);

Workers won in this election

by Paul Sonn

The midterm elections this week that handed Democrats control of the House and governorships of swing states showed that voters demanded action to protect workers and rebalance our economy, and provides an action agenda for new state and congressional leaders as we look towards 2020. While the Trump administration was calling the minimum wage a “terrible idea” and trying to roll back the Affordable Care Act, voters turned out for candidates and ballot measures that championed raising wages, expanding health care, and tackling other worker needs.

In Arkansas and Missouri, voters overwhelmingly approved minimum wage increases for nearly a million workers. In Illinois and Wisconsin, fast food workers went door to door to mobilize voters around $15 minimum wage and union rights, helping candidates who backed workers win these key governorships, and putting an end to the punitive reigns of Bruce Rauner and Scott Walker. Furthermore, Democrats running for Congress took back the House majority from Republicans by running on platforms anchored by $15 minimum wage and equal pay for equal work.

Voters turned out nationwide to defend health care for working families, backing candidates who championed the Affordable Care Act and approving Medicaid expansion ballot initiatives in Nebraska, Idaho, and Utah. Overtime pay in particular emerged as a key middle class issue. In Michigan, activists galvanized voters behind Gretchen Whitmer for governor by highlighting the deep opposition to overtime pay and the Republican legislature rollback of prevailing wages for construction workers. In Nevada, Steve Sisolak was elected governor by running ads calling for state action on minimum wage and overtime pay.

With voters demanding action for workers, what does the road ahead look like? In Congress, the House Democrats are expected to provide a badly needed brake on President Trump and his war on workers. Their majority could act quickly to pass $15 minimum wage, overtime pay restoration, and equal pay for equal work, highlighting the Senate Republicans and Trump administration stonewalling these important issues.

But the greatest room for change will still be in the states. Connecticut, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Minnesota, Nevada, Illinois, and Maine will have new progressive legislative majorities and governors, breaking years of gridlock and clearing the way for action on worker priorities like the minimum wage, paid sick days, and overtime pay. In other states where new progressive governors will still face conservative legislatures, there is still much they can do to begin delivering for workers. For starters, in states including Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nevada, and Maine, governors can expand overtime pay on their own without need for legislative action, as Pennsylvania and Washington are already doing.

Through their labor agencies, governors across the nation can overhaul and rebuild vital worker protection systems that have seen years of neglect and defunding. These include programs such as wage enforcement, unemployment insurance, and worker health and safety. Governors also have significant economic footprints in the form of their state employment and contracting programs. As other governors are already doing, they can lead by example by extending protections like fair hiring rules and paid sick days, as well as prohibiting inquiry into salary history of state office employees and state contractor employees.

Similarly, they can adopt responsible contracting reforms for their state procurement systems modeled on the fair pay and safe workplaces executive order signed by President Obama last year. By discouraging state agencies from doing business with companies with history of employment and labor violations, or that impose forced arbitration on their employees, governors can ensure that state budgets support high road employers that treat their workers well. The midterm elections underscored that a vision for workers is one that can inspire voters, engage them in campaigns, and make them believe that those in office govern with their best interests at heart. It must be the agenda for action by new state and national leaders as we look towards 2020.

Paul Sonn is director of National Employment Law Project Action Fund.

This article was first published in The Hill.

In The News: Overtime Pay Issue Making Headlines in 2018 Campaign Coverage

Heading into the midterm elections in key states across the country, efforts by Republican attorneys general to block overtime pay protections for millions of workers emerge as a fair pay issue in 2018 campaigns.

 

Ohio: Overtime pay for mid-level workers becoming key issue in governor’s race – Springfield News-Sun (October 26, 2018)

In May 2016, Vice President Joe Biden dropped into Columbus to tout a federal new rule: overtime pay would be required for salaried workers who make up to $47,476 a year. The change was expected to boost the paychecks of 4.2 million Americans who work as mid-level managers in places such as big box stores, restaurants and the like.

In September 2016, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine joined a lawsuit with 21 state attorneys general to block the regulation, which business groups loathed. The suit was successful.

The overtime regulation is now a central issue in the Ohio governor’s race.

Democrat Richard Cordray is citing analysis from a liberal think tank, Innovation Ohio, that says 327,000 Ohio workers are missing out on $42 million in overtime and raises. The Columbus Dispatch rated a Cordray attack ad on the issue as accurate.

Read the full story

Nevada: Report: Laxalt, Duncan cost Nevadans $8 million in overtime – Nevada Current (September 14, 2018)

Nevada workers who earn between roughly $24,000 and $48,000 annually are losing out on $8 million a year in overtime wages, according to a new report. The report from the National Employment Law Project Action Fund blames gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Laxalt’s former deputy, Wes Duncan, who hopes to replace him, for leading a national charge to block rules that would have expanded overtime eligibility.

The report says 104,000 Nevadans would have been eligible to be compensated for working overtime and that about 40,000 of those are currently working overtime without compensation.

The report urges Nevada lawmakers to update the overtime rules.

“In particular, under Nevada law, the governor, acting through the Nevada Labor Commissioner, has the power to update overtime pay on his or her own without need for action by the legislature,” the report says. “Governors in Pennsylvania and Washington State are already doing so.”

Read the full story

Michigan: Report: Michigan workers lose $37M annually due to federal overtime exemptions – UpNorthLive (September 13, 2018)

A new report claims Michigan workers are not getting paid $37 million annually, due to current federal laws for overtime payments for salaried employees.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) Action, a workers’ rights nonprofit, released a report detailing 271,000 workers in Michigan did not get paid for their overtime work, based off data from the U.S. from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), the Economic Policy Institute and the Current Population Survey.

The NELP Action report said, “this overtime pay raise was blocked in Michigan and nationwide as the result of a lawsuit brought by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.”

NELP Action put us in contact with ‘Julia’, a West Michigan retail manager who requested to stay anonymous for fear of retaliation from her employer. Julia said because she’s a manager in her store, and makes roughly $45,000 a year, her employer does not pay overtime.

“The most I’ve ever worked in a week is 102 hours and I’m exhausted,” she said.

She said if Michigan laws were changed, her employer would be forced to pay her for her overtime or, “Hire someone else to do the extra work I’m doing.”

Because she regularly works more than 50 hours a week, she said she can’t set money aside.

“If my overtime would have been paid, I would have been able to pay down my bills, even save for the future,” Julia said.

Read the full story

Wisconsin: Schimel Suit Cost Workers $23 Million – Suit he joined stopped 165,000 Wisconsin workers from getting overtime pay. – Urban Milwaukee (October 9, 2018)

In Wisconsin, as a new study by the NELP Action Group found, there are a 165,000 workers who would have benefitted, including 23,000 in Milwaukee County, 14,000 in Madison and Dane County and 8,500 in Green Bay and Brown County. Those workers would have earned a combined total of $23 million additional, from the Fall of 2016, when the rule was scheduled to go into effect, until now — almost totaling $46 million by now.

“A typical worker who lost out on expanded overtime pay was an assistant manager at a big-box retail store or a restaurant chain who earns $25,000 to $45,000 a year,” the report noted. “Other affected workers include low-level, low-paid managers at banks, health insurance companies, and a wide range of other types of businesses.”

It’s a huge loss for the state’s middle class, which has been falling behind the wealthiest residents in annual income for decades. And it’s a loss most residents oppose, as a poll by NELP found 81 percent of Wisconsin voters support an overtime pay requirement.

Read the full story

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