News Economic Justice

Tens of Thousands Take to the Streets in Nationwide Fight for $15

Kanya D’Almeida

What began in 2012 as a movement of a few hundred fast-food workers demanding decent pay reached a climax yesterday, with both Democratic presidential front-runners tweeting their support for the #FightFor15 protesters who marched in 400 cities, according to some estimates.

Tens of thousands of workers took to the streets in hundreds of cities across the country Tuesday calling for a $15 minimum wage.

The #Fightfor15 movement began in 2012 with a few hundred fast-food workers. By November 10, exactly a year before Election Day 2016, it had captured national headlines, with both Democratic front-runners tweeting their support for workers who marched in 400 cities, according to some estimates.

Backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Tuesday’s nationwide action saw home care workers and adjunct professors standing arm-in-arm with retail workers and restaurant employees demanding the right to unionize without fear of retaliation, and a hike in the federal minimum wage, which has been frozen at $7.25 an hour since 2009.

An estimated 42 percent of the U.S. workforce currently earns less than $15 an hour, a new report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found, with women and people of color vastly overrepresented in this demographic.

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Female workers comprise 54.7 percent of those earning under $15 hourly, even though they account for less than half of the total workforce48.3 percent—while African Americans, who make up just 12 percent of workers, represent 15 percent of low-wage employees.

Latinos are by far the most overrepresented, making up 16.5 percent of the labor force but comprising almost 23 percent of those earning less than $15 an hour. Nearly 60 percent of Latino workers and more than 50 percent of Black workers fall into the sub-$15 category of earners.

Rallies, walkouts, and strike actions held Tuesday highlighted links between racial and economic justice. The estimated 1,000 protesters who gathered outside the auditorium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where this week’s GOP debate was taking place, marched behind a banner that read, “Black Lives Matter. Immigrant Justice. Fight for $15.”

Despite protesters challenging Republican candidates to “come get my vote,” not one of the eight GOP front-runners offered support for higher wages in their responses to debate questions. An estimated 35 million Americans currently earn less than $10.55 an hour.

NELP research reveals that the leading industries for under-$15 hourly wages include food services, private households, agriculture, retail, and support services.

In food and retail services alone, a combined 7.7 million people take home less than $31,000 annually by some estimates.

Quoting statistics from the Bureau of Labor, the Pew Research Center puts the number of workers at or below the federal minimum wage at 3.3 million, the vast majority in food preparation and retail service industries.

The government calculates the annual income of a federal minimum wage worker to be $15,080, a figure that does not sit well with research from the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis, which puts the poverty threshold for a family of four at $22,283. The poverty line for a family of two is $16,078 according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Aside from fast-food workers, who form the core of the movement, care providers have been among the most vocal advocates for better pay. The vast majority of some two million employees in the home care industry are women of color.

Home care workers in Cleveland, Ohio, braved the rain outside City Hall Tuesday, while in San Diego, United Domestic Workers of America (UDWA) member LaTanye Cline addressed a huge crowd when she said, “Across California home care workers are joining the nationwide fight for $15. We won’t just sit back and watch while politicians and CEOs cut benefits for low-income workers while padding their own pockets.”

Tuesday’s actions coincided with a series of scattered but significant victories for the movement. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order requiring city employees to be paid at least $15 per hour, and called for legislation that would mandate contractors to pay the same by 2021.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all state workers would be guaranteed a $15 hourly wage by the end of 2018, marking the first time a governor has unilaterally mandated a wage increase for the entire state.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

News Law and Policy

California Lawmakers Take Action Against Rampant Wage Theft

Nicole Knight

A survey of people who work for low wages found that wage theft robbed workers of $26.2 million each week in Los Angeles, making the locale the "wage theft capital of the country."

Los Angeles has earned the distinction as the country’s wage theft capital, but a new California law is tackling the rampant problem of wage theft with new enforcement tools.

The law, SB 1342, signed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), gives city and county authorities subpoena powers when investigating wage violations. Until now, the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement was the primary agency charged with investigating wage theft cases.

State Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) authored the legislation to “ensure that our low-wage workers, who already face many challenges, receive the pay that they have earned,” Mendoza wrote in an Orange County Breeze op-ed.

Wage theft is the illegal practice of failing to pay overtime and minimum wages, denying lunch breaks, or forcing employees to work off the clock. A survey of people who work for low wages by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment found that wage theft robbed workers of $26.2 million each week in Los Angeles, making the locale the “wage theft capital of the country.”

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Some 654,914 workers in L.A. County are subjected to at least one pay-based violation in any given week, researchers noted.

Most people who work low-wage jobs in L.A. were born outside the United States, and the majority are Latino (73.4 percent), Asian (17.9 percent), or Black (6.3 percent), researchers found.

Wage theft is not only illegal, it contributes to food insecurity and housing instability in low-income families, Mendoza noted.

“This bill protects hard-working Californians by clarifying the ability of cities and counties to investigate non-compliance with local wage laws,” Mendoza said.

A legislative analysis of SB 1342 cited research noting that minimum wage violations are rampant in industries such as garment manufacturing, domestic service, building services, and department stores, where wages are low.

The measure comes as states and cities are increasing minimum wages as lawmakers in Congress have refused to consider raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Brown in April signed a law lifting the statewide minimum pay rate to $15 per hour by 2022. More than a dozen cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, have proposed or enacted $15 minimum wage rates, according to the National Employment Law Project.

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