In today’s On the News segment: A majority of the Senate wants to increase the federal minimum wage, but 42 Republicans are refusing to allow a debate on the issue; a foreclosure fraud whistleblower says that the government is letting some major banks off the hook; the people of the UK are fed up with austerity; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…
You need to know this. Last week, the majority of the Senate wanted to increase the federal minimum wage. However, 42 Republicans refused to allow a debate on the issue, and showed Americans that they don’t give a damn about low-wage workers. Even though the overwhelming majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage, Republican lawmakers would rather obstruct any legislation that could be seen as a win for President Obama. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and it hasn’t gone up since 2009. At that rate, many Americans who work full time are still stuck living in poverty. After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “This is a moral issue. It’s not who’s going to vote for whom. It’s about whether or not it is right that people who are working 40 hours a week get a fair shot at being able to provide for their families.” And he’s exactly right. This issue isn’t just about politics, it’s about workers having the basic human dignity of being able to put food on the table after an honest day’s work. Republicans have repeatedly shown that they stand with big business and the billionaires, and they vote over and over again to block or decline any effort to help average Americans. The Senators who blocked this debate claim that they felt “boxed in” by Democrats who wouldn’t consider a smaller increase in the minimum wage, but that’s just their latest excuse for why they refuse to help workers. Senate Democrats say that they will keep bringing this legislation up for a vote until they have enough Republican support to pass it. If nothing else, their effort will give voters something to think about in the upcoming midterm elections.
A foreclosure fraud whistleblower says that the government is letting some major banks off the hook. Back in 2012, federal prosecutors intervened in a case uncovered by Lynn Szymoniak, after she discovered banks were falsifying documents in an effort to foreclose on her home. After a three year legal fight, Lynn proved that the same illegal practices were being used by other banks to swindle people out of their homes. Although the government stepped in and settled the case with five lenders for a whopping $25 billion dollars, Lynn says that other banks are getting away Scot-free. Prosecutors used evidence she uncovered to reach that settlement with Bank of America, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial. But, they left her on her own to fight the corporate attorneys who represent Deutsche Bank, HSBC, US Bancorp, and Bank of New York Mellon. Lynn explained that these banks also illegally foreclosed on many homes, and said that the Department of Justice is “leaving money on the table” by not pursuing the case. The banksters crashed our economy, stole our homes, and got a huge bail out. It’s simply unacceptable that our government won’t hold them accountable even when evidence of their fraud is being handed over on a silver platter.
The people of the UK are fed up with austerity. A new group of individuals and organizations known as the People’s Assembly has made a vow “to take down” the ruling coalition government, and put an end to their disastrous economic policies. Last Thursday, well-known activist and comedian Russell Brand announced his support for the People’s Assembly, and encouraged others to join the fight. He said, “We can organize a fairer, more just society than they can. These demonstrations are [only] the start. The People’s Assembly will bring down any government that does not end austerity.” Brand and other activists will be taking part in a large rally in London on June 21st. The coalition will bring together labor unions, environmental groups, anti-war activists, and many others who want an end to austerity. No nation, in the history of the world, has ever cut its way to prosperity. Hopefully, the People’s Assembly can put an end to it in the UK, and we can follow their lead by reversing austerity measures here at home.
Hawaii lawmakers aren’t waiting for Congress to do what’s right. Last week, that state increased their minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. Connecticut and Maryland also recently increased pay for low-wage workers, but Hawaii’s new law goes even further to lift residents out of poverty. Hawaii’s wage increase is unique because it will even apply to tipped workers. While many states allow a much lower tipped wage, Hawaii lawmakers said that waiters and taxi drivers also deserve fair pay. Their new law says that tipped workers must earn at least $17.10 an hour when tips are included, or their employers must pay them the new, higher minimum wage. In comparison, the federal tipped wage is only $2.13 an hour, and it’s only slightly higher in states like Maryland and Connecticut. All workers, whether they’re paid in tips or by the hour, deserve the right to fair pay for working hard. It’s great to see Hawaii taking this huge step to help low-wage workers, and to see lawmakers in that state refuse to wait on our broken Congress.
And finally… Last week, a group of more than 500 people gathered in Washington, DC to start figuring out how we take back our economy. The event was put on by the National People’s Alliance, and it was called the “Rising Voices for a New Economy Conference.” Activists, workers, farmers, and various advocacy groups got together to say that it’s time to change who is in the room when major decisions are made about our economy. They don’t want Wall Street executives shaping the conversation, when real hard-working Americans aren’t even allowed to participate in the discussion. Aijen Poo, the executive director of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, said, “We are America and we should shape the future of this economy.” It’s our nation, and it’s our future, and we should have the right to help decide it.
And that’s the way it is – for the week of May 5, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.