WASHINGTON, D.C.— On Wednesday, Oct. 1, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez issued a final rule raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 per hour, effective Jan. 1, 2015. According to the Associated Press, the change will impact more than 200,000 workers.
The top ten federal government contractors in 2012 were Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, SAIC, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Hewlett Packard, Booz Allen Hamilton, Computer Sciences Corporation, and DynCorp International. They will feel the minimum wage hike a bit, but for the vast majority of Americans, especially the working class, the changes by the Labor Department will pass unnoticed.
The Labor Department also announced that effective Jan. 1, 2015, most direct care workers will be entitled to receive federal minimum wage and overtime pay protections. Direct care workers are workers who provide home care services, such as certified nursing assistants, home health aides, personal care aides, caregivers, and companions.
This is how change happens: bit by bit, incrementally, and job by job.
While many hoped for big changes when President Obama was sworn into office, expectations were set so high, he had an impossible task to meet them. While some small companies may complain about the new federal minimum wage rules, it is a basic tenant of living in our country that companies that secure a federal contract should pay a reasonable wage. Likewise, the notion that home care is real work, and that when a person runs a business that provides home care, they should be subject to paying the federal minimum wage with overtime is obvious. The rules set by the secretary create a floor, one that has been needed for a long time.
People who operate businesses want to make a profit, and that’s no crime. Running a profitable business is something basic and needed in our society. The political debate has been about the amount of government regulation and subsidy, and the dynamic of our bicameral legislature has been to create an environment that favors large, corporate businesses in the post-World War II era. Businesses like the top federal contractors.
At the same time, there is an economy of low wage workers, like those that provide home care. Someone knows a friend or relative who needs care, and an agreement is reached for compensation. The amount of compensation may not be as important as providing the service, especially when people can’t afford professional care. Personal relationships enter into the picture. Often this work is done off the books.
My point is this. Between the publicized, formal programs of the Labor Department and the reality of daily life there is and always will be a gap. That’s where many of us live our lives. We should appreciate the work of the Obama administration to fix known problems like those related to federal contractor wages and home care workers. In the working class, we may view that as nice, but less relevant to our lives than all of the brouhaha suggests.
It is something that we even noticed President Obama did what he said he would with regard to setting the minimum wage for federal contractors. But then that’s what blogs are for.
We are getting down to crunch time for the 2014 election. Actual election day is about 35 days away. But as most of you know the election in Iowa started last Thursday. Everyday from here forward Iowans will be sitting in their kitchens, sipping coffee and filling out their ballots to drop into the mail box to be sent off to the auditor’s office. Or they are reading their morning news choice and then hopping into the car with a spouse or a friend to go to the county courthouse to vote. Or perhaps they will be voting in a satellite polling place somewhere in their county.
Despite a concerted effort by Matt Schultz and his band of Republican revisionists, the much more accessible voting set up by his predecessors, Chet Culver and Mike Mauro, are still in effect. Thus from now until 9PM on November 4th we will be having fellow citizens voting. We need to use all the tools at our disposal to remind folks that the government at every level is in much better hands if it is in the hands of Democrats.
Go to your local Democratic headquarters and offer to help knock doors if you can or make calls if you can. These are the most effective ways to get folks out. Join in the Labor efforts this weekend. A list can be found here: Every hour or two really helps. Envelopes will need to be stuffed for mailings. This is a critical time for traditional mailings. Offer to write up person to person post cards. All of these tactics may coax one more vote for our Democratic candidates.
One other tactic that is easy to use is the Letters to The Editor column in local newspapers. Usually there is a limit of 250 words per letter, so it is best to focus on a narrow subject. You will also probably want to use a word editor that counts the words to put your letter together. Then when you go to submit your letter you can copy and paste.
These days submission is usually a matter of going to the paper’s website and going to the contact button. There you should find a selection for ‘Letter To The Editor.’ Click on the button and follow the instructions. Remember, most papers will ask for your contact information to verify you are who you say you are.
The letters to the editor section is the most read section of the paper behind obituaries. Other folks are interested in the opinions of their peers. Read your letter out loud before you submit to make sure it makes sense to you. Be positive, be coherent and most of all be yourself.
There is no shortage of material to write on, from the big differences between Hatch and Branstad to Dave Loebsack’s very successful stint as Congressman.
Here is my most recent example. Later today I will publish another LTTE submitted by a friend:
Vote Republican, Lose
If you are planning on voting for Republican candidates this fall, remember what you are voting for in reality. You are not voting for an individual candidate but for an ideology that greatly favors the wealthy and has policies that punish the poor and guts the middle classes.
Seldom will an individual Republican candidate mention their true issues out loud, but as a party almost fully beholden to wealthy donors they will mention them behind closed doors to those donors. What comes out of there should scare the daylights out of anyone who is not independently wealthy.
The Affordable Care Act is still their top target and if elected each and every one will go after it with total focus whether at the state or federal level. Right behind them are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, Unemployment Insurance and any other programs which help those who are somehow not as fortunate as others.
There will also be total denial of looming problems, especially those brought on by Climate Change. In order to distract from looming problems we will see our ‘leaders’ chasing phantom demons from Benghazi to the southern border and any other bogus terror they can dream up.
While they are doing that they will be stealing your children’s and grandchildren’s future to give their wealthy donors more tax breaks and privileges to ruin the environment. It is what they have been doing for 35 years. Just so you understand before you vote.
Clive: Reception with Dave Loebsack
6 PM. Clive. IA. RSVP 319-804-9218 or email@example.com.
Clinton Labor Walk 5 PM. 309-738-3196 224 22nd Place, Clinton, Iowa
Mason City Labor Walk. 9 am, Mason City Labor Temple, 510 S Pennsylvania, Mason City. contact Matt Marchese at firstname.lastname@example.org 515-243-1924 or 917-757-8788
Davenport – Quad Cities. Labor Walk 11 Am to 7 PM. UFCW 431 2411 W Central Park Avenue, Davenport. Tracy Leone at 309-738-3196
September 24: Performance and Reception for Staci Appel
Des Moines: 4 – 6 PM Java Joe’s 214 4th Street, Des Moines, IA. 50309. Performance by Jon “Bowzer” Bauman from Sha NA NA. RSVP 515-957-1391 or email@example.com.
September 25-26 New Stewards School.
Coralville: Labor Center. University of Iowa BioVentures Center, Coralville. $150 per person. Includes materials, parking and lunch both days. Registration deadline is September 10. 319-335-4144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iowa City: Winning better laws: How can ordinary people be heard
Center for Worker Justice. 940 S Gilbert Court, Iowa City. 319-594-7593. All workshops take place at 12:00 noon and 6:00 pm at the Center for Worker Justice, 940 S. Gilbert Court, Iowa City. Call 319-594-7593 for more information. Interpretation is available upon request.
Des Moines: Labor Jam – Labor Park. Noon to 10 PM. $5 per person. Bring you own beer, chairs and blankets. Food, pop and water will be for sale. 515-265-1862 or email@example.com
Burlington: Labor History. Saturday, Sept. 27, 8:00 am-12:00 noon, 16452 US Hwy 34, West Burlington (Machinists Hall)
Learn more about key struggles and dramatic turning points in U.S. and Iowa labor history, and what labor history tells us about the challenges workers continue to face today. Sponsored by Des Moines-Henry County Labor Council with support from the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Contact Ryan Drew to RSVP or for more information: 319-759-3188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walker. Labor Walk – 2000 Walker
Quad Cities Sat. Sept 27: Labor to Labor Walk – 10 – 1pm @ UFCW 431
Quad Cities: Monday Phone Bank @ UA Hall 5-8PM Tracy Leone at 309-738-3196
West Des Moines
Citizen Koch Screening –
Citizen Koch: A Film About Money, Power and Democracy
Century 20 Theatres at Jordan Creek
West Des Moines, Iowa
September 29, 2014 @ 7:30 PM
What working person hasn’t taken a nap in their vehicle? Part time and temporary workers with multiple jobs are unlikely to get enough rest, so why not set the alarm clock and snooze after arriving early for a shift, or during a 30-minute lunch break? At the meat packing plant where I worked during summer breaks from college, there was competition for the prime snoozing spots before clocking in the regulation six minutes before starting a shift. One’s vehicle provides a level of security and privacy— it’s also convenient.
The story of Maria Fernandes, who died in her automobile while sleeping between part time jobs at three New Jersey and New York Dunkin’ Donut shops, hit the corporate media in full force last week, and they were atwitter. The best coverage I found was in RT, the Russian 24/7 news channel:
A New Jersey woman who worked four jobs, who sometimes “wouldn’t sleep for five days,” according to a co-worker, died Monday while napping between shifts in her car on the side of the road.
Maria Fernandes died in her 2001 Kia Sportage after inhaling carbon monoxide and fumes from an overturned gas container she kept in the car, according to the New York Daily News.
The 32-year-old Newark woman pulled into a WAWA convenience store lot in Elizabeth, New Jersey for a nap early Monday. She left the car running. The carbon monoxide and gasoline fumes were the likely cause of death, authorities said.
Fernandes was found dead in the car around eight hours later when EMTs responded to a 911 call of a woman found in a vehicle with closed windows and doors. Emergency workers sensed a strong chemical odor upon entering the vehicle, authorities said.
What will the story of Fernandes mean to broader society? Regretfully, not much once the news cycle is finished. Hers is one more sad story in the life of working people.
There is media discussion of Fernandes becoming emblematic for low wage workers, and some connect her death to the current political discussion about the need for an increase in the minimum wage. Advocates will likely use her story to make a case for unionization and other favored topics. But something is missing. Let’s follow the RT story down the rabbit hole:
About 7.5 million Americans are working more than one job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those jobs often leave people short on income compared to full-time work, said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
“These are folks who would like to work full-time but they can’t find the jobs,” Van Horn said. “They wind up in these circumstances in which they are exhausted. More commonly it creates just an enormous amount of stress.”
Workers in the United States are earning an average of 23 percent less than earnings from jobs that were lost during the economic recession that began in 2008, according to a recent report, as wealth inequality in the U.S. has shot to record highs, according to various indicators. Many long-term unemployed are considering abandoning their job search following years of stagnant economic growth.
Maria Fernandes is not a victim of her own choices, except maybe the one to leave her car running while she slept in it. Closer to the truth is that many companies want part time or temporary workers to avoid paying benefits, and this runs contrary to the expectations built for those of us in the baby boom generation. The movement to part time and temporary work is an inexorable march toward stripping costs from business operations— something few in the corporate media have covered as it relates to Fernandes.
That she could work in three locations with the same corporate brand and wear the same uniform in each, yet not work for the same company, gets to a core issue. By its structure, Dunkin’ Donuts and companies like it, are designed to distance themselves from workers, and create gross margin and related profits that flow to the richest one percent of the population. In this case to the parent company, Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: DNKN), led by Nigel Travis. There are layers of distancing from the company, presumably related to the goal of avoiding the costs and troubles of lowly paid workers.
The circumstances around Maria Fernandes’ death captivated attention for a news cycle. One must ask the question what will we do about it, and hope there will be an answer.
By Colin Gordon
Senior Research Consultant — Iowa Policy Project
Each year at Labor Day, we survey the “State of Working Iowa.” This annual report card examines trends in wages, job growth, and job quality in Iowa. This fall, when the Census Bureau updates its numbers on incomes and health insurance coverage, we will offer a follow-up report on those trends — and their meaning for Iowa’s working families. As in the past, we have devoted close attention through the year (see our monthly “Iowa JobWatch” release) to trends in nonfarm employment because it is an important index of economic progress and particularly of the pace of recovery from the Great Recession. Importantly as well to a public grasp of the meaning of this measure, we have had to deal with manipulation of these numbers by the Governor’s office, which minimizes losses and exaggerates gains. (We have written on the economics and politics of counting jobs, HERE and HERE).
For these reasons, we turn our Labor Day focus on wages in Iowa. What are the long-term trends? What was the impact of the recession (and recovery) on the paychecks of working Iowans? Do age, education, or gender determine whether you gained or lost ground? What are the causes of persistent wage stagnation, and growing wage inequality?
Abraham Lincoln understood what labor meant:
“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first
existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” Lincoln’s First Annual Message to Congress,
December 3, 1861.
Harry Truman, maybe not exactly on Labor, but on Labor’s #1 enemy:
“Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home–but not for housing. They are strong for labor–but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor minimum wage–the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all–but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine–for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing–but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think American standard of living is a fine thing–so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.”
From Barack Obama:
It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label.
Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor–those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized–do a disservice to the cause of democracy.
Fifty years or so ago the American Labor Movement was little more than a group of dreamers, and look at it now. From coast to coast, in factories, stores, warehouse and business establishments of all kinds, industrial democracy is at work.
Employees, represented by free and democratic trade unions of their own choosing, participate actively in determining their wages, hours and working conditions. Their living standards are the highest in the world. Their job rights are protected by collective bargaining agreements. They have fringe benefits that were unheard of less than a generation ago.
Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor. But their work goes beyond their own jobs, and even beyond our borders.
Our unions have fought for aid to education, for better housing, for development of our national resources and for saving the family-sized farms. They have spoken, not for narrow self-interest, but for the public interest and for the people
— John F. Kennedy, Aug. 30, 1960
I need to remind folks that there is another side of the fence. I think the infamous Jay Gould quote on his disdain for laborers really encapsulates capital’s feelings on Labor:
“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”
Traditionally this was the start of political campaigns and the end of summer vacation for school age kids. Now politics goes all year long and nearly every aspect of our lives has been politicized by the right, including how we choose to use our own bodies and what we believe or don’t believe spiritually. Kids have been in school for weeks now. No doubt the 12 month school year is probably on the horizon.
Labor is having somewhat of a resurgence, but is far from recovering from the blow delivered by the Gipper, one of America’s worst presidents ever.
Many of today’s questions will focus on labor, to remind us that labor has never had an easy row to hoe.
1) In a meeting that just came to light this week, Tea Party senate candidate Joni Ernst paid homage to who for making her campaign viable?
2) 1842 is crucial to labor history in the US. In the case Commonwealth v. Hunt settled the legality of what entity?
3) An American was killed last weekend fighting for ISIS in Syria. He had what patriotic sounding name?
4) Samuel Gompers is one of the most recognized names in Labor history. What Labor organization did Gompers head?
5) A reclassification by the Drug Enforcement Administration will make it much harder for patients to get what popular and addicting pain killer?
6) What Iowa born Labor leader was head of the mine workers union from 1920 to 1960 and helped form and the lead the CIO?
7) The largest university in Iowa welcomed over 34,000 students last week. Which university is Iowa’s largest?
8) Governor Branstad, in an odd linkage, blamed layoffs at Deere on who?
9) In 1955, a merger of major Labor unions brought together what two unions?
10) In what may become known as the “Branstad Tax” the governor proposed what to replace the gas tax?
11) A poll commissioned by two Republican groups found what demographic thought Republicans to be “stuck in the past”,”intolerant” and “lacking compassion?”
12) A proposed merger will join what Canadian fast fooder with what American fast fooder?
13) Of all the silly things to cover this week, ESPN had a segment on the after work showering habits of what person?
14) Can you name the 3 largest unions in the US based on number of members?
15) Using government powers to make sure an organization does what it says it will. What Iowa elected official wants the government to monitor the ALS foundation to verify it uses money raised by the ice bucket challenge for research?
My project for this weekend is to get all available immigration documentation about my grandparents in case Republicans win both houses. I am only 3rd generation American and I am not sure if that will be enough under their auspices. If they cut the date off at 1900, I may have a problem.
1) Charles and David Koch and the group of funders they put together.
3) Douglas MacArthur McCain
4) American Federation of Labor (AFL).
6) John L. Lewis
7) Iowa State
8) the EPA. Odd for many reasons. Remember Joni Ernst has signed on to oppose renewable energy with Exxon.
9) AFL and the CIO
10) a sales tax on gas.
12) Tim Horton’s (Canada) and Burger King (US). This is so Burger King can avoid US taxes. So I avoid Burger King.
13) Michael Sam, the rookie pro footballer who came out as gay.
14) The NEA, the SEIU and AFSCME
15) Charles Grassley. Look out for the Tea Party with attitudes like that, Chuck!
2014 is the 120th national celebration of labor in the United States. During that time, labor has seldom had true respect in this country. The way history is taught in this country many folks believe that labor strife ended with Samuel Gompers and the advent of Labor Day. But as any true historian will tell you, Labor Day was merely a recognition of the power the labor movement had achieved, but was hardly a cessation in the war against labor as waged by the ownership class in this country.
Since 1894, the US has seen constant and continuing attempts by capitalists to incapacitate and neuter the labor movement in this country. Considering that all of us but those at the very top are laborers of some sort, this is a war on most Americans and their ability to earn a living and provide for their families.
Over the decades labor won some battles. When one thinks of what has become a “standard” work week, one thinks of 40 hours, 8 hours a day with a couple of coffee breaks and a lunch period, with overtime above 40 hours in a week. Many take such an arrangement for granted, almost as if it always existed. However, as many have been learning since the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan, none of what we take as standard is written in stone. All these rules and many more which we have come to believe as standard were won through hard negotiation and job actions which were often met with violence and loss of jobs.
Since the ascendancy of Reagan, the balance of power between labor and capital has dramatically shifted to the capital side of the coin. I daresay there has never been a time when Labor was in charge. For a time there was some balance, but the election of Reagan put an end to that.
Whether the Reagan administration was looking for a battle against labor to hang its hat on, or if the strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) was actually a narrow battle of the day, the firing of of the strikers by Reagan became a true watershed moment in Labor relations. In short, Labor has never recovered and management has seen victory after victory especially in congresses which have become increasingly management friendly.
To keep the price of labor low, which is one of the major goals, labor must be treated as a commodity and as such an excess must always be available. This is the logic behind Republicans, acting for management, pushing legislation that aids moving jobs offshore, trying to raise retirement age, cuts back on retirement benefits and even the ridiculous suggestion to put children back into the labor force.
The scariest recent development in the labor front is automation. Automation has of course been around for years, but with the digital revolution the possibility of replacing jobs never before thought possible. It is not hard to imagine 3D printers replacing some highly skilled jobs. Even McDonald’s claims that if their cost of labor gets too high it will make automating their restaurants cost effective.
The Labor movement has always been steeped in conflict, usually against management, but sometimes within its own walls. The future looks quite challenging. Even if you are in management or are a professional who believes you are untouchable, you would be smart to keep an eye on and support Labor’s struggles. What happens to them will eventually happen to you. When once you got raises and benefits as Labor’s fortunes rose, so, too, will your fortunes fall as theirs do.
We all learn something new. We learn from school, family and friends, and much of what we learn is on the job. That can not only mean job skills, but also learning human personalities, workplace issues and basic job justice.
Though few in number, some universities, like the University of Illinois, have labor education programs. The professors and scholars there work for and with workers, sometimes on direct job issues, sometimes on union training.
Helena Worthen, in What did you learn at work today?” takes her years of labor education and slimmed them down, seeking to understand how we learn on the job and in the union hall.
Unless you are a teacher, most Americans don’t think about learning styles or philosophies. Worthen covers four different analyses of how we learn and applies them to everyday situations.
She then does case studies of workers she’s been involved with: striking AFSCME care workers in Effingham, Illinois, inner-city pre-apprenticeship trainees, garment workers, trade apprentices, power plant technicians and teachers. Through each case, she documents on how workers’ empowerment and involvement changed not only their work lives, but them personally.
Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is how children view their working parents. Worthen served as a scholarship judge for AFSCME and read hundreds of essays on “What does AFSCME do for my family?” We often forget how observant children are of family dynamics, how job security or insecurity impacts the family and how much pride they take in their parents and their work. The Labor Movement is missing a great opportunity by not including union families and their children in activities, as these essay writers are often very insightful on how the union maintains their family unit.
Ultimately, a union is about workers developing power to better their conditions. Knowledge is power. How we gain and maintain worker knowledge is the great lesson of this book.
Four Democratic legislators introduced the Schedules That Work Act (H.R. 5159) on July 22 without fanfare. Labor and Women’s groups were quick to sign on to a bill that asserts its help for part time workers in a middle class that increasingly seeks flexibility and fairness in work scheduling from employers. This is especially true for workers who clean, perform janitorial work, serve in restaurants, and work retail.
The statement of Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families on the day the bill was introduced gets the conversation started:
Across the country today, millions of workers receive no advance notice of their schedules or the number of hours they are expected to work. Some are required to call to find out if they are scheduled to work each morning– and have no guarantee of work, pay, or that they won’t be sent home early if they do travel to their workplace. These practices mean that workers, especially women and those paid low wages, are left with significant uncertainty about whether they will be able to pay for basic expenses, meet family and caregiving responsibilities, or pursue educational and job training opportunities. It is a harmful and unnecessary situation.
By giving workers more control over their schedules, encouraging employers to be clear about scheduling and hours expectations, and ensuring employers provide some wages when schedules are irregular or change on short notice, the Schedules That Work Act would provide much-needed predictability and financial stability for workers, businesses and our economy. The bill would go a long way toward helping people meet the dual demands of job and family while promoting economic security and opportunity.
Vermont and San Francisco have laws like this on the books, so why not everyone else in the country? BFIA readers know the answer to that.
Whether the bill gains traction seems doubtful in a Congress less popular than cockroaches. At the same time, creating a viable economic model for a family that relies on several part-time jobs is hard. It’s harder if there are young children. If a person tries to lead an honest, decent life, and get ahead through schooling or job training, it is impossible without a social safety net that includes government tax credits for health insurance and a retirement plan of Social Security and Medicare. If illness or injury have darkened a family’s doorway, they are at the mercy of the community, and life can get hopeless with part time work supporting a family.
Does something need to be done to encourage more people to work part time? Yes, there is a business demand for part time workers, and demand has already pushed starting wages well above the minimum wage, at least in Eastern Iowa. Does something need to be done by government to frame a structure to make life easier? Maybe, maybe not.
During the past five years, the author has worked a number of part time jobs and found most to be accommodating of a flexible schedule. If they were less so, they had strict work rules to facilitate work with an employee base that turned over frequently. A person can understand work rules when they are strict and fairly enforced, and agree to the deal. Companies also seem willing to accommodate flexibility if an employee has basic work skills like showing up on time, working while at work, and producing desired performance results. In a competitive business environment, there will be plenty of part time jobs, and there is something to the idea that the market will drive employee accommodations, because businesses need a skilled workforce to conduct operations.
That isn’t to say there is no merit in the Schedules That Work Act, just that the initial information indicates a lopsidedness in perspective. So read up.
The New York Times ran a background story on July 15, which can be accessed here.
President Obama is on board with some protections, and issued a statement here.
Currently though, as Jennifer Ludden of National Public Radio suggested, if you want flexibility, consider moving to Vermont or San Francisco.
The Schedules That Work Act seems dead on arrival in a Congress obsessed with Obamacare, impeachment, unwavering support for Israel, and deporting young children seeking shelter. The Schedules That Work Act will be one to follow into the midterm elections, and if Democrats win, into the next Congress.