Next Attack on Workers – Will Conservatives Champion “Free Riding” to Justify It?

Building power through strength in numbers. It’s one way regular people can overcome opposition from corporate and wealthy special interests to win concrete improvements in our everyday lives.

We may not be able to match opponents who can write seven-figure checks dollar for dollar, but by banding together, articulating collective demands, and negotiating with powerful interests (whether corporate CEOs or elected leaders) from a place of shared strength, we can build the leverage to win changes that benefit our families and communities.

This – building strength in numbers and banding together to negotiate with power holders – is a core component of what community organizing is all about. It’s also a critical part of what unions do for the workers they represent in collective bargaining.

But now, the ability of unions – in particular, unions that represent teachers and other workers in public service – to help workers come together in collective bargaining to win better pay, benefits, and work environments is under threat in a case that will go before the U.S. Supreme Court in January.

The case is called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. It is, in a nutshell, a brazen attempt to overturn what has been a settled Supreme Court precedent since the 1977 Abood decision reaffirmed the right of public sector unions to collect “fair share” fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining.

The fact that the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), the rightwing legal shop leading the case, asked lower courts to rule against it without even presenting an argument underscores the drastic departure from the settled precedent they’re seeking.

On its website, CIR explains: “The speed with which the case moved through the lower courts reflected a deliberate litigation strategy. From the beginning, CIR argued that the lower courts do not have the authority to overturn existing Supreme Court precedent.”

We all have something at stake in this case – the teachers whose ability to band together and have a shared voice on the job is on the line; the students who benefit when their teachers negotiate for smaller class sizes; the local businesses that benefit from the middle class customer base teachers and firefighters and other public service workers represent.

But it’s also true that women and people of color have the most to lose from a bad decision in the Friedrichs case. Unions have won important gains toward gender and racial equity in the workplace; public sector unions in particular have created avenues into the middle class for people who have been systematically shut out and discriminated against, especially people of color.

It should not be too surprising, then, that CIR has counted among its benefactors not only a range of conservative funding conduits that are connected to the Koch political network, but also a group identified with white supremacist ideas.

Maybe one of the biggest ironies in this case, though, is how conservatives will have to tie their own professed values up in knots to argue their position. Because the whole case rests on creating a “free rider” problem – where people don’t pitch in their fair share to support the shared benefits they receive – for unions. The “free rider” idea stands in sharp contrast with conservative narratives about personal responsibility.

If CIR is to win, it will have to convince a majority on the Supreme Court that an organization should be forced to give the benefits of membership (like better deals through group bargaining power) to any individual without asking that individual to pitch in even a dime to support the bargaining the organization does on his or her behalf.

Here’s the thing: what if the organization in question wasn’t a union representing workers, but instead a business association – like, say, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

Would the U.S. Chamber stand for a legal ruling where any corporation could take advantage of the benefits of Chamber membership – like discounts on products and services, legal documents, business resources, or networking events – without pitching in even a dime to support the costs of securing those benefits?

Of course not. That’s a free rider problem the Chamber and other anti-worker business lobbies would get up in arms about in a hurry.

So here’s the bottom line – unless five justices on the Supreme Court are ready to stand up and argue the U.S. Chamber should have to give free lunch to any Fortune 500 “free rider” that wants it, they should dismiss the Friedrichs case for what it is: nonsense. Case closed.

This article was originally published by LeeAnn Hall in Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leeann-hall/next-attack-on-workers–w_b_8683766.html

Payup New York! Livestream on Minimum Wage

Pay Up CoverHow much does it take to make ends meet? Nationally, a single adult needs $16.87 an hour, and in New York they need $19.90 – just to meet basic needs and an occasional minor emergency. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 and New York’s minimum wage of $8.75 fall far short.

A minimum wage worker in New York would have to work 91 hours a week just to get by, and 93 hours a week nationally.

Join the Alliance for a Just Society for a briefing on our latest report, “Pay Up! Long Hours and Low Pay Leave Workers at a Loss,” and a discussion on why it is critical that we abolish the tipped minimum wage and raise the wage floor to at least $15. Media, organizers, and activists will find out more about what it really takes to move beyond living paycheck-to-paycheck.

The livestream of our event will begin today at 11am (Eastern), on this page.

King County Council Approves One of Toughest Living Wage Ordinances in the Country

SEATTLE — The King County Council yesterday approved a living wage ordinance, which, when signed by County Executive Dow Constantine, would be among the stronger county-level ordinances in the country.

The Alliance for a Just Society and Washington Community Action Network have supported the legislation, which includes language citing Alliance living wage research. The legislation sets a wage floor for King County employees and service contractors for contracts worth $100,000 or more. Read more

Fair Wages Aren’t Enough, Workers Need Hours, Predictability, too

Fast-Food-EmployeesThere’s no question that working families across the country are struggling to get by; wages for most income levels have been stagnant or declining over the past decade, while the cost of living has continued to increase.

One key to helping working families is increasing wages so that there are more living wage jobs available. However, increasing the minimum wage is only part of the solution for helping families whose low-wage jobs do not always include steady work.

Living wage calculations, like those produced by the Alliance for a Just Society, must make assumptions to remain consistent year after year. One of those assumptions is that workers have jobs where they can actually work 40 hours per week, year-round (for 2,080 hours per year). For many workers, this assumption doesn’t match their reality.

For retail and restaurant workers, a steady schedule with enough hours can be hard to come by. Retail salespersons and food preparation and service workers are two of the top five occupations with the greatest projected job growth between 2012 and 2022, but are also low-wage occupations, with 2013 median annual wage of $21,140 and $18,330, respectively. These jobs are also often shift work, without set schedules. Read more

Everyone Benefits When Workers Earn Living Wages

The South Korea government is taking an interesting approach to stagnating wages. The South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance is pushing a policy to offer tax credits to those firms that increase worker pay.

This legislation — which, if approved by the South Korean parliament, would go into effect in January — creates a policy incentive for firms to increase wages. As in America, wage growth in South Korea is “not keeping pace with corporate profits in South Korea, where household debt is rising while companies hoard cash,” according to this Bloomberg story.

Sound familiar?

Read more

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.

 

New Jersey Small Businesses Still Adrift Two Years After Sandy

NJ worried businessesSince Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast in November 2012, small business owners who were promised financial assistance to help their businesses excited abut rebuilding and recovering, are still waiting for the funding to appear. Corinne Horowitz, the business representative for the New Jersey Main Street Alliance, describes their frustration as they search for solutions.

By Corinne Horowitz

 

Small business owners who were devastated by Sandy in November 2012 are outraged over the mishandling of Sandy business grants by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Gov. Chris Christie’s Administration. 

Working with the New Jersey Main Street Alliance, business owners attended the economic development public hearing, townhall meetings, and finally organized a press conference to call for investigation and oversight of the program.

The federal Sandy Relief Bill passed in January 2013 allocated $260 million for the Stronger New Jersey Business Grant Program to provide grants of up to $50,000 to affected businesses “for working capital or construction needs.”  Businesses that were at first relieved by the anticipation of rebuilding and recovering from the storm, soon became dismayed what has turned out to be a daunting process.

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Families and Our Future Sinking in a Sea of Student Debt

This is the first in a three-part series by the Alliance for a Just Society, looking at the high cost of student debt for our country and for our future.students campus photo

Young college graduates are putting their futures on hold as they struggle under the burden of high student debt – and a weak economic recovery that has failed to provide good jobs for them. Young adults in their 20s and 30s are delaying buying houses, cars, furniture or starting families. The implications for every family, and our nation, are huge.

Student loan debt has passed $1.2 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Such widespread indebtedness has many causes and the ramifications are pervasive – including a decline in purchasing power.
Read more

Work, Productivity, Play and Compensation in America

Americans work longer and harder than our peers in almost every industrial nation.

On average Americans are working 1800 hours per year, beating out Germany, France, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Spain, United Kingdom, Australia and Finland. http://blogs.salleurl.edu/emprendedores/files/2011/02/work.jpgAccording to The International Labour Organization American released a report stating that “workers in the United States on average produce $63,885 of wealth annually; compared to other industrialized countries of Europe, only Norway’s workers produce more wealth per hour ($37.99 in U.S. dollars) than do American workers ($35.63.)” Read more

There’s Only One Cliché Coming Out of DC That Seems to Fit

First They Sentenced Us to Death By A Thousand Cuts.

Now They Threaten us With Death By a Thousand Clichés.

I am largely mystified by the apparently widespread support for further austerity. The leadership of the House of Representatives continue to manufacture governmental crises to force draconian cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, in the face of totally lousy economic news.http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-dAbK_N0SYoY/T89IKE2JknI/AAAAAAAAATs/E_01in9ExBY/s1600/cliche.png

The latest jobs news out Friday the 6th gives us further reason to pause and reflect on just how ruinous the Great Recession has been for the people of the country. There was overall job growth of about 169,000 new jobs, but the unemployment rate is still at 7.3%. Overall job growth for the year was revised downward from previous estimates. Read more