Today's News and Commentary–January 16, 2015

Published January 16th, 2015 -  - 01.16.15


Lawmakers in Washington state have introduced legislation that would raise Washington’s minimum wage to $12 per hour over four years. Washington’s current $9.47 per hour minimum is already the highest in the nation.

The proposal comes as a poll conducted by the prominent polling firm Hart Research Associates revealed that 75% of Americans—including 53% of Republicans—support an increase in the federal minimum wage to $12.50 by 2020, and that 71% of Americans believe the minimum wage for tipped workers should be increased so that all workers are subject to the same wage floor. According to the poll, 63% of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage to $15 by 2020.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine is rumored to be preparing a bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour over three years, with no increase for tipped workers, whose minimum wage has been frozen at $2.13 per hour for two decades. The rumored bill also would not tie the minimum wage to inflation. As reported, Collins’s bill falls well short of the increases most Democrats have been calling for.

On Wednesday federal district judge Richard Leon, an appointee of George W. Bush, struck down the second part of a Department of Labor rule that was designed to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to many home healthcare workers. In Wednesday’s ruling, Leon invalidated the portion of the rule interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act’s exemption for workers providing “companionship services” more narrowly so as to extend that act’s overtime and minimum wage guarantees to a large number of home healthcare workers. Leon said this interpretation was impermissible. Last month, he struck down the other major provision of the rule, which would have extended FLSA’s protections to home healthcare workers employed by third-party providers. The Department of Labor is considering appealing both decisions.

Democrats in the House of Representatives this week revealed a bold new plan to boost wages and increase tax progressivity that is designed to put more money in the pockets of low and middle income Americans. The far-reaching plan, spearheaded by prominent Representative Chris Van Hollen, would (1) establish a large tax credit for Americans earning less than $200,000 a year, (2) triple the tax credit for child care, (3) grant additional tax advantages to those who save for retirement, and (4) create tax incentives to encourage companies to raise employee pay, among other provisions. The plan suggests Democrats may be shifting toward a new political strategy in the wake of their losses in the 2014 midterm elections. This new strategy focuses on aggressive action to bolster economic conditions for working people. The Democrats’ plan would finance the low and middle class credits with a tax increase on the very wealthiest Americans.

12,000 flight attendants at Delta Airlines, about 60% of all Delta attendants, have signed cards asking the federal government to conduct an election in which attendants can vote to unionize with the International Association of Machinists. Unlike many of its competitors, Delta has remained largely nonunion. If the IAM wins the election, which it says it expects will be held in the next 4-6 weeks, it would become the legal representative for almost 20,000 Delta flight attendants. A vote for unionization would constitute the largest transportation sector organizing victory in history.

The AFL-CIO has brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky alleging that Hardin County’s just-passed local right-to-work ordinance is unlawful and void. Hardin County is one of five Kentucky counties to pass such an ordinance since conservative groups began a concerted push to pass local right-to-work laws late last year. The AFL-CIO asserts that local right-to-work laws are preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway recently issued a legal opinion saying that under both state and federal law Kentucky counties do not have the power to enact right-to-work ordinances. The case is in front of Judge David Hale, an appointee of Barack Obama who served as the U.S. Attorney for Kentucky’s Western District before being confirmed as a judge by the Senate last year.

The New York Times reports an academic study conducted by two professors that found that “union members are more satisfied with their lives than those who are not members and that the substantive effect of union membership on life satisfaction is large and rivals other common predictors of quality of life.” “Simply put, if one goal of labor unions is to boost the quality of life for their members, our study provides empirical evidence that they are succeeding,” said the study’s authors.

And finally, on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend, opinion writer Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post points readers’ attention to Dr. King’s strong support for aggressive government action and a robust labor movement to ensure widespread economic prosperity. Robinson argues that Dr. King’s support for dramatic action to improve the lives of working people was a central tenet of his philosophy that is too often downplayed in discussions of his legacy.

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