On the News With Thom Hartmann: Half of US States Have a Minimum Wage Higher Than Minimum, and More

In today’s On the News segment: As of January 1, 2015, more than half of all the states in our nation now have a minimum wage that is higher than the federal minimum; home health workers should have gotten a raise this month, but US District Court Judge Richard Leon made sure that didn’t happen; there’s an easy way that President Obama can help us stick it to the 1%; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. As of January 1st, 2015, more than half of all the states in our nation now have a minimum wage that is higher than the federal minimum. Thanks to new state and local wage laws and some pay increases built into existing laws, workers in 21 different states got a raise on New Years Day. After all of these increases are factored in, the majority of Americans live in states that support higher wage. However, the Unites States Congress won’t join that club. In fact, minimum wage laws paint a clear picture of who it is that our federal lawmakers represent. The majority of states have enacted laws or referendums to raise wages because they understand that no one can survive on $7.25. Despite great progress at the state level, Republican legislators in D.C. aren’t working to represent the people. Regardless of their political views, Americans all around our country support a higher minimum wage, but massive corporations are fighting hard to keep their slave-labor wages. Federal lawmakers could stand up for American workers and ensure that no one who works full time lives in poverty. Instead, they do the bidding of their corporate donors, regardless of how it hurts American workers and our economy. States that increased their minimum wage years ago have seen faster job growth and lower levels of poverty, but Republican lawmakers have blocked those benefits from expanding at the federal level. It’s great news that these 21 states are moving toward a living wage, but we can’t stop pushing our lawmakers in D.C. to expand these pay increases nationwide. It’s going to be harder than ever now that Republicans control Congress, but we can’t give up on this important fight.

Home health workers should have gotten a raise this month, but U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon made sure that didn’t happen. Last month, Judge Leon struck down a Labor Department rule change that would have guaranteed those who care for the elderly and the disabled earn at least the minimum wage. Before this rule change, home health workers were exempt from minimum wage laws, despite the fact that they often work long hours to feed, bathe, and clothe those who need help with these tasks. Although the Fair Labor Standards Act was expanded in 1974 to include domestic workers, there was a carve-out in the law that left home health workers unprotected. Last year, the Department of Labor changed the rule to protect these workers, however Judge Leon decided it should still be legal to pay caregivers less than minimum wage. Because of this ruling, Labor Department officials aren’t sure how many of the 2.5 million home health workers will still be eligible for minimum wage and overtime pay, and they are considering an appeal. No one should be exempt from minimum wage laws, especially workers who care for those of us who need such important help.

There’s an easy way that President Obama can help us stick it to the one percent. Since 1975, more and more Americans are working over 40 hours, but they lose out on overtime pay because they’re on a salary. Right now, people earning more than $23,660 a year can be forced to work 50, 60, or even more hours per week, and they won’t make an extra dime for it. But, there’s a simple solution to taking back all of this free labor, and it rests in the hands of our president. With the stroke of his pen, President Obama could go around Congress, and raise the income level someone would have to reach to be exempt from time-and-a-half. The current level has only been increased once since it was established in 1975, when it covered about 65 percent of the workforce. Today, only 11 percent of salaried employees qualify for overtime, and the rest of us are simply working longer hours for free. This is one strong way that the President could increase earnings for workers and help us take back some of our wealth from those at the top. Now it’s up to us to push him to make it happen.

Thanks to a judge in Pennsylvania, the York City School District may soon be controlled by a for-profit charter company. Last week, Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh handed control of that school district over to David Meckley, who was appointed to oversee that city’s financial recovery. And, just like other mini-dictators from around our country, Mr. Meckley’s suggestion for improving York City’s finances is to privatize as much as possible. For months, the so-called “chief recovery officer” has advocated handing over York City’s public school system to the Florida-based, for-profit company called “Charter Schools USA.” After Judge Linebaugh’s ruling, students and teachers protested outside the city’s judicial building, and several groups have already filed an appeal. Diane Ravitch, an educational policy analyst, wrote a blog about the decision. She said, “[officials] would rather turn public schools over to a for-profit corporations that siphons off 20 percent in management fees and pays itself outlandish rental fees rather than trust parents and local citizens to do what’s best for their children.” Hopefully the appeal puts a stop to this privatization, and parents and teachers retain control of their kids’ educations.

And finally… Another tech giant has dumped the American Legislative Exchange Council. EBay has announced that is cutting ties with the Conservative lobbying group just two months after a coalition of 80 organizations asked the online auction company to stop supporting ALEC’s “extreme agenda.” That coalition, which includes unions, environmental groups, and other activists, has encouraged many organizations to leave the lobbying group because of ALEC’s practices of “denying the science of climate change, defunding public services, curtailing workers’ rights, and opposing net neutrality.” Basically, ALEC pushes legislation that puts corporate profits over people, but they’re quickly losing their influence and power. As more and more companies stop supporting ALEC, the group loses the clout and financial backing that helps them sway lawmakers. The best way to stop the American Legislative Exchange Council is to push corporations to leave the group, and eBay is the latest victory in the war to take back our democracy.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of January 5, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.