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Higher Minimum-Wage Proposals Gain Ground on Both Coasts

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MINIMUM WAGE
LISA LEFF, Associated Press
DAVID KLEPPER, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The push for a higher minimum wage gained momentum on both sides of the country, with New York embracing an eventual $15 an hour for the state’s 200,000 fast-food workers and the huge University of California system announcing the same raise for its employees.

“How we support our workers and their families impacts Californians who might never set foot on one of our campuses,” UC President Janet Napolitano, who oversees 10 campuses, including UCLA and Berkeley, said of Wednesday’s action. “It’s the right thing to do.”

The 240,000-student University of California becomes the nation’s first public university to commit itself to the $15-an-hour wage that has become the rallying cry of many labor groups in recent months.

So far, the cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley have approved phased-in increases that eventually will take their minimum wage to $15 an hour, or about $31,200 a year. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous county, voted to craft a law to do the same over five years.

In New York, the state Wage Board Wednesday endorsed a proposal to set a $15 minimum wage for workers at fast-food restaurants with 30 or more locations. The increase would be phased in over three years in New York City and over six years elsewhere.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has the final say, and he has signaled his support. New York would become the first state to single out a specific industry for such an increase. The state minimum wage is now $8.75.

“You cannot live and support a family on $18,000 a year in the state of New York — period,” Cuomo said at a New York City rally celebrating the proposal. “This is just the beginning. We will not stop until we reach true economic justice.”

Restaurant owners warned that higher wages could force them to raise prices, cut employee hours and hire fewer workers, and they said they may challenge the move in court.

“Singling out fast-food restaurants while ignoring other industries that hire workers who are paid under $15 is unfair and discriminatory,” said Jack Bert, who owns seven McDonald’s restaurants in New York City.

But Rebecca Cornick, a 60-year-old woman who makes $9 an hour at a Wendy’s in Brooklyn, said, “If I made $15, I could pay my rent on time, I could put food on the table, I could hold my head up.”

At the University of California, the hourly wage earners include students and full-time contract employees who work in dining halls, dorms and bookstores or labor as gardeners, housekeepers and custodians. Many start at the state minimum wage of $9 an hour.

Napolitano said she will boost that to $13 in October for employees who work at least 20 hours a week and will raise it some more in stages to $15 by the fall of 2017.

About 3,200 UC employees and a much larger but undetermined number of people employed by outside contractors at the university will receive the higher wage, UC said. The university is California’s third-largest employer, with a staff of 195,000.

“I just thought it was important for a public university to plant the flag here for low-wage workers and a more livable wage,” said Napolitano, who was President Barack Obama’s homeland security secretary before she assumed leadership of the university nearly two years ago.

Napolitano’s plan does not need approval from the university’s governing Board of Regents.

The higher minimum-wage argument has gained traction amid concerns over the shrinking middle class and rising income inequality.

Supporters argue a higher wage floor will help lift the working poor into the middle class. Opponents warn higher wages will kill jobs and lead to higher prices. Sixteen states have passed laws barring local governments from setting their own minimum wage.

Democrats, including presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, have said they support a higher federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.

Vice President Joe Biden promoted a higher minimum wage of at least $12 an hour during a stop Wednesday at a washroom equipment manufacturer in Los Angeles, where he chatted with employees as they assembled soap dispensers.

Biden said the wage hikes approved by the city’s mayor and county supervisors would be “life-changing” for some 700,000 workers in the Los Angeles area.

“Maybe you’ll be able to have meat on the table a couple of times a week instead of once a month,” Biden told workers at Bobrick Washroom Equipment, whose CEO backed the city’s wage ordinance.

Other public university systems, including ones in Washington state, Indiana and Tennessee, have adopted minimum wages higher than those set under state or federal law. But none have committed to going as high as the University of California.

University officials estimated that the raises for workers directly employed by UC will cost $14 million a year, a fraction of the system’s $12.6 billion annual payroll. UC said it also expects contractors will pass some of the cost of higher wages onto the university.

The Republican leader of the California Assembly criticized the university’s plan to extend the higher wage to outside contractors.

“The university should be teaching engineering, not spending student dollars to practice social engineering by limiting who campuses can do businesses with,” Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen said.

In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, election officials approved the language of a proposed ballot measure that would make the nation’s capital the first East Coast city to adopt a $15 minimum wage. Supporters will have to gather about 23,000 signatures to get the proposal on next year’s ballot.

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Klepper reported from Albany, N.Y. Associated Press writer Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

___

This story has been corrected to show that the number of affected university employees is about 3,200 instead of 4,200.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activism

With Union Contract OK’d, Moe’s Books Workers Get Improved Wages, Benefits 

Despite some mixed feelings from workers about the owner’s reactions to the union, both workers and ownership expressed optimism about what they think the Moe’s Books union can do for the future of the four-story store with over 200,000 mostly used books. “If customers see the positive impact of shopping at independently owned stores that do all they can to support their workers,” said Moe’s Books owner, Doris Moskowitz, “then this agreement will only make Moe’s Books’ future stronger.”

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Moe’s Books Union members Phoebe Wong (left), Owen Hill (center), and Bradley Skaught (right) pose inside the Berkeley bookstore on November 30. Photo by Zack Haber.
Moe’s Books Union members Phoebe Wong (left), Owen Hill (center), and Bradley Skaught (right) pose inside the Berkeley bookstore on November 30. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Workers at Moe’s Books in Berkeley agreed to their first union contract with store ownership on November 23. The agreement has given them a $20 minimum wage, dental insurance, more paid vacation days, a new procedure for filing grievances, and job security protections.

“I think this is a good, solid contract, and a good starting point for improving worker/owner relations,” said Owen Hill, who’s worked at Moe’s for about 35 years. “I wish we had this 10 years ago, but better late than never.”

Moe’s Books owner, Doris Moskowitz, told this publication she’s happy with the contract as well.

“I feel great about the agreement,” said Moskowitz. “Supporting our workers is part of Moe’s 60-year legacy, and we are proud to continue in that tradition.”

In early March about 95% of eligible Moe’s workers agreed to form a union by joining with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The move was part of a growth in bookstore unionization spurred by COVID-related issues.

Workers at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle and Bookshop Santa Cruz each formed unions in 2020. This year, bookstore unionization has expanded as workers at Printed Matter in New York City formed a union in October, while workers at three different Half Price Books locations in Minnesota are awaiting election results in mid-December to certify their unions.

Immediately after its formation, Moskowitz recognized Moe’s Books Union, but she had mixed feelings about it. In early April, she told Berkeleyside she “deeply respected” the workers’ decision to unionize but that the move had also left her “very sad and confused.” Following initial negotiations related to COVID safety measures, the union and Moskowitz began its first contract negotiations. In total, both sides came to 35 agreements during 16 bargaining sessions over eight months.

“The bargaining process was long, tiresome, and sometimes tense,” said Hill. “But mostly people were respectful and tried to come to an understanding.”

According to Bruce Valde, an organizer with the IWW who works with Moe’s Books Union, the eight months it took to agree to the contract was comparatively quick. In his experience, it usually takes workers and ownership a year to a year-and-a-half to agree to a first union contract. Valde called Moskowitz’s choice to immediately recognize the union “wise” and lauded the workers’ collaboration in clearly stating their requests.

“I think the workers diligence in actually forming our positions was excellent,” said Valde.

Since the new contract has passed, all union members will soon be getting a 10% raise in their salaries, or a $20 an hour wage if the 10% bump doesn’t already exceed that wage.

They’ll also get a 3% wage increase during the second and third year of the contract.

Additionally, the contract has stipulations related to respecting employees’ gender and gender expression. Harassment violations now specifically include ownership or management commenting in an ostracizing manner on workers’ gender expression, including clothing choices or hairstyles, or not making a concerted effort to correctly use workers’ pronouns.

While the union members unanimously agreed to the contract and Moskowitz told this publication “I feel like it is a win-win” situation, workers claimed along the way that the owner wasn’t always respectful of the union. In late September, union members and supporters held an informational picket at the store to support their demand for the $20 minimum wage that was eventually granted, but also to share information with the public about how they thought the owners were practicing “union busting.”

Around this time, the union filed unfair labor practice claims to the National Labor Relations Board, one of which was related to their accusation that Moskowitz was offering promotions for the sole purpose of removing people from the union by placing them in management positions.

Barry Bloom, who works as a book shipper, claimed Moskowitz asked him if he’d agree to be the supervisor of the shipping department, a position that would prevent him from joining in the union. He was the only member of the shipping department at the time, and she didn’t offer him a raise.

“My immediate reaction was to wonder ‘who would I be supervising?’” Bloom said. “I pretty much instantly saw it as a union-busting tactic.”

Moskowitz denied the accusation of union busting, saying, at the time “We have not made any job offer or offers of promotions in order to encourage any employee to break from their support of the union.”

Soon after agreeing to the new contract, Moskowitz taped a statement to the front window of the store, expressing that she was proud of the contract and Moe’s openness to organized labor. The statement, which was posted to Moe’s instagram and Facebook accounts, also encouraged other businesses, specifically large bookstores, to allow workplace organizing.

“If a small, independent used-book seller can accomplish this while keeping the doors open during a global pandemic,” the statement reads, “there is no reason for more lucrative companies to claim labor organizing will shut down their business or harm their employees.”

Two days after the statement appeared on Moe’s books social media sites, Moe’s Books union’s Twitter account put up a post stating “There’s a little revisionist history going on over at the boss’s social media site.”

While largely happy with the contract, Moe’s Books worker Phoebe Wong told this publication she’s uncomfortable with the owners’ actions immediately following its ratification.

“I’m really pleased and so proud of the work everyone put into doing the contract,” said Phoebe Wong. “But it’s been a long fight. And, to be honest, it makes me a little queasy to see ownership touting pride because it seems pretty dishonest considering the pushback we got.”

Despite some mixed feelings from workers about the owner’s reactions to the union, both workers and ownership expressed optimism about what they think the Moe’s Books union can do for the future of the four-story store with over 200,000 mostly used books.

“If customers see the positive impact of shopping at independently owned stores that do all they can to support their workers,” said Moskowitz, “then this agreement will only make Moe’s Books’ future stronger.”

“Moe’s now offers good wages, good benefits, and job protection,” said Hill. “I think we have a lot to offer to workers, and that we will be able to employ top quality people. I don’t think I’m being too dramatic when I say that the union saved the business.”

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Bay Area

Ready to Travel? Get the REAL ID!  

The California DMV suggests changing your driver’s license or identification card to a REAL ID as federal laws will soon make it necessary to have either a passport, REAL ID, or other federally accepted forms of ID to board local flights and enter federal buildings.

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DMV Administrator Carrie Stanton. Photo courtesy of the author.
DMV Administrator Carrie Stanton. Photo courtesy of the author.

By Carrie Stanton, Regional Administrator (Region 2, Bay Area) of the California Department of Motor Vehicles

The holidays are here and families are excited to get together and celebrate for the first time in over a year. Amid the pandemic, we’ve missed far too many Sunday and holiday dinners that have been a tradition for many families for generations.

For our community, family dinner is about creating memories. For those families who will be traveling this holiday season, I encourage you to consider adding a REAL ID upgrade to your checklist when making your travel plans.

The California DMV suggests changing your driver’s license or identification card to a REAL ID as federal laws will soon make it necessary to have either a passport, REAL ID, or other federally accepted forms of ID to board local flights and enter federal buildings.

While getting a REAL ID isn’t required, it does make it easier to continue using your driver’s license to board a local flight or visit loved ones on military bases. To help make this change, the California DMV is offering free upgrades to people who renewed their license or ID card between March 2020 and July 2021 from now until Dec. 31, 2021.

Protecting the health, safety and security of our communities is what’s important and the REAL ID provides an extra layer of protection when traveling. Applying is easy and can be started safely online at CaliforniaREALID.org. Complete your application, upload the required forms, and plan your DMV office visit to finish. Don’t forget your documents and confirmation code– they will be needed for your visit.

Whether you are applying for a first-time California driver’s license or identification card or are up for renewal, a REAL ID may be the best option, especially if you plan to travel soon. Get back to creating those memories with your family. With shorter wait periods and an easy application process, now is the perfect time to start your REAL ID application so you’re ready to go when the time is right.

As we continue to recover from the pandemic, many things in our lives are changing. In our community, many have started businesses, changed their lifestyles for the better and found new passions in life. Whatever is helping you get through these rough times is also playing a part in figuring out our new normal. Make the REAL ID part of that new normal.

Carrie Stanton is Regional Administrator (Region 2, Bay Area) of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

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Bay Area

Mayor London Breed Announces Plan to Reform City’s Small Sites Housing Acquisition Program

“Our Small Sites program is an important part of our overall strategy to make housing affordable to all San Franciscans,” said Mayor Breed. “Preserving rent-controlled housing helps keep people in their homes, protects against displacement and evictions, and creates more stability in our neighborhoods as we make crucial decisions to build more housing in all neighborhoods. We are committed to working with our non-profit partners to reform and strengthen this program so we can make impactful investments in our upcoming budget and support the long-term viability of the Small Sites program.” 

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Supporting capacity in the City’s non-profit partners to make small sites deals and ensure that the buildings are financially sustainable.
Supporting capacity in the City’s non-profit partners to make small sites deals and ensure that the buildings are financially sustainable.

Improvements made in partnership with non-profits that help administer the program will ensure long-term success of important housing preservation and anti-displacement program

Mayor London N. Breed and Supervisors Myrna Melgar and Ahsha Safaí announced on Tuesday the next steps to strengthen and reform San Francisco’s Small Sites Program, which preserves rent-controlled buildings and prevents tenant displacement.

First launched in 2014, the City has helped acquire 47 buildings (368 units of affordable housing) through the Small Sites Program.

The Small Sites Program is run by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD), which works to acquire and preserve at-risk rental housing with three to 25 units.

The program was created to establish long-term affordable housing in smaller properties throughout San Francisco that are particularly vulnerable to market pressure that results in property sales, increased evictions, and rising tenant rents.

In the face of the increasing pressure, the Small Sites Program helps San Franciscans avoid displacement or eviction by providing loans to non-profit organizations to successfully remove these sites from the market and restrict them as permanently affordable housing.

While the program has been an important tool, challenges have impacted implementation and acquisition. Mayor Breed sat down with non-profit partners who work with the City on administering the program and agreed to a plan to reform over the coming months to ensure the long-term viability of the Small Sites Program. Those commitments include:

  • Undergoing a study on how to make the program more efficient and the model more applicable. This study will be conducted by the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF), which partners with the City on housing preservation and acquisition efforts. HAF’s recommendations are due in January.
  • Considering reform recommendations from the City’s housing partners.
  • Implementing programmatic reforms by the end of March 2022.
  • Supporting capacity in the City’s non-profit partners to make small sites deals and ensure that the buildings are financially sustainable.
  • Modernizing and reforming programming rules to ensure broader applicability geographically, including in neighborhoods currently left out of the program because of income limitations.
  • Ensuring that vacant units are immediately filled.

“Our Small Sites program is an important part of our overall strategy to make housing affordable to all San Franciscans,” said Mayor Breed. “Preserving rent-controlled housing helps keep people in their homes, protects against displacement and evictions, and creates more stability in our neighborhoods as we make crucial decisions to build more housing in all neighborhoods. We are committed to working with our non-profit partners to reform and strengthen this program so we can make impactful investments in our upcoming budget and support the long-term viability of the Small Sites program.”

“San Francisco’s vitality is dependent on keeping our current residents stably housed. The Small Sites Acquisition Program has so much untapped potential to save our diminishing rent-controlled housing stock and to keep our communities intact. We need to be bold and shift the way we have been doing things to meet this moment. Our City’s economic recovery is dependent on investing in the residents and businesses that are struggling to stay here,” stated Supervisor Myrna Melgar.

“The Small Sites program preserves existing affordable units for working families here in San Francisco through acquisition,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safaí. “Together with Mayor Breed and Supervisor Melgar’s leadership – we have renewed our support for this vital program and San Francisco’s middle-income families. We are committed to working with our local non-profit partners and I’m proud to help lead this process to increase affordable housing options for San Francisco’s working families.”

“We thank the Mayor for renewing her commitment to the City’s housing acquisition and affordable preservation program,” said Malcolm Yeung, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center. “While this has been a critical tool in preventing displacement of our most vulnerable residents, it has not always worked as planned. Not only do we have to expand accessibility to a broader range of San Franciscans, especially our lowest income, we have to make the program sustainable for the organizations that are doing the work of acquiring, rehabbing, and operating the housing.”

“MEDA is firmly committed to the proven, targeted approach of the City’s Small Sites Program to fight displacement. Since 2014, our nonprofit has made 33 critical acquisitions, keeping in their longtime homes hundreds of families and dozens of commercial businesses,” said MEDA CEO Luis Granados. “Our Community Real Estate team has been maintaining and growing the program throughout the pandemic, building our own capacity and that of our nonprofit peers so that we are all best positioned to continue to purchase Small Sites apartment buildings. In partnership with the City, we look forward to acquiring additional critical buildings as we further strengthen the program to ensure all properties are financially stable and that every unit becomes home to those most in need of affordable housing.”

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