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News :: Labor
One-Day Strikes Yield Union in D.C.
20 Feb 2014
Out of all the low-wage workers who walked out on strike last year, one group has won a union. About 200 food service workers in the federally owned Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. were able to move from one-day strikes to union representation thanks to an unusual set of circumstances.
demo labor eee.JPG
Frederick Turner, a utility worker at the American History Museum who has been in two unions before, participated in one-day walkouts last year through a campaign called Good Jobs Nation. Turner said he joined the strikes “to show my co-workers that they have the right to stand up for themselves.”

But the idea of joining a union didn’t come up until later, when UNITE HERE Local 23 found out Turner and his co-workers were employed by Compass Group. That was a stroke of good luck—because some Compass Group workers in other D.C. buildings already belonged to the local.

Nearly all food-service workers in the various Smithsonian museums in D.C. are hired by Compass Group, which runs contracted cafeterias all over the country.

Lead organizer Lauren Burke says Local 23 was supportive of the Good Jobs Nation strikes from the start, but got more involved when it became clear that many of the workers walking out were Compass employees.

Using its relationship with Compass, at the end of last year the local got management to agree to a “fair process” for union representation. “Fair process” is a phrase UNITE HERE often uses to describe management neutrality and either a vote or a card check.

“Having members in the company was part of the way we were able to leverage the company,” said Burke. She declined to give details, saying simply that “the energy really came out of Good Jobs Nation and the Fight for 15.”

Turner says he’s “still trying to convince” some of his co-workers of the value of a union. “There’s still a lot of people who have never been in a union,” he said. “They don’t understand how the union benefits the employees.”

As the Service Employees (SEIU) organized one-day strikes of fast food workers in cities across the country in the “Fight for 15” last year, the Change to Win federation organized similar actions in Washington, D.C. as the “Good Jobs Nation” campaign.

Contract workers at federal buildings throughout the capital walked out on multiple one-day strikes. Both food service workers and janitors, in locations from federally owned Union Station to the Smithsonian museums, they had one big thing in common: their employers had federal contracts, making the government their boss’s boss.

They declared the federal government “America’s largest low-wage job creator.”

With red, white, and blue signs and the iconic Obama “HOPE” posters repurposed to read “HELP,” workers marched chanting through Union Station.

Another day, they marched and put on short street-theater skits, blocking the street outside the Air and Space Museum.

Low-wage contracted workers at the Pentagon joined the campaign's latest one-day strike January 22.

Workers targeted Obama, calling on him to issue an executive order granting them a “living wage” and benefits.

In an (unsuccessful) 2013 battle to raise D.C.’s minimum wage for large retailers, campaigners pegged a living wage at $12.50 per hour, but Good Jobs Nation has been careful not to mention a specific number. “Certainly more than they are making now,” said Paco Fabian, a spokesperson for the campaign.

The federal government contracts out a lot of work all over the country, but the effects are felt particularly in the nation’s capital.

About 2 million low-wage workers are paid through U.S. tax dollars, according to a study by Demos. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that employees of federal contractors are far more likely to earn poverty wages than those employed directly by the government.

“The outsourcing of government work through federal contracts is often done in the name of cost-saving,” EPI reports. But this “contracting out has a depressing effect on the incomes and labor standards of people who do work for the U.S. government.”

Local 23 went into negotiations for a first contract in January with about 15 workers at the table, including Turner. They hope to boost wages, health benefits, and protections for immigrants.

“It’s not just about getting more money,” said Turner. “It’s about being able to live your life instead of surviving.”

Meanwhile, food service workers at Union Station worked with Good Jobs Nation to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor January 15, alleging “widespread wage theft and other violations of labor law.”

The successful unionization at the Smithsonian could push Good Jobs Nation toward strategically targeting other government contractors where there’s an “in,” as with Compass Group. But all signs point to a continued push for an executive order, an action Obama appears to be considering.

Fabian says Good Jobs Nation is “looking to expand to other places around the D.C. area” where it can get workers involved in its push for an executive order. Asked if we should expect more one-day strikes, he said only that there will be “lots of new tactics and old.”

Turner was more to-the-point on the prospect of future strikes. “If it comes down to it, and that’s what we have to do, then that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
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Re: One-Day Strikes Yield Union in D.C.
21 Feb 2014

A lunchtime protest in downtown Manhattan, N.Y., offered a strong show of support for former Wendy’s worker Rynetta Bennett, who was fired for being an organizer of the campaign for $15-an-hour wages and a union.

The Jan. 31 protest against Wendy’s was organized by 99 Pickets and Fight for 15. Participants chanted “Get up! Get down! There’s a revolution in this town!” while stopping customers from entering the store.

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra provided loud solidarity in front of the restaurant for Bennett and the fight for a liveable wage.

See - Send in the Clown - Low Wage Dictator
Re: One-Day Strikes Yield Union in D.C.
21 Feb 2014
The Minimum Wage Fog by RALPH NADER

Harry Truman once asked for a one-armed economist in the hopes of never again having to hear “on the one hand, this” and “on the other hand, that.” Given the recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the effects of the minimum wage — one chock full of “on the other hands” — the American people can empathize with President Truman. Even worse, both sides of the aisle are spinning the report to claim victory, creating a fog around minimum wage policy that may further discourage a Walmart-influenced Congress from taking any action. Given the miserly state of the minimum wage today, such a can’t-do attitude is unacceptable. Here are five key observations about the minimum wage to help members of Congress see through the “something for everyone” fog generated by the report:

First, the Congressional Budget Office’s report on the effects of a minimum wage increase to $10.10 fails to reflect the modern economic consensus on a minimum wage raise’s employment effects. The weight of evidence from the economics literature has found that increases in overall business costs resulting from moderate wage increases are modest and can be absorbed by slight price increases, lower employee turnover costs, or adjusting distribution of companies’ total revenues. In fact, two recent meta-studies of dozens of papers over the past years — the first by economists Hristos Doucouliagos and T.D. Stanley in 2009 and the second by econometrics experts Paul Wolfson and Dale Belman in 2013 — have concluded that modest minimum wage increases have little to no significant negative employment effects.

Moreover, the stimulus effects of an increase in wages to at least $10 — monies likely to be spent promptly — could, according to the Economic Policy Institute create as many as 140,000 net new jobs over the three year phase-in period of the increase.

Second, the $10.10 an hour level by 2016 — which would, by the time it is fully implemented, have a real value of only $9.69 an hour in 2014 dollars — is modest relative to many minimum wage benchmarks. A minimum wage of $10.40 an hour by 2016 would set the minimum wage at half the median wage, which is a standard that the minimum wage levels of most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations (as well as the United States itself in the 1960′s and 1970′s) meet. Over a hundred economists have lent their support to a minimum wage that catches up to the 1968 inflation-adjusted federal minimum wage, which would be $11.39 an hour by 2016.

A “March on Washington Wage” — one that reflects Martin Luther King Jr.’s demand of a $2 level in 1963, adjusted for inflation — would be $16.18 an hour by 2016. To put the minimum wage in perspective relative to the living wage, note that the living wage for one adult with one child living in House Speaker John Boehner’s Butler County, Ohio would be, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, $18.65 an hour by 2016.

Third, the media falsely reported that the tradeoffs associated with a minimum wage increase are roughly balanced between costs and benefits to different impoverished groups. In fact, the CBO report shows that, even with its outlier prediction of job loss, the change in real income of those making less than six times the poverty line is an increased $19 billion, lifting 900,000 people out of poverty and giving 16.5 million people raises.

Fourth, the partisan fight over the CBO report obscures the bipartisan nature of the minimum wage raise coalition. The most aggressive minimum wage effort in the country now is led by a conservative — Republican Ron Unz, who is pushing for a $12 minimum wage in California in an effort to ensure that Golden State taxpayers are not, in providing public assistance to those who already work full time, essentially subsidizing the low wages of big corporations. Bill O’Reilly, Phyllis Schlafly as well as a majority of Republicans polled join 80% of Americans in supporting a minimum wage increase.

Finally, the CBO Report, given its charter, has to avoid dealing with themoral case for a minimum wage. Raising, or more precisely, restoring the inflation-adjusted minimum wage to its level from forty-five years ago lifts human beings from poverty in our rich nation — a nation that has allowed its minimum wage level to fall way behind those of other western countries.

Corporate spin-masters thrive on the fog created by he-said-she-said economic policy debates. True, we must continue to deliberate to make sure all perspectives are heard, but we cannot let the debate obscure the glaring, shameful fact that 30 million Americans, despite being twice as productive as workers were 45 years ago, are making less today, adjusted for inflation than their mid-century counterparts. Congress must push forward through the fog and give workers a much-deserved restoration of a fair minimum wage level.

Read more about our efforts to raise the minimum wage at
Re: One-Day Strikes Yield Union in D.C.
22 Feb 2014
The US minimum wage “debate”
21 February 2014 ( )

On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report estimating the effects of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, as proposed by the Obama administration. The report intensified the debate within the political and media establishment over a possible increase in the minimum wage.

The report concluded that the minimum wage hike would increase pay for 16.5 million Americans, but eliminate 500,000 jobs. According to the CBO report, the increase would lift 900,000 people, or 0.2 percent of the population, out of poverty. This is a tiny fraction of the 46.5 million people—or 15 percent of the population—now living below the federal poverty line.

The Democratic proposal would leave the minimum wage at a lower level, in real terms, than it was in 1968, nearly 50 years ago. At $10.10 an hour, a worker laboring 34 hours a week—the average in America—would earn an annual pre-tax income of $17,856. This is significantly lower than the government’s absurdly low poverty threshold for a family of three.

If the minimum wage had kept up with increases in worker productivity in the US, it would have reached $21.72 an hour in 2012, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Broadly speaking, those sections of the ruling class aligned with the Republican Party are opposed to an increase in the minimum wage. Those aligned with the Democrats, which are closer to the trade union bureaucracy and somewhat more sensitive to popular opposition to social inequality and the danger of social upheavals, are backing a minimal increase.

The very fact that a minor increase in the minimum wage from a level that ensures near-destitution provokes such controversy within the political establishment, under conditions of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, only underscores the bankruptcy of the entire political system and its contempt for the great majority of the population.

The so-called debate consists of haggling over estimates of lost jobs as a result of increased pay and arguing whether or not minimally raising the minimum wage will actually benefit corporate profits. The Republicans more or less openly argue that the solution to unemployment is for workers to be paid starvation wages. But neither the Democrats nor the so-called liberal press take the position that workers have a right to a living wage, which must take precedence over the amassing of corporate profit and accumulation of personal wealth by the super-rich.

The underlying premise of both sides in the “debate” is that no measure is possible that significantly impinges on corporate profits or the wealth of the American corporate-financial elite. The prerogatives of the financial aristocracy take absolute priority over the access of millions of people to adequate nutrition, livable housing, a decent education and a secure retirement.

That the Democrats present their paltry proposal as a major social reform and significant step to reduce social inequality is an expression of the longstanding abandonment by the Democrats of any program of social reform. The minimum wage proposal is a diversion and public relations maneuver, designed to distract attention from the brutal austerity measures the Obama administration is carrying out.

Obama’s empty talk of reducing economic inequality and increasing opportunity takes place as opinion polls show his popular support sharply falling. Tens of millions who voted for him on the basis of his slogan of “change” and the belief that an African American president would be more sympathetic to the plight of working and poor people have bitterly concluded that they were taken for a ride.

The sudden emphasis by the White House and the Democratic Party on raising the minimum wage is a transparent political ploy to mobilize the trade union bureaucracy and its liberal and pseudo-left allies behind the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told a press conference at the federation’s annual winter meeting on Wednesday: “Raising wages for all workers is the issue of our time and, hopefully, will be the issue of this election.”

For decades, an increase in the federal minimum wage was a semi-automatic, barely contested aspect of US politics. The federal minimum wage, established under the New Deal in 1938, has been increased more than a dozen times. In 2007, Congress passed a law to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 in three annual increments.

At the time, the move received overwhelming bipartisan support, with only three Republican senators voting against the measure. But now, the question of a routine increase in the minimum wage is raised to the level of a progressive crusade.

During the last period of economic crisis comparable to the present one, American capitalism under Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted genuine social reforms that reduced poverty and somewhat narrowed the gap between rich and poor. The New Deal instituted Social Security, enacted a minimum wage, banned child labor, raised taxes on the rich, gave legal sanction to the unions and legislated the eight-hour day.

These were not charitable gifts from the ruling class, but concessions won through mass social struggles, including a wave of semi-insurrectionary strikes and plant occupations that led to the birth of the mass industrial trade unions. None of these measures challenged the basic class interests of the American ruling elite, whom Roosevelt was seeking to save from the threat of social revolution, but they did facilitate a substantial rise in living standards for millions of workers.

There are no social reforms on offer today. The Democrats’ proposal for a trivial increase in the minimum wage comes as social inequality is hitting unprecedented levels. The net worth of America’s billionaires reached $1.2 trillion last year, more than double what it was in 2009. Meanwhile, median household income in the US plummeted by 8.3 percent between 2007 and 2012.

Corporate profits have shot up more than 170 percent under Obama, a greater increase than under any other president. Corporate profits today as a share of the gross domestic product are the highest since records began in 1947, while the share of GDP going to wages has fallen to record lows. Since 2009, wages in the auto industry, which the Obama administration singled out for restructuring, have declined an average of ten percent, generating record profits for the Big Three auto makers.

The impoverishment of masses of workers at one pole of society has produced untold riches at the other. CEO pay is up sharply at major US corporations. Google announced it will award Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt $100 million in stock, on top of a $6 million cash bonus, for 2013, bringing his personal fortune to some $8 billion. The Google CEO pocketed $190 every minute and made in one hour what a typical minimum-wage worker makes in a year!

The social resources exist to guarantee all people the right to a decent income, housing, health care, and education. But society’s wealth is monopolized by a tiny financial oligarchy, which controls every lever of political power.

There is no answer to poverty wages and unemployment outside of a direct struggle to break the stranglehold of this plutocracy. The only way to secure the right to a decent standard of living is to build a mass movement of the working class on the basis of a socialist program aimed at reorganizing society to meet social needs, instead of the profit interests of the corporate-financial elite.

See - Advice from the Boss for Low Wage Workers -- McResources -
Re: One-Day Strikes Yield Union in D.C.
24 Feb 2014
money draw.bmp
Revitalizing the Workers' Movemnet
The Murky Politics of the $15 Minimum Wage

Seattle now resembles a mini-Venezuela. It’s not a perfect comparison, but like the average Venezuelan the people of Seattle are experiencing an explosion of political consciousness. Recently I took the three-hour drive from Portland, and although Seattle is only a couple of hundred miles away, it’s politically thousands of miles ahead of “progressive” Portland.

The “fight for $15” is the reason Seattle is in a political uproar. Unlike any other American city, all the Seattle politicians — including the Mayor and City Council — have publicly committed and are working to implement the $15 minimum wage, and Seattle workers now expect it. The coffee shop workers I talked to were eagerly looking forward to their big raises.

How did this happen? Kshama Sawant is the answer. The new socialist city council member won her recent election by relentlessly campaigning on a $15 minimum wage. Her campaign was devastatingly effective, using her Socialist Alternative organization to mobilize hundreds of volunteers who’ve collectively tilted the politics of Seattle and beyond (the Washington governor recently came out — under heavy pressure — in favor of a statewide wage of $13 an hour). No Seattle politician dares to come out against $15 publicly, the public debate has already been decided; a recent poll showed that 68 percent of Seattle residents now support $15 without exceptions.

And although Sawant has been assured by the Seattle mayor that $15 is a done deal, she’s warning the Seattle public otherwise. Sawant recently spoke at a conference organized by the coalition “$15 Now,” and blasted the intrigue of the mayor’s committee set up to implement the new wage. Sawant knows the inner workings of the committee because she’s on it.

Sawant’s speech warned Seattle that the Seattle 1% are plotting a counter-offensive, aimed at undermining $15 by adding a variety of exceptions, loopholes, and extending the implementation time. In response Sawant demanded “$15 now, no exceptions.” The “$15 Now” coalition is staying on the offensive, going into the neighborhoods to ensure that $15 is implemented — they’ve given the Mayor’s committee a deadline and are preparing to organize a ballot initiative if necessary.

The demand of a $15 minimum wage has crept into the national consciousness, beginning as a national campaign by SEIU to organize fast food workers under the demand of “$15 and a union.” And although SEIU has since pulled back from the $15 demand, Sawant and others are seizing the moment, having realized the inherently powerful potential of $15, which has become an inspirational rallying cry that the U.S. working class hasn’t experienced in decades.

Now another mayoral candidate, Dan Siegel in Oakland, CA, has wisely jumped on the $15 bandwagon. And just as his campaign was gaining steam, a coalition of labor and community groups sucked the air out his demand for $15: “Lift Up Oakland” recently came out in favor of a $12.25 minimum wage (?!).

Instead of using the Siegel mayoral campaign to boost the local labor movement, some unions chose to make concessions before they even got to the bargaining table; they didn’t wait for the 1% to try to water down $15, they took the initiative themselves. Either “Lift Up Oakland” doesn’t believe $15 is achievable — in which case they should visit Seattle — or there is another, even worse logic at play.

One key reason labor unions haven’t been able to inspire their members —let alone the broader working class — is their insistence on making demands that are acceptable to the Democratic Party. This pragmatic approach to politics has been suicidal for the labor movement, and forgets a fundamental law of working class politics: the vast majority of working people only became active in politics when they are inspired — $15 inspires, $12.25 now falls flat.

Even flatter was Obama’s flaccid attempt to head off the gaining momentum of $15 an hour on the national stage, when he took the “radical” action of issuing an Executive Order that decreed federal contract workers will get paid $10.10 an hour — on new contracts issued in the future.

The Democrats are now opportunistically preparing for mid-term elections by morphing into the party that wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. But they have zero intention of actually implementing it. Once these Democrats get elected they’ll simply blame the Republicans for blocking the effort, and since $10.10 is so bland, nobody will mobilize in D.C. to pressure Congress to act (nor will the Democrats ask people to mobilize). The whole sleazy ordeal will eventually fade from memory, like the pile of other promises Obama and the Democrats have spewed during campaign season that were left to rot afterwards.

With inequality already beyond comprehension and the labor movement suffering defeat after defeat, you’d imagine that unions would accept $15 as a gift-wrapped campaign sent from the heavens. Instead they’re hiding from this revelation, seemingly terrified.

If all workers made $15, the leverage of unions at the bargaining table would increase exponentially. If unions organized campaigns nationwide for $15 they’d win the support and admiration of the broader working class, who would then join unions by the hundreds of thousands — a labor movement on life support would receive a massive injection of oxygen.

Seattle has proved this demand is not only possible, but is a key demand to re-spark the labor movement. If labor and community groups around the country united behind implementing this demand, city by city, the workers’ movement would be revitalized, as it is in Seattle. As the debate over the minimum wage continues, watch closely to see who will stand behind $15 and who will stand in its way.