There are few more potent tools for impacting the outcomes of elections
than changing what appears on the ballot. And there are no more direct
paths from public outcry to passed legislation than through ballot
issues. For years, the rightwing has been advancing policy goals,
shaping message, and marshalling voters through ballot issues (we've
already highlighted many of their current-year endeavors in this very
newsletter). Progressives increasingly are fighting back using ballot
issues -- which shouldn't be surprising, since initiatives and
referedenda were originally a progressive reform.
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.
For years, the delivery company FedEx has claimed that its ground
drivers are not employees but independent contractors-- meaning the
company didn't have to pay for workers compensation, unemployment
insurance or extend a range of other worker protections.
Supporters of Oregon's unique universal vote-by-mail system got
a serious leg up this month when the NAACP adopted a resolution
formally endorsing the system. The NAACP joins the AFL-CIO in publicly
backing the system, which has gained widespread support among
representatives of working families for the way that it increases
flexibility for voters and also serves as a reminder of otherwise
low-profile elections for many of us in our busy day-to-day lives.
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.
After years of stagnating wages for working Americans and inaction by
Congress, legislators and activists across the country are taking the
lead in securing higher minimum wages on a state by state basis. They
are achieving some outstanding results. Here's where the minimum wage
fight stands in a number of states:
Exploiting the unpopular Kelo vs. New London
Supreme Court decision, far-right ideologues are pushing a number of
nearly identical ballot measures in dozens of states across the country
as reforms to "protect our homes." The backers claim that their efforts
will prevent big corporations from using eminent domain to seize
people's homes. In reality, these faux populist measures -- backed
almost entirely by one rich New York City developer -- will leave
cities and counties powerless to protect the environment and strengthen
communities in the face of sprawl development.