News Human Rights

D.C. Council Raises Minimum Wage, Guarantees Paid Sick Days for All

Emily Crockett

The measures passed thanks in part to strong local organizing efforts, but it was a mixed outcome for tipped restaurant workers.

The Council of the District of Columbia on Tuesday unanimously passed both a substantial minimum wage increase and a bill guaranteeing paid sick days for tipped restaurant workers.

The minimum wage increase, expected to be signed by Mayor Vincent Gray, will give D.C. one of the highest minimum wages in the country. The minimum wage will rise from $8.25 to $11.50 until 2016, and will be indexed to inflation thereafter.

Tipped restaurant workers had been left out of D.C.’s last paid sick days bill, but now they can earn paid time off for personal or family illness, or for dealing with a domestic violence issue. Workers can start accruing leave immediately and use it after 90 days, up to five days off per year depending on the size of the employer.

“This is a huge victory for working moms and for women working in low-wage industries,” Monica Kamen, an organizer with Jews United for Justice and Paid Sick Days for All, told Rewire. Sixty-six percent of tipped restaurant workers nationwide are women.

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The council voted down a proposal to increase the tipped minimum wage, currently $2.77, to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. But the idea still has momentum: Councilmember Mary Cheh has introduced the defeated measure as a stand-alone bill, and D.C. Working Families will address the issue with a ballot initiative.

“[The restaurant industry] saw paid sick days as more of an inevitability, because we really had a lot of council support for the issue,” Kamen said. “But they fought really hard to make sure that tipped workers didn’t get a raise, and they won that fight.”

Still, organizing efforts from a broad coalition of D.C. social justice organizations likely bolstered the council’s support for the two measures that did pass.

“We’ve been flooding the councilmembers with phone calls every five minutes through the course of the day,” Kamen said. “I think that had a huge impact on making sure paid sick days stayed on the agenda, and that both the bills didn’t get amended and had unanimous support.”

The minimum wage bill in particular was almost an inevitability after the failure of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, which would have set a wage of $12.50 for workers at places like Walmart. After Mayor Gray vetoed the bill, councilmembers vowed to pass a general minimum wage increase and introduced four separate bills to do so.

“It’s a historic moment where the entire council came together unanimously on both issues, and sent a really strong statement to the mayor and to the rest of the country that D.C. is a city that supports working families,” Kamen said.

Correction: A version of this article incorrectly noted that the current minimum wage in Washington, D.C., is $8.50. It is in fact $8.25. We regret the error.

Commentary Politics

In Mike Pence, Trump Would Find a Fellow Huckster

Jodi Jacobson

If Donald Trump is looking for someone who, like himself, has problems with the truth, isn't inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn't understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs, then Pence is his guy.

This week, GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump is considering Mike Pence, among other possible contenders, to join his ticket as a vice presidential candidate.

In doing so, Trump would pick the “pro-life” governor of a state with one of the slowest rates of economic growth in the nation, and one of the most egregious records on public health, infant and child survival, and poverty in the country. He also would be choosing one of the GOP governors who has spent more time focused on policies to discriminate against women and girls, LGBTQ communities, and the poor than on addressing economic and health challenges in his state. Meanwhile, despite the evidence, Pence is a governor who seems to be perpetually in denial about the effects of his policies.

Let’s take the economy. From 2014 to 2015, Indiana’s economic growth lagged behind all but seven other states in the nation. During that period, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Indiana’s economy grew by just 0.4 percent, one-third the rate of growth in Illinois and slower than the economies of 43 other states. Per capita gross domestic product in the state ranked 37th among all states.

Income inequality has been a growing problem in the state. As the Indy Star reported, a 2014 report by the United States Conference of Mayors titled “Income and Wage Gaps Across the US” stated that “wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession,” largely due to the fact “that jobs recovered in the U.S. since 2008 pay $14,000 less on average than the 8.7 million jobs lost since then.” In a letter to the editor of the Indy Star, Derek Thomas, senior policy analyst for the Indiana Institute for Working Families, cited findings from the Work and Poverty in Marion County report, which found that four out of five of the fastest-growing industries in the county pay at or below a self-sufficient wage for a family of three, and weekly wages had actually declined. “Each year that poverty increases, economic mobility—already a real challenge in Indy—becomes more of a statistical oddity for the affected families and future generations.”

In his letter, Thomas also pointed out:

[T]he minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work; and 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).

Despite the data and the struggles faced by real people across the state, Pence has consistently claimed the economy of the state is “booming,” and that the state “is strong and growing stronger,” according to the Northwest Indiana Times. When presented with data from various agencies, his spokespeople have dismissed them as “erroneous.” Not exactly a compelling rebuttal.

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As a “pro-life” governor, Pence presides over a state with one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation. Data from the Indiana State Department of Health reveals a “significant disparity” between white and Black infant mortality rates, with Black infants 1.8 times more likely to die than their white counterparts. The 2013 Infant Mortality Summit also revealed that “[a]lmost one-third of pregnant women in Indiana don’t receive prenatal care in their first trimester; almost 17% of pregnant women are smokers, compared to the national rate of 9%; and the state ranks 8th in the number of obese citizens.”

Yet even while he bemoaned the situation, Pence presided over budget cuts to programs that support the health and well-being of pregnant women and infants. Under Pence, 65,000 people have been threatened with the loss of  food stamp benefits which, meager as they already are, are necessary to sustain the caloric and nutritional intake of families and children.

While he does not appear to be effectively managing the economy, Pence has shown a great proclivity to distract from real issues by focusing on passing laws and policies that discriminate against women and LGBTQ persons.

He has, for example, eagerly signed laws aimed at criminalizing abortion, forcing women to undergo unnecessary ultrasounds, banning coverage for abortion care in private insurance plans, and forcing doctors performing abortions to seek admitting privileges at hospitals (a requirement the Supreme Court recently struck down as medically unnecessary in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case). He signed a “religious freedom” law that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ persons and only “amended” it after a national outcry. Because Pence has guided public health policy based on his “conservative values,” rather than on evidence and best practices in public health, he presided over one of the fastest growing outbreaks of HIV infection in rural areas in the United States.

These facts are no surprise given that, as a U.S. Congressman, Pence “waged war” on Planned Parenthood. In 2000, he stated that Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals and advocated that funding for HIV prevention should be directed toward conversion therapy programs.

He also appears to share Trump’s hatred of and willingness to scapegoat immigrants and refugees. Pence was the first governor to refuse to allow Syrian refugees to relocate in his state. On November 16th 2015, he directed “all state agencies to suspend the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees in the state of Indiana,” sending a young family that had waited four years in refugee limbo to be resettled in the United States scrambling for another state to call home. That’s a pro-life position for you. To top it all off, Pence is a creationist, and is a climate change denier.

So if Donald Trump is looking for someone who, like himself, has problems with the truth, isn’t inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn’t understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs, then Pence is his guy.

News Politics

Clinton: Cap Child Care Costs at 10 Percent of Family Income

Ally Boguhn

A 2015 analysis by the Economic Policy Institute found that in 33 states and Washington, D.C., child care costs were higher than the average cost of in-state tuition at public universities.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will address the lack of affordable health care in the United States by pitching a child care agenda Tuesday that includes a promise to cap costs at 10 percent of a family’s income.

Clinton’s campaign says the candidate will discuss her plans during a campaign stop at a family health center in Louisville, Kentucky. Ann O’Leary, senior policy adviser to Clinton, told Politico in a statement that Clinton “will call for substantial new investments in both subsidies for low and lower-middle class families, as well as new investments in tax breaks for middle class families to afford child care.”

Though Clinton will promise to use the federal government to ensure that families don’t have to pay more than 10 percent of their income in child care costs, the campaign has not yet released details about how the spending cap would be implemented or how the government would pay for the policy. 

Costs associated with child care take up a significant portion of family budgets in the United States, and disproportionately impact people who work for minimum wage. A 2015 analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that in 33 states and Washington, D.C., child care costs were higher than the average cost of in-state tuition at public universities.

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Clinton is expected to propose doubling spending on the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Initiative, a “home visiting” program, reports the Huffington Post. The program sends nurses, social workers, and early childhood educators to homes in order to support “pregnant women and families and helps at-risk parents of” young children, build skills to raise “physically, socially and emotionally healthy” children, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The federal program in 2015 “served 145,500 parents and children in 825 counties in every U.S. state, DC, and five territories.”

Clinton will call for a new program to raise pay and provide training for child care workers. The program will be called the “Respect And Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators,” or the RAISE Initiative.

Rival Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has spoken out against both the rising costs of child care and the low pay those who work in that industry receive. Sanders, during an MSNBC town hall event in February, called for better training and higher pay for child care workers and for “quality child care for all working families,” to be paid for by taxing the wealthy.

Republicans campaigning for president have largely ignored affordable child care. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump refused to provide a definitive answer to how he would deal with the issue when asked about it during a campaign appearance in December. Trump had questioned why more companies did not already provide child care for their employees, claiming during an Iowa town hall that it’s “not expensive for a company to do it” and noting that it was a benefit provided by some of his companies.