By Doug Porter
This was the year that growing inequality became too big a problem to ignore. A growing chorus of voices broke through the white noise of the media’s slavish subservience to the concept of ‘trickle down’ as a viable economic choice.
None-the-less, all the national contenders for the presidency continue to swear allegiance to the failed idea. They are rarely challenged in interviews, editorials or debates, even though the preponderance of data demonstrates a growing disparity between the very rich and the rest of us. Why they don’t get laughed off of any stage where this bad idea gets bandied about is a mystery to me.
Today, we’ll look at some labor advocacy from 2015, focusing on the Fight for Fifteen campaign. Modern-day political reality dictates that the struggle to increase wages will be fought on the local level.
The Year Begins
The year kicked off with an AFL-CIO unveiling of a comprehensive “Raise The Wage” campaign. The federation said it would advocate a wide-ranging package of measures to restore the middle class.
These measures included raising the minimum wage, strengthening the right to organize, comprehensive immigration reform, and opposing labor unfriendly trade pacts. Later in the year single-payer national health insurance and women’s economic issues were added to the list.
On April Fool’s Day fast food giant McDonald’s announced it was raising wages. The company had a net profit of $5.6 billion in 2014, so it seemed like they could afford it, even if it was a much smaller increase than activists were asking for.
From USA Today:
The pay increase will lift the average hourly rate for its U.S. restaurant employees to $1 above the mandated minimum wage on July 1, the company said. McDonald’s said it expects average wages to rise to more than $10 an hour by the end of 2016.
The hamburger chain also announced plans to dole out vacation benefits to employees of the stores it operates, which make up roughly 10% of its U.S. stores, the company said in a press release.
Did you catch the “stores it operates” part of the story? Excluded from the deal were franchise operators, which make up 90% of McDonald’s 14,350 U.S. locations.
At the Los Angeles Times, business columnist Michael Hiltzik explained the economics of these pay raise announcements:
The buying power of the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour today, peaked in 1968, when it was nominally $1.60 an hour. That would be the equivalent of $10.88 today. If the minimum wage had kept pace merely with worker productivity since then, it would be more than $16.54 today. Try proposing a $16.54 minimum wage to the average fast-food franchisee today, and you’ll hear squealing from here to the Chicago stockyards.
It’s proper to note that McDonald’s is making improvements to benefits for workers. Full- and part-time employees at company-owned locations will be able to accrue paid time off. Workers for company-owned and franchised stores will have access to education programs that include tuition assistance for high school equivalency, college credits and English as a second language classes.
But the overall package highlights that franchising is just one of the ways that big American companies have devised to shed full responsibility for the people who work for them. They label them “independent contractors” and saddle them with expenses for everything from uniforms to gasoline.
The next day picket lines appeared at McDonald’s locations around the country, including San Diego, pointing out the fact that 1.6 million workers were not included in the April 1st announcement.
The Fight for 15 on April 15th
From my April 13th column:
What started out as protests against wages paid to workers in fast food restaurants in a few big cities has become a nationwide movement, encompassing retail, home care, security, child care, and airport workers, along with adjunct college professors.
On Wednesday, April 15th, while much of the traditional news media is camped outside post offices trying to interview the vanishing breed of Luddites using snail mail to file their taxes, these modern-day fighters for fair wages will be protesting in over 200 cities nationwide.
As was true with the civil rights movement of the 20th century, an increasing number of persons of conscience are joining in with those brave enough to challenge an injustice.If you’re aware of the ever-increasing level of economic inequality and sick of the system that primarily rewards those at top, this is an opportunity to spend a few hours doing something more than tsk-tsking at articles posted in social media.
I got lucky on April 15th, and spent most of the day embedded with the protesters as they traveled to ten locations around San Diego. Workers in more than 200 cities around the country also staged protests.
Since the first fast-food strike in 2012, 9 million low-wage workers have gotten raises through local ballot measures, city and state legislation, contract negotiations and employer policy changes—more workers than are in private sector unions in the entire country.
In June of 2016, San Diegans will be voting on the Earned Sick Leave Minimum Wage Ordinance, providing a moderate wage increase and provide access to five earned sick days to all individuals who currently work within the city limits.
The “moderate increases” talked about last year now seem small compared to what workers nationwide are demanding.
Later in the year, there was also a local action in support of the Fight for $15 protests in New York City at the McDonald’s corporate headquarters and a hearing at the New York wage board over raising the minimum wage.
A contingent marching with protesters outside the ALEC conference in San Diego, and a group traveled by bus to Sacramento to make their voices heard at the state legislature.
In September, advocates with Fight for Fifteen participated in an interfaith forum held by the San Diego Coalition to Preserve our Common Home at St. Paul’s Cathedral. In anticipation of the Pope’s visit to the United States, faith leaders, along with labor and community activists spoke to a packed house, focusing on the message that we must, as a moral imperative, care for our common home and address climate change.
They participated in an early October conference on Labor and Community Solidarity, where strategies for the rest of 2015 and into 2016 were discussed.
On October 17th, activists staged regional forums before ad hoc wage boards in San Diego, Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit, Kansas City, Mo., St. Louis, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Houston and Milwaukee.
Here’s snip of my report:
More than thirty low-income workers came before an ad hoc committee on Saturday to testify about the realities of low-wage life in San Diego County. Many wept openly as they told their stories, encompassing a range of human misery in sharp contrast with the image of San Diego as the economic juggernaut portrayed by civic boosters.
Tales of living without running water, of not being able to afford medication for sick loved ones, of having not being able to afford school supplies and more were heard by the panel composed of representatives from faith, academic, labor and business groups.
Every one of the speakers was employed; some were working two or more jobs. None of them could make ends meet on the wages they were being paid…
…These ad hoc wage boards paid homage to a process by which a governor called a commission to investigate and raise pay for a given sector, a symbolic vestige of New Deal progressivism. These forums served a purpose identical to many of the government agencies born of that era: to protect working Americans from market downturns. In this case, we’re talking about thirty years of wage stagnation, despite inflation, increased profits and rising productivity.
On November 10th, there were protests by Fight for Fifteen in San Diego at 500+ locations and 270 cities around the country. There were actions throughout the day, including walkouts and picket lines at fast food restaurants, mid-afternoon rallies at City College and the government office building on Front Street leading up to a march through downtown, and ending with a late afternoon event at the civic center plaza.
…Many of the events yesterday focused on translating the energy behind the street protests into action at the ballot box in upcoming elections.
In the San Diego June 2016 election, voters will vote on the San Diego measure which includes a raise to $11.50 for people working in the City of San Diego. It also includes five earned sick days. In November of 2016, California voters will decide on a ballot measure that includes a $15 minimum wage. Both measures currently poll as favorable among voters.
Fourteen states are increasing their minimum wages on January 1st and four more will see increases later in the year. In addition, there are 18 local governments slated to increase the minimum wage in the coming year.
2016 Has Its Challenges
A case involving a National Labor Relations Board ruling is working its way through the system, and could open up a major opportunity for labor activists in the coming year. At issue is whether the franchise business model excuses the corporate parent from the bargaining table should employees decide to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. Mickey D’s and like-minded companies could be talking about pay raises for all their employees.
On the state level, there are two measures proposed for the November 2016 ballot in California, sponsored by competing factions within the Service Employees International Union. Hopefully, as has happened with the competing measures legalizing marijuana, the various groups will agree on a single proposal.
The first measure out of the gate was introduced by the SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, which has pledged to spend up to $30 million dollars in support. They have been gathering signatures for several months now, and claim to have already surpassed the needed number of signatures to get it on the ballot.
From the Los Angeles Times:
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf are chairing the campaign for the SEIU-UHW proposal, which has also been endorsed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — widely considered a top contender in the 2018 governor’s race, for which he is already campaigning — and state Controller Betty Yee.
The rival proposal announced Tuesday, tentatively titled the “Raise California’s Wage and Paid Sick Days Act of 2016,” is more complex, calling for major changes to the state’s sick-leave policies. The measure would require employers to allow workers to take six paid sick days each year instead of the current three, and extend those protections for the first time to home healthcare workers.
It would also accelerate the timeline for boosting the state’s minimum wage, reaching $15 an hour in 2020 while giving businesses with 25 or fewer employees an extra year to comply. The UHW-backed proposal would raise the minimum wage to $15 in 2021 for all workers.
The state attorney general’s office must review the new proposal before organizers can begin collecting signatures to qualify it for the 2016 ballot.
Finally, a little bit on the reality of national politics, via Politico‘s Morning Shift newsletter:
A PLUTOCRAT’S LABOR CRUSADE: Three ways Washington liberals failed, astounded, and even shocked tech-tycoon-turned-wage-
– Jarrett said no to a minimum wage hike: After the 2012 election, senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett told labor leaders that the economy was too fragile to support a minimum wage increase, Hanauer told the Atlantic’s Molly Ball. “The president’s closest adviser believes, in her heart, that if poor people do better, that will be bad for the economy,” Hanauer said. “That’s f—ed up! That’s f—ed up. It’s bull—t . But that’s how deep that stuff goes.” Jarrett wouldn’t confirm the story. Obama did end up proposing a minimum wage hike in Jan. 2013, but only to $9 an hour (as opposed to the $9.50 he’d proposed during the 2008 election).
–Labor leaders feared $10 was too high: Hanauer told the Atlantic that “many Democrats and union heads” debated at a Democracy Alliance presentation in 2012 whether $10 was too high a goal for a federal minimum. “As striking fast-food workers across the country began rallying around calls for $15 an hour, Hanauer and David Rolf, a labor leader, kicked off an organizing drive in the small airport community of SeaTac, Washington, that resulted in the country’s first law mandating a $15 minimum wage.”
The Starting Line Over the Holidays
It’s getting to that time of year where newsworthy events start to thin out due to the holidays, so I’ll be changing things up as the year winds down.
It’s my intent to write some essays reflecting back on the Year That Was, noting accomplishments good and bad that have come across my screen. Unless something really big breaks, there will be no columns December 24th, 25th and 31st, along with January 1st.
The Friday Progressive Calendar of Events usually found in this space will resume on January 8th.
This “dark and curmudgeonly journalistic savior” wishes you and your families all the best for all the holidays.
On This Day: 1951 – A National Football League (NFL) championship game was televised nationally for the first time. The Los Angeles Rams beat the Cleveland Browns 24-17. The DuMont Network had paid $75,000 for the rights to the game. 1977 – Cat Stevens converted to Islam. He later changed his name to Yusuf Islam. 2008 – WalMart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest employer, with 1.4 million “associates,” agrees to settle 63 wage and hour suits across the U.S., for a grand total of between $352 million and $640 million. It was accused of failure to pay overtime, requiring off-the-clock work, and failure to provide required meal and rest breaks.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.