As Florida Governor’s and Legislative Races Heat Up, Worker Groups Release Bold Agenda to Bolster Workers’ Pay, Jobs

For Immediate Release: June 7, 2018

With economy growing but paychecks flat, groups say next governor must stand with working people or face political peril

With a high-stakes election around the corner, groups representing Florida’s workers — including the Miami Workers Center, the Florida AFL-CIO, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida and the Farmworker Association of Florida, among others — today released a Florida Workers’ Agenda calling on the next governor and the legislature to take bold action to improve jobs, wages, and working conditions for the state’s workers.

While Florida’s economy has been growing under Rick Scott, pay has been flat and living costs have been rising, leaving millions of families just a missed paycheck away from economic crisis. According to the United Way, 45% of Florida households can’t afford basic necessities. Orlando has the lowest median pay of any metropolitan area in the U.S. And in South Florida, poverty-wage jobs and rising housing costs are squeezing families hard.

Weak worker protections are a big part of the problem. Florida’s minimum wage is just $8.25 an hour, and has increased only 90 cents since 2009. And workers who are cheated in their paychecks, injured on the job, or laid off are left stranded. Florida has no state wage enforcement agency. Its unemployment insurance program is the stingiest in the U.S. And its workers comp protections for injured workers have been declared unconstitutionally inadequate by the Florida Supreme Court.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidates are meeting to debate in St. Petersburg on June 9 and in Miramar on June 11. The Republican candidates are debating in Tampa on June 28.

The Florida Workers’ Agenda outlines key reforms that the next governor—or the governor together with the legislature—should take to protect working families. The recommendations include:

  • Backing a 2020 ballot initiative to gradually raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour
  • Fighting attempts by the legislature to tie the hands of cities and counties from addressing worker needs
  • Getting the state back in the business of fighting wage theft by establishing state wage enforcement programs at the Department of Economic Opportunity and attorney general’s office
  • Fixing the state’s stingy unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation systems, which no longer provide meaningful safety nets for jobless and injured workers
  • Tackling the health and safety threats facing Florida’s workers, especially farmworkers
  • Promoting access to jobs for qualified workers with arrest or conviction records by “banning the box” in state hiring
  • Defending workers’ right to organize and join unions, and promoting decent pay for public servants like teachers and airport workers
  • Protecting immigrant workers
  • Fighting for workers’ civil rights and fighting forced arbitration of worker complaints
  • Opposing a ballot proposal to require a supermajority vote of the legislature to raise revenue in the future

“All Floridians deserve wages and conditions that reflect the value of their hard work and gives them the financial freedom to achieve their dreams,” said Moné Holder, senior program director for policy, advocacy & research at New Florida Majority (NewFM). “Working class families, especially communities of color that have been systematically kept at the margins, demand fair economic policies and lawmakers who will fight for our basic human rights and support an agenda that protects Florida’s workers.”

“The Florida AFL-CIO supports this worker agenda because it transcends the usual glittering generalities and broad attacks typically seen during elections season. The policies outlined in this agenda provide a framework for Florida’s struggling workers to meaningfully participate in our economy and hold decision makers accountable,” said Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy of the Florida AFL-CIO. Templin continued: “Florida’s workers and our economy deserve an unemployment insurance system that isn’t the worst in the nation, a workers’ compensation system that puts workers and employers over insurance profits, and local governments that are empowered to do what’s needed in their communities without the burdens of legislative preemption. The policy solutions in this agenda are vital for our state’s future and must be a part of the public discourse during this pivotal election season.”

“When workers in Florida don’t get paid or are mistreated, today they have nowhere to turn. Disproportionately affected are low-wage earning women of color, many of whom are the main breadwinners for their families,” said Marcia Olivo, executive director of the Miami Workers Center. “We need leadership that recognizes that fair pay and a safe workplace are essential to helping Florida’s families succeed and growing the state’s economic future. And nowhere is that leadership need more than in the governor’s office.”

“Workers are on the front lines of serving our communities’ needs every single day. They need to be the priority to ensure a thriving state with healthy families. It’s far past time elected officials stand with women and families and deliver for those making Florida work,” said Debbie Soto, board president of Organize Florida.

“Farmworkers do the essential work of feeding us.  They endure sweltering heat, biting insects, exposure to toxic agricultural chemicals, and dangers from accidents with unsafe farm equipment and hazardous workplace conditions, all in order to provide us cheap, affordable food in our grocery stores.  For the work they do, they deserve decent, livable wages; strong health and safety protections; and freedom from harassment, abuse, threats and retaliation.  Their lives and our food depend upon it,” said Tirso Moreno, general coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida.

“As an organization that defends the rights of low-wage and immigrant workers, Community Justice Project is in full support of this important agenda. We know all too well that workers in our communities are dealing with low wages, widespread wage theft, unjust work conditions, and continuous attacks on their right to organize. We need and deserve an economy that works for all of us,” said Oscar Londoño, Skadden Fellow & attorney with the Community Justice Project.

“From wage enforcement to unemployment insurance to workers comp, Florida’s protections for workers are today some of the weakest in all the 50 states,” said Paul Sonn, director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund. “Florida’s working families deserve a governor who will fight for them by promoting good jobs with fair pay and safe workplaces for the state’s eight million workers.”

The groups releasing the agenda include:

Advocacy Partners Team

Community Justice Project

Farmworker Association of Florida

Florida AFL-CIO

Florida Immigrant Coalition

Miami Workers Center

National Employment Law Project Action Fund

New Florida Majority

Organize Florida

South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice

We Count

Contacts:

Elbert Garcia, New Florida Majority, Elbert@NewFloridaMajority.org or (786) 505-1963

David Fernandez, Florida AFL-CIO, dfernandez@flaflcio.org or (850) 570-9953

Anna Susman, Berlin-Rosen, anna.susman@berlinrosen.com or (646) 200-5285

Gov. Scott’s Record of Delivering Jobless Aid to Hurricane Victims Was Worst of Any Florida Governor in 30 Years

NELP Action Fund
For Immediate Release: April 18, 2018 — Updated May 3, 2018

Tallahassee, FL—Floridians who lost pay and were out of work as a result of Hurricane Irma last year received little assistance from Governor Rick Scott and his administration. A new analysis of state data on Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) from the National Employment Law Project Action Fund (NELP Action) shows that Governor Scott notched the worst record of any Florida governor in the last 30 years when it came to enabling Floridians to apply for and receive the federally-funded jobless aid.

“Governor Rick Scott may be touring the state touting his record after Irma, but for Floridians who were forced out of work by the hurricane and needed unemployment assistance, Governor Scott was missing in action,” said Paul Sonn, director of NELP Action. “He helped fewer workers and small business owners get jobless aid after the hurricane than any Florida governor in 30 years.”

Only 3,744 workers and small business owners received any DUA payments in the six months after Irma, a mere 53 percent of the people who managed to apply for DUA and were found eligible by the Scott Administration. That is the lowest share of eligible claimants receiving DUA in the last 30 years. More than a third of those receiving DUA only saw their first benefit payment in March 2018 — six months after Hurricane Irma — according to state data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“I saw first-hand how the Scott Administration botched relief for people who’d lost their livelihoods because of Irma,” said Jennifer Hill, a Miami-based legal advocate. “Hurricane victims couldn’t find out how to apply for unemployment insurance online, and back-up phone lines were either shut down or transferred callers out of state to people who couldn’t help them. There’s no question that the Scott administration failed tens of thousands of working Floridians.”

Moreover, only 7,229 Floridians were able to even file a completed DUA claim after Irma—fewer than for any other major disaster except one (Hurricane Jeanne, the last of the four 2004 hurricanes) in the last 30 years in which DUA compensation totaled $1 million or more. For weeks after Irma, the Scott Administration’s online claims system failed to list DUA as an option, and its back-up phone lines often were shut down, left callers on hold, or transferred calls to out-of-state agents who couldn’t file claims. The administration’s promises to fix the system never materialized.

By comparison, 26,370 DUA claims were filed in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and 8,506 received benefits—more than twice as many as in Florida after Irma. And that was despite Florida’s Irma-affected workforce being more than twice the size of that affected by Harvey in Texas, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.

“Governor Scott has made restricting access to unemployment benefits a cornerstone of his tenure in office,” said Dwight Bullard, political director of Florida New Majority. “From the rampant website problems attributed to his lack of compassion for families impacted by the ‘Great Recession’ or the suggestion that those receiving any government benefits should be drug tested. Governor Scott has proven time and time again that working families in Florida are not the constituency he is focused on. The hurricane relief debacle is just the latest in a line of anti-working class policies and efforts supported by Gov. Scott.”

Key findings in the analysis include the following:

  • Overall, Rick Scott has the worst record of any Florida governor in 30 years in helping workers and small business owners apply for and receive post-hurricane unemployment assistance.
  • Although Floridians affected by Irma were by far the largest workforce in the U.S. affected by a major disaster in 2017, and even though Irma ranks as the fifth-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, just 7,229 Floridians were able to submit DUA applications after Irma under the Scott Administration’s system.
  • That’s the lowest number of DUA jobless claims after any major Florida hurricane in 30 years, except for after 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne.
  • Those lowest-in-30-years numbers are all the more shocking because Florida’s population today is 20 percent larger than it was in 2004.
  • Among the few workers and small business owners who managed to apply for DUA and who were found eligible, the Scott Administration got benefits out to just 53 percent—3,744 of the 7,026 eligible applications.
  • That’s the lowest rate for any Florida governor in 30 years after a major hurricane.
  • More than a third of Floridians receiving DUA after Irma only saw a first benefit payment in March 2018 — six months after the hurricane.
  • Rick Scott’s record of getting DUA benefits out to 53 percent of eligible applicants after Irma compares poorly with the 70% average of other Florida governors like Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles after major hurricanes going back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when fully 90 percent of those eligible received help.

The Scott Administration’s failure to deliver DUA aid after Irma was symptomatic of his administration’s worst-in-the-nation state unemployment insurance (UI) program, now renamed Reemployment Assistance (RA). Since Governor Scott took office, the share of jobless workers receiving those benefits has fallen by more than half, to just 10 percent—last among the 50 states—while the maximum length of benefits has also been cut by more than half to just 12 weeks, the fewest in the nation. And Florida’s average weekly benefit amount ($246) is 47th among the states.

As of mid-November, the Scott Administration had processed only 30,646 disaster-related RA claims after Irma, compared to 136,811 disaster-related UI claims in Texas after Harvey.

“Sadly, Governor Rick Scott’s failure to help jobless Floridians post-Irma caps a long track record of slashing jobless aid and creating barriers to make it harder for unemployed Floridians to access such aid,” said NELP Action’s Paul Sonn. “In the wake of Hurricane Irma, when Florida’s workers and small business owners found themselves out of work with no income and desperately needing help from the state, Governor Rick Scott was M.I.A. in delivering DUA unemployment aid.”

DOWNLOAD THE FACT SHEET:
Rick Scott’s Record Helping Jobless Workers and Small Business Owners After Hurricane Irma

 

The National Employment Law Project Action Fund is a project of The Advocacy Fund.

 

Rick Scott’s Record Helping Jobless Workers and Small Business Owners After Hurricane Irma: The Worst of Any Florida Governor in Thirty Years

Updated May 3, 2018

Florida Governor Rick Scott has highlighted as one of his successes his record in helping his state recover from the devastation of Hurricane Irma – the most costly disaster ever to strike Florida. But when it came to delivering help to workers and small business owners who lost pay and were unemployed because Irma had shut down their places of work, Rick Scott’s record was the worst of any Florida governor in thirty years.

Hurricanes and other disasters can often leave businesses shuttered for extended periods of time as a result of damaged facilities, closed roads, utility outages, or displaced customers or workers.  When that happens workers go unpaid and small business owners lose their incomes, leaving them unable to meet their living costs and causing great hardship for them and their families. Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is a critical program that responds to this need by providing cash assistance to both workers and small business owners when their paychecks are interrupted due to unemployment after a disaster.

But after Hurricane Irma, most Florida workers and small business owners were unable to access Disaster Unemployment Assistance. For weeks after Irma, the Scott Administration’s online claims system didn’t list DUA as an option for applying for assistance. And back-up phone lines were frequently shut down, left callers on hold, or transferred calls to out-of-state agents who couldn’t file claims. The Scott Administration also failed to deliver on promises to fix the system, and they denied workers’ first weeks of benefits even when they said they wouldn’t.

The Scott Administration’s failure to deliver disaster unemployment aid after Irma was symptomatic of his administration’s worst-in-the-nation state unemployment program. Since Governor Scott took office, the share of jobless workers receiving benefits has fallen by more than half, to just 10 percent — last among the 50 states — while the maximum length of benefits has also been cut by more than half to just 12 weeks, the fewest in the nation. And Florida’s average weekly benefit amount ($246) is 47th among the states.

Predictably, the Scott Administration’s failures with its DUA system resulted in very few Floridians managing to apply for and receive benefits after Irma.

Here are the numbers on Governor Scott’s record:

  • Overall, Rick Scott has the worst record of any Florida governor in thirty years in helping workers and small business owners apply for and receive post-hurricane unemployment assistance.
  • Although Floridians affected by Irma were by far the largest workforce in the U.S. impacted by a major disaster in 2017[1] and Irma ranks as the 5th costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, just 7,229 Floridians were able to submit DUA applications after Irma under the Scott Administration’s system.
  • As Table 1, shows, that’s the lowest number of DUA jobless claims after any major Florida hurricane in thirty years, except for after 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne.
  • But Hurricane Jeanne was a statistical anomaly and in reality the Scott Administration’s record after Irma was the worst of any Florida governor in thirty years. Jeanne was an anomaly because it came on the heels of three other hurricanes during the 2004 season.  As Table 1 shows, after the first three hurricanes, Charley, Frances and Ivan, many Floridians had applied for and were already receiving DUA and so they did not need to apply again after Jeanne.
  • Those lowest-in-thirty-years numbers are all the more shocking because Florida’s population today is 20% larger than it was in 2004.
  • Among the few workers and small business owners who managed to apply for DUA and who were found eligible, the Scott Administration got benefits out to just 53% – 3,744 of the 7,026 eligible applications.
  • That’s the lowest rate for any Florida governor in thirty years after a major hurricane.
  • More than a third of those receiving DUA benefits only received a first payment in March 2018 — six months after Hurricane Irma — according to state data reported to the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Rick Scott’s record of getting DUA benefits out to 53% of eligible applicants after Irma compares poorly to the 70% average of other Florida governors like Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles after major hurricanes going back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when fully 90 percent of those eligible received help.
  • The Scott Administration’s poor record on post-hurricane jobless aid extended as well to regular state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits where it processed less than 25% as many claims after Irma as Texas did after Hurricane Harvey. Workers who qualify for regular UI after a disaster must apply for that benefit and are not eligible for DUA. After Irma, the Scott Administration had processed just 30,646 disaster-related claims for regular UI as of mid-November 2017 – more than two months after the disaster. By contrast, Texas processed 136,811 claims after Harvey – more than four times as many – despite the fact that the Florida workforce affected by Irma was far larger than that impacted by Harvey in Texas.

 



 

  1. Nearly 7.7 million in the Hurricane Irma designated disaster counties in Florida, compared to less than 3.5 million in the Texas disaster counties affected by Hurricane Harvey. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) https://www.bls.gov/ces/cesharveyirma.htm 

Download the fact sheet: Rick Scott’s Record Helping Jobless Workers and Small Business Owners After Hurricane Irma: The Worst of Any Florida Governor in Thirty Years

Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage is crumbling

by Judy Conti, NELP Action

While Republicans continue to refuse to compromise on key issues like appointing a new Supreme Court Justice, there’s one Republican roadblock that’s beginning to crumble: opposition to raising the minimum wage.

That’s no surprise. Poll after poll shows that by substantial margins and on a bi-partisan basis, voters support raising the minimum wage. And though our economy is improving, 42 percent of the workforce still makes less than $15 per hour, and in a consumer-driven economy like ours, that puts a drag on the ability of businesses to thrive, grow and hire. This has made income inequality, and how we fight it, a top issue this election cycle. And it has made supporting an increase in the minimum wage politically popular.

During two recent Senate debates, two GOP candidates, Rob Portman (Ohio) and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) both broke with their previous opposition to raising the minimum wage (or in the case of Sen. Johnson, even having a minimum wage), and made it clear during their debates that it’s absolutely time to raise the federal minimum wage.

Although Johnson and Portman appear to be defying the norm for their party, they’re actually not alone. Both Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) and Rep. Peter King (New York) have shown support for raising the minimum wage before this campaign season began.  Former Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney has long voiced his support for raising and indexing the minimum wage so it increases each year, and other notable other GOP politicians including Rick Santorum and Henry Barbour have joined the call. Even GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has voiced his support for a $10 federal minimum wage. Of course, these politicians have called for a far more moderate increase than the current bills pending in Congress, but they are all willing to engage in the crucial discussion of how high we should raise the minimum wage—rather than how low, or non-existent, it should be.

But the real watershed moment came just recently when Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) proudly announced her support for a $15 minimum wage for Florida. Her stunning endorsement is the most hopeful sign yet that we are finally reaching the tipping point when Congressional Republicans realize that opposing an increase in the minimum wage is politically unpopular.

Ros-Lehtinen explained, “Increasing the minimum wage is good not only for the worker, it is good for those companies that employ them.” Polling by leading Republican strategist Frank Luntz’s firm, LuntzGlobal, backs her up: it shows that while big-money business lobby groups fight even small raises, business owners are actually OK with raising the minimum wage by a lopsided 80-to-8 percent margin. LuntzGlobal warned minimum wage opponents, “If you’re fighting against the minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans are okay with raising the minimum wage.”

Congressional inactivity on raising the minimum wage in recent years, led solely by the GOP, means that in spite of the great strides states and cities are making across the country with their minimum wages, tens of millions of workers are falling further and further behind each year.  As the NELP Action Fund recently documented, there are 24 Republicans up for election in the Senate who live in states where a combined 27 million workers are paid less than $15 per hour, and nearly 20 million make less than $12 per hour.

It’s not only the individual worker who benefits from a wage increase – our economy will benefit, too. When people have more money in their pockets, they have more money to spend in their local economies. Self and family sustaining wages create a virtuous cycle of economic activity and well-being, and it’s clear that this message is truly gaining bi-partisan steam as we approach a new Administration and the next Congress.

The Republicans coming out in support of a minimum wage increase are listening to real small business owners and their own constituents. And as momentum for raising the wage continues to grow, we expect more of their colleagues to step out of the shadows and admit that raising the minimum wage is good policy, good politics, and the right thing to do for the working people they represent.

Judy Conti is federal advocacy coordinator at the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.

This op-ed was originally published on The Hill’s Congress Blog.

Senate races may turn on minimum wage, overtime

by Mitchell Hirsch, NELP Action

Thanks to the Fight for $15 and the way it has galvanized workers and their advocates across the country, we’ve seen incredible momentum for raising wages and addressing economic inequality over the past few years.  And though we celebrate the stunning victories in New York and California that have set millions of low-wage workers on the path to $15 an hour, we cannot lose sight of the fact that tens of millions of other of our nation’s workers are being held back thanks to gridlock in Congress and Republican intransigence.

But as a new report from the National Employment Law Project Action Fund makes clear, this year offers an unprecedented opportunity for low-wage workers and their allies to break the logjam in the U.S. Senate by electing champions who will lead on the issue and put a minimum wage hike within reach.

24 Republican seats are up for election this year and in those 24 states, there are 27 million workers who are paid less than $15 an hour – including nearly 20 million who are paid less than $12 an hour. If even a fraction of those workers mobilize around the issue in tight senate races like Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, they could tip those races and the balance of the Senate, giving the majority to the Democrats who stand ready to do all they can to enact a robust minimum wage increase.

Fearing the groundswell of support for a higher minimum wage, Republicans try to hedge the issue, claiming it should be handled at a state and local level.  But as the NELP Action report makes clear, voters should not be fooled by their rhetoric.  Across the country, Republican state legislators are affirmatively blocking cities from raising minimum wages and blocking any progress in state legislatures as well.  This means that if low-wage workers in more than 20 states ever hope to see an increase in the minimum wage, they will need Congressional action.

We know that across party lines, a large majority of voters want to see an increase in the minimum wage.  Recent polling in swing Senate states also shows that by margins of more than two-to-one voters want to raise wages and are more likely to vote for minimum wage champions, and less likely to vote for Republican incumbents when they learn about votes against or opposition to raising the minimum wage.

We also know that Democratic candidates who vigorously campaign on their support for gradually moving up to a $15 federal minimum wage– such as Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and Katie McGinty in Pennsylvania – are among the strongest contenders, based on the polls. Feingold is running well ahead of Sen. Ron Johnson, and McGinty, starting with little name recognition, has taken on a well-known incumbent and turned it into a neck-and-neck race.

These candidates, and others in Senate battleground states, are tapping into widespread frustration with gridlock on this and other important issues in Washington.  The 27 million workers in states where Republican Senate seats are up in this election who would benefit from an increase in the federal minimum wage are tired of their elected leaders ignoring the overwhelming will of their constituents, and instead doing the bidding of the business lobbies that fund their re-election campaigns.

The Fight for $15 has given birth to a massive grassroots mobilization by local advocates, activists, and underpaid workers to educate voters about this historic opportunity. They are ready to take this fight to the ballot box for the tens of millions of working people in need of a raise.  Incumbent Republican senators have a clear choice: get on the right side of this issue, or be prepared to lose your seats and see a Democratic majority that can and will lead on raising the minimum wage.

Mitchell Hirsch is a Senior Policy Advocate at the National Employment Law Project (NELP) Action Fund.
This column originally appeared on The Hill’s Congress Blog.