By a vote of 35 to 14, the Chicago city council yesterday approved a new ordinance
requiring large retailers in the city to phase in a living wage for
their employees of $10 per hour plus $3 per hour in benefits-- the
highest minimum wage established for any industry sector in the
country. If signed by the mayor, the law would raise pay for tens of
thousands of workers in retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us,
Lowe's and Home Depot. A broad coalition of organizations including
ACORN, labor unions and church groups worked together for its passage.
Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted
to create a health care plan to provide health care coverage for the
85,000 uninsured residents of that city. While there are additional
votes needed to finalize the bill, with a unanimous vote and the
endorsement of the mayor, the proposed ordinance is expected to become
law with no problem.
Yesterday, a federal judge overturnedMaryland's
Fair Share Health Care law, which had required large employers such as
Wal-Mart to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health care
for employees or pay the equivalent in fees to the state. The judge in
his decision argued that the federal ERISA (Employment Retirement Security Act) law preempted the Maryland law.
Following Chicago's lead, DC Councilman Phill Mendelson has introduced a bill to require
large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Costco to pay employees a living
wage of $11 an hour plus health benefits worth at least $3 a hour. The
bill also would give labor groups and the public access to public areas
of a firm to communicate with employees about their rights. As we
detailed in last week's Dispatch, a major committee and a majority of Chicago City Council members have endorsed a similar bill for that city.
Despite a veto by the governor, the New York State legislature is poised to override and enact reforms to allow day care workers to form labor unions. The bill, A10060, sponsored by Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat (a Progressive States board member) and Senator Nick Spano,
would effect an estimated 52,000 day care workers in facilities
subsidized by state funds, given them standing to negotiate with the
state for wage increases, as well as benefits like health care,
workers' compensation, paid vacation or sick days.
The reality for working Americans is that wages have been largely stagnant for
over three decades. For many workers -- especially those without a
college degree -- pay has actually gotten worse, meaning that this
generation is the first one in American history which is not doing
signficantly better than the previous one. Part of the reason for
these stagnant wages is that inflation was allowed to erode the federal
minimum wage-- its inflation-adjusted value dropping from $9.12 per hour in 1968 down to just $5.15 per hour in 2005.
Republican Former Illinois Governor George Ryan was convicted this week on eighteen counts,
including racketeering, mail fraud, false statements, and tax
violations. His crime? Selling out the public for profit gain. While
the Governor awaits sentencing -- his crimes may earn him as much as
ten-twenty years in federal prison -- his case offers lessons for all