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With Control of the Senate in the Balance…

Voter Turn-Out Program Focused on Raising the Minimum Wage to Kick Off in Key States

Polling shows minimum wage is a motivating issue for swing state voters

New report finds 27 million workers paid less than $15 reside in states with GOP senators who voted against wage hikes and whose seats are up in the 2016 elections

Top voter-mobilization organizations in nine states – including six states with closely watched U.S. Senate races – announced a massive grassroots canvassing operation to launch on Oct. 8. The program focuses on turning out voters around the urgent need to raise the minimum wage. Polling shows that raising the minimum wage commands strong bipartisan support, and voters are more likely to back candidates who favor raising the federal minimum wage.

Focused on bringing attention to candidate records on minimum wage in key senate races, scores of canvassers will knock on doors and talk to voters about the unprecedented opportunity to end Washington gridlock on raising the federal minimum wage. The effort comes as a new report from NELP Action shows that 27 million workers paid less than $15 live in states with Republican senators who voted against minimum wage hikes and whose seats are contested this year.

“For the 27 million workers who are paid less than $15 per hour in those states where Republican Senate seats are up in this election, it’s really not a question of what is keeping wages low—it is a question of who,” said Christine Owens, executive director of NELP Action.

The National Employment Law Project Action Fund, the Working Families Party and the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, along with labor and grassroots partners, pledged to knock on tens of thousands of doors over the weekend in the states with closely contested senate races including Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

In Arizona, as many as 500 canvassers and volunteers will be trained to knock on doors and talk to voters about the need to raise the wage, while 100 canvassers will in Philadelphia alone are expected to mobilize voters around raising pay.

Canvassers will also hit doors in Maine, Michigan and Vermont.

“We are bringing the movement for raising the minimum wage to the ballot box in November so that Russ Feingold can bring it to the halls of the U.S. Senate in the new Congress,” said Peter Rickman, Co-Chair of the Wisconsin Working Families Party. “Working class people are tired of Senators like Ron Johnson standing in the way of policies to reward hard work with fair pay. We are mobilizing and organizing working class people as voters to elect a Senator who will unrig this system and make the economy work for all of us, not just those at the top.”

The canvass comes as a new report from NELP Action examines how obstructionism on the issue by Republican senators has held down wages for millions of their own constituents. The report posits that “the 2016 elections offer a historic opportunity for working people to take decisive action at the ballot box to boost wages and working families’ incomes.”

Key findings in the report include:

  • 27 million workers who are paid less than $15 an hour live in the 24 states where Republican-held seats are up in 2016. This includes nearly 20 million who are paid less than $12 an hour.
  • Of the 21 states where the minimum wage is stuck at $7.25, 16 of them have Republican-held seats that are up in the 2016 elections.
  • Senate Republicans are siding with corporate lobbyists to deny new overtime pay guarantees to 12.5 million modestly-paid salaried workers. This includes 5.8 million in the 24 states where Republican-held Senate seats are up in 2016.

A late August poll by Public Policy Polling demonstrates the electoral potency of the minimum wage. In seven key swing states, support for incumbent Republican senators swung to Democratic challengers when respondents were made aware of their senator’s votes against the minimum wage. In Arizona, Missouri, and North Carolina that information allowed the Democratic challenger to pull ahead. A poll of underpaid workers by Harris Interactive and Yougov last year showed among registered voters paid less than $15, 65% are more likely to vote in the upcoming election if there is a candidate on the ballot who supports $15/hr and a union for all workers.

“For going on a decade, Republican senators like Pat Toomey have stood in the way of raising pay for families like mine,” said Melissa Hernandez, a group home worker who is volunteering on Saturday with Make the Road Pennsylvania. “I’m hitting the doors on Saturday to tell other underpaid workers that we have the power to break the gridlock in Washington – we just have to come out and use it at the ballot box on Nov. 8.”

 

Workers’ Pay Issues Could Decide Key 2016 U.S. Senate Races, Polls Reveal

by Mitchell Hirsch, NELP Action

In an election where control of the Senate hangs in the balance, where Democrats could win back the majority with as few as four victories in states with Republican-held seats up in 2016, voters casting their ballots based on workers’ pay issues could well determine the outcome and break the gridlock holding back wage increases for millions of America’s workers.

That’s the message from a series of polls released ahead of Labor Day that show incumbent Senate Republicans in several swing states facing tough reelection battles could be upended by their stands on policies affecting pay.  The polls reveal overwhelming support among voters in seven battleground states for raising the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at the poverty-level $7.25 per hour since 2009 due to Republican opposition in Congress, and for the new federal rule that vastly expands overtime pay guarantees to millions of salaried workers.  The polls in all seven states also showed strong majorities support a gradually phased in $15 minimum wage.

Perhaps most significantly, the polls showed that when voters weigh candidates’ positions on raising the federal minimum wage and expanding overtime pay, support for Republican Senate incumbents declined and support for their Democratic challengers increased, shifting the leads to the Democrats in some races and adding to their leads in others.  In all seven states polled, the minimum wage and overtime issues produced a net shift of between three and eight points in initial and follow up polling results.  In three states – Arizona, Missouri, and North Carolina – what were initial polling leads or ties for Republican incumbents flipped to leads for the Democratic candidates. In three other states – New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — Democratic challengers added to existing leads.  According to the poll results, workers’ pay issues could be decisive in potential Republican losses in six of the seven Senate races polled.

Senate polls before and after considering candidates’ positions on workers’ pay issues

senate7pollchart

The polls, which can be viewed here and here, were conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the NELP Action Fund among likely voters in Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin between August 26 and 29.  In all seven states, incumbent Republican senators are running for reelection this year, each with a record of voting against raising the federal minimum wage.

Voters across the swing states supported raising the federal minimum wage by approximately a 70% to 25% margin:

Support or oppose raising the federal minimum wage above $7.25

State Support Oppose
Arizona 68 28
Missouri 67 26
New Hampshire 74 24
North Carolina 72 23
Ohio 70 26
Pennsylvania 74 23
Wisconsin 70 26

 

Similarly, they supported raising the federal minimum wage first to $10, and then gradually to $15 over several years by roughly a 60% to 35% margin across the swing states:

Support or oppose gradually increasing federal minimum wage to $15

State Support Oppose
Arizona 60 37
Missouri 57 38
New Hampshire 63 34
North Carolina 61 34
Ohio 60 36
Pennsylvania 62 35
Wisconsin 63 33

 

Even stronger support was revealed for the expansion of the overtime pay guarantee for salaried workers paid less than $47,476 – up from $23,660 per year – under a new rule scheduled to take effect in December.  Under the rule, an additional 12.5 million salaried workers will be entitled to time-and-a-half overtime pay for any hours worked in excess of forty hours a week.  In the polls, support for the overtime expansion ranged from 76 to 81 percent, with monumental margins over those opposed ranging from 60 to 67 points.

Support or oppose expansion of overtime pay coverage for salaried workers making less than $47,000

State Support Oppose
Arizona 77 16
Missouri 76 16
New Hampshire 76 18
North Carolina 79 14
Ohio 80 14
Pennsylvania 81 15
Wisconsin 81 14

 

Voters were also asked how these issues would tend to affect their preferences in this year’s elections, both generically and in regard to specific candidates, and the results were remarkably consistent. Informed that Senate Republicans are actively seeking to block implementation of the overtime expansion, majorities in all seven states said they would be less likely or far less likely to support a candidate who sought to block the new rule, with less than a quarter more likely to support that candidate.

Similarly, when informed that the Republican incumbent senator running for reelection in their state opposes raising the federal minimum wage, a majority of voters in all seven states said they were less likely or far less likely to vote for that candidate, versus those more likely, with margins ranging from 50-39 in Ohio to 61-31 in Wisconsin.  And when told that the Democratic challenger for the Senate supports raising the federal minimum wage, majorities in each state said they were more likely or far more likely to vote for that candidate, versus those less likely, by margins ranging from 51-38 in Ohio to 61-31 in Wisconsin.

Of the seven states polled, four (New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) are among the 21 states where the minimum wage is stuck at the federal $7.25 per hour.  The minimum wage in the three other states is only slightly higher (Arizona $8.05, Missouri $7.65, Ohio $8.10) — and those states would still be stuck at the federal $7.25 as well, were it not for modest increases enacted by voters through ballot initiatives.

Politico broke the initial national story on the PPP polls, quoting NELP Action Fund executive director Christine Owens saying “Swing state voters in this election are looking for candidates who will stand with them in supporting a strong minimum wage increase, and elected officials who oppose raising the minimum wage do so at their political peril.”

The significance of the polls, and the prospect they signal that workers’ pay issues could affect the outcome of key Senate races, has been picked up in state coverage as well.  In Missouri, the Springfield News-Leader ran a lengthy feature news story focused on the results showing voters flipping the lead in the race from Senator Roy Blunt (R) to his challenger, Secretary of State Jason Kander (D), after weighing their stands on raising the minimum wage.  And, according to the blog Daily Kos, the Kander campaign was quick to promote the poll’s clear message, urging supporters to join the candidate’s call to raise the federal minimum wage.

In Pennsylvania, Penn Live highlighted the boost that Democratic challenger Katie McGinty is getting for actively campaigning for a $15 minimum wage while incumbent Senator Pat Toomey will likely pay a price with voters for his opposition to any minimum wage increase.  Similarly, in Wisconsin, Madison’s Capital Times featured the overwhelming 63 percent support the poll revealed for a $15 federal minimum wage, and this quote from Wisconsin Working Families co-chairman Peter Rickman: “This poll demonstrates that voters are looking to elect leaders who will raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, after decades of stagnant wage growth and dramatic growth of economic inequality.  Sen. Johnson does not even believe in a minimum wage, while former Sen. Feingold is a strong advocate for $15 — so we are engaging working people to find out more about the candidates and their positions on the $15 minimum wage at the ballot box.”

In Ohio, where Democratic Senate challenger Ted Strickland picked up three points in the follow up poll but remained six points behind incumbent Senator Rob Portman – the only challenger to not lead the incumbent in the follow up poll results – WCSM Radio reported on the 60 percent support from Ohioans for a $15 minimum wage. “Raising the minimum wage has bipartisan support among voters,” WCSM quoted NELP Action’s Paul Sonn as saying, “and leading strategists such as Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, have warned if you are fighting against a minimum-wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle because most Americans, even most Republicans, support it.”

In the 2016 election cycle, a total of 34 U.S. Senate seats are being contested – 10 currently held by Democrats and 24 by Republicans, who now hold a slim four seat majority in that chamber.  With the polls in seven swing states showing the potential for losses by incumbents who oppose boosting workers’ pay, voters across the country this year can help break the Republicans’ blockade against raising the federal minimum wage.

Related stories

Opposing a Minimum Wage Hike Could Cost the GOP the Senate – Op-ed by Paul Sonn in Newsweek

With survey showing support for overtime rules, where do GOP senators stand? – Op-ed by Judy Conti in The Hill

 

Opposing a Minimum Wage Hike Could Cost the GOP the Senate

by Paul Sonn, NELP Action

Labor Day has started the sprint to the November election. And with more than 40 percent of U.S. workers struggling on less than $15 an hour, our economy’s tilt toward low-paying jobs has become a top economic issue this year.

Now, as GOP leaders fret that Donald Trump may drag down Republican incumbents, turning more U.S. Senate races into toss-ups, the Republican majority’s stonewalling of any action to raise the federal minimum wage could cost the party control of Congress.

New polling shows that close to 70 percent of voters in key swing states want an increase in the federal minimum wage—and that 60 percent or more support a $15 minimum wage in six of the seven states polled.

Even more, the polling shows that candidates’ positions on raising pay could play a pivotal role in this year’s electoral battles for control of the U.S. Senate. The results show that the incumbent Republican U.S. senators locked in close races could lose critical support—and even their seats—over opposition to raising wages for working people.

In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, Democratic challengers Katie McGinty, Russ Feingold and Governor Maggie Hassan strengthened their leads over incumbent Republican Senators Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson and Kelly Ayotte when voters were made aware of the senators’ opposition to raising the minimum wage.

And in Arizona, Missouri and North Carolina, Democratic challengers Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, Jason Kander and Deborah Ross pulled ahead of Senators John McCain, Roy Blunt and Richard Burr, flipping those contests on their heads, when voters learned of the senators’ track records opposing raises.

For example, in Arizona—where John McCain has just emerged from his toughest re-election primary ever—a 43-43 tie turns into a 44-38 lead for Kirkpatrick once voters hear about McCain’s opposition to raising pay.

The polling comes as the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, the Center for Popular Democracy Action, the Working Families Organization and other grassroots groups in seven states begin to mobilize voters.

The coalition plans to engage in canvassing, hold candidate forums and wage debate protests, among other actions, to educate and energize voters around candidates’ positions on the raising the minimum wage.

While Donald Trump, who has been all over the map on the minimum wage, has announced he now supports an increase to $10, most Republicans in Congress remain opposed.

Leading Republican pollster Frank Luntz’s firm LuntzGlobal has 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 OK with raising the minimum wage.”

While Congress has refused to act, over the past three and a half years, more than 50 states, cities and counties, as well as individual companies, have stepped forward to approve minimum wage increases, delivering raises to 17 million workers.

And 10 million of those workers are in states or cities that have approved phased-in $15 minimum wages, raising pay for more than one in three workers in California and New York and beginning to reverse decades of growing pay inequality.

Historically, raising the minimum wage enjoyed the same bipartisan backing in Congressthat it does with voters. But over the past 20 years, increasing polarization in Washington and the growing role of money in politics have led many Republicans to abandon their support.

As a result, the federal minimum wage today remains frozen at just $7.25 an hour. And taxpayers are being forced to pick up the tab, as low-wage workers in the seven states just polled must rely on $150 billion per year in public assistance to make up for their inadequate paychecks.

Candidates’ positions on the minimum wage have made a difference in close U.S. senate races before. Ten years ago, in Missouri and Montana, Democrats Claire McCaskill and Jon Testersuccessfully used their support for a higher minimum wage to highlight the difference between them and their opponents, Republican Senators Jim Talent and Conrad Burns, who both opposed raising the wage.

McCaskill and Tester rode the issue to an Election Day victory, helping to break a logjam in Congress and delivering the first federal minimum wage increase in 10 years in 2007.

With the public demanding action to boost pay, the Republican majority and individual candidates this fall face a clear choice: stop standing in the way of a long overdue federal minimum wage increase—or risk their political future.

Paul Sonn is general counsel and program director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.  This column was originally published at Newsweek.

With survey showing support for overtime rules, where do GOP senators stand?

by Judy Conti, NELP Action

New Obama Administration regulations that ensure workers with salaries less than $47,476 a year are paid for overtime hours take effect Dec. 1, 2016. The Department of Labor estimates changes to the so-called “white-collar exemption” will entitle 4.2 million executive, professional and administrative employees to overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a week. The Economic Policy Institute estimates an additional 8 million workers, who are likely presently entitled to overtime but not receiving it, will finally start getting the pay they deserve.

Across the country, more than 12 million workers will either see more money in their paychecks or more free time for themselves and their families as employers spread work around.  Where employers reassign work hours rather than pay time-and-a-half for overtime, part-time workers who want more hours will likely get them, and those who are unemployed will be able to apply for the new jobs that will be created by the redistribution of work.

This is good news for workers everywhere, and a boon for the middle class, which has eroded considerably in recent decades.  For employers, it will amount to no more than one-tenth of 1 percent of payrolls in industries across the country. With costs to employers so small but the benefits for working families so great, why would any rational policymaker oppose these overtime changes?

Yet, that’s precisely what’s happening, with Congressional Republicans leading the charge to try to kill the regulation.  A new poll shows they could pay a political price for their opposition.

The NELP Action Fund recently asked likely voters in seven battleground Senate states (Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) how they feel about the new overtime rules, and the results are staggering.  With percentages ranging from 76-81%, voters in these states favor the new regulations.  And these likely voters are prepared to vote to benefit their pocketbooks:  By margins of well over 2-to-1, voters are less likely to vote for candidates who oppose the new overtime regulations. The results aren’t even close.

With such overwhelming public support for the new rules, why are Congressional Republicans trying to block these long-overdue regulations? Because employers have been getting a good deal under the current weak regulations, which allow them to get away with denying overtime pay to workers with salaries as low as $23,660 per year, a wage that falls below the poverty level for a family of four.  CEOs and their cronies, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, don’t want to see a good thing go away.

Forty-four Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are co-sponsoring a resolution that would block these regulations in their entirety AND would ban the Department of Labor from trying to update the regulations at all.  (House Republicans have also offered riders to the Department of Labor’s Appropriations bill that would block the new regulation.)

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), all of whom are up for re-election this year, have not signed onto this resolution, but neither have they offered any indication that they will support the new overtime regulations.

It is time for them to take a stand and buck the Republican party-line on the overtime regulations.  Are these Senators on the side of the overwhelming majority of their constituents, who know that restoring vitality to the nation’s overtime law is of significant importance not only to their families, but also for building an economy that works for everyone?  Or will these senators stand with the interests of big business, which wants the free ride to continue?

On a matter so crucial to middle class security and stability – to family incomes and family time – there’s no excuse for politicians of any ilk to duck the question of where they stand on overtime pay.  Voters across America strongly support the new rules and deserve to know which side their leaders are on. It’s time officials and all others who haven’t yet taken a stance on the overtime regulations answer the question.

Judy Conti is Federal Advocacy Coordinator at the NELP Action Fund.  This column was originally published on The Hill’s Congress Blog.

New Battleground Poll: Control of Senate Could Hinge on Candidates’ Positions on Minimum Wage

For Release: Thursday, September 1, 2016

Media Contact: Rob Duffey, rob.duffey@berlinrosen.com, 646.463.3267

New BATTLEGROUND POLL: Control of Senate Could Hinge on Candidates’ positions on Minimum Wage

Voters in 7 states Overwhelmingly support raising minimum wage – and incumbents who oppose it pay a big penalty

Washington, DC – New polling shows voters in key swing states overwhelmingly support increasing the federal minimum wage and that candidates’ positions on raising pay could play a pivotal role in this year’s fight for control of the U.S. Senate. The results show incumbent Republican U.S. senators locked in close races could lose critical support – and even their seats – over opposition to raising wages for working people.

The polls were conducted Friday through Monday by Public Policy Polling in seven states with competitive Senate races – Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  In each of the seven states, voters are less likely to support their incumbent Republican senators when informed of their votes against raising the federal minimum wage above $7.25 per hour.

In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, Democratic challengers strengthen their lead when voters were made aware of the Republican senator’s voting record on the minimum wage. And in Arizona, Missouri and North Carolina Democratic challengers actually pull ahead, flipping the contests on their heads.

“The findings of the polls are clear: swing state voters in this election are looking for candidates who will stand with them in supporting a strong minimum wage increase.  Elected officials who oppose raising the minimum wage do so at their political peril,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.

In each state, at least 67% of voters support raising the federal minimum wage above its current level of $7.25 per hour, including 74% of voters in Pennsylvania and 72% of voters in North Carolina. At least 57% of voters back an increase to $15 per hour, including 63% in both Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

MW-poll-graphic1

“Voters are fed up with lack of action in Washington on raising wages for working people, and what we’re seeing is that just letting voters know where the candidates stand on these issues can have a significant impact,” said Dan Cantor, executive director of Working Families.

The poll was commissioned by the NELP Action Fund, which that conducts research and advocates on issues that affect low-wage and unemployed workers. NELP Action, which is a project of The Advocacy Fund, is partnering with the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, Working Families and dozens of grassroots groups in the seven states on a campaign to mobilize voters around the minimum wage in the 2016 election. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the coalition plans to engage in canvassing, hold candidate forums, and wage debate protests, among other actions, to energize voters around candidates’ positions on the raising the minimum wage.

Over the past three and a half years, more than 50 states, cities and counties have passed minimum wage increases via legislation or ballot initiative. Nearly 20 million workers have seen wage increases, and 10 million of those workers are on the path to a $15 wage. But the federal minimum wage remains at just $7.25 due to gridlock and obstructionism in Washington. More than 10 million workers across the seven states polled are paid less than $15 per hour, including more than 7 million who are paid less than $12 per hour. Low wages force taxpayers in these states to pick up $25 billion per year in public assistance to working families, according to the UC Berkley Center for Labor Research and Education.

“Voters deserve elected leaders who share their values and will stand with them on bedrock issues like good jobs and fair wages,” said JoEllen Chernow, Director of Economic Justice at the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund. “Over the next two months we’ll be letting voters know where the candidates are on giving America the raise it needs.”

MW-poll-graphic2

The PPP poll is the latest in a body of research that shows growing support for raising wages in America. In January 2015, Hart Research Associates found that 75% of Americans support increasing the federal minimum wage to $12.50, while 63% of Americans support raising the wage to $15. A poll of underpaid workers by Harris Interactive and Yougov last year showed among registered voters paid less than $15, 65% are more likely to vote in the upcoming election if a candidate supports $15 and a union for all workers.

 

READ THE POLLS.