the $15 minimum wage legislatively rather than engage in a risky and expensive initiative campaign – a campaign in which large business interests will pour millions of dollars to confuse voters and stem the national tide.

I still can support the recommendation of the Advisory Committee, although I would have liked it to be stronger. If it gets weakened and less protective of low wage workers, I want other options to be available.

He Is Serious 

Sen. Marco Rubio is considered a serious candidate in 2016 for the Republican nomination for President. We need to pay attention to what he says. Recently he announced his position on the nation’s retirement crisis. He wants to cut Social Security by raising the retirement age, thus forcing seniors to work even longer than they do now. In addition, he endorsed Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal to privatize Medicare and convert it to a voucher system where seniors would either purchase coverage from private insurers or purchase a modified Medicare plan. His proposal would result in millions of seniors paying more for coverage.

Of course there is a much more constructive approach. Scrap the Cap on Social Security premiums and Social Security is financially healthy for the remainder of this century.

Allow Medicare to provide coverage for everyone and authorize the Medicare system to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for the cost of prescription drugs. Medicare would become financially healthy for the rest of the century, and older workers would not have to hang on to jobs for health care coverage.

The problem with these reasonable proposals is that they do not serve Sen. Rubio’s corporate friends.

PSARA Endorses Minimum Wage Plan, But It’s Not a Done Deal Yet

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

By Mike Andrew 

PSARA’s Executive Board has endorsed the minimum wage plan proposed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee (IIAC), which would, when fully implemented, give Seattle workers the highest minimum wage in the country.

Many labor and community organizations have also endorsed the plan, but Murray may have unintentionally thrown a wrench into the gears with comments he made to the Seattle Times editorial board on May 12.

The IIAC was made up of representatives of business, labor, and community non-profits and was supposed to offer a plan that could garner broad support across all sectors of the city.

The compromise was complicated, with phase-in periods from three to ten years, and a plan that would allow employers to count tips and healthcare benefits towards the minimum wage goals for the first few years, and then phase that system out as the minimum wage phased in.

When the plan debuted at a May 1 press conference, it seemed like it had a good chance of going through. But then Murray tinkered with the terms of the deal before transmitting draft legislation to the City Council.

The City, Murray told the Seattle Times, would help employers qualify for a little-known state “training wage” program, and therefore be able to pay newly-hired employees less than minimum wage.

“We put it in the language since the agreement came out,” Murray told the Times editorial board. “I’ve committed that this city will advocate to get those certificates for that period of time. It’s something that initially we couldn’t get labor to agree to. I’m not sure we got them there, but we did it anyway.”

While the Times welcomed Murray’s intervention, some on the labor side characterized it as a “bait and switch” tactic.

“We support the proposal that was transmitted by the [IIAC] committee,” Martin Luther King County Labor Council (MLKCLC) Executive Secretary Dave Freiboth told the Retiree Advocate. “But I’m pretty damn upset by the Mayor’s comments – and you can put that on the record.”

“The training wage was intended as a compliance issue,” Freiboth explained, to make the City ordinance square with state law. “It was not discussed as a way for the City to facilitate or encourage businesses to pay substandard wages.”

In a blog post, Murray seemed to walk back his statement to the Times.

“A training wage is not something I endorse and is not part of this deal,” he wrote in a post dated May 16. State law has tough protections in place, Murray explained, and his proposal “is narrowly tailored with criteria to ensure the wages of other workers [are] protected.”

Murray’s assurances may not be able to save the compromise, however, as labor leaders accused the business side of trying to change the terms of the deal behind closed doors.

On May 21, eight members of the IIAC, including all four labor members, sent a letter of concern to the City Council. While saying that the signers still “believe the Mayor’s compromise proposal remains the best way forward,” the letter warns that the plan is being weakened.

“We are very concerned that the City Council’s Central Staff is presenting options to the Council to weaken the Mayor’s proposal,” the letter charges.

“The options the Central Staff contemplates… are options that the [IIAC] considered and rejected as part of the negotiated settlement.”

Signing the letter were Freiboth; IIAC co-chair David Rolf of SEIU 775NW; Diane Sosne of SEIU 1199NW; Steve Williamson, signing for UFCW 21 political director Sarah Cherin; Pramila Jayapal of the Center for Community Change; Eric Liu of Citizen University; Nicole Vallestero Keenan from Puget Sound SAGE; and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.

The same day, the MLKCLC unanimously passed a resolution urging the City Council to “create a more adequate enforcement mechanism, shorten the length of the phase-in to a reasonable period of time and remove the healthcare phase-in, training wage, and any tip penalty, including a ‘temporary’ tip penalty, from any $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance.”

Murray’s legislation came to the City Council with eight cosponsors, every member except Kshama Sawant. Sawant says the IIAC plan is “good” and “a step forward,” but her 15Now organization has launched an initiative campaign to pass the $15 wage without a waiting period for big business and without the complicated tips and healthcare rules.

Sources say that a pro-business initiative will also be filed, but whether either side will actually go to the ballot now seems to depend on what the City Council does with the mayor’s proposal.

A new EMC Research poll shows that a whopping 74% of Seattle “likely voters” support a $15-per-hour minimum wage, up from 68% support in January.

A clear majority – 57% – supports the IIAC plan, and that number jumps to 66% when respondents are told who backs the plan. The 15Now proposal gets 45% support, and that goes up to 50% when pollsters explain Sawant is backing it.

Our Chance to Rebuild the Workers’ Movement in 2014

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

By Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Councilmember and PSARA member 

Seattle is at the forefront of a national effort to address the historic level of inequality in the US. Strikes of fast food and Walmart workers thrust the issue of a $15/hour minimum wage into the spotlight in 2013. This culminated in the victory for Proposition 1 in SeaTac last year, and my election to Seattle’s City Council on a platform calling for a $15/hour minimum wage.

Since then, a poll showed that nearly 70% of Seattle’s likely voters support a strong $15/hour measure. More than 100,000 members of our community, and their families, will be lifted out of poverty if a strong $15/hour minimum wage measure passes in 2014. The demand for 15 has made it to the top of Seattle’s political agenda, with the Mayor launching the Income Inequality Advisory Committee to recommend a minimum wage proposal. These successes demonstrate the power of grassroots mobilizing.

The Advisory Committee is scheduled to deliver its recommendation at the end of April, after which it passes into the hands of the City Councilmembers, who can decide whether workers get a full 15 or not. The Advisory Committee has some worker advocates, including myself and labor representatives, but is weighted heavily toward big business. While corporations cannot publicly fight against 15, they are working behind closed doors to get as many loopholes as possible.

And while big business may not be a visible presence in the debate, their long shadow looms large over the Advisory Committee’s outcome. They are ready to use everything they can to protect their profits and oppose a real $15/hour. The Washington Restaurant Association and other business groups with ties to corporations like McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, and big grocery chains recently launched an astroturf organization (grassroots in appearance, but funded and directed by big business) called OneSeattle. They are prepared to divide Seattle workers and to rob them of a real $15/hour through the inclusion of “total compensation” and a “tip credit” which would allow employers to deduct benefits and tips from the minimum wage.

We need a strong and determined grassroots campaign, involving thousands of activists and the whole of the labor movement, to reject these loopholes, defeat big business, and win a historic victory this year for workers. This would not only bring relief to tens of thousands of struggling families, but would show how further victories for working people can be won.

Our movement must keep up the pressure on the City Council when they begin debating and discussing the issue in May and June. Workers and young people across the city are getting ready to collect 50,000 signatures for a charter amendment that would raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15/ hour. The mass signature-gathering campaign for the charter amendment is the best way to keep up the pressure on the City Council and amplify our demand for a full 15. It will also serve as a backup plan should the City Council side with corporate interests against workers.

With the help of allies like PSARA, we launched 15 Now in January to organize the Fight for 15 in Seattle and build a broader movement in which all working people could be involved. Since the launch in January we have signed up over 1,500 people who support $15 for all workers. We now have 11 action groups spread out in every Seattle district, including 2 college campus groups.

PSARA members can help build this movement by reaching out to low-wage workers and explaining the dangers of total compensation and tip credit, and the need for worker solidarity. We also need help building more action groups in each of our city’s new districts.

This campaign can help revitalize the traditions of grassroots organizing in Seattle and help prepare working people for bigger battles to come. The successful defense of funding for transit and social services will require the same community involvement and solidarity that is being built in the struggle for $15/hour.

Our future in this capitalist economy is insecure. The Fight for 15 in Seattle gives us an historic opportunity to revive the traditions of past radical movements and win better wages, benefits and living standards for all.