Paying for Low-Wage Pollution

Whether it’s half a dozen of one or 6 of another, we continually find ourselves contributing to the socialization labor costs as corporations incorporate poverty wages into their wage compensation schemes.  The article below may look at how Cook County, IL is looking for ways to combat those practices, but I thought it was apropos as food for thought, as you vet those candidates you choose to support with your coveted vote at the ballot box this fall.


Economic justice activists are championing laws that shift the costs of toxic poverty wages from communities to corporations.
— by Liz Ryan Murray

liz-ryan-murrayImagine if a corporation set up shop in your community and immediately dumped toxic sludge in your local waterways and buried radioactive waste next to your biggest playground. You and your neighbors, I bet, would demand full compensation from that corporation to pay for the clean-up and public health costs.

You’d have a strong case.

What about corporations that pollute communities not with chemicals, but with poverty wages? The impact can be every bit as toxic, and yet companies that pay low wages get off scot-free. In fact, their CEOs usually get bonuses.

Economic justice activists across the country are fighting back against this outrage. They’re demanding that corporate polluters pay a price for low wages.

In the Chicago area, for instance, Cook County commissioners are considering a bill that would slap fees on corporations employing more than 750 workers at less than the local living wage — currently $14.57 per hour, or $11.66 with health benefits.

Walmart_fair_wages_minimum_wage_labor_workers
Courtesy of National People’s Action

Under this proposed Responsible Business Act, companies would pay the local government $750 per employee each year for every dollar their wages fall below the living wage. The bill would generate an estimated $580 million in the first four years.

Community stakeholders would get a voice in deciding how to spend this revenue to help low-income residents. For example, some of that money might boost health care options, pre-trial services, and housing assistance.

Why not just raise the minimum wage? In an ideal world, it would be the best solution. That’s why “Fight for $15″ campaigns are catching on. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans still live in places where wages won’t lift working families out of poverty anytime soon.

Low-wage employer fees provide a good alternative by targeting the large corporations that can afford to pay their workers more, but are choosing to drive low-wage pollution instead. This approach encourages these companies to raise wages while leveling the playing field for the businesses that are already taking the high road.

As long as poverty wages persist, we’ll all pay the price.

Poverty wages leave workers with too little buying power. Local businesses suffer when local people can’t afford to buy their products and services.

And young people suffer, too. Researchers have linked high poverty rates to lower educational achievement and poor health. And poverty wages make high poverty rates inevitable.

Low-income people, especially in communities of color, also face a far greater risk of being arrested and jailed for minor offenses, leaving them with even higher barriers to future economic opportunities.

Who subsidizes these poisonous poverty wages? Taxpayers.

To keep their families healthy and safe, low-wage workers have little choice but to turn to public assistance programs. Reforms like Cook County’s Responsible Business Act could help us recoup some of these costs.

Large corporations are “socializing labor costs,” sums up Will Tanzman of IIRON, the Illinois-based economic and social justice organization that’s part of a growing movement for the Responsible Business Act. One local poll, he points out, shows county residents favoring the bill by a 2-1 margin.

Connecticut activists pushed a similar bill last year. A new law in that state mandates the creation of an advisory board where workers will join employers, public assistance recipients, elected officials, and other stakeholders to develop recommendations for how the governor and state legislators can address the public cost of low-wage work.

Activists and elected officials elsewhere, including Colorado and New York, are also exploring the possibility of applying low-wage employer fees.

These campaigns aren’t about demonizing public assistance. In the richest country in the world, we should have a safety net strong enough to ensure that all our most vulnerable people live in dignity. That ought to be a matter of national pride.

But a system that lets overpaid CEOs underpay workers and then get taxpayers to foot the bill for the damage that results? None of us can take any pride in that.


Liz Ryan Murray is the National People’s Action policy director. Distributed by OtherWords.org and cross-posted at Inequality.org

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You Don’t Matter—GOP House Votes for Monsanto’s Right to Deceive

DARK-ActToday, 275 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1599, the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act. By voting for the DARK Act, these politicians (including  all of Nevada’s GOP Representatives—Amodei, Hardy and Heck) voted AGAINST truth and transparency, AGAINST science, AGAINST your right to know, and AGAINST the more than century-old right of states to legislate on matters relating to food safety and labeling. If this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, it will nullify laws in states like Maine, Connecticut and Vermont where currently, GMO products are required to be labeled as such.

They voted against the 90-percent of Americans who are in favor of mandatory labeling of GMOs. They voted against the producers of non-GMO foods. The voted against States’ Rights.  They voted against you.

Whatever your views on GMOs, there is no Constitutional justification for the federal government to preempt state laws in this area. There certainly is no justification for Congress to preempt private sector efforts to meet consumer demands for non-GMO foods, while allowing those who support the use of GMOs to do so.

H.R. 1599 was sold to Congress via multi-million dollar public relations and lobbying campaigns built on lies and deception. Rumored to have been written by Monsanto themselves, the bill’s sole purpose is to support one industry—Monsanto’s poison-peddling industry—that was founded on lies and deception from the get-go. Monsanto—that same corporation who sold Agent Orange to our government as “safe” to use on our nation’s soldiers.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Pompeo, the DARK Act gives consumers what they want: the means to know whether or not their food contains GMOs: “Consumers can choose to presume that all foods have GMO contents unless they are labeled or otherwise presented as non-GMO.  Meaning that it is knowable and it is known by the public which products have GMO and which don’t.”

Government regulation should NOT be an iffy, maybe they will, maybe the won’t kind of thing.  But, the DARK Act turns regulation upside down.  It would create a VOLUNTARY, government-run non-GMO certification program. Unless every producer of non-GMO products pays to have those products certified as non-GMO, consumers will still have no way of knowing which products contain GMOs, and which don’t. And why should the burden of labeling fall on the producers of non-GMO foods, when the risk factor is associated with those foods that do contain GMOs?

Did our Congress members vote against us because they were fooled by Monsanto’s slick, deceitful packaging of this so-called “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act”? Or did they simply vote with their wallets, stuffed full of biotech and junk food industry cash?

We don’t know. Given the Citizens United ruling, we’ll probably never know.  But we better know this: We can’t let this bill get through the U.S. Senate. We need to target Senator Heller and let him know this bill is unacceptable.

Out of the Kitchen and On Capitol Hill: Chefs Speak Out for GMO Labeling

‘Having honest, clear labeling of the foods we eat is a fundamental right, one that’s worth fighting for.’

— by Deirdre Fulton, CommonDreams staff writer

More than 700 chefs and restauranteurs are calling on Congress to support legislation to mandate labeling of genetically modified foods and to oppose efforts to block state GMO labeling laws.

colicchio
Chef Tom Colicchio testifies before Congress in 2010. (Photo: House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats/flickr/cc)

Advocates from Food Policy Action, Environmental Working Group, Center for Food Safety, Just Label It, and other national groups joined high-profile chefs—including Tom Colicchio, José Andrés, Art Smith, and Sam Talbot—on Tuesday for meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and to deliver a petition in favor of a GMO-labeling bill sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon).

“As chefs, we know that choosing the right ingredients is an absolutely critical part of cooking,” reads the petition. “But when it comes to whether our ingredients contain genetically modified organisms, we’re in the dark. The simple truth is consumers have the right to know what they’re feeding their families, and as chefs we have a right to know what we’re feeding our customers.”

Further, the petition points out that while 93 percent of Americans support GMO labeling, the U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries in the world without labeling laws. GMO labeling laws have passed in Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut; an Oregon ballot measure requiring labels on all genetically modified food sold in the state will be recounted after falling just shy of the votes necessary for passage in the November election.

“As a chef and father, I want to know what I’m serving my customers and kids, and the majority of Americans want honest information about the food on their tables,” said Colicchio, the owner of Craft Restaurants, co-founder of Food Policy Action, and head judge on Top Chef, who authored the petition. “Having honest, clear labeling of the foods we eat is a fundamental right, one that’s worth fighting for.”

Culinary insiders are increasingly flexing their advocacy muscles outside the kitchen and in Washington, D.C.—a phenomenon explored at Politico last week.

“Colicchio is part of a growing army of chefs across the country looking to channel their growing celebrity to influence food and agriculture policy in Washington, from school nutrition to the farm bill to animal welfare and even fisheries management,” wrote Helena Bottemiller Evich. “Their number is legion, their ranks full of names like Rachael Ray and Mario Batali along with scores of local celebrity chefs and restaurateurs—and their increasingly organized effort backs up some of the Obama administration’s sweeping food policy agenda right as it faces down an adversarial Congress.”

“Chefs are among the most influential advocates I’ve ever lobbied with,” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, told Politico. “They bring a business perspective to food policy that a traditional advocate might not bring and they rise above the partisan divide.”


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Well Past Time to Take Women Out From Under the Gun and Disarm Domestic Abusers

How Gun Violence Affects Women and Four Policy Solutions to Better Protect Them
Weak gun laws at the federal and state levels leave far too many women facing a fatal end to domestic abuse.

— by Arkadi Gerney and Chelsea Parsons  from the Center for American Progress

Violence against women looks very different than violence against men. Whether in the context of sexual assault on college campuses or in the military, violence by an intimate partner, or other types of violent victimization, women’s experiences of violence in this country are unique from those of men. One key difference in the violence committed against women in the United States is who commits it: Women are much more likely to be victimized by people they know, while men are more likely to be victims of violent crime at the hands of strangers. Between 2003 and 2012, 65 percent of female violent crime victims were targeted by someone they knew; only 34 percent of male violent crime victims knew their attackers. Intimate partners make up the majority of known assailants: During the same time period, 34 percent of all women murdered were killed by a male intimate partner, compared to the only 2.5 percent of male murder victims killed by a female intimate partner.

DomesticGunViolenceA staggering portion of violence against women is fatal, and a key driver of these homicides is access to guns. From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun—more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon: Of all the women killed by intimate partners during this period, 55 percent were killed with guns. Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than are women in other high income countries.

Limiting abusers and stalkers’ access to firearms is therefore critical to reduce the number of women murdered in this country every year. This idea is not new: Congress first acted 20 years ago to strengthen our gun laws to prevent some domestic abusers from buying guns. But we are still a long way from having a comprehensive system of laws in place at both the federal and state levels that protect women—and children and men—from fatal violence in the context of intimate and domestic relationships. This report provides an overview of the data regarding the intersection of intimate partner violence and gun violence, describing four policies that states and the federal government should enact to reduce dangerous abusers’ access to guns and prevent murders of women:

  • Bar all convicted abusers, stalkers, and people subject to related restraining orders from possessing guns.
  • Provide all records of prohibited abusers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
  • Require a background check for all gun sales.
  • Ensure that abusers surrender any firearms they own once they become prohibited.

Some states have already adopted some of these policies, and in the past 12 months, there has been a growing movement across the country to enact laws closing some gaps related to domestic abusers’ gun access in several states, including Wisconsin, Washington, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Minnesota.

This report collected and analyzed data from a variety of sources, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI; the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC; the Office of Violence Against Women; state criminal justice agencies; state domestic violence fatality review boards; and academic research. These data provide a snapshot of women’s experiences of violence in this country and show the glaring gaps in state and federal laws that leave victims of domestic violence and stalking vulnerable to gun violence. Many of these data have not been made public prior to the publication of this report and were collected through Freedom of Information Act requests. Among our findings:

  • In 15 states, more than 40 percent of all homicides of women in each state involved intimate partner violence. In 36 states, more than 50 percent of intimate partner-related homicides of women in each state involved a gun.
  • A review of conviction records in 20 states showed that there are at least 11,986 individuals across the country who have been convicted of misdemeanor-level stalking but are still permitted to possess guns under federal law. It is likely that there are tens of thousands of additional convicted stalkers who are able to buy guns.
  • While submission of records regarding convicted misdemeanant domestic abusers to the FBI’s NICS Index has increased 132 percent over the past five-and-a-half years, only three states appear to be submitting reasonably complete records—Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. Records from these three states account for 79 percent of the total records submitted to the FBI.

Every day in the United States, five women are murdered with guns. Many of these fatal shootings occur in the context of a domestic or intimate partner relationship. However, women are not the only victims. Shooters have often made children, police officers, and their broader communities additional targets of what begins as an intimate partner shooting. In fact, one study found that more than half of the mass shootings in recent years have started with or involved the shooting of an intimate partner or a family member. Enacting a comprehensive set of laws and enforcement strategies to disarm domestic abusers and stalkers will reduce the number of women who are murdered by abusers with guns—and it will make all Americans safer.

Arkadi Gerney is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Chelsea Parsons is Director of Crime and Firearms Policy at the Center.

Additional Resources:


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

State-by-State Reports: The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System

— by Megan Slack, August 01, 2013

America has always been a nation of immigrants, and throughout the nation’s history, immigrants from around the globe have kept our workforce vibrant, our businesses on the cutting edge, and helped to build the greatest economic engine in the world. But our nation’s immigration system is broken and has not kept pace with changing times. Today, too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers and there are 11 million people living and working in the shadow economy. Neither is good for the U.S. economy or American  families.

Commonsense immigration reform will strengthen the U.S. economy and create jobs. Independent studies affirm that commonsense immigration reform will increase economic growth by adding more high-demand workers to the labor force, increasing capital investment and overall productivity, and leading to greater numbers of entrepreneurs starting companies in the U.S.

Economists, business leaders, and American workers agree –  and it’s why a bipartisan, diverse coalition of stakeholders have come together to urge Congress to act now to fix the broken immigration system in a way that requires responsibility from everyone —both from unauthorized workers and from those who hire them—and guarantees that everyone is playing by the same rules. The Senate recently passed a bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform bill would do just that – and it’s time for the House of Representations to join them in taking action to make sure that commonsense immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible.

In addition to giving a significant boost to our national economy, commonsense immigration reform will also generate important economic benefits in each state, from increasing workers’ wages and generating new tax revenue to strengthening the local industries that are the backbone of states’ economies. The new state by state reports below detail how just how immigration reform would strengthen the economy and create jobs all regions of our country.

We must take advantage of this historic opportunity to fix our broken immigration system in a comprehensive way. At stake is a stronger, more dynamic, and faster growing economy that will foster job creation, higher productivity and wages, and entrepreneurship.

STATE REPORTS

Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas
California Colorado Connecticut Delaware
Florida Georgia Hawaii  
Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa
Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine
Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota
Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska
Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico
New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio
Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island
South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas
Utah Vermont Virginia Washington
West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming  

Reprinted from The White House Blog.  For more information: