Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
War & Peace
Nicolas J.S. Davies
Means of Production
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Taking Action on Minimum Wage
T he current federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour is over 40 percent below the 1968 level adjusted for inflation. A full-time worker taking no vacation or holidays and earning the federal minimum wage earns 55 percent of the federal poverty line for a family of four and a much smaller percentage of what it takes to actually pay the rent and basic living expenses in most parts of the country. Such a worker qualifies for much of what remains of public support and assistance, placing the burden on taxpayers to pick up where employers fail to pay a living wage.
The states aren’t taking this attack on their citizens’ living standards lying down. After winning living wage laws in 123 cities and counties (laws that mandate higher minimums for certain categories of workers) and city-wide minimum wage hikes covering all workers in four cities (DC, Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Madison), the campaign for decent wage standards has shifted the battleground to the state level.
Thirty-one of the fifty states, plus the District of Columbia, have either set a minimum wage higher than the federal level of $5.15 per hour, or have had bills introduced in their legislatures this year that would do so.
Fourteen of these, plus DC, have already created minimum wage levels higher than the federal, or—in the case of Florida—have put the law on the books though it has yet to take effect. Three of these fourteen (Washington, Oregon, Florida) have indexed their minimum wage levels to automatically increase each year with the cost of living, thus eliminating the need for an annual campaign to prevent the minimum wage from losing value. Five (Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Vermont) also have bills in their legislatures that would further increase their minimum wages.
Of the 17 states that do not yet have higher minimum wages, but have had bills introduced this year, 2 (Wyoming, North Dakota) have already seen those bills defeated. Bills in some other states have a good chance of succeeding. Three that are almost certain to fail (Arizona, Ohio, Michigan) are in states where activist campaigns, led by the community group ACORN along with labor and other allies, are fully committed to gathering the signatures needed to force the issue onto a ballot initiative in 2006. The voters in Nevada, like those in Florida, passed a minimum wage increase by ballot initiative last November which included indexing to the cost of living, but initiatives in Nevada must be passed twice. The second vote, which is expected to succeed, will come in 2006.
movement for a fair wage has moved to the state level in part because
no one expects action out of Washington as long as Republicans control
the Congress and the White House. Another factor is the success
of living wage efforts at the local level. There aren’t very
many big cities left to win a living wage ordinance in. Only 4 passed
them in 2004, bringing the total to 123. But at least as big a factor
as this is the approach that the opposition has taken. As a result
chiefly of lobbying and campaign contributions from hotels and restaurants,
and the “think tanks” they fund, eight states have banned
city-level minimum wage laws (it’s nine if we include Missouri,
which is in dispute). The eight are Arizona, Louisiana, Colorado,
and Texas, plus two that also ban local living wage laws (Utah,
South Carolina) and two that at least have state-level laws, making
the ban on local laws less damaging (Oregon, Florida).
Before focusing so heavily on the state level, the living wage movement took the step three years ago of campaigning for city-wide minimums. After a campaign led by ACORN and SEIU Local 100 passed an initiative to create a minimum wage for New Orleans, the Louisiana Supreme Court threw it out. So the living wage coalition there began working on state legislation. But other cities picked up where New Orleans had shown the way. An ACORN-led campaign in San Francisco has created a minimum wage there, and activists are now pushing for the same in Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville. Coalitions in Madison, Wisconsin and Santa Fe, New Mexico have also won city-wide minimums.
The opposition in New Mexico is attempting to eliminate the Santa Fe ordinance at the state level by banning all local minimum wage laws. Labor and community groups, including ACORN, are fighting that effort at the state level while simultaneously campaigning for a city-wide minimum in Albuquerque.
T he new focus includes an effort to make state minimum wages as lasting as most living wage ordinances by indexing them to the cost of living. Indexing is a goal of state campaigns in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maryland, among other states, according to Jen Kern, director of ACORN’s Living Wage Resource Center.
The state-level fight also allows the expansion of decent wage levels to more “red states.” Nevada voters last November chose both the most anti-labor president ever to occupy the White House and an increase in the state minimum wage. The map that accompanies this article is more encouraging than the typical “blue state” map, in that it includes states with strong economic liberalism even if they may be afflicted with cultural conservatism.
There are signs that leaders in the Democratic Party are noticing. Senator Edward Kennedy, who has introduced a bill that would raise the federal minimum to $7.25 by 2007, will speak at ACORN’s upcoming annual legislative conference about the need to win higher minimum wages at the state level. And former Senator John Edwards recently met with ACORN and committed to working to support these state campaigns. If these efforts result in a distinct message for the Democratic Party as the party that can see beyond the selfish interests of robber barons, the living wage movement might just jump to the national level.
David Swanson was communications coordinator for ACORN from 2000 to 2003 and is now media coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.