Reversing the Trend: A Longitudinal Study of Living Wage and Minimum Wage

Screen shot 2014-05-28 at 11.03.10 AMA new report, “Reversing the Trend” by the Alliance for a Just Society, finds that Mayor Ed Murray’s minimum wage proposal reverses a minimum wage trend that is increasingly unable to meet the basic living needs of workers. Seattle’s proposed $15 minimum wage would be the highest in the country.

Analyzing more than a decade of data, this chart shows that while the path to a $15 an hour minimum wage is a step in the right direction toward addressing income inequality – living wage still exceeds projected minimum wage levels offered in the mayor’s model.

In addition, the study shows that a $15 minimum wage would not have been enough to support a single parent and child even back in 2003, and it would not have been enough to make ends meet for a single person as far back as 2010. Read more

Dumbing Down Health Benefits: More Bad Ideas From Insurance Hustlers

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 12.12.19 PMThe U.S. House has passed an interesting little bill titled “Expatriate Health Coverage Clarification Act of 2014.”

This innocuous little title hides behind it a serious threat to both the Affordable Care Act and to some of the 13 million immigrants living and working in the U.S.

The supposed idea behind this bill is to make legal an insurance product for sale to people who spend considerable portions of their time living outside of their countries.

In order to free insurance companies to sell these products the bill exempts this type of insurance from significant portions of the ACA, including minimum benefit coverage. Dumbing down the benefits under the ACA is exactly the wrong direction to take, but there is an even bigger problem with this bill. Read more

Consent to Search: Beyond Cell Blocks Webinar Series Continues

consent to searchIn 2010, after a lengthy fight, Colorado passed a state law that required police officers to inform people of their constitutional right to refuse a search of their person and/or property. The goal of the law was to reduce traffic stops, searches and intimidation stemming from from discrimination.

Law enforcement officers at the time said the legislation threatened their ability to do their jobs. Supporters of the law said it would force police to focus on probable cause and not waste resources on fishing expedition-type searches. The debate drew sharp focus Constitutional protection from unlawful search and seizure and the right to refuse. Read more

Seeking Creative Ways to Help Underwater Homeowners

Chart by Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

Chart by Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

In 2007, the nation’s housing bubble burst, leading to the Great Recession of 2008 and a rapid drop in property values across the country. While the recession officially ended in 2009, more than 9 million homeowners across the country still have mortgages on homes that are now worth less than they owe.

These underwater mortgages not only leave homeowners strapped for cash as they struggle with the residual effects of the recession and slow job growth, but can depress the value of nearby properties when those homes are foreclosed on, and hamper communities’ ability to recover from the economic crisis.

In the Alliance’s 2013 Wasted Wealth report, detailed the devastating impacts of the foreclosure crisis in communities of color. As a recent report by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society similarly found, the communities of color have disproportionately high rates of underwater mortgages, compounding the existing wealth gap. Read more

Sallie Mae Slap on the Wrist Doesn’t Go Far Enough

This week the Department of Justice levied a $97 million fine against the student debt servicing giant Sallie Mae. The findings of the DOJ’s long investigation revealed a host of bad practices and illegal behaviors at the company, including overcharging on nearly all military service members’ loans, and mishandling borrowers’ payments to maximize late fees and penalties.

The fine is appropriate and offers some sense of justice, but it also feels eerily familiar to the lawsuits levied against the mortgage companies before, during, and after the Great Recession. Time and time again, the Department of Justice, state attorneys general, and regulators all found ample evidence of egregious wrongdoing and rampant fraud, resulting in several multi-million dollar settlements with all the mortgage giants.

Unfortunately, it ended there. There still hasn’t been a single executive of a major bank brought up on criminal charges and held accountable for the actions that caused the housing crisis. There were no structural changes in how the banks operate. These settlements simply became the cost of doing business – and we are still seeing the same reckless and illegal behavior years after they’ve supposedly taken their medicine.

The student loan debt crisis is the next bubble, no different than the mortgage collapse. Our future and our families are at risk. We have been here before –  this time, it’s not too late to stop it. Slapping Sallie Mae on the wrist isn’t the answer.

Sallie Mae is a folksy name for the giant SLM Corporation. Contrary to what many assume, Sallie Mae is a for-profit company, it services and collects on student loans. Most student loans are originated by the U.S. Department of Education, which is also making a big profit off of student loans – a reported $41.3 billion last year. If the Department of Education was a corporation it would be the third most profitable in the world, right behind Exxon Mobil and Apple.

The Department of Education has options. Sallie Mae’s contract is coming up soon to be renewed for the next five years. Violating federal law is grounds for termination. Sign our petition telling Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that Sallie’s Mae contract shouldn’t be renewed.

This is a clear example of the federal government having an opportunity to restore the faith of the country. It’s an opportunity to hold giant corporations accountable. If you break the law, even if you’re a giant financial institution, there will be repercussions that are more than just the cost of doing business.

Until corporate executives are put in jail or until lucrative federal contracts are pulled, financial industry giants will continue to consider federal law a mere suggestion.

Please sign our petition here.

Paid Sick Days: Good for Workers, Good for Business

Tony Sandkamp, owner of Sandkamp Woodworks in New Jersey, is a supporter of paid sick days for workers – because it makes sense for employees, and it makes sense for his company’s bottom line. Sandkamp, a Main Street Alliance leader, recently joined a panel of business leaders at the New York Regional Forum on Working Families, organized by the White House and the Department of Labor.

Part of the discussion focused on paid sick days. While many employees take it for granted that their employer will still pay them if they are forced to stay home sick a few days each year,many more workers are not given the option. If employees don’t come to work, they aren’t paid. Even scarier, if they miss work because of sickness, they risk losing their job.

“It’s ironic that I am advocating for paid sick leave, given that I think the last sick day I personally took was when I broke my leg in the third grade,” said Sandkamp. “When I worked for the airlines back in my twenties, I earned the ‘perfect attendance’ award for three consecutive years.

“But paid sick days just makes common sense – even for me and my small business,” said Sandkamp.

He has owned a custom woodworking business in Jersey City for more than 20 years. Sandkamp makes furniture and cabinets that are unique and one of kind – any mistakes can be very costly.

“A few years back, we were working on a cabinet, and the entire piece was coming from one tree, which required us to carefully match the grains of wood. It was very intricate work, and required a lot of concentration.

“One of my employees was cutting the veneers and cut them the wrong way. It was all the veneer we had left. He came into my office after he made the mistake. He had obviously been crying. He was a man who took great pride in his work,” said Sandkamp.

“What I didn’t know was that he had a fever. It was the flu season. But he came to work anyway, because he needed the pay. This man was the sole provider for his family. We started the cabinet over again, and lost a month’s work.

My business bottom line is not only about dollars – it’s about keeping my employees healthy and happy.

“For me, paid sick days is a non-issue since it will improve my employee retention,” said Sandkamp. “The cost of training that employee and replacing them is many times greater. I need people to work at their best every day. If they are sick and feel financial pressure to come into work, they are much more likely to make a mistake or potentially hurt themselves.”

The momentum is growing nationwide for economy-boosting policies like paid sick days. Laws requiring paid sick days have been passed in New York City, Newark, Jersey City, Portland, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco. Small business owners across the country are getting involved at the local level to help craft and support laws that are good for small businesses, good for workers, and good for the local economy.

As we work together to build cabinets, paid sick days help build common ground, which makes my business stronger, and my employees’ lives better,” said Sandkamp.

Check out a video of the panel discussion here.

 

Letter Asking SEC to Require Disclosure of Expenditures by Corporations on Political Campaigns and Lobbying

Re: Comment on File Number 4-637

To SEC:

I am deeply concerned about the influence of corporate money on our electoral process.

In particular, I am appalled that, because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, publicly traded corporations can spend investors’ money on anti-progressive activity in secret. Corporations that we all invest in are fighting against clean air and water, LGBT rights, organized labor, financial protections for consumers, and more… and we don’t know anything about it.

I am writing to urge the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue a rule requiring publicly traded corporations to publicly disclose all their political spending.

Both shareholders and the public must be fully informed as to how much the corporation spends on politics and which candidates are being promoted or attacked. Disclosures should be posted promptly on the SEC’s web site.

Thank you for considering my comment.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]

Online Community College for Organizations Helps Connect Leaders

“Education (should be) the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” – Paulo Freire

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” ― Malcolm X

The Alliance for a Just Society kicked off our new political education program – the Online Community College for Community Organizations – with a training course for the facilitators who will be central to the successful implementation of the program.

Ten staff and leaders from five states (Maine, Montana, Oregon, Virginia and Washington) participated in the two-day session. They were introduced to, and then helped shape, the political education curricula. They became familiar with the technology the program will be run through, and discussed the specifics of how the program will be implemented in their states. It was a busy two days!

Trainers at tableThe addition of an online component to the Alliance’s existing training program is exciting. The Online Community College for Community Organization will give us the ability to connect leaders across the country. We will be able to engage them in critical thinking and dialogue in order to develop their analytical skills and illuminate our values and worldview. Our curricula were developed to provoke discussion by showing videos, suggesting readings, and referencing pop culture such as art and music.

Community colleges were developed to make continuing education accessible, affordable and flexible for people in local communities. They have given ‘non-traditional’ students access to higher education, breaking down elite barriers to lifelong learning. That’s the idea behind our Online Community College, to provide a space for engagement with political ideas, especially when that engagement is tied to action. Our audience will include leaders at all levels of experience, online activists and other members drawn to the course content.

The program will go live with grassroots leaders on May 29. Some 75 leaders are expected to experiment in the first round of the pilot. The first session is devoted to economic inequality. Later trainings will focus on citizenship and another on the role of government.

All of the curricula are designed to give participants a framework for analyzing multiple issues, to understand the forces and systems that drive the problems we seek to address, to grapple with the contradictions we face in organizing, and to practice developing political vision and creativity around solutions.

We are thrilled to get this program rolling and to have a strong team of organizers and leaders across the country dedicated to making it a success!

 

 

ACA Enrollment Figures Show More Focus Needed On Latino Communities

HHS must do more to close the Latino coverage gap; state officials who’ve resisted ACA implementation bear responsibility for making it worse.

For Immediate Release: Friday, May 2, 2014

Contact: Kathy Mulady, Communications Director, kathy@allianceforajustsociety.org, (206) 992-8787

Seattle, WA – The Alliance for a Just Society released the following statement from executive director LeeAnn Hall in response to the Department of Health & Human Services’ first release of race and ethnicity data yesterday for enrollees in the Affordable Care Act’s federally-facilitated marketplace:

“While we commend HHS for releasing data on the racial and ethnic breakdown of enrollments, we are gravely concerned about the deficit in Latino enrollment. Only 10.7 percent of enrollees in the federal marketplace who reported/race ethnicity were Latino, compared to an estimated 14.5 percent in the marketplace-eligible population. We can and must do better. Read more