Today’s News & Commentary — July 2, 2018

Published July 2nd, 2018 -  - 07.02.183


Minimum wages are rising across the country. On Sunday, San Francisco’s minimum wage reached $15 an hour for all businesses, the highest rate of any major U.S. city. (Seattle’s $15 minimum in effect last year applies only to large businesses with 501 or more employees.) An estimated 142,000 workers will see a raise, but they still will not be able to afford a 2-bedroom home inside the city.  SF Gate calculates as the wage at which workers in San Francisco could “live comfortably”: $60.02 an hour.  It is therefore unclear whether the new $15 an hour minimum will curb the “exodus” of workers to other California cities or even out of state, where the cost of living is more manageable.  San Francisco’s hike was decided by voters in 2014, and has been expressly promoted as a means of combatting dramatic inequities in the Bay Area, and as a step toward a “living wage” for all workers.

California is slated for a statewide $15 an hour minimum by 2022. As of July 1, workers in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Santa Monica, and Malibu have a $13.25 an hour minimum at businesses with 26 or more employees, up from $12. Workers at smaller businesses now have a $12 an hour minimum, up from $10.50. The L.A. Times reports on the likely effect these higher wages might have on the “tightening labor market,” where there is a “dwindling supply of workers” and a “bidding war” for qualified job candidates.

In Maryland, the new $10.10 an hour minimum took effect on Sunday, the final step in phased-in raises legislated in 2014. (Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous supports a $15 an hour minimum.) Oregon workers all saw minimums increase, with the raises keyed to the Consumer Price Index plus county cost of living, and varying from $12 an hour in Portland to $10.50 an hour in rural counties. (Oregon workers will also fund public transportation projects with a .001% transit tax.) In Chicago, the minimum has increased to $12 an hour, up from $11 and on its way to $13 by mid-2019. This raise affects more than 330,000 workers, and lifts Chicago workers significantly above the $8.25 state minimum. The Chicago Tribune assesses the impact of higher wages on employment numbers and the city’s overall economic health, and reports on the concerns of employers struggling to keep apace with the raises.  In Minneapolis, workers at businesses with 100 employees or more now earn an $11.25 an hour minimum, while workers at smaller businesses see $10.25 an hour. These are also planned steps, which the City Council has set to climb toward $15. Passed Sunday morning but not in effect until October, Delaware’s new minimum wage bill phases in increases from the current $8.25 an hour to $8.75 in October 2018 and $9.25 the following year.

Massachusetts lawmakers achieved new minimum wage measures, forging a “grand bargain” among embattled factions. On Thursday, Governor Charlie Baker (R) “signed into law a bill that will reshape the state’s workplaces,” according to Mass Live. The new law will boost the minimum wage in a process similar to California’s, with Massachusetts trailing one year behind and reaching $15 an hour statewide by 2023. The Massachusetts law includes a groundbreaking family medical leave plan, which is the first in the country to offer job-protected paid leave to attend to one’s own health needs. With a sales holiday in August and the minimum wage hike, this suite of legislative measures represents a coalition-building effort from worker and family advocacy groups competing with business lobbies.

The New York Times explains how public sector labor unions have financially supported a number of socially progressive and liberal activist causes, and how, in the wake of Janus, these causes will suffer. This result—weakened political organizations after stemmed union revenues—may have motivated the conservative, free-market group behind Janus to fight labor, in the first place.  With fair-share fees gone, the union bosses can no longer “use that money to advance their big-government agenda,” John Tillman, CEO of Illinois Policy Institute predicted in December. Liberal organizations, including Moveon.org and smaller operations like Mi Familia Vota, have been bracing for the drop in funding.  While some union-backed projects have already shuttered their doors, others have been trying to adapt, and remain confident that the “people power” of union members may offset the dwindling dollars.

In the Washington Post, Mark Janus has explained his decision to challenge the constitutionality of mandatory union fees. Among his chief gripes with union power was that he saw a salary raise every year, a fact indicative, according to Janus, of how AFSCME’s lobbying affected “the state’s bottom line.” Citing heavily reports from the Illinois Policy Institute, which had located and chosen him to be the plaintiff, Janus confirms what the New York Times reports: union revenues fund pro-union candidates.  Because “unions bankroll into office” candidates with liberal spending measures, the individual naysayer worker had no “choice” in whether and how labor policies “bankrupt[] our states.” Janus states he would have chosen to forego his higher salary and his “generous, tax-payer funded” pension – a political priority he can now express because, as he says, “workers such as me will no longer have to check our First Amendment rights at the door when we enter public service.”

The Guardian follows a teacher who is “going door-to-door to rally support for a teacher’s union.”  In a “Republican-leaning school district” in southwestern Pennsylvania, high school teacher Jason Davis canvasses the neighborhood. He reminds people of moments in their lives when education mattered, describes the drop in state funding (independent of rises in property taxes) and the loss of crucial resources like a robust band program. Most importantly, he aims to “humanize teachers’ unions” and to connect with taxpayers and voters as he challenges how unions have been “vilified.”

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