Weekend News & Commentary — February 9–10, 2019


Published February 10th, 2019 - 02.10.198


Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) will likely join the 2020 presidential race today, amid stories depicting her tyrannical style of workplace management.  Klobuchar’s habits as a boss have marred her efforts to launch her campaign and distinguish herself in an increasingly crowded race, for she has been unable to secure high-level staffers after a decade of running the office with the highest turnover rate in the Senate.  Former staffers have described to Huffpost and BuzzFeed Klobuchar’s habits: morning work product critiques, severe and performative enough that they feel like “public flogging” via email; assigning staffers personal chores and errands (e.g., washing home dishes), in violation of Senate ethics rules (common on the Hill); writing out tardy slips for those late to the office; making employees cry.  Some on the Hill have rejected the negative characterization and have pointed out that sexism often lurks behind characterizations of mean women bosses.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf (D) is traveling the state to campaign for a 15 dollar an hour minimum wage, reached via graduated, annual hikes.  Wolf’s proposal does not set a ceiling on the raise, but rather ties the minimum to a cost-of-living formula.  The proposal also eliminates Pennsylvania’s current tipped worker minimum of 2.83 an hour, which has not changed in over twenty years.  Set to the federal minimum of 7.25 dollars an hour, the state trails all its neighbors – New Jersey (now with a law to reach 15 an hour by 2024), New York (varying across counties, but 15 for some workers), Delaware (8.75 and rising), Maryland (10.10), West Virginia (8.75), and Ohio (now 8.55).  As Gov. Wolf emphasizes, 7.25 an hour puts even full-time workers on the rolls for public assistance, and a raise both makes good economic sense and, morally, is “the right thing to do.”

Workers’ advocates and policymakers in Maryland are also pushing for 15, and lawmakers recently held a public hearing on the matter, attracting hundreds of spectators and testifiers.  Among the naysayers was Michael O’Halloran of the National Federation of Independent Business, who counters the very premise of the higher wages, and explained to the House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee, according to the Baltimore Sun, “It’s not supposed to be a living wage . . . It’s an entry-level wage for entry-level work”; thus, according to O’Halloran, more reasonable solutions to lack of mobility include providing workers with more tools and resources to move up in pay scales.

The city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, does believe in a “living wage,” and as such is raising the wage floor from 11.40 dollars an hour to 11.80 as of March 1.  Per ordinance, the wage follows changes in the Consumer Price Index for the Western Region.  The city’s minimum will now be the highest in the state.  Statewide, the minimum remains 7.50 an hour since 2009, but debates are underway on a raise.

In New York, incarcerated workers are the focus of legislative wage discussions: the New York State Senate will weigh a “Prison Minimum Wage Act” that sets a 3 dollar an hour floor for workers who currently earn an average 52 cents an hour, and possibly as low as 10 cents an hour.  The current bill resembles those in Nevada, Alaska, Maine, and Kansas, and aspires “to end the last vestiges of slavery and embrace the spirit and the promise of the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”  Authors and sponsors include: Senators Zellnor Myrie (D-20th Dist.); Jamaal T. Bailey (D – 36th Dist.); Jessica Ramos (D – 13th Dist.); Alessandra Biaggi (D, WF – 34th Dist.); and Julia Salazar (D – 18th Dist.).  One opponent, Sen. George Amedore (R, C, IP – 36th Dist.), has stressed that the economic health of workers and towns on the outside deserve attention first and foremost.   Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle reports similar indignant responses.

University of Colorado graduate students are organizing with the goal of securing a collective bargaining agreement with the university.  Boulder’s Daily Camera describes the rise of student activism involving work and labor issues.  Last week, the grad-student-led Committee on Rights and Compensation gathered hundreds of students and supporters, who walked out of classrooms, labs, and libraries to demand an end to policies that burden graduate student workers with the costs of being students – those who teach and research are still saddled with student fees, to be paid from meager wages.

To CRC’s east, Denver teachers plan to strike on Monday.  CNN has depicted how rising home prices and stagnant salaries push teachers into tight situations – giving up apartments to move in with friends and family, picking up nannying roles over the summer or ride-sharing gigs on the weekends, and living in fear of personal, costly emergencies, hoping that 20-year-old sedans hold on through another winter.  Salary and raise schedules and pay distribution are at the center of the dispute between the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) and Denver Public Schools District (DPS).

Jacobin has published an extensive interview with both United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl and union organizer and writer Jane McAlevey.  Caputo-Pearl attributes UTLA’s recent bargaining success to “old-fashioned organizing” and tapping into the power to “touch[] a nerve publicly.”

 

 

 

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