News & Commentary

August 31, 2014

This Labor Day, President Obama wants to talk about workers’ rights and the minimum wage. In his weekly address, the President reminded Americans that Social Security, the right to organize, weekends, worker safety regulations and other benefits that helped build the biggest middle class in the world did not always exist, nor were they handed over by Congress easily. Workers and the unions that have their back fought for them. And in order to build a stronger middle class in today’s economy, President Obama urges Americans to keep fighting for fair wages, because “in America no one that works full time should have to raise a family in poverty.” Since Congress has not yet risen to the task to give America the raise it deserves, the President applauded the workers, states and cities that have been taking action and making important strides towards reform, and encouraged Congress to follow their good example.

In other POTUS news, President Obama is slated to attend Wisconsin’s Labor Fest this weekend, Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The visit comes in the midst of a tight gubernatorial campaign between incumbent Republican Scott Walker, who runs on a platform and record of anti-union policies, and former state Commerce Department Secretary, Democrat Mary Burke. Republicans in the state are trying to turn the President’s visit against Burke, pointing to the fact that Burke is not campaigning with the President in public at the event and is instead meeting with him in private, which they say is evidence that the candidate is trying to escape Obama’s approval ratings that currently hover at just below 50 percent in America’s Dairyland. Burke’s spokesman Joe Zepecki told the Star Tribune that Burke is not speaking at the event with President Obama because Labor Fest is not a campaign event.

Los Angeles is poised to potentially be the next California city to raise the minimum wage, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Following the lead of San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose, the Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti is reported by the LA Times to be circulating a proposal to hike the citywide minimum wage to $13.25, a proposal expected to be announced on Labor Day. As California’s largest city and the nation’s second largest city, the local measure would have a significant impact on the many families trying to make ends meat in the City of Angels. However, while blowback has been pretty minimal in San Jose from the business community, which has been enjoying the continued economic boom in the bay area, San Diego’s business community, with the help of national trade associations, is pushing for a voter referendum to repeal the pay increase. As Bloomberg Businessweek reports, though Los Angeles is not traditionally as conservative as San Diego, the big city may be a big target for a fight over wage increases.

In a Boston Globe opinion piece, Veronic Turner, executive vice president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East in Massachusetts and secretary of the SEIU African American National Board, hails organized labor as “an essential movement in the face of wage inequality.” Turner argues that with income inequality at the worst it has been in 85 years, “more and more Americans are saying it is simply wrong to work a 40-hour week, only to go home to a shelter, eat at a soup kitchen, or be told by your wealthy corporate employer that you should go apply for food stamps.” Which is why, Turner argues, labor is back and making gains.

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