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NELP Action Fund Applauds Missouri Supreme Court’s Decision re: Unemployment Benefit Cuts Pushed by State Legislature

Following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director, NELP Action Fund:

“The Missouri Supreme Court has put down a marker today for economic justice on behalf of workers across the Show Me State. In a case involving a challenge to the Missouri Senate’s override of Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of HB 150—a 2015 bill that further slashed the state’s already-reduced number of weeks of unemployment insurance available to laid-off workers looking for new work—the court’s majority ruled that the override was unconstitutional. We agree, and we applaud the court for its diligence and considered judgment in this case.

“The state Senate, the court said, did not have the authority to override the governor’s veto of HB 150 in a special veto session, and that an override could only be constitutional if approved during the legislature’s regular session. The House did approve an override of the bill in regular session, but the Senate did not. Instead, Senate Republican leaders attempted to circumvent their constitutionally-proscribed procedures by approving an override in a special veto session triggered by an unrelated bill.

“The ruling voids the state Senate’s unconstitutional veto override, stating, ‘Because HB 150 was not passed over the governor’s veto, none of its provisions became law.’

“The ruling also lays bare the extreme measures—extra-legal measures—Republicans in the Missouri legislature have been willing to pursue in their fixation with inflicting harm on workers who suffer involuntary job loss through no fault of their own. In 2011, they had already reduced the maximum weeks of benefits to 20 weeks from the national standard of 26. HB 150 cut benefits further by imposing a sliding scale of 13 to 20 weeks, depending on the state’s unemployment rate.

“Since January 1, 2016, Missouri has provided a maximum of 13 weeks, the second-fewest in the nation. Tens of thousands of hardworking Missourians who have lost jobs have suffered as a result. Today’s ruling overturns the sliding-scale scheme, restoring the 20 week maximum. But the damage to those already negatively affected cannot be undone.

“Judging from their past behavior, we suspect that Republican legislative leaders will again attempt to impose the cuts contained in HB 150. We urge them to cease and desist. Instead of renewing their heartless crusade against Missouri workers’ jobless-aid protections, Republican lawmakers should work with their Democratic colleagues to strengthen those unemployment insurance protections and restore at least 26 weeks of state benefits.”

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On the #RaiseItDamnIt Campaign and the Need to Raise the Poverty-Level $7.25 Federal Minimum Wage

The following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund:

“Today marks yet another year of federal inaction on the minimum wage.  Congress last acted to raise the minimum wage almost 10 years ago, and the rate has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009. NELP Action is joining organizations across the country to demand that Congress leave partisan politics aside and ensure that a fair day’s work means a fair day’s pay in this country. Through the #RaiseItDamnIt campaign, workers and their families will be able to send a unified, clear message to legislators that the time to act is now.

“By any standard, the current $7.25 minimum wage fails to account for the major contributions of workers to our economy.  Had the minimum wage kept up with inflation since the 1960s, it would be approximately $11 per hour today.  Had it kept up with productivity, it would have exceeded $21 per hour in 2012.  And while the minimum wage has stagnated and wages, generally, have declined for low-wage workers across the country for years, inequality has grown by leaps and bounds.  In 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took in more than half of the country’s total income, and the top 1 percent, alone, took in more than one-fifth.

“The potential benefits of a higher federal minimum wage are clear.  Twenty years of economic research tells us that we can raise the minimum wage without a discernible impact on employment.  Impact assessments of a $12 federal minimum wage conclude that it would raise wages for more than one in four workers—or 35 million people.  It would address racial disparities in pay that plague our communities—a $12 minimum wage would raise pay for 35 percent of African American workers and 38 percent of Hispanic workers.  Women stand to benefit disproportionately as well—a $12 minimum wage would raise wages for close to 20 million women—or 30 percent of wage-earning women.  A higher federal minimum wage would no doubt benefit Main Street businesses and local economies in need of stronger consumer demand.  Moreover, over 200 economists have endorsed Bernie Sanders’ $15 minimum wage bill.

“Democrats recently added a $15 minimum wage to the party’s platform as its first item, and Democratic-controlled legislatures in California, New York, and Washington, D.C. have adopted a $15 minimum wage in those states.

“The Republican Platform, on the other hand, tells us that the GOP believes that the ‘[m]inimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.’  This amounts to opposition of any minimum wage increase, however, and exposes the GOP’s hypocrisy on the issue.  Republican-controlled legislatures have rushed in recent years to ‘preempt’—i.e., prohibit—cities, towns, and counties from raising their own minimum wage.  Alabama presents a recent egregious example: Birmingham’s city council passed a $10.10 minimum wage last year that would have benefited over 40,000 workers in the city.  Republican state legislators responded by quickly banning Birmingham and all other Alabama cities from raising wages. Of the 21 states that have refused to set a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum, and where the minimum wage is stuck at $7.25 per hour, 15 have passed legislation to preempt local minimum wage laws.  To date, 20 states have adopted minimum wage preemption laws and more are expected to follow.

“The #RaiseItDamnIt campaign will highlight worker voices and the need for federal action in the coming months, but, ultimately, when nearly two-thirds of voters support increasing the minimum wage to $15 and 75 percent low-wage workers support both a $15 minimum wage and a union, Congress can no longer justify delay.”

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The National Employment Law Project Action Fund, a project of The Advocacy Fund, is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers.  For more about the NELP Action Fund, visit www.nelpaction.org.

Big Winners on Election Day: Low-Wage Workers

Measures Raising Wages Pass Across the Board, in Red States and Blue, Sending Signal to Candidates as 2016 Election Cycle Kicks Off

WASHINGTON, DC—On Tuesday, voters in four states and three cities passed ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage for an estimated 609,000 low-wage workers. In two more states, voters approved non-binding referenda, instructing their legislators to raise the wage for another 1.1 million workers.  The near 100 percent success rate for the initiatives illustrates the increasing importance of wages to voters of all political stripes, and suggests that candidates’ opposition to higher wages may come at a high political price in the run-up to 2016.

The wage victories came as Republican candidates eked out enough wins to hand the party control of the Senate, an unsurprising development given conditions that favored Republicans – including the typically low turnout of midterm elections. The approval of ballot proposals on state and local minimum wages in spite of these political headwinds sends a clear message that wages are front and center for the electorate – which may have a decisive effect on the outcome of the 2016 general election, in which low-income individuals and others who heavily favor raising wages turn out in much higher numbers.

“What today’s midterm results say loud and clear is that voters will not simply toe the party line when it comes to economic issues, and in particular higher wages,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Project Action Fund. “This is not a partisan issue for working folks, but a practical one. People understand that $7.25 is not nearly enough to make ends meet, and that wages must allow hard-working families to raise their children in economic security. This is a clear mandate for minimum and living wage proponents to soldier on until we have fair wages throughout the country, and a clear warning to opponents to change their minds quickly before 2016.”

Residents of five states – Alaska, Arkansas, three cities in California, Nebraska and South Dakota – cast a vote on their state or local minimum wages in binding ballot proposals that would increase the wage floor to anywhere from $8.50 to $15 (see Table 1), affecting 609,000 low-wage workers. In two more states – Illinois, and nine counties and four cities in Wisconsin – the referenda were non-binding, but if legislators follow through on the will of voters, over 1.1 million additional low-wage workers will receive a raise. The approval of ballot proposals in nearly all of these states and localities – including conservative strongholds Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota – signals the increasing prominence of higher wages in a populist economic agenda that seeks to improve the broader economy from the bottom up.

“This is a victory for all hard-working Americans,” said Christine Owens. “It is not only hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers who would be better off – thanks to the support of their friends, families and neighbors who cast a vote in their favor – but American families as a whole will, too. When we raise the wage floor for our lowest paid workers, we improve compensation for better paid workers and boost our local and national economies. That is welcome news for everyone.”

Prior to the midterm elections, a poll commissioned by NELP Action Fund and conducted by Public Policy Polling in six states with highly competitive Senate or gubernatorial races found strong support for increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour among likely voters. It also found that Republican candidates who opposed wage increases faced serious backlash for their opposition in the November 2014 elections and beyond.

Indeed, a new Public Policy Polling survey in 11 expected 2016 battleground states on behalf of NELP Action Fund and Americans United for Change suggests political peril for minimum wage opponents seeking national office in 2016.  60% of voters in these states support raising the minimum wage, as compared to 35% who oppose doing so, according to the poll.  The poll also found that voters in these states are less likely – by 18 points – to support candidates who oppose raising the minimum wage, and by a 17 point spread trust Democrats more on the issue.  These findings cast doubt on Republicans’ ability to maintain their hold on Congress and take back the White House in 2016 while continuing to oppose an increase in the minimum wage.

Table 1: States and Localities With 2014 Ballot Initiatives

State/Local Proposal Binding? Passed?
Wage Indexing?
Alaska $9.75 (by 2016) Yes Yes Yes
Arkansas $8.50 (by 2017) No Yes Yes
California
(3 cities)
Eureka $12.00 (by 2015) Yes Yes No
Oakland $12.25 (by 2015) Yes Yes Yes
San Francisco $15.00 (by 2018) Yes Yes Yes
Illinois $10.00 (by 2015) Yes No Yes
Nebraska $9.00 (by 2016) No Yes Yes
South Dakota $8.50 (by 2015) Yes Yes Yes
Wisconsin (9 counties and 4 cities)Counties: Dane, Douglas, Eau Claire, Kenosha, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Portage, Rock, Wood.

Cities: Appleton, Menasha, Neenah and Racine.

$10.10 Yes No Yes


National Employment Law Project Action Fund
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Contact: Emma Stieglitz, emmaS@berlinrosen.com, (646) 200-530
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