Weekend News & Commentary
Sixty percent of Arkansas voters support a ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage from $8.50 to $11 by 2021, on par with California and Massachusetts. The ballot initiative looks likely to pass, despite the state’s deep conservative politics, loud opposition from the state GOP, and a legal challenge by the Chamber of Congress, who are suing over the initiative before it even goes to a ballot. This is just the latest in a series of successful campaigns that put workers’ rights on the ballot, even in red and purple states — including an August ballot initiative repealing right-to-work in Missouri. If the Arkansas campaign succeeds, progressives may pour more resources into ballot initiatives that put questions of economic justice directly to voters. According to the American Prospect, the Fairness Project, a national project that helped activists get the wage increase on the ballot, is also sponsoring 10 other popular, progressive campaigns across the nation, including Medicaid expansion in Idaho and paid sick leave campaigns in Dallas and San Antonio, Texas.
As the nationwide Marriott strike continues, the New York Times profiled workers struggling to make ends meet on wages currently paid by the hotel giant. Many Marriott workers pay exorbitant fees on the checking and saving accounts they maintain with Marriott Employees’ Federal Credit Union. One dishwasher at a Philadelphia Marriott earned about $30,000 a year — but paid $2,000 in minimum-balance fees, money-transfer fees, and overdraft fees. Although the Credit Union is formally separate from Marriott, its board is primarily composed of Marriott managers and is closely affiliated with the hotel chain. Workers told the Times that they find themselves in a sort of “double jeopardy” — because of Marriott’s low pay, they’re at high risk of fees, which cut further into meager salaries. The strike continues as nearly 8,000 workers are on strike in 8 cities.
A new study by the Economic Policy Institute finds that rapidly rising health care costs is putting “sustained downward pressure on wages and incomes,” crowding up income gains, and keeping working-class families financially precarious. According to EPI, the cost of an employer-provided family insurance plan more than tripled between 1966 and 2016, rising from an average of $5,791 to $18,142. As Sarah Jones pointed out in New York Magazine, for families in the bottom 90 percent of the income scale, total premium costs as a share of their earnings doubled over the same period.
Tesla, Inc. is in the midst of a trial stemming from accusations that the company violated labor law by retaliating against pro-union workers, illegally restricting workers’ attempt to form a union, and maintaining a harsh confidentiality policy. Last week, Tesla’s Legal Vice President testified that the company’s General Counsel asked him to draft the confidentiality agreement document to have employees “renew their vows” to the automaker. According to the testimony, the confidentiality document was drafted and circulated because of leaks to the media. In an effort to identify which workers were speaking to the media, Tesla looked for the “technical trail” of messages, like Metadata — and, according to Bloomberg News, the VP testified that in cases where the company could identify workers who leaked information, they “had them criminally prosecuted.”