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For Immigrants, the Obama Era Has Been Long and Maddening

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From The Nation:

by Julianne Hing

 he Supreme Court’s one-sentence non-ruling in the most important immigration case of the year landed Thursday with an enormous impact. The 4–4 deadlock effectively killed President Obama’s deportation-deferral program for the rest of his presidency. In the immediate, the estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from the initiative are returned to their precarious lives. In the short term, the Supreme Court’s result revives a longstanding debate about where immigration advocates ought to pivot—to return the focus to a full congressional overhaul of the system or keep pushing for more creative executive action to stop deportations.

The past eight years have shown that Latino and immigrant voting power, which helped propel Obama to victory and reelection, does not on its own determine immigration policy. Congress and the Republican Party, now the Party of Trump, have made a weapon out of doing nothing. That’s why, the Court’s ruling notwithstanding, congressional politics are still not at the top of all immigrant advocates’ priority list. They remain focused on demanding that Obama put a moratorium on deportations.

On Monday, dozens of activists blocked the street in front of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Atlanta Field Office to echo these calls for a moratorium on deportations, chanting, “Not one more deportation! ICE ICE ICE! Dismantle ICE!” Activists with the #Not1More deportation coalition have pledged more actions later this week.

“With the courts also taken over by the party politics that have ruled the immigration issue for more than a decade, President Obama has a responsibility to pursue alternatives to make his policies more humane,” said Marisa Franco, director of Mijente, which coordinates the #Not1More campaign. “The way to keep communities from living in fear is to put a freeze on deportations.”

“Even with DAPA, only a fraction of us [undocumented immigrants] would be protected,” said Tania Unzueta, legal and policy director for Mijente. In light of the Obama administration’s stepped up raids, its sprawling immigrant detention system, and the possibility of a Trump presidency, Obama ought to halt all deportations for now, the group argues.

 Obama seemed to answer exactly that call last Thursday. “I don’t anticipate that there are additional executive actions we can take,” Obama said while responding to the Supreme Court decision. “We’ve butted up about as far as we can on this particular topic.”

Thursday’s ruling marks the denouement of Obama’s immigration leadership. It has been a crushing eight years, defined by early and ultimately unfulfilled promises to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and by Obama’s misguided attempt to use record-breaking deportations as proof of his good-faith efforts to meet Republicans in the middle. Only in recent years did he change tack, adopting his sweeping but short-term executive actions to protect select groups of undocumented immigrants. His first executive action Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, announced in 2012, benefited roughly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. It is still in place, and remains untouched by the current legal battles. The program in legal jeopardy now, Obama’s 2014 initiative called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents (DAPA), would have granted two-year protection from deportation and work permits to undocumented parents of US citizen or green card–holding children who cleared a host of other hurdles. One could argue that these programs were his attempt to ameliorate the devastation of the deportation machine he’s created.

 Since Obama took office, he has steadily increased his deportation rate, continuing even after it became clear that immigration reform would be a no-go in Congress. In fiscal year 2015, Obama deported 462,463 people, the most of any year of his presidency, and more than any other president before him. This even though Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has touted the fact that apprehensions of migrants at the border—a proxy for gauging how many people cross into the country illegally—are at their lowest levels in 40 years. And a large-scale deportation operation requires a large-scale detention system. Under the Obama administration the detention system has ballooned; today more people pass through the nation’s immigrant detention system annually than through the federal Bureau of Prisons.

All of this underscores what’s at stake in the presidential election.

On this last point, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton agree. “The election, and the Supreme Court appointments that come with it will decide whether or not we have a border and, hence, a country,” Trump said in a statement responding to the ruling. Clinton, also emphasizing the election, put it a little differently in her response.

Trump, unsurprisingly, is not a fan of Obama’s executive actions. He supports the 26 states, led by Texas, which sued the US government to challenge the DAPA program. He’s already pledged to rescind DAPA, should it see the light of day, and Obama’s first executive action on immigration as well.

Clinton, who has made protecting Obama’s legacy a defining theme of her presidential campaign, has repeatedly said that not only would she extend Obama’s executive actions, she’d “go further to bring more people relief and keep families together” than her predecessor. These directives to immigration enforcement agencies assign classes of undocumented immigrants a level of priority for removal; she’s hinted that, in addition to not deporting young undocumented immigrants who benefit from DACA and parents of US citizens who would benefit from DAPA, she’d also de-prioritize the deportations of the parents of DREAMers, as some undocumented youth are known.

Clinton has also said that as president she’d reform the detention system, and shut down privately run detention centers. She’s also come out against Obama’s recent raids on newly arrived Central American asylum seekers, and promised to make sure that Central American migrant children who’ve come to the United States in increased numbers in recent years have access to attorneys, something they’re currently not guaranteed.

But Clinton still reserves a special place in her platform for comprehensive immigration reform. She’s not alone. It remains the holy grail policy for many mainstream immigration advocates, who see a congressional overhaul of the nation’s immigration system as the only vehicle for lasting policy change. It’s certainly the only large-scale way to offer the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants a way to pursue citizenship.

Clinton, acknowledging that, has even painted herself into the kinds of corners Obama did as a candidate to emphasize her sympathies. In February Clinton pledged to keep immigration as among her top priorities and, pressed by MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart at a town hall, said she’d introduce comprehensive immigration-reform legislation in the first 100 days of her presidency. Immigration watchers have heard those promises before.

“We’ve heard that talk before, but let’s take it at face value,” Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Constitutional Change Action, told me. “Ultimately our goal is to bring about comprehensive immigration reform.” Matos said that especially in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the dozens of immigrant-rights groups she worked with across the country had arranged their political activities with that goal in mind. The main priority now, especially as DAPA winds its way back through the courts, will be to mobilize Latino and immigrant voters to head to the polls in November, Matos said. CCC Action plans to focus on three key battleground states—Colorado, Florida, and Nevada—which all have large immigrant and Latino populations. Matos said her group has also identified a handful of Senate races they want to affect outside of those battleground states: Republican Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. And the reality is, no matter how pro-immigrant Clinton may be as president, the future of comprehensive immigration reform depends on the composition of Congress.

Read more from The Nation.

10 Questions for the Presidential Candidates at the Intersection of Faith and Social Justice

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From The Huffington Post:

by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D.

The values and mores of America’s faith traditions have long influenced our political and policy discourse. Faith leaders from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to Jerry Falwell and James Dobson have helped to frame the debate on issues of the day. Particularly in presidential election cycles, candidates have frequently invoked their faith as the source of their political orientations and as a guide for their policy positions and the official actions they would undertake if elected. This year is no different. Thus, it is crucial to examine more deeply the implications of candidates’ stated faith-based positions, keeping in mind the Constitution’s prohibition against religious tests in government. With this year’s candidates professing primarily Judeo-Christian traditions, we at the Opportunity Agenda believe it’s important to lift up the foundational social justice values, ideals, and policy principles of those traditions to ascertain how consistent the candidates’ stated positions are with the faiths they espouse.

We offer the following questions for community leaders, journalists, and everyday Americans seeking to explore the candidates’ commitment to the universal tenets of justice, dignity, and human rights for all.

1. PROMOTING JUSTICE

Justice is the most frequently occurring term in the Bible. It reflects the recognition that every person is of equal worth and that every person has an equal right to the good things in life. The term appears more than 400 times, including in ways that make clear that those in positions of authority have a special responsibility to act justly. For example, the book of Leviticus commands, “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor” (19:15). The traits of the ideal ruler are described in this inaugural psalm: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people in righteousness, your poor with justice.... May he defend the cause of the poor among the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” (Psalm 72:1-2, 4).

As president, what kinds of policies will you pursue to promote justice?

2. CONCERN FOR THOSE LIVING IN POVERTY

Concern for the plight of the poor permeates the Bible, with pointed declarations such as, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Proverbs 29:7). In the four gospels, Jesus speaks about poverty more often than any subject but God. Moreover, when Jesus states the reasons for his earthly ministry in what the Gospel of Luke presents as his initial sermon, the first among those reasons concerns the suffering of poor people: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor...” (Luke 4:18).

Indeed, every religious faith commands concern for the poor in our midst.

With more than 45 million Americans living in poverty today, including 17 million children, what will you do to both ease the difficulties that poor people face, and to move toward ending poverty in the richest and most powerful nation in the world?

3. MAKING CHANGE TO END POVERTY

The phrase, “to bring good news to the poor,” is understood to mean meeting the material needs of individuals or groups of individuals. However, the phrase should also be understood as connoting social change, in that structural societal change is the only lasting way to transform the laws, policies, and structures that cause poverty and maintain it. The moral imperative for just structural change is reflected in the pronouncement of Isaiah, one of the most important prophets in the Bible: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people...” (10:1).

It is in the tradition of the biblical prophets that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. issued his call for a “reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values” to increase economic security and shared prosperity for all Americans.

As president, what structural changes would you propose to bring an end to poverty in America?

4. REFORMING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus also declared people languishing in prison to be a core concern for him: “the spirit of the Lord ... has sent me to proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18). Imprisonment in Jesus’ day included many inequities and injustices—brutal treatment, long and arbitrary sentences, struggling peasants imprisoned for defaulting on loans from rich and often unscrupulous lenders. And with little due process, especially for the poorest, innocence was at best an unreliable defense.

Today, we see modern parallels of many of these injustices: police brutality and discrimination against poor people and people of color; minor indiscretions punished with lengthy sentences; poor people jailed for inability to discharge debts; inadequate indigent defense, leading to innocent people being convicted and, in several proven instances, executed for crimes they did not commit.

As president, what reforms would you institute to address these problems and bring our criminal justice system in line with the values of fairness, equality, and respect for the dignity of every person?

5. THE TREATMENT OF IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES

Throughout the Bible, and particularly in the Old Testament, hospitality and just treatment of immigrants (variously called “sojourners,” “foreigners,” and “strangers” in traditional translations) are stressed as basic tenets of biblical faith. For example, calling immigrants “strangers,” the book of Leviticus commands, “...when a stranger resides with you in your land, do not oppress the stranger. The stranger who resides with you shall be as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

In even stronger terms, Deuteronomy warns against xenophobia and injustice toward newcomers in our policies and behavior: “Cursed be anyone who deprives the stranger... of justice” (Deuteronomy 27:19). Right now, our nation is faced with the tragic humanitarian crisis of frightened and dispossessed refugees seeking safety on our shores from the horrors of war.

In light of these biblical values, as president how would your policies treat the immigrant and refugee sojourners in our midst? 

6. CARING FOR THE HEALTH OF ALL

Attending to the healing needs of every person afflicted with disease and ill health who requested his help—regardless of means or status—was a defining feature of the ministry of Jesus. He is portrayed in the gospels as never turning away anyone in need of care and healing, no matter how poor or destitute, no matter their nationality. Indeed, some of his most dramatic miraculous deeds involved bringing the sick back to good health.

The Affordable Care Act has significantly increased the availability of healthcare across our nation, yet there remain some 33 million Americans who still lack basic healthcare coverage, including 5 million children.

What would you do as president to ensure that adequate healthcare is available to everyone in our country? 

7. RACIAL JUSTICE

The book of Leviticus commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus quotes that verse as one of the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:30-31). Yet, in America, racial exclusion and violence continue to divide and bedevil our society. Moreover, new activism and new technology have combined for greater awareness of police bias and violence in communities of color, and students are forcing universities to confront and address past and present racism in their midst.

As president, how do you plan to work for racial reconciliation, justice, and equal opportunity in America? And do you feel that #BlackLivesMatter and other social activists are contributing something important to our national discourse?

8. BUDGETING WITH VALUES IN MIND

In addition to their functions of financial planning, projection, and oversight, government budgets can also be understood as moral documents because, in the final analysis, every budget reflects the values of those who craft them.

How, if at all, would your budget proposals embody the biblical values of lifting people out of poverty, ensuring a fair criminal justice system, and treating all people as you would like to be treated? 

Read more from The Huffington Post.

Higher Minimum Wages Are Good for Newborn Health

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From The Atlantic City Lab:

by Laura Bliss

In the U.S., the debate around the minimum wage does not lack controversy, but it does lack up-to-date research. Academic studies on the effects of raising hourly pay—especially to $15, which has become something of a magic number for progressive cities and states—have not kept pace with the whirlwind movement. And relatively little research has focused on the non-economic impacts of such significant wage bumps: for example, how they affect the health of infants.

This is no arbitrary question. Women make up the majority of minimum-wage workers. In the U.S., income level has a pronounced, positive link to birth weight and infant mortality. Low birth weights are associated with myriad long-term poor outcomes for children, including respiratory and cardiovascular sickness, cognitive and developmental issues, and lower educational attainment. These effects have led some economists to characterize the health trajectories for some kids born to poor parents as being “unequal at birth.”

So when hourly pay gets bumped up, what benefits (if any) extend to the tiniest citizens? Two recent studies—a working paper in NBER and research published in the American Journal of Public Health—evaluate that question.

The NBER study examines how state-level minimum wages affect birth weight, length of gestation, and fetal development among births in the U.S. between 1989 and 2012, focusing on a sample of women with low educational status. The AJPH researchers focused on a similar time frame—1980 to 2011—and tracked the effects of more than 200 changes to state minimum wages on rates of low birth weight and infant mortality.

Both studies controlled for other factors that can influence infant health, such as whether the mother smoked, how often she received medical care, and whether the family received Medicaid benefits or earned-income tax credits. They also accounted for potential negative effects of increased minimum wages, such as job losses.

The findings? Increases in minimum wage are associated with significant net positive effects for newborn health, the two papers concluded. The authors of the NBER study write:

… An increase in the minimum wage is associated with a significant increase in birth weight: a $1 increase in the minimum wage increases birth weight by about 11 grams, which would imply an 85 grams increase with a $7.75-dollar increase in the minimum wage from the current federal level of $7.25 to $15. A $1 increase in minimum wage is also associated with a 0.2 percentage point, or 2%, decrease in the probability of low-birth weight.

Read more from The Atlantic City Lab.

My Undocumented Mom, America’s Housekeeper

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From The New York Times

By Luba Cortés

ONE of the earliest memories I have in New York City is of scrubbing toilets alongside my mother. She worked as a housekeeper for wealthy families and because she could not afford a babysitter, she would often take me with her. I would do my homework while catching glimpses of my mother as she was dusting television sets or folding bedsheets in homes that we would visit once a week.

I remember the day that my mother walked off a job after the homeowner refused to pay her. I was taking a nap; my mom woke me up. She had been having an argument with the owner, who told her she should feel grateful to have a job that would let her take her child to work. My mom was being exploited, but she was undocumented, and there was nothing she could do.

She has been undocumented for 16 years. In 2014, we thought this might finally change. President Obama announced a program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which would have protected her from deportation for at least three years and allowed her to get a work permit.

But Texas and 25 other states sued to keep the program from going into effect, calling it an abuse of power. For months my mom would call me and ask what was happening with the president’s immigration plan. I would tell her, “Nothing new,” and I could always sense her disappointment. Then the calls got less frequent. Thursday morning, I called her. I had to tell her that the Supreme Court had taken the issue on … and deadlocked. The president’s program couldn’t move forward. My mother still can’t get a work permit, or relief from anxiety-ridden nights.

My mother and I moved from Puebla, Mexico, to the United States in October 1999, and we have lived in New York ever since. My little sister was born here. In Puebla, my mother was a lawyer. Here she is part of the pool of undocumented immigrants who facilitate the lifestyles of so many people in the country that she calls home. It feels like we have spent more time in other people’s homes than our own, cleaning, dusting, scrubbing, cooking, the same tasks that many women who migrate to the United States subsist on.

From a young age, I understood my place in the world through the eyes of my mother. Her jobs required her to use cleaning products that burned her skin and blurred her vision. Her knees have scars from all the years scrubbing floors. Housekeepers are the heroes of the immigrant economy — they do their work silently, efficiently, and find money on the table after the job is done. There is no exchange of stories. None of the people whose houses my mom has cleaned know that she was a lawyer, that she is an intellectual and passionate person; they don’t know that she crossed a treacherous border, or that she lives with the constant fear of deportation.

My mother and others like her are pushed to the background of conversations about immigration reform. When people talk about who “deserves” to have a path to citizenship, they like to talk about young people who came to this country as children and therefore, most now can agree, don’t deserve to be punished for it. As a result, in 2012, President Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects people like me from deportation.

But if I don’t deserve to be punished, then my mother doesn’t, either. Because she brought me here, I got a chance to go school, I got a chance to put down roots and build friendships, even while my childhood was vastly different from those of many, and my days were spent in the homes of strangers helping my mom fold and clean.

As I got older, I got the chance to escape that reality. Thanks to the childhood arrivals program, I have a work permit and a good job. My mom, however, still cleans houses; my mom is still undocumented; and my mom is still criminalized by an administration that continues to deport the most vulnerable members of our community. Thanks to the Supreme Court, that’s not going to change anytime soon.

We will have to keep fighting to live without fear in this place we call home. But in moments like these, of sadness and defeat, I think of the night that we crossed the border. As we were running, I fell and for a moment looked up to the night sky, scared that I would be left behind. But my mom was there, she was there all along — she picked me up, and we started running again.

Read more from The New York Times


Hopes dashed for millions of [undocumented] immigrants after Supreme Court deadlocks

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From The Washington Post

By Antonio Olivo and Pamela Constable

Every night after arriving home from her house-cleaning job, Yolanda Perez-Reyes checked for news about a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could offer a way for her and millions of other undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.

On Thursday, the nation’s highest court declined to authorize the deportation-relief programs that had been proposed by President Obama as a way around a years-long stalemate over immigration reform in Congress.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Perez-Reyes, who arrived from El Salvador 11 years ago and has two U.S.-born children, said in Spanish. “We came here out of necessity to give our families better lives. Will I be able to stay in this country?”

The 4-to-4 Supreme Court ruling continues an injunction that started 16 months ago against the implementation of Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program and an expanded version of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The court’s liberals and conservatives deadlocked, leaving in place a lower court’s decision that the president exceeded his powers in issuing the directive.

An estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants in the Washington area would have been eligible to apply for three-year stays of deportation under the programs. A similar initiative launched by Obama in 2012 has shielded about 700,000 illegal immigrants — all of whom arrived in the United States as children, before 2007 — from the possibility of being sent back to their countries of birth.

Thursday’s ruling — with six months left in Obama’s term and amid a presidential campaign where the Republican candidates have taken an increasingly hard line on illegal immigration — left undocumented immigrants and their advocates despondent.

“It’s absolutely crushing,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program in Northern Virginia. “For so many people, this has been their chance at stability.”

As the challenge to Obama’s programs wound its way through the nation’s highest court, activists across the country launched street rallies, hunger strikes and counter-protests that have embodied the nation’s bitter divide over illegal immigration.

“It’s been like a mountain crossing,” said Ana Campos, 31, who left El Salvador in 2006, married a Honduran man who arrived in the United States illegally in 2008 and, in 2012, gave birth to a U.S.-born son.

Both parents would qualify for DAPA relief under Obama’s proposal. Campos has been among a group of would-be applicants who has showed up to the Supreme Court steps in Washington every Monday since the court heard the case in April.

Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, said the deferred action programs carried more than just the promise of temporary protections against being deported. It would significantly expand economic and educational opportunities for people who are in the country illegally, and ultimately could positively benefit up to 10 million people, including undocumented immigrants and their relatives, according to a study done by Capps’s organization and the Washington-based Urban Institute.

“Unauthorized immigrant parents have a lot of problems with autonomy at work, their working conditions, not being paid,” Capps said. “One would assume that, under the DAPA program, these things would improve.”

The issue has inflamed the presidential campaign this year, with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump calling for a wall to be built along the Mexican border and for most illegal immigrants to be deported. Trump had vowed to cancel Obama’s deportation-relief programs if they were upheld in the courts. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, said she would take Obama’s executive actions even further.

Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the Supreme Court ruling means that Congress will probably have to deal sooner with the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

The sanctioning of the programs by the Supreme Court would have introduced a dangerous precedent, Feere said, by giving the White House authority over what should be a legislative question.

“If you’re a member of Congress, you wouldn’t want the executive branch to usurp your authority over immigration in this way,” Feere said. “Write the bill; pass the bill. That’s how the legislative process works. Once you let that go, then it’s very hard to get that back if you’re part of Congress.”

For many of the affected families, the ruling means continuing with uncertain hopes of building a stable life in the United States.

Read more from The Washington Post

Equal Pay Icon Lilly Ledbetter: How To Make Sure You're Getting A Fair Wage

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Photo: www.lillyledbetter.com

From Forbes

By Claire O'Connor

The term “tireless” can be thrown around rather frivolously, but it’s apt in the case of Lilly Ledbetter. At age 78, the equal pay activist spends much of her time on the road, traveling between speaking engagements and summits, like last week’s United State of Women conference in Washington, D.C., where she got an onstage shout-out from the first self-described feminist commander-in-chief (“a good friend of mine,” President Obama said of Ledbetter).

But commend her stamina, and the former factory manager will remind you she spent a full decade fighting for money that was rightfully hers, going all the way to the Supreme Court, then to Congress. And that was after working almost 20 years in an Alabama tire plant, nearly always the only woman at her level of seniority.

“People are energized, and they energize me,” she said in an interview backstage at Forbes’ recent Women’s Summit, where she spoke of her long fight for equality. “I want to be sure I prevent this from happening to other people.”

Ledbetter is something of an accidental advocate. In 1997, when she was nearing retirement from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Plant, she received an anonymous note in her mailbox detailing the salaries of men with the same job title and level of responsibility. Not only were they making 40% more than she was, but they’d been doing so for years.

“The first thing I thought about when I saw the note, was my overtime — a lot of 12-hour shifts, seven nights a week. That’s a lot of time and a half, a lot of double and triple,” Ledbetter said. “I’m thinking back on what we did without, and how hard it was on my family. How often we had to rotate bills, or figure out how we’d pay two college tuitions and a mortgage and the car payments too, and put food on the table. It was not right. And the way I am, I couldn’t let it go.”

She took her case first to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, then to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, where she was awarded $3.6 million in damages in 2006. Goodyear appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that she’d filed her claim too late; at the time, the statute of limitations was within 180 days of a paycheck. (She never saw a dime of that $3.6 million, she said, and doesn’t expect she ever will.)

Buoyed in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who delivered a blistering dissent after the ruling, Ledbetter began lobbying Congress on the need to close the gender pay gap. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was the first bill President Obama signed into law after taking office. Thanks to Ledbetter, there’s no time limit on seeking damages for wage discrimination.

“I told the President it was quite an honor to be put in the history books from now on,” she said. “I knew that signature meant that in the future, women and minorities could have that option if they learned they were being discriminated against. They can file that charge. They can go out and ask for help. Because what the ruling in the Ledbetter case did was shut it down. What the bill did was open the courtroom doors back up.”

Ledbetter hears from women all the time — at events, at airports, via email — who suspect wage discrimination on the job and seek her help. “It’s an epidemic,” she said of pay inequality. “In this country, we have resources. We are better educated. We shouldn’t be in this situation.” She shared her advice with Forbes.

Do your research

“There’s all manner of information for people out there today,” said Ledbetter, noting that the culture of silence and secrecy around pay she experienced at Goodyear seems to be becoming a thing of the past.

“I worked for a corporation that said if you discuss your pay you won’t have a job,” she said. “So no one ever did. When the cost of living increased the rates, I never knew. I found out during the discovery for trial that I’d been paid below the minimum for many years.”

If there isn’t information on salary expectations internally, look outside your company, to wage comparison and review websites like Glassdoor and PayScale. “Now you can go out there and you can find out in your area what the going pay scale should be for your education and the job you hold,” she said.

…and always negotiate your salary

“Women must get their pay up front,” she said. “Learn to negotiate. If you don’t, what you miss is gone forever. It’s your retirement. You can’t go back and get it.”

Read more from Forbes

Helen Chavez remembered for sacrifices, quiet determination

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Helen and Cesar ChavezPhoto: UFW

From Tehachapi News

By Harold Pierce

Helen Fabela Chavez’s feet never touched the ground during her final march Monday. She was hoisted into the air and carried into the memorial gardens at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, iconic black and red United Farm Workers flags raised across the aisle as family members draped in white guayaberas trailed behind.

Outside, hundreds clamored outside the gate, peeking through the bars to be in the presence of revolutionary labor leader Cesar Chavez’s wife just once more before she was lowered into the earth.

“Viva Helen Chavez!” one woman yelled from the back of the garden, to which the crowd chanted back, “Viva!”

Chavez, 88, was laid to rest Monday beside her husband and just a few yards from her home in La Paz. Though she’s often memorialized as “the woman behind the man,” her son, Paul Chavez, said she was more like the woman standing beside him.

If not for Helen Chavez’s support, the farm worker movement may never have happened.

Chavez’s selfless determination to create change for thousands, her tirelessness and sacrifice was pointed out over and over by loved ones Monday at St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Tehachapi, where Cardinal Roger Mahoney, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, presided over the the Mass of Christian Burial earlier in the day. Pope Francis sent his condolences.

Attendees included Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, and actor Edward James Olmos.

The farmworker’s dream is to get away from the fields, move to the suburbs and raise a family — to leave behind that hard toil, Paul Chavez said. Cesar Chavez had achieved that when he asked his family to leave their Los Angeles suburb and return to the fields. He asked for Helen to return to the fields. She wouldn’t refuse, returning to the same fields she picked as a child.

“They made the decision in 1962 to leave the most comfortable life they ever had to move to Delano, go back to the fields and start organizing, and my father never would have made that decision had my mother not been on board 100 percent,” Paul Chavez said after his mother’s burial.

Helen acknowledged that a decade ago in a series of interviews with longtime United Farm Worker spokesman Marc Grossman. Despite being in the background, she held a steadfast dedication to la causa, but always preferred to stay out of the spotlight.

“She didn’t want none of this,” her brother, Frank Fabela said, referring to the large funeral. “She didn’t want to be noticed.” If she saw the hundreds of people, the procession and television cameras broadcasting it, he said, she would be “turning over in her casket.”

Still, her sacrifices were many. She was arrested for the cause, and famously thrust the UFW into standing in solidarity with Filipino farmworkers, when during a debate about whether to strike alongside them, she chimed in and asked, “Are we a union, or not?”

When the Kennedy Administration offered Cesar Chavez a position heading up the just-formed Peace Corps in Latin America —- a cushy position that would have given his family more money than it had ever imagined —- Helen told him it was OK to turn it down to continue working with farm laborers.

“I knew what his mind was set on,” she told Grossman during interviews. “So who was I to change his mind and say, ‘No, I want to go to a different country and live like a queen?’ Even though I lived in poverty myself and worked in the fields all my life, you know… to me (that job offer) was not important.”

Her name’s notoriety belies her humble life. She lived in a weathered and worn two-bedroom home — the same home where she raised four of her children (the other four had moved on by the time the family relocated from Delano in 1971.) Cesar Chavez’s silver Ford town car sits out front, the same place it’s remained since he died in 1993.

Chavez’s activism never halted, not even after her husband died, Paul said. But she didn’t do it by shouting “huelga” or standing on a picket line.

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To cheers of workers, aldermen approve sick day mandate

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From Chicago Sun Times

By Fran Spielman

The days of dragging your flu-ridden body to work, or forfeiting a day’s pay to stay home with a sick child or elderly parent are about to end for an estimated 460,000 of Chicago’s private-sector employees.

The Committee on Workforce Development made certain of that Thursday to the cheers of restaurant workers who filled the City Council chambers to witness the culmination of a dream.

Aldermen approved an ordinance embraced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would require Chicago employers large and small — except those in the construction industry — to provide their employees with at least five paid sick days a year.

“Having earned sick time means not having to lose your job because you need to take care of your family. There were too many times I was sick myself and didn’t get paid and needed a doctor’s statement just to take off for one day. When my son got sick, I needed to take care of him. Who else is gonna take care of my son?” said Nataki Rhodes of the Restaurant Opportunity Center.

“We’re the first ones to kick under the bus. We’re the first ones to have to come begging. But, we’re not begging. We’re telling you. We want our sick time for all working families, no matter where you work. … It’s time for the Council to vote on our side. It’s time for you to stand up with us like you did on minimum wage. It was hard, but you did it. Businesses still opened. The roof didn’t fall out.”

Matthew Brandon, secretary-treasurer of SEIU Local 73, acknowledged there are “costs associated” with paid sick leave.

But, he said: “There are also more serious costs associated with our people when they have to take off sick and they have to go to an emergency room and they can’t afford it. And those costs are passed on to all of us — everyone in this room. Everyone in this city.”

Brandon scoffed at claims that mandatory sick leave is a cost businesses cannot endure on top of a minimum wage hike, a partial ban on plastic bags, tobacco regulations and a never-ending parade of recent tax increases.

“We ask business and even small business to not make a five percent profit. Maybe make a 4.75 percent profit. Or big business. Don’t worry about plastic bags and cigarettes. Worry about the people who work for you. Worry about the people who make this city run,” Brandon said.

“Businesses aren’t going anywhere. Chicago is a world-class city. You want to be here. We want you here. We want to work for you. But we want to be treated fairly.”

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Macy's workers prepare to strike

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From Crain's New York:

by Rosa Goldensohn

Macy's Herald Square might be in for some marching Thursday morning, but it won't resemble the retailer's traditional parade.

Instead, more than 3,500 workers from the flagship store, along with 1,500 others at three other locations, plan to walk the picket line if a contract with store management is not reached when the clock strikes 12 Wednesday night. 

Members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union want a more affordable health care plan, preserved pensions and changes to scheduling and commissions policies, according to union president Stuart Appelbaum.

"Negotiations are ongoing between now and the contract deadline," he told Crain's. "Nobody wants to go on strike. But if a company forces us into a position where we have no choice, then we will strike."

The company and union leadership will negotiate until midnight, both sides said.

“With the deadline to reach an agreement nearing, we are continuing to negotiate, in good faith, on the issues still remaining on the bargaining table," Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan said in a statement. "We are committed to keeping the lines of communication open and continuing the talks round-the-clock with the goal of reaching an agreement that is fair and equitable both for our workers and the company." 

But both union and management appear to be playing hardball. Macy's placed ads for temporary replacement workers in local newspapers this week in order to stay in operation during a walkout.

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Minimum Wage Momentum Continues to Surge

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From The American Prospect:

by Justin Miller

Momentum behind local minimum wage hikes continues to mount at a staggering speed, as wage policy becomes a hot topic in cities, counties, and states across the United States.

Last week, the Washington, D.C., City Council unanimously voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020. Labor leaders largely heralded the move as yet another win for low-wage workers in the U.S.’s big cities. The $15 minimum wage could give as many as 114,000 workers a raise in the nation’s capital. Still, some advocates criticized D.C. leaders for merely raising the tipped minimum wage—which mostly applies to restaurant servers—to $5.00 from $2.77 an hour rather than gradually eliminating it altogether, like a recently proposed ballot measure would have done.

Meanwhile, in California, cities are already working to increase their own minimum wages at a faster pace than the recent statewide increase to $15 by 2022. In San Diego, the city council had passed a minimum wage increase back in 2014, withstanding opposition from business groups and overturning a veto by the city’s Republican mayor. But business groups pushed to get that measure on the ballot, hoping that voters would strike it down. However, last Tuesday, more than 63 percent of voters approved the measure, which will immediately increase the city’s minimum wage to $10.50, to $11.50 by 2017, and with increases thereafter tethered to inflation. 

Additionally, the Cities Association of Santa Clara County—a group that represents the interests of 15 cities in Silicon Valley—voted last week in favor of a proposal that would establish a regional $15 minimum wage across Silicon Valley by 2019, three years before the state would reach that level. While the vote is non-binding, it indicates broad support among city councils in the county for raising the minimum wage at a faster pace than the state. Increasing the minimum to $15 by 2019 could increase earnings for more than 250,000 workers in Santa Clara County, according to a recent report. The cost of living rates in Silicon Valley are among the highest in the country.

In Durham, North Carolina, the city council voted to increase the wage floor for its full-time city employees to $15 an hour by 2018. The city follows the lead of nearby Greensboro, which passed a similar policy last year. Increasing city employee wages is often the only avenue for action in Republican states that prohibit localities from enacting their own minimum wages.

The Emerging New Working Class

Much of the 2016 election coverage on the rise of Donald Trump focuses on his popularity within an angry white working-class—and the implications for the labor movement. However, a new report backs up what many have already been saying: The white, blue-collar worker from the Midwest is no longer an accurate representative of the working class.

People of color will make up a majority of the American working class by 2032, according to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute. That means the working class will become “majority-minority” 11 years before the entire population will, based on U.S. Census Bureau projections. The analysis defines “working class” as those whose education level is less than a Bachelor’s degree.

As the Hispanic population in the U.S. surges, so too will its representation in the working class. Hispanic men will be the segment of the new working class to have grown the most. It’s projected to increase by 7.2 percent by 2032, followed by Hispanic women, who are projected to grow 4.5 percent. Meanwhile, the share of white working class women will decrease by 7.9 percent; white working class men will decrease by 5.1 percent.

Even starker, the report finds, the “older millennial” segment of the working class—workers between the age of 25-34—will become majority-minority by 2021.

As the report’s author, economist Valerie Wilson, notes, these projections emphasize the importance of a progressive agenda centrally built around not only class-based, but also race-based policies.

“Securing wage growth and greater equality by both class and race calls for sustainable working-class solidarity that supersedes the racial and ethnic tensions present among all groups of people, not just between whites and people of color,” Wilson writes. “Getting to that point requires honesty and a collective reckoning about race, white privilege, and institutional racism, with respect to the costs and benefits to each of us.

Read more from The American Prospect