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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker talks with other governors before the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama to address the National Governors Association at the White House in Washington February 23, 2015. .REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: P
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)
Scott Walker is (unofficially so far) running for president on the basis of the budget miracles he has supposedly wrought as governor of Wisconsin. But it increasingly looks like his only miracle is union-busting—a winner on the far right, to be sure, but not really something that stands on its own. Busting unions was supposed to be Walker's answer to Wisconsin's budget problems, but:
The promised revenues from Walker’s previous budget moves have not fully materialized, leading Walker and GOP lawmakers to propose another round of reductions — including cuts in funding for public schools, the university system, health-care programs and a slew of other programs. The Republican-controlled legislature says it won’t be raising taxes no matter what, though it might increase fees for registering a car or visiting a state park. [...]

GOP lawmakers have reversed many of Walker’s cuts, ranging from funding for the removal of roadkill from the side of highways to money for groups that interview children who have been sexually abused.

Meanwhile, Democrats are hitting Walker for wanting to offer $220 million in bonds for a new basketball arena while simultaneously cutting $300 million from public higher education. And Wisconsin's middle class is shrinking faster than that of any other state and job growth continues to suck. Now that he's been in office for more than a full term during which he's had his way with the budget, Walker may have trouble passing the buck on his failures. And he'll have no shortage of opponents to point that out during the course of a presidential election.
Talk about journalism with an immediate impact. Last week's New York Times investigation of labor law violations and unhealthy working conditions for manicurists in the city's nail salons has spurred Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take sweeping emergency action:
Nail salons that do not comply with orders to pay workers back wages, or are unlicensed, will be shut down. [...]

Salons will be required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights, including the fact that it is illegal to work without wages or to pay money for a job — a common practice in the nail salon industry, according to workers and owners. The signs will be in half a dozen languages, including those most spoken in the industry — Korean, Chinese and Spanish. [...]

Salons will now be required to be bonded — which is intended to ensure, through a contract with a bonding agency, that workers can eventually be paid if salon owners are found to have underpaid the workers. The move is an attempt to counteract the phenomenon of salon owners’ hiding assets when they are found guilty of wage theft.

Additionally, health and safety measures will be put in place, like requiring manicurists to wear gloves and masks and salons to be ventilated, while the Health Department will investigate the most effective health protections to incorporate into what will eventually be permanent policies replacing the short-term emergency measures.

Some of the abuses Sarah Maslin Nir's investigation into New York City nail salons exposed may be especially prevalent in New York, where there are more nail salons per capita than in any other American city and where manicures cost below the national average. That might, for instance, make wage theft more common and more aggressive than in other locations—but that doesn't mean it's not happening in California and Illinois and Massachusetts, too, and states should take this as a spur to inspect their own nail salons. And the health hazards manicurists face similarly deserve a good hard look by state regulators. Customers might end up paying a couple dollars more for a mani-pedi, but we're talking about workers' lives here, and their ability to collect the pay they've legally earned.

Graph showing the minimum wage as a percent of median wage in various countries. US would be 11th if it raised to $12 by 2020, but is now at 27th.
You see that first red bar for the U.S. and you think "that's not so bad," and then you realize that's only if the minimum wage is raised to $12. And you keep looking down down down the graph. The Economic Policy Institute's David Cooper explains how these numbers were reached.
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Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker addresses his supporters at a rally on election night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin November 4, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Stathas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) - RTR4CVJ0
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is a real national leader on paid sick leave. (But not in a good way.)
Paid sick leave is gaining ground as a national issue. It's now the law in three states and a growing number of cities, but the momentum behind it just means Republicans are gearing up to fight harder. Republicans in the Pennsylvania state legislature, for instance, are still working away at their ALEC-inspired goal of overriding Philadelphia's paid sick leave law. A state bill would pre-empt any local sick leave laws, because undoing local laws is how Republicans roll. Pennsylvania Republicans may not be able to get an anti-sick leave bill past Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, but Jonathan Cohn points out that sick leave, at both the federal and state levels, could become a presidential campaign issue:
When [Philadelphia Mayor Michael] Nutter signed that measure in his state, Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, hailed it as an achievement. On Monday, campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin told HuffPost that Clinton was "disappointed to learn of the effort to overturn this hard-fought victory." Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, has also spoken out against the Pennsylvania preemption effort -- calling it "dreadful."

Clinton has hinted during the campaign that she will support a national paid sick days law, similar to what Obama has proposed. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is Clinton’s lone declared Democratic rival, has already co-sponsored such a bill in the Senate. As for the Republicans, the three presidential candidates who had a chance to vote on Murray’s amendment -- Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio -- all voted no. Representatives of the campaign for Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, did not respond to questions about paid sick days laws.

And then there's Scott Walker. He signed a sick leave pre-emption bill in Wisconsin in 2011, so he can claim leadership on this issue. That's leadership in forcing people to choose between going to work while sick or stay home and risk not being able to pay the bills, but hey, leadership is leadership. Which means the other Republican candidates have some catching up to do and should definitely work hard to let voters know how strenuously they oppose paid sick leave. After all, the issue only polls at around 60 percent in favor.
Manicurists in the New York City area are badly exploited and the government is not keeping up with labor law violations, a New York Times investigation shows. Many salon owners demand that the workers, overwhelmingly immigrant women, pay to work at first, under the guise of training—but even once they're "trained," the wages are often illegally low.

The Times' long-term investment in this story highlighting illegal labor practices and the human cost of a cheap mani-pedi is a striking contrast to the paper's political coverage of late, but this is the kind of reporting that helps restore your faith in the traditional media. Sarah Maslin Nir reports that not only are workers paid below the minimum wage and not paid overtime, but some employers defend these practices:

At Sona Nails on First Avenue near Stuyvesant Town, a worker said she made $35 a day. Sona Grung, the owner of Sona Nails, denied paying below minimum wage, yet defended the practice, particularly of underpaying new workers. “When a beginner comes in, they don’t know anything, and they give you a job,” she said. “If you work in a nail salon for $35, it’s very good.”
Salons are more likely to break labor laws than to obey them, but enforcement is limited and penalties are rarely paid:
Last year, the New York State Labor Department, in conjunction with several other agencies, conducted its first nail salon sweep ever — about a month after The Times sent officials there an inquiry regarding their enforcement record with the industry. Investigators inspected 29 salons and found 116 wage violations. [...]

In rare instances when owners have been found guilty of wage theft, salons have often been quickly sold, sometimes to relatives. The original proprietors vanish, along with their assets, according to prosecutors. Even if they do not, collecting back wages is difficult. Owners can claim they do not have the means to pay, and it is often impossible to prove otherwise, given how unreliable salons’ financial records are.

And the workers, vulnerable in so many ways, are on the front lines of inequality in America:
Qing Lin, 47, a manicurist who has worked on the Upper East Side for the last 10 years, still gets emotional when recounting the time a splash of nail polish remover marred a customer’s patent Prada sandals. When the woman demanded compensation, the $270 her boss pressed into the woman’s hand came out of the manicurist’s pay. Ms. Lin was asked not to return.

“I am worth less than a shoe,” she said.

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

(The reporter, Sarah Nir, is the sister of Daily Kos political director David Nir.)

11:02 AM PT: Nail salon workers also face health problems from working with chemicals all day, as the second part of the Times' investigation details.

It appears the weak March jobs report, a surprise to many analysts, was a fluke. It was also worse than originally calculated. But gains in April made it the 13th of the past 14 months when more than 200,000 new jobs were created. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the economy created 213,000 seasonally adjusted private new non-farm jobs in April. Government added 10,000 new jobs.

The bureau revised February's count from 264,000 to 266,000 new jobs, after having revised them downward from 295,000 last month. March's original tally of 126,000 new jobs was revised to 85,000.

The unemployment rate, labeled U3 by the BLS, fell to 5.4 percent. The bureau uses what it calls U6 to measure both unemployment and underemployment and includes people with no job at all, part-time workers who want full-time jobs but can't find one, and many "discouraged" workers. That fell from 10.9 to 10.8 percent.

The civilian workforce rose by 166,000, after having fallen 96,000 in March. Wages barely edged upward.

The employment-population ratio stayed at 59.3 percent for the fourth consecutive month. Labor force participation rose slightly to 62.8 percent.

The BLS calculated that 8.5 million people were officially out of work in April. But that number does not count Americans who have left the workforce and still want a job but have given up searching for one.

The BLS measure also counts Americans in their prime working years—when they are aged 25-54. This gauge in some ways gives a better picture of how well the job market is doing because it excludes workers during their late teens and early 20s when they are more likely to be in school or traveling or exploring their identity and often don't hold down a full-time job or only do so sporadically out of choice. The 25-54 employment rate reached a peak of 81.9 percent in April 2000. The month the Great Recession began, in December 2007, the figure was 79.7 percent. It reached a low point of 74.8 percent in November 2010. On a slow rise ever since, it is now 77.2 percent, the same as in March.

The BLS warns that its "monthly change in total nonfarm employment from the establishment survey is on the order of plus or minus 90,000." That means the "real" number of new jobs created in April wasn't 223,000 but somewhere in a range between 133,000 and 313,000.

For more details about today's jobs report, please continue reading below the fold.

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Thu May 07, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

Daily Kos Labor digest

by Laura Clawson

Anti-abortion demonstrators cheer as the ruling for Hobby Lobby was announced outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 30, 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of U.S. Pr
House Republicans tried to block a Washington, DC, law protecting women from being fired for having abortions or using birth control, but they couldn't stop it from going into effect. Some conservative groups in D.C. are now taking the next step: They've announced they'll disobey the law.
“We are nonsectarian pro-life organizations and religious ministries that make the nation’s capital our home,” the abortion opponents state. “We will not abandon the purpose of our organizations in order to comply with this illegal and unjust law. We will vigorously resist any effort under RHNDA to violate our constitutionally protected fundamental rights.”

The organizations that inked their support at the end of the document include the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Americans United for Life, March for Life, Concerned Women for America, and the Susan B. Anthony List.

To these groups, "you can't fire people for using birth control" is an outrageous violation of the rights of employers. Because employers' rights and freedoms always, always come before workers' rights and freedoms, according to Republicans.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks while being interviewed onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Maryland  February 26, 2015.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR4RBJT
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration is in court arguing that Christie should be able to violate the public employee pension law he pushed for and signed in his first term in office. According to the law, "members of the public-pension systems shall have a contractual right to the annual required contribution amount." That shouldn't have been groundbreaking, but it would have been—had Christie followed it—since the previous nine governors, Democrats included, had shorted the state's contribution to the pension fund even as workers put in their share every year.

Christie's signature pension law required workers to pay still more toward pensions and eliminated cost of living adjustments, but the claim was that in exchange for that, the state would start making its full contribution. Instead, it didn't take long for Christie to start shorting the pension fund.

In court on Wednesday, New Jersey Assistant Attorney General Jean Reilly argued that use of the word “contractual” didn’t guarantee a binding contract because the New Jersey state constitution didn’t allow that. In response, Justice Barry T. Albin asked why, if the Christie administration believed the state constitution prevented such contractual obligations, it signed into law a bill containing them.

“The language is not aspirational,” Albin said. “The language is saying this is a contract.”

But Justice Jaynee LaVecchia suggested to attorney Steve Weissman, who represented public employees, that the state needs to maintain enough flexibility to adjust to changing financial circumstances. “You are still arguing for this law to require every legislature for I don’t know how long to put a certain specified amount … in the budget for every single year,” she said.

Judges who don't get that we're talking about deferred pay, that public workers have negotiated lower pay during their working years in exchange for a secure retirement, can really go right to hell. It's where they'll end up anyway, in the event that it exists. Yes, the legislature has to pay the employees of the state for the work that they do.

Meanwhile, the pension's Wall Street fees have ballooned on Christie's watch, with New Jersey paying nearly $1 billion in fees to financial management firms even as the performance of the state's pension investments have lagged badly. That's something else Christie isn't going to talk about as he argues that he should be able to break his law and his promises.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) addresses the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst    (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS HEADSHOT PROFILE) - RTR4GBP1
Jeb Bush
Spare me, please. Jeb Bush has taken to the op-ed pages of the Chicago Tribune to lecture us about poverty.
Trouble is, from the War on Poverty to the persistence of liberal big city mayors, the same government programs have been in place for over a half-century — and they have failed. We have spent trillions of dollars in the War on Poverty, and poverty not only persists, it is as intractable as ever. This represents a broken promise. And it feeds the anger of Baltimore.
Intractable as ever, eh? Before the War on Poverty, in the late 1950s, the poverty rate was over 22 percent. Then it went down, reaching a low of 11.1 percent in 1973. Poverty rates started to rise again in 1980, declined somewhat in the 1990s, going back down to 11.3 percent, and then started rising again. Tell me again, Jeb, how we need conservative solutions.

Here are some other things we know about fighting poverty:

Food stamps improve children's health and educational outcomes. The Earned Income Tax Credit boosts employment among single mothers. If you look at the government's Supplemental Poverty Measure, safety net programs cut poverty in half.
Here's something else: Raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty, yet Republicans—Jeb Bush's party—oppose doing so.

We have heard everything Jeb Bush has to say about poverty before. We have heard it so many times, from so many Republicans, and they are as wrong on the facts as they are self-righteous. We have heard the strategy, also embraced by Bush, of blaming teachers, and we have heard the code words he employs that translate to corporate profit.

Do we really need to ask if another Bush promising to be a "compassionate conservative" is the right choice?

And more:
  • 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:

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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