Video courtesy of CAN TV
by Justyna Bicz
A group of Chicago-area progressive groups and unions are backing a bill that would punish large companies who don’t pay their workers a living wage.
The Responsible Business Act would charge corporations who employ more than 750 Cook County workers at less than $15 per hour fees for paying what advocates call poverty-level wages. Since it was introduced in October last year, the act has gained the support of unions and grassroots organizations fighting for economic justice.
Two actions in support of the proposed Responsible Business Act (RBA) took place in Cook County on Monday. In Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside, or ONE Northside, led a teach-in at their offices and canvassed outside of corporate stores. Supporters of the RBA including IIRON and the Reclaim Campaign held an action at a Walmart store in suburban Bedford Park, just outside the city limits.
The RBA is a county-level act and is sponsored by Commissioner Robert Steele of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. It currently has three co-sponsors: Joan Patricia Murphy, Luis Arroyo, Jr. and Jerry Butler; organizers say they also have two commitments to vote “yes” from Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and Larry Suffredin. Three more commissioners need to support the act in order for it to pass through the 17-member board. Monday's actions called on 11th District Commissioner John Daley and 10th District Commissioner Bridget Gainer to back the bill.
At the canvassing event organized by ONE Northside, supporters of the RBA called for Gainer to co-sponsor the proposal. They engaged pedestrians outside of Target, Starbucks and McDonald’s—all corporations that would potentially be affected by the RBA.
"The CEOs of these big corporations continue to make massive profits while the workers, who are responsible for the functioning of the corporations, are forced to rely on public services to survive off their poverty wages,” said Eugene Lim, a member of the group's Workers' Rights Team.
Commissioner Gainer did not respond to a request for comment.
The Responsible Business Act would give corporations with over 750 employees a choice: either raise their employees' wages to a living wage—determined by Cook County Chief Financial Officer Ivan Samstein at $14.57 per hour without benefits and $11.66 per hour with benefits—or pay a $750 fee for each dollar paid below the hourly living wage per employee.
For example, a corporation where 100 workers earn $13.57 per hour (one dollar below the living wage of $14.57 per hour) would have the choice of raising their hourly wage by $1 for each worker, or paying a fee of $75,000 ($1 times 100 workers, times the $750 fine). This fee is designed to supplement the housing and childcare assistance, Medicaid costs and other services out of reach for workers earning poverty wages. The fees would be earmarked specifically for public assistance programs and distributed by the county.
Seventy-five percent of the revenue would be placed into a newly established Family Sustainability Fund, 20 percent would go to pre-existing health care spending and the remainder would be spent on administrative costs. A nine-person commission would advise the Cook County Board of Commissioners on allocation of the collected funds.
Read the full article from In These Times.
Everyone in Michigan and across the country was stunned to learn about the water crisis in Flint, caused by irresponsible penny-pinching by the state’s governor and his unelected city-manager.
Michiganders know that this isn’t the first time that the people of Flint have been the victims of a broken economy and inept government management. But the poisoning of the city’s water, the subsequent cover-up by the governor takes that suffering to a new low.
To make matters worse, state and federal assistance has failed to reach too many Flint families, compounding the crisis.
Volunteer leaders with The Micah Center, a Grand Rapids worker center with a strong tradition of interfaith values and affiliated with Interfaith Worker Justice, has seen the inadequacy of the government response firsthand.
In January, The Micah Center teamed up with Our Lady of Guadalupe church, the Workers Center of Western Michigan and others to travel to Flint to offer material support and bear witness to the crisis. What the volunteer team saw was disheartening at best.
They saw the State and National Guard demanding identification in exchange for fresh water.
They saw law enforcement going door-to-door in immigrant communities, offering water and filters with a knock on the door and the shout of “Police!,” perhaps unaware how similar that sounds to the recent Immigration and Custom Enforcement raids that have been terrorizing undocumented people across the nation in recent months.
They saw Flint residents who had not yet been educated about the poisonous water or how to get medical attention after exposure to the water.
The volunteers from The Micah Center and their partners have organized their own relief to pick up where the state and federal response had fallen short.
They called on elected officials representing Flint to change the identification-for-water policy. Within a week, water distribution centers were no longer requiring an ID card.
They are canvassing immigrant communities led by native Spanish-speakers to counsel families about how to get help and assure them that law enforcement providing water and filters would not detain or deport anybody.
They are printing multi-lingual literature for residents to learn how to get medical attention if they are exposed to the lead-filled water.
Just two hours away from Flint by car, worker centers like The Micah Center and their volunteer partners are well-positioned to help during crises like the water poisoning in Flint.
But they could use all the support they can get. It costs money to organize water drives, to print educational literature, and to pay for gas to make the trip to Flint.
100% of donations go directly to helping Flint and will be administered locally by The Micah Center.
Interfaith Worker Justice applauds The Micah Center, the Workers Center of West Michigan, Our Lady of Guadalupe church and all those who have answered the call to action to help their neighbors in Flint during this time of crisis.
by Michelle Chen
Iowa is known for cornfields and state fairs, but the provincial charm got upturned last Friday as workers marched through Des Moines ahead of the caucus, when presidential hopefuls will test their economic talking points.
The fast-food, home-care, and childcare workers protesting had talking points of their own, as they staged Iowa’s first-ever fast-food strike day to demand, once again, $15 and hour and the right to form a union. Local community and labor groups have joined a wave of organizing, supported by the SEIU, that originated in New York over three years ago and has since spread to various low-wage sectors, and hundreds of cities nationwide and abroad. The movement, which has spanned roughly the length of the current presidential term, has introduced a social-justice policy platform for the 2016 race. On top of a $15 hourly wage and a union, campaigners demand accessible and affordable childcare, quality long-term home care, and action on two broader issues that affect low-income communities: addressing anti-black racism and pushing for immigration reform.
Fundamentally, workers just want a dignified livelihood. Angelica Serrano, a Mexican-American immigrant in Des Moines who earns just $9.90 an hour, after working at McDonald’s for 17 years, wrote in a Des Moines Register commentary:
I am nervous to walk off the job, but it is also empowering to join with other underpaid workers who are coming together this year to finally make a change…and for the first time I feel like my voice matters. Since moving to the U.S., I’ve felt so invisible that I never bothered to vote in any election.
Now Serrano and her fellow protesters are becoming visible on the national stage. According to the campaign, the roughly 733,000 workers earning less than $15 an hour in Iowa, or nearly half the workforce, could form a significant voting bloc. Based on turnout estimates from a National Employment Law Project survey, the campaign estimates more than 480,000 of those low-income Iowans would be more likely to vote, or would register to vote, if there were a candidate who advocated a $15 minimum wage. The same survey also found that nearly three-quarters of sub-$15 workers supported the demand of a $15 hourly wage and a union.
Certainly, just turning out to vote for a candidate backing a $15 wage won’t necessarily win these workers anything, but the findings suggest a distinct feedback loop in the politics of inequality since 2011, as campaigns like theFight for 15, Black Lives Matter, and the climate-justice movement have colored the “mainstream” political conversation through street protests, social media, and targeted civil disobedience. It’s true that many electoral-platform promises will likely evaporate after inauguration day (the Democrats have incorporated the $15 base wage into their platform but face stiff opposition in Congress)—the numerous cities that have enacted or moved toward a $15 minimum-wage standard shows that poor people’s voices are penetrating policy circles local and national.
In Des Moines, according to MIT’s Living Wage calculator, a single parent raising one child requires over $21 per hour. Iowa Policy Project reports that wages have stagnated since the recession, and about three-quarters of Iowa workers earn low incomes (less than 200 percent of the poverty line).
“What I’ve heard over and over again, and today I heard the same story, is that ‘I had a good job before, where I was making $10 an hour, but now I’m at Wendy’s and I’m making $8 an hour,’” says Bridget Fagan-Reidburn, an organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, one of the groups coordinating the rallies. While workers “felt at least a little bit more secure previously,” after sliding into low-wage sectors, “they end up being there for years and years and still making $8, $9 an hour.” As the movement spreads across Iowa, she envisions workers “constantly talking to their other counterparts at work and becoming organizers themselves and really taking this on and just driving it. Because it’s really their movement.”
Read the full article from The Nation.
by Fatima Hussein
Cincinnati City Council is one step closer to enacting an ordinance on stopping wage theft on economic development projects supported by the city.
Six members of City Council voted Monday to support a measure that would apply to any developer that gets a financial incentive (in tax incentives, grants or loans) from the city worth more than $25,000.
"Treating people like slaves is wrong," said Councilman Christopher Smitherman. "This is so egregious."
Wage theft occurs when employer refusing to pay workers money that they are owed by withholding pay, tips or overtime.
Vice Mayor David Mann submitted the ordinance last week and dozens of people wearing green armbands filled Council Chambers Monday in support of the ordinance.
Several workers who spoke through a translator testified about instances in Cincinnati where they were cheated out of earnings by local employers.
"It is an epidemic across the country. affecting every many industries," said Manuel Perez, with the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center.
Read the full article from Cincinnati Enquirer.
From The Oregonian:
By Ian K. Kullgren
Powerful left-leaning groups lined up behind Gov. Kate Brown's new minimum wage plan Tuesday, tepidly offering support for $14.50 in Portland and $13.25 statewide.
In the first airing of Brown's scaled-back proposal, labor leaders backing ballot measures that would deliver either $13.50 or $15 an hour said they weren't enthusiastic but agreed it would still give workers much-needed relief.
"We appreciate the governor's leadership," Melissa Unger, political director for Service Employees International Union Local 503, told members of the Senate's workforce committee. "While we don't think this proposal goes far enough, we do think it will be a meaningful [raise] for the people who need it."
But they stopped short of agreeing to pull support for a $15 ballot measure. Petitioners say they've collected 30,000 of the 88,000 signature they need for the November ballot.
"After the end of session, we'll consider where we go from there," said Graham Trainor, political director for the American Federal of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations Oregon chapter.
Brown had first proposed a six-year plan for $15.50 in Portland and $13.50 everywhere else, but scaled to back as a compromise with business leaders. Oregon's current minimum wage is $9.25, two dollars higher than the federal minimum.
Brown's new proposal speeds up the first increases to this summer, when both the Portland and statewide rates would rise 50 cents, to $9.75.
Vince Porter, an economic policy adviser for Brown, told lawmakers that Brown is asking for an increase in July because workers didn't get one in 2015 — the first time in five years wages didn't rise with the Consumer Price Index. A 50-cent raise would be the biggest since 2000.
"I know we bit hard at the apple," Ramón Ramírez, president of PCUN, a Woodburn-based farm workers' union told lawmakers. "I think business did too, and we think this is a step in the right direction."
Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, introduced an amendment to exempt farmers from a higher minimum wage. It's almost certain to fail in the Democratic-led committee.
The atmosphere of Tuesday's hearing was more subdued than the last one Jan. 14, when hundreds of activists behind a $15 ballot measure flooded the Capitol. Much of it was finishing up testimony from the last meeting.
"We've had to face the reality that even with our best intentions, wages are not keeping up," said Elizabeth Nardi, director of operations for New Seasons Market. Beginning this year, New Seasons raised its starting wage to $12. "When we raise wages, our morale goes up and it is a boon to our bottom line."
Amy Ripp, a member of the Keizer City Council, said she worried raising wages would hurt businesses in her suburban community.
"This was never intended to be a living wage," Ripp said. "This bill is not just hurtful to business, but also to our local families."
The committee is set to vote Thursday on whether to send the bill to the Senate floor.
From the Huffington Post:
By Elyse Wanshel
Everyone wants to see the city of Flint swim rather than sink -- including plumbers.
More than 300 union plumbers from all over Michigan flooded Flint to install free filters for residents, this past weekend.
According to ABC12, not all the faucets in Flint can fit a filter, which each resident of the city desperately needs in order to get rid of lead in their drinking water. Some of the faucets are older and oddly shaped, making the installation of a filter nearly impossible.
Local plumbers with United Association Local 370 in Flint have been going door-to-door making sure that faucets are filter ready since October, reports Michigan Radio. And last weekend, they got a boost from hundreds of union volunteers.
Upon the small army of plumbers’ arrival on Saturday, they got a moving welcome from Local 370 official Harold Harrington.
"We did not cause this American tragedy in Flint," Harrington told the crowd. "But we certainly can help correct the damage that has been done!"
On Saturday alone, plumbers replaced faucets and filters in 800 homes. Plumbing Manufacturers International donated the faucets, which cost about $100 a pop according to ABC12, which is a price tag many residents of Flint cannot afford.
The problem with Flint’s drinking water occurred several months ago when the Michigan city switched its water system from the Flint River and failed to use corrosion controls. The result was lead in the drinking water, which if consumed can lead to a laundry list of severe health risks.
Some residents noticed something fishy in the drinking water right away.
"I was buying the water before we even realized they said all the lead was in it," Berdie Johnson, a Flint resident, told Radio Michigan, "because the water was brown. Looked like Kool-Aid!"
Since Gov. Rick Snyder admitted that he let residents down, tons of everyday folks and celebrities alike have donated money and sent water bottles to Flint, includingJimmy Fallon, Cher and Pearl Jam.
From the Huffington Post:
By Laphonza Butler
Home care worker Stella Moreno just got the news she's been waiting for--she is finally eligible for overtime pay. Through Medi-Cal, Stella works as part of Fresno's In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program providing round-the-clock care to Bianca, her 29-year-old daughter who is intellectually disabled, non-verbal and suffers from frequent tremors that limit her ability to eat on her own. As many as 70% of home care workers in California are like Stella, family members who want to provide the quality care their loved ones need in order for them to be able to live safely at home. Taking care of Bianca is demanding work with long hours and--although it's rewarding--home care doesn't pay very well.
In Fresno County, IHSS providers like Stella make $10.25 an hour. Although they are currently in negotiations with the County for a new contract, they haven't had a raise in almost seven years and, because of federal policies, they were not eligible for overtime pay, no matter how many hours they worked.
Starting today, that changes. Like employees that do similar work in hospitals and nursing homes, millions of home care providers across the country--including California's roughly 400,000 IHSS providers--will now earn overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week. They will also receive pay for wait time for when they accompany their clients to doctors' appointments and travel time for the time they spend driving between clients.
Because California's 400,000 home care workers make an average of just $17,000 a year, overtime pay will help to lift thousands of caregivers out of poverty. It will also go a long way towards giving home care workers, who are disproportionately low-income women of color, the same respect and recognition as other workers, who have had the legal right to overtime for decades.
This salary boost will make a big difference in the lives of Stella and her fellow caregivers. Overtime pay will make it easier to put food on the table, pay their rent and meet their financial responsibilities.
The critical step to pay home care workers fairly did not come without a fight. Hundreds of thousands of home care workers across the country joined together to call on the Obama Administration to change the federal rule regarding overtime to include all home care providers. With that change, California home care workers demanded that Governor Brown implement this new rule for the state's IHSS providers. They protested in rallies and petitioned for #overtime4caregivers online. Now, because of their united effort, our home care workers can finally say they are equally protected under the law.
Today, more and more elderly and disabled patients are choosing to stay in their homes, avoiding costly institutions or extended hospital stays. As a result, they now depend on home care workers to provide advanced medical care and assistance.
While extra pay will make a tremendous difference in caregivers' lives and help to ensure quality care for their clients, it is actually far less expensive for our state than placing those with care needs in expensive institutions. One study by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proved that home-based care delivered quality care for the highest utilizers of Medicare services at a lower cost than nursing homes and institutions. Staying at home can also help people retain their independence and social connections.
Statewide, over 450,000 disabled people and seniors rely on IHSS to keep them safe, healthy and comfortable. Caregivers are a critical lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
Working overtime allows caregivers to provide more efficient and effective care because many disabled and elderly patients need more than 40 hours of weekly assistance. Without care that meets their full needs, these patients are left vulnerable to serious injury and hospitalization. Many home care workers already worked overtime to keep their clients healthy, but they weren't getting paid for their commitment. Overtime pay fixes this injustice and rewards them for their time.
Caregivers like Stella give so much to our state's elderly and disabled people to make sure they receive the best possible care. Stella wants to take care of her daughter at home and she deserves to make a fair wage doing this strenuous work. Today, I join her in celebrating an end to an unjust policy and a victory for home care workers here in Fresno, across the state, and across the nation. Now, they are finally getting the overtime wages, wait time and travel time pay they earned and deserve.
From the The Hill:
By Sarita Gupta and Nikki Fortunato Bas
When Walmart announced last week that it would lay off thousands of employees across the country with the closure of nearly 300 stores, Uber saw an opportunity. The company moved quickly in an attempt to lure the laid off Walmart workforce into new, albeit similarly unstable, jobs.
Uber’s unabashed play to gobble up the desperate workforce came as no surprise to industry observers. The company has been drawing from and extending old models of precarity, pioneered by companies like Walmart, to build its new empire. The Walmart workforce, long accustomed to inconsistent hours and low pay, seemed a natural fit for the Uber model.
Companies like Uber, Instacart and the like have been hailed for their disruptive innovations in how we work, but under closer examination it is clear that in many ways they are little more than Walmart on wheels . Way before anyone ever hailed a car with their smartphone, clever CEOs had started to “disrupt” their companies’ relationships with employees. They came up with creative new methods of outsourcing work and risk, while increasing profits. Instead of providing stable, life-long careers that allowed people to raise families, companies sought to disavow themselves of responsibility for those whose work created their profits.
In this way, the so-called “on-demand,” “gig” or “sharing” economy is just the next development in a path CEOs started down decades ago. Whether achieved through franchising, subcontracting, hiring of temporary workers or calling employees “independent contractors” the objective remains the same. Businesses assume less responsibility, while hard-working women and men assume more risk and get less stability in return.
Precarious work arrangements like these often leave working people struggling to sustain their families. Instead of directly employing room attendants to clean hotel rooms, Hyatt hires temporary employees who lack the right to join together to bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. Likewise, Walmart subcontracts warehouse work, leaving other firms accountable for health and safety violations that occur as a result of meeting Walmart’s demands.
With the rise of on-demand companies like AirBnB and Lyft, we see the most advanced form of outsourcing yet – the app-managed “independent contractor.” Now multibillion dollar companies manage to employ massive workforces, but have no legal responsibility for providing them with benefits, safe work conditions, workers’ compensation or even so much as a minimum wage, let alone guaranteed hours.
Yet contrary to what many would have us believe, our shifting expectations of employment "from the career, to the job, to the task" is not just an undesired side effect of the inevitable march of technological progress. Instead, this moment presents us with an opportunity to embrace positive aspects of on-demand work, while simultaneously affording us the opportunity to address existing flaws in how we safeguard the rights of working moms and dads. That means pushing companies to create workplaces that provide the kind of flexibility that allow us to spend time with our children and pursue our passions, without sacrificing the stability we fought to achieve. That means demanding that one job pay us enough to raise our families without being forced to commodify every moment of our free time just to get by. That means making sure that people improperly categorized as independent contractors have the right to fundamental work standards and protections. That means not simply allowing businesses to transfer all of their cost to taxpayers, but being open to explore new ways that all people are able to access basic benefits.
People are coming together across the country to embrace the opportunities and challenges before us. Working people and their allies in San Francisco created new standards for fair work schedules, challenging the trend of retail companies shifting all of the risk onto their employees. Similar reforms are under consideration in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts. Partnership for Working Families affiliates have worked to hold Airbnb responsible for the its impact on rent prices in Los Angeles, fought for organizing rights for all app-based drivers in Seattle and pushed the tech sector to be responsible for its contract workers in Silicon Valley.
Elected officials would be well advised to keep these examples of local ingenuity in mind. Our policymakers can innovate themselves by working to protect the high standards our communities deserve, rather than resigning themselves to the inevitability that the new economy will simply be the same old, new economy.
Find the full article from The Hill.
From the New York Times:
By Henry Louis Gates Jr.
In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois, the leading scholar of the first half of the 20th century, defined the urgency of black social responsibility in his famous essay “The Talented Tenth” — 10 being the percentage of the African-American demographic needed to lead the race into an integrated, equal America. In “The Talented Tenth,” Du Bois called for “intelligent leadership” directed by “college-trained men” devoted to a “thorough understanding of the mass of Negroes and their problems” for the purpose of solving these problems, still so deeply entrenched a half century after the abolition of slavery.
Forty-five years later, Du Bois would lament, this call had been largely ignored. He worried aloud about the growing class divide within Black America and how the consequences of that divide might affect the task of “lifting as we climb,” the motto of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, describing the privilege and burden of the middle class to facilitate black upward mobility.
Indeed, by 1948 Du Bois felt that the new black middle class had forgotten this noble calling. There had been, even during his college days at Fisk, troublesome warning signs: “sharp young persons, who received the education given very cheaply at Fisk University, with the distinct and single-minded idea, of seeing how much they could make out of it for themselves, and nobody else.”
Du Bois knew, of course, that any black person at that time had to struggle to tear down barriers just to lift oneself and one’s family. But that was not enough: Successful black people, he said, must recognize that their place in life was merely a matter of opportunity. “If such opportunity were extended and broadened, a thousand times as many Negroes could join the ranks of the educated and able, instead of sinking into poverty, disease, and crime.”
Du Bois also knew that Black America had never consisted of one social or economic class. Even before the outbreak of the Civil War, about 11 percent of Black America was free, some born into families that had been free for generations. And in 1899, when Du Bois published his seminal sociological study, “The Philadelphia Negro,” he was already noting that these two classes had morphed into four: the middle class and above, working people (“fair to comfortable”), the poor and, in terms his Victorian contemporaries would have approved of, the “vicious and criminal classes.”
Du Bois would probably be astonished to see how these classes have fared, especially since the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, just as new affirmative action programs were beginning to expand drastically the ranks of black students on white campuses and thus to affect the class structure of Black America.
The Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson calls the remarkable gains in black income “the most significant change” since Dr. King’s passing. When adjusted for inflation to 2014 dollars, the percentage of African-Americans making at least $75,000 more than doubled from 1970 to 2014, to 21 percent. Those making $100,000 or more nearly quadrupled, to 13 percent (in contrast, white Americans saw a less impressive increase, from 11 to 26 percent). Du Bois’s “talented 10th” has become the “prosperous 13 percent.”
But, Dr. Wilson is quick to note, the percentage of Black America with income below $15,000 declined by only four percentage points, to 22 percent.
In other words, there are really two nations within Black America. The problem of income inequality, Dr. Wilson concludes, is not between Black America and White America but between black haves and have-nots, something we don’t often discuss in public in an era dominated by a narrative of fear and failure and the claim that racism impacts 42 million people in all the same ways.
What effect, many of us have worried, would this unprecedented rise in prosperity have on the New Millennials? Would they heed Du Bois’s call, as students like John Lewis and Julian Bond, Charlayne Hunter and Diane Nash did under the leadership of the “Negro Gandhi” presciently predicted by Du Bois back in 1948?
The class divide is, in my opinion, one of the most important and overlooked factors in the rise of Black Lives Matter, led by a new generation of college graduates and students. I hear about it from my students at Harvard, about the pressure they feel to rise, yes, but also the necessity to then look back to lift others.
I asked Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, a senior, what was behind the racial unrest on campus. Ms. Matsuda-Lawrence is co-founder of “I, Too, Am Harvard,” a multiplatform campaign that gives voice to students who often go unheard and that brought the concept of micro-aggressions into the light. She described the motivation as “our sense of responsibility to the black communities who do not have access to the universities we attend.” The goal: “to call out the ways our own institutions participate in and perpetuate structures of racism that affect the black communities we represent through our presence at places like Harvard.”
That is, the college campus is a microcosm of practices at work in the larger society, something of a laboratory in which America’s racial experiment might be altered.
Unlike the way they are framed in so many op-eds, modern-day activists, Ms. Matsuda-Lawrence says, are anything but “a bunch of oversensitive, privileged and coddled black college students complaining and whining that they don’t feel safe because of building names and house master titles.”
Consider them, instead, the grandchildren of Du Bois’s “talented 10th,” taking their cues, wittingly or unwittingly, from the challenge that he and the civil rights activists of the ’60s issued to black leadership. Many of today’s black activists are the children of middle- and upper-middle-class parents — the affirmative action generation — and may be realizing, as Charlayne Hunter-Gault put it to me, “that privilege doesn’t always translate as they thought it would.”
Despite the highs — the escalating successes in finance, business, public service, education and entertainment (think beyond President Obama and sports figures to the American Express C.E.O. Kenneth Chenault, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, and the queen of Thursday-night TV, Shonda Rhimes) — there have been far too many lows, too many moments in which we as a country have come face to face with the deprivation, disenfranchisement, marginalization and flat-out abuse of African-Americans at the socioeconomic bottom.
The disparity of opportunity plagues Black America perhaps even more starkly now, given its extremes, than the economic reality that motivated Dr. King to transfer the focus of his movement from civil rights to economic justice, as exemplified in his last, tragically aborted effort to mount a “Poor People’s Campaign.”
The childhood poverty rate for African-Americans remains stubbornly close to what it was the day Dr. King was assassinated; unemployment for black Americans runs nearly double that of the national average; and the distrust between impoverished communities and the police continues to spiral (helped in no small part by the fact that blacks make up more than a third of the prison population, compared to only 13 percent of the overall population).
And we still confront the question that arose the moment the first slave ships arrived: Do black lives matter?
It is into this whiplash environment of economic inequality that college students have come of age. They were youngsters when Hurricane Katrina engulfed New Orleans — for a time the ultimate symbol of inequality of income and opportunity — and teenagers when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. They have been consumed by a roster of recorded police killings of unarmed black men and boys since August 2014, when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., followed by similar assaults in Staten Island, Cleveland, Chicago and North Charleston, S.C.
Black women and girls haven’t escaped injustices, either. We need think only of the young girl in the Mall of America who was restrained by a security guard or the teenager in South Carolina who was thrown from her desk by a school resource officer, or the 13 black women who testified against the former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was convicted of rape.
The nation’s African-American students are searching profoundly and visibly for a definitive end to racial injustice. College campuses, Du Bois’s proving grounds for the training and testing of social responsibility and leadership, have once again become a primary front in the battle against inequality — from “I, Too, Am Harvard,” a concept that has spread from Berkeley to New York University, to the principled protest of football players at the University of Missouri against racial insensitivity, to demonstrations at Brown and Brandeis, Princeton and Yale.
A number of administrators have voiced strong support for these protests as well as an institutional will to change, be it renaming buildings or re-evaluating the makeup of their student body and faculty.
Change, even at the symbolic level, is difficult, of course, and it remains to be seen what this current wave of protests will accomplish. Will the fight against police brutality, symbols of the Confederacy and society’s plethora of micro-aggressions become the basis of a broader movement for the improvement of underfunded public school education, for the right to a job with decent wages, and for the end of residential segregation that relegates the poor to neighborhoods with murder rates as alarming as those on the South Side of Chicago?
What is certain is that the outrage that led to Black Lives Matter and its spinoffs will be with us for years to come unless these legacies of slavery and Jim Crow become remnants of a racist past.
by Catherine Rampell
This story was supposed to have a happy ending.
Last year, about 60 low-wage federal contract workers at the Senate cafeteria staged a series of strikes to demand a living wage and a union. Some were on food stamps; one was moonlighting as a stripper to make ends meet; another was homeless. Their stories, and their bravery, soon attracted powerful allies to their cause.
Senators and their staff organized boycotts of the cafeteria. Dozens of senators signed letters brimming with righteous indignation over the treatment of the hard-working people who cook their lunches and clean their toilets. Some legislators held private meetings with the workers, offering attaboys and never-give-up-the-fights.
One presidential candidate (I’ll give you one Bern-ing guess who) even spoke at five of the workers’ walkouts, once in the pouring rain.
Finally, after months of negotiations with the legislative agency that handles procurement at the Capitol, the company that runs the cafeteria agreed to a new contract giving its employees a sizable raise. It wasn’t everything the workers wanted, but it was still a big win. Some workers who had seen their pay stagnate for years would get a bump of about $5 per hour.
A round of self-congratulations commenced.
“I am thankful for the employees that do so much for the Senate day in and day out, and I am glad their concerns were heard and taken into consideration in the new contract,” crowed Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which oversees Capitol campus matters.
But it appears some workers were shortchanged, right under the noses of their Senate champions.
Days after the new contract was signed, a cafeteria manager quietly began calling some workers into his office. He demanded they sign paperwork acknowledging new job titles.
“I’m a cook, and I’ve always been a cook,” said 45-year-old Bertrand Olotara. “Now suddenly he’s telling me I’m a ‘food service worker.’ ”
Olotara’s duties didn’t change; he’s still cooking burgers, eggs and Philly cheesesteaks, just as he always had.
But his title matters.
See, wages in the new contract were occupation-specific. And lo and behold, “food service worker” falls into a lower tier than “cook.”
Rather than getting the big raise Olotara expected as a cook — which would have upped his pay to $17.45 — he was entitled to just $13.80 as a “food service worker.”
Sure, that’s better than his old pay (which was $12.30). But it’s nowhere near what he was promised — or what senators proclaimed workers such as Olotara were entitled to.
Maybe the difference between $13.80 and $17.45 doesn’t sound like much. To Olotara, a single father of five children, it would have meant everything.
It would have allowed him to quit his second job, working weekends at Whole Foods, where he’s been moonlighting for more than a decade.
Which in turn would have given him more time to spend with his children, the eldest of whom will attend college in the fall.
And maybe to go back to writing poetry. Or to school. Or to compose the book bouncing around in his head (tentative title: “Under the Shadow of the Senate”).
There are many things Olotara would like to do, but now, working seven days a week, he just doesn’t have time.
At least six others were reclassified in to lower-wage titles without any change in job duties, according to Good Jobs Nation, a labor organization that has been trying to unionize these workers. Good Jobs Nation recently filed a complaint with the Labor Department on the workers’ behalf. It argues that these effective demotions violate not only the new contract, but federal law, too.
Read the full article from The Washington Post.