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  • Sen. Patty Murray:
    Community members and civic leaders in cities and states across the country should absolutely keep fighting for living wages that work for their communities, but I also believe that the federal government has an obligation to set a wage floor that protects workers and keeps our nation’s economy strong. [...]

    In addition to boosting wages for nearly 38 million workers, my Raise the Wage Act would also bring the rest of the country in line with what Washington state has already done: indexing the minimum wage and ensuring tipped workers get the full minimum wage, regardless of their tips.

  • Your skin will crawl reading this, but hey, this is why workers need representation: Fired Disney World performers win arbitration over sweaty costumes.
  • Make it a union-made Mother's Day
  • Workers Independent News report for May 5,2015:

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President Barack Obama meets with Amy Rosenbaum, Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs and Stephen Hedger, Senate Legislative Affairs Liaison, in the Oval Office, April 24, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The Labor Department is moving ahead with President Obama's eagerly awaited overtime pay expansion. That's good news, but we don't know yet how good. Currently, workers who make as little as $24,000 a year can be denied time-and-a-half if they're considered managers—even if most of the work they do isn't managerial. Obama has promised to raise that threshold to cover more salaried workers, but hasn't said how high it will go, and the fact that the Labor Department has finalized a plan doesn't change that. Yet:
The full proposal is now under review by OMB officials and won't be made public for at least several weeks. After it is published, there will be a review period during which interested parties can comment on the proposed rule. The details of the rule are eagerly awaited by employers and worker advocates -- not to mention overworked Americans -- since they will ultimately determine who receives time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week.
Just 11 percent of salaried workers qualify for overtime under the current rules. To cover the same proportion of workers who were eligible for overtime in 1975, the threshold would have to be raised from $23,660 to $69,004 ($58,344 if you adjust for increased education). To adjust for inflation since 1975, the number would be $51,168. Any increase will be an improvement that means overtime eligibility for millions more workers—meaning employers can't save on wages by hiring salaried "managers" and expecting them to stock shelves 10 hours a day—but here's hoping the Obama administration has chosen a number that will get us back to 1975 by one measure or another.
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Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal
Kimberley Strassel
What's responsible for Baltimore's problems? Republicans need answers other than "massive economic inequality, racism, and police violence," and when Republicans need answers but can't admit what the real problems are, they turn to a familiar set of scapegoats. Take Wall Street Journal editorial board member and columnist Kimberley Strassel's answer to Chuck Todd's question "how should the business community be responding to Baltimore?" Strassel quickly pivoted: "They want to be able to help in this situation, but ..."
The reality, there has been a kind of common plan in a lot of these cities, which is what John Boehner was referring to. There have been a lot of policies out there that you see replicated across these cities, of sort of central planning, lots of money being poured in from both the state and the federal level, but you still have a failing education system dominated by public sector unions, teachers unions, you've still got high crime and high unemployment.
And if you could fix all that, then maybe the business sector would care to invest. Voila!

The truth is that central planning has been a factor in creating the problems of cities like Baltimore. Specifically, decades of government-sponsored segregation created a hell of a lot of problems and prevented black families from building and passing through generations the kind of wealth that white families have.

As for Baltimore's failing education system dominated by teachers unions—a point that, precisely because it comes out of nowhere in Strassel's response, we know is an important one, something she worked to get in there—we need to talk about two things here. One is that, nationally, states where the teachers are unionized have better educational outcomes than states where they are not. This is not mostly because of teachers unions, it's because states that have unions also tend to have other characteristics that are good for education, but it's certainly a reason to be suspicious anytime someone tries to tell you that teachers unions hurt education.

Second, the big thing that affects educational outcomes—The. Big. Thing.—is family income. If you want to make a solid guess about how "effective" an area's schools and teachers are, find out its average income. Does Kimberley Strassel really think that if you took the teachers from the highest-performing schools in non-union states and put them in Baltimore, working under the rules they work under in their home states, suddenly Baltimore schools would have the outcomes of the best schools in the wealthiest towns in Georgia or Texas? Like hell she does, if she's being honest. But the right's crusade against teachers unions trumps honesty about what's going on in Baltimore's schools.

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Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush
Is this Mitt Romney's big legacy? Republican presidential candidates are straining to show that they really, really care about people who aren't rich. And it is a strain, since they certainly can't offer up any policies they support that would help the non-rich. There are those who use their own biographies to argue that they care:
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida praises his parents, a bartender and a Kmart stock clerk, as he urges audiences not to forget “the workers in our hotel kitchens, the landscaping crews in our neighborhoods, the late-night janitorial staff that clean our offices.”
Don't forget them, but don't do anything nuts like raise the minimum wage so many of them are paid, or support paid leave or affordable health care.

There are also those Republican candidates who can't run on biography, so they just make broad claims and hope no one asks for details:

On a visit last week to Puerto Rico, Mr. Bush sounded every bit the populist, railing against “elites” who have stifled economic growth and innovation. In the kind of economy he envisions leading, he said: “We wouldn’t have the middle being squeezed. People in poverty would have a chance to rise up. And the social strains that exist — because the haves and have-nots is the big debate in our country today — would subside.”
So ... free college? Strengthening regulations on Wall Street? Taxing the rich and using the revenue to invest in infrastructure, creating lots of good construction jobs? Yeah, I didn't think so.

There's a cliche in writing that may need to become a cliche in politics: Show, don't tell. Don't tell me you care about non-rich people, show me. In policy, not by showing up at a soup kitchen and washing dishes that aren't dirty.

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13 states rank in the top 20 on both high union density and low workplace fatalities.
This week, in honor of Workers Memorial Day, the AFL-CIO released its Death on the Job report. Some facts:
In 2013, 4,585 workers were killed on the job in the United States, and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, resulting in a loss of 150 workers each day from hazardous working conditions.

Nearly 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but many injuries
are not reported. The true toll is likely two to three times greater, or 7.6 million to 11.4 million injuries each year.

Over the past four years, the job fatality rate has declined slightly each year, with a rate of 3.3 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2013 compared with a rate of 3.6 per 100,000 workers in 2010. [...]

Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of job fatalities. The fatality rate among Latino workers increased in 2013 to 3.9 per 100,000 workers, up from a rate of 3.7 per 100,000 in 2012. At the same time, the number and rate of fatalities for all other races declined or stayed the same. There were 817 Latino workers killed on the job in 2013, up from 748 deaths in 2012. Sixty-six percent of the fatalities (542 deaths) in 2013 were among workers born outside the United States. There was a sharp increase in Latino deaths among grounds maintenance workers. Specifically, deaths related to tree trimming and pruning doubled among Latino workers since 2012, and 87% of the landscaping deaths among Latino workers were immigrants. [...]

Workplace violence continues to be the second leading cause of job fatalities in the United States (after transportation incidents), responsible for 773 worker deaths and 26,520 lost-time injuries in 2013. Women workers suffered 70% of the lost-time injuries related to workplace violence.

The cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous—estimated at $250 billion to $360
billion a year.

Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's education and labor news.
Continue Reading
People clean up Pennsylvania avenue in Baltimore, Maryland April 28, 2015. Baltimore erupted in violence on Monday as hundreds of rioters looted stores, burned buildings and at least 15 police officers were injured following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a
If you work something close to a 9-5 schedule, a 10 p.m. curfew may be a drag. It may cramp your style on the weekend. But it's unlikely to threaten your livelihood. Thing is, the American economy does not operate on a 9-5 schedule, and Baltimore's curfew means loss of income for restaurants, bars, and other businesses and for the workers who staff them, among other potential problems:
"With a curfew, you will do more damage financially to our bars and restaurants than rioters will do," writes Liam Flynn, proprietor of Liam Flynn's Ale House, a Station North tavern not far from the CVS burned on Monday night, in an open letter to the mayor. "We have insurance for vandalism, not loss of revenue."

For Hong's part, the Thames Street Oyster House is stopping its dinner service at 7:30 p.m. While the restaurant could stay open later, Hong says he's concerned that his workers get home on time—no mean feat, given bus-service interruptions and road closures, especially in West Baltimore. Plus the hassle could be a problem for some workers.

"The mayor stated that, if you are stopped in violation of the curfew, you would be required to show an ID and a letter from your employer stating that you are traveling to or from work. I'm sure this is true across the service industry," Hong says, "but some of the staff might not have IDs that they can just pull out, whether it's due to immigration status or other concerns."

A local bartender tells Citylab's Kriston Capps that his income has fallen to one-fifth of his usual take ... and that's with the weekend coming. It's not just income and problems getting too and from work, either. An emergency-room nurse told Capps that "Emergency care is primary care for a lot of people in Baltimore" and a decline in overnight visits suggested that some people were delaying care for things they'd normally want treated.
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Here's more on the strike.

In other news:


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Super committee co-chair Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) speaks to reporters as she arrives for a meeting in the Capitol in Washington November 18, 2011. The special congressional committee is tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
While many states—including red states—have raised their minimum wages in recent years, the federal minimum wage has stayed stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Democrats keep proposing to raise it, and Republicans keep blocking it, with House Speaker John Boehner having once insisted that "I’ll commit suicide before I vote on a clean minimum-wage bill." So, after a couple years of pushing for a $10.10 an hour minimum wage, Democrats are saying "screw it," but not in a giving-up way:
On Thursday, members of the party will introduce a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour, a $4.75 increase over the current rate, which has gone untouched since 2009.

The so-called Raise the Wage Act, which will be introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate, will slowly boost the current $7.25 rate over the next five years, with the first hike to $8 coming in 2016 and $1 annual increases occurring through 2020. The bill’s sponsors—Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, and Congressman Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia—estimate that raising the federal minimum wage to $12 would result in increased pay for 38 million Americans.

If Republicans are going to go to the mat to keep poverty wages, Democrats might as well go to the mat for something a little closer to a living wage—though they're still not pushing for the $15 an hour that fast food, retail, and other workers have been pushing for and that's been passed in Seattle. In other good news, though, the Raise the Wage Act would ultimately link the minimum wage to the rate of inflation so that wages would rise even if Republicans controlled Congress, and it would finally raise the tipped worker minimum wage from $2.13 an hour, where it's been for two decades.

Raising the minimum wage is extremely popular. It would mean fewer working families needing public assistance to get by. Including tipped workers in a raise would mean they'd face less sexual harassment and would change the current situation in which one in six restaurant workers live below the poverty line. And, contrary to what Republicans claim, raising the minimum wage isn't bad for job growth.

But it's never going to happen as long as Republicans are in a position to block it.

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Rally with
Despite the hundreds of community members who turned out Monday to protest and testify against a state takeover of schools in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to take over the schools on Tuesday. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the vote:
Three members - Ed Doherty, Mary Ann Stewart and Donald Willyard - voted against receivership. Doherty cited labor concerns regarding the vote and Stewart and Willyard said they were convinced to vote no following a visit to Holyoke Public Schools. They were the only two members to visit the schools.
Only two people visited the schools they were passing judgment on. Eight board members voted for a hostile takeover without having visited the schools. That's all kinds of messed up.

One parent speaking against receivership said:

"Living in Holyoke comes with a stigma," she said. "Don't add to the stigma. Don't give our critics more reason to judge our community."

Burke added, "A state takeover would be a slap in the face of those that educate our children."

And more:
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Can of Bumble Bee chunk light tuna.
Here's something you may find less than appetizing after reading this story.
What does it take for criminal charges to be filed in a workplace death? A horrific story like this:
Jose Melena was performing maintenance in a 35-foot-long oven at [Bumble Bee Foods'] Santa Fe Springs plant before dawn Oct. 11, 2012, when a co-worker, who mistakenly believed Melena was in the bathroom, filled the pressure cooker with 12,000 pounds of canned tuna and it was turned on.

When a supervisor noticed Melena, 62, was missing, an announcement was made on the intercom and employees searched for him in the facility and parking lot, according to a report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. His body was found two hours later after the pressure cooker, which reached a temperature of 270 degrees, was turned off and opened.

Bumble Bee says it was all a "tragic accident" and charges aren't called for, but:
The San Diego-based company, former safety manager Saul Florez, and Angel Rodriguez, the director of plant operations, were each charged with three felony counts of committing an occupational safety and health violation that caused a death, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. [...]

If convicted, Rodriguez and Florez each face up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The company could be fined up to $1.5 million.

I'm sure it was an accident, in the sense that Melena's coworker did not intend to cook him to death. But companies have to be held responsible for safety procedures that make sure things like that don't happen. Kind of like car companies manufacture cars with seat belts and crumple zones.

Appropriately enough, the charges came on Monday, the day before Workers Memorial Day, a day for remembering people killed on the job.

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Striking federal contract workers, April 22, 2015.
Days after Senate janitors and cafeteria workers walked out to protest low wages, and after one janitor's homelessness made news, Democratic senators wrote to the committee in charge of congressional buildings and services:
... we urge you to provide a preference in the contracting process to contractors that provide a living wage, fair healthcare and other benefits, and that give employees a voice in their workplace. Employees working full time on taxpayer-funded contracts should not have to rely on federal benefits like food assistance and medical care to provide for their families.

President Obama’s Executive Order requires government contractors to pay employees $10.10 per hour.  Assuming a full-time schedule with no earned vacation or sick days, a worker could earn about $21,000 annually.

With the cost of living in the Washington DC metropolitan area among the highest in the United States, the Rules Committee should build on this minimum wage by requiring contractors doing business with the U.S. Senate to be model employers who treat their employees fairly.  People who work full time should be able to support themselves and their families.

Contractors should not be allowed to keep food and restaurant services prices low for Senators, Senate staff and visitors to the Senate while failing to pay their workers a living wage.

Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (IL), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sherrod Brown (OH), Barbara Boxer (CA), Bob Casey (PA), Ed Markey (MA), Cory Booker (NJ), and Mark Warner (VA) signed the letter, joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka speaks at a 2010 rally against Arizona's anti-immigrant SB 1070.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka
The union movement is beginning its traditional campaign season dance with Democrats, in which union leaders push Democratic candidates to make working people's issues a priority and pledge to fight inequality, but ultimately are left with the non-choice between Democrats and Republicans. Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, gave a speech Tuesday morning outlining a set of values that unions expect to see from candidates they'll support. "The field remains open," Trumka said, and "the labor movement's doors are open to any candidate who is serious about transforming our economy with high and rising wages."

Outlining an agenda including raised wages, paid sick leave, expanded overtime eligibility, funding for infrastructure and education, and support for collective bargaining, Trumka asked:

The question is, will our candidates listen? Will they seize this opportunity? I wonder, and so do the vast majority of working Americans. The truth is we’re skeptical.

Are we wrong to be skeptical? I don’t think so. A surging army of workers, activists and families are tired of taking “maybe” for an answer. We’re tired of scared politicians who won’t stand up for what’s right. Listen to this: About one-third—30%—of working class voters after the last election said they couldn’t see any significant difference between the two parties. [...]

Of the working class voters we surveyed, 80% of Democrats and Republicans, 80%, say both parties do far too much for Wall Street and not nearly enough to help average folks.

That said, Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti and Brian Mahoney are not wrong when they write:
The reality? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and labor will probably have little choice but to get on board the Clinton bandwagon.
But, Debenedetti and Mahoney report, Clinton's campaign is actively reaching out to unions to discuss policy. If she's taking their support for granted, she's not making it obvious at this stage of the campaign—and remember, in the 2008 primary, Clinton had substantial labor support.

In the end, there's getting on board and getting on board—an endorsement and some pro forma support vs. an all-out effort—and different unions will have different approaches to 2016. But when it comes down to it, unions face the same experience so many of us do, trying to push Democrats to the left, but then looking at Republican candidates and wanting to do anything possible to stop them, even if it means an imperfect Democrat.

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