Out sick this week? You weren't alone. In the midst of one of the worst flu seasons in years, states and municipalities across the nation are seeing an increasing focus on workers' lack of access to paid sick time. Unfortunately, in some places, that has also meant conservatives focused on pre-empting and reversing existing protections, including taking away the rights of local municipalities to determine what's best for their communities:
On Tuesday night, President Obama laid out his second term agenda in a State of the Union address that detailed specific policy proposals across a range of issue areas. But even as national conversations around the minimum wage, immigration, gun violence prevention, and early education began to get louder in the wake of the President's speech this week, states were already getting a jump start on many of these issues. As Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom, Chair of the Board of PSN, said in a response to the State of the Union this week, "state legislators across the nation know they do not need to wait for Washington to act."
From Missouri to Pennsylvania to D.C., anti-union "right-to-work" laws are still being proposed and debated. Michigan workers continue to fight their law in the courts weeks before it is set to take effect, while workers in nearby states remain prepared for similar legislation to emerge. Meanwhile, an "anti-right-to-work" bill moved forward in Vermont — legislation that would require all workers who receive benefits thanks to a union to pay their fair share.
Many states are already considering action on the minimum wage in new sessions — by legislation or by ballot initiative. Polls and studies released this week continued to show both the broad and deep popularity and the positive economic effects of raising the wage:
A 2012 report from the Progressive States Network noted that the ratio of federal Department of Labor enforcement agents to U.S. workers has fallen from one for every 11,000 in 1941, to one for every 141,000 today. When state labor agents are factored in, the authors found "less than 15 percent of the total enforcement coverage workers enjoyed decades ago."
Yesterday, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law controversial so-called “right-to-work” legislation intended to weaken unions and which studies have shown depresses wages and lowers quality of life for all. The signing followed the rapid passage of the bill in a lame duck legislative session, and came on the same day that massive protests took place in Michigan's state Capitol. Across the nation, state lawmakers and others spoke out against the legislation, proclaiming their solidarity with workers in Michigan and promising to continue to fight against similar efforts in their states.
In a matter of hours and as constituents filled the Michigan state Capitol in protest, conservative members of Michigan’s legislature introduced, debated, and then passed controversial “right-to-work” legislation during a lame duck session. Progressive States Network, a national non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the work of progressive state legislators around the country, released a statement strongly opposing the policy.
Frustrated by stagnation in the job market and in statehouses alike, worker advocates have increasingly taken to direct democracy and local governments to balance the economy in 2012. A combination of political gridlock in Congress and many state legislatures since the 2010 elections has largely stalled a wave of progress led by states raising workplace standards like the minimum wage and paid sick leave, as well as toughening up laws to combat workplace violations like wage theft and payroll fraud. Over the last year, advocates have turned to ballot initiatives and local government measures, where the immense levels of popular support for workplace fairness policies historically have proven likely to carry the day. But, unwilling to let such clear majorities carry the day, conservative business lobbies have rolled out a range of increasingly ruthless tactics to roll back and block progress.
New Census data reported just this week painted a distressing picture: 46.2 million Americans still in poverty in 2011, median household income declining by 1.5 percent, and rising income inequality. As a snapshot of an America three years removed from the end of the Great Recession, the numbers serve as an important reminder that it's not just the tepid growth in jobs, but the increasing lack of good jobs and the slow corrosion of the middle class that should be the chief concern of lawmakers.