OUR Walmart announces 1,500 Black Friday protests across the country
November 27, 2013
Walmart workers and community allies today announced plans leading up to and on Black Friday, saying 1500 protests are scheduled for across the country, in what is set to be one of the largest mobilizations of working families in American history. Workers are calling for an end to illegal retaliation, and for Walmart to publicly commit to improving labor standards, such as providing workers with more full time work and $25,000 a year. As the country’s largest retailer and employer, Walmart makes more than $17 billion in profits, with the wealth of the Walton family totaling over $144.7 billion – equal to that of 42% of Americans.
“Black Friday 2013 will mark a turning point in American history,” said Dorian Warren, associate professor at Columbia University. “Fifteen hundred protests against Walmart is unprecedented. Working families are fighting back like never before – and have the support of America behind them.
Emboldened by news from Walmart CEO Bill Simon that as many as 825,000 workers are paid less than $25,000 a year, workers and supporters are calling for better jobs nationwide. Major protests are planned in more than a dozen metropolitan cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Bay Area, Seattle, Sacramento, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington, DC.
The announcement follows revelations this week that many Walmart workers don’t have enough money to cover Thanksgiving dinner for their families. A photo from a Canton, Ohio store set the internet abuzz Monday, with workers,customers and commentators pointing to a food drive set up for Walmart’s own employees as proof that the retailer pays its workers poverty wages.
“Walmart’s right that associates do stick together and look out for each other. We have to because Walmart and the Waltons seem to be fine with the financial struggles that we’re all facing,” said Barbara Gertz, a five-year Walmart employee from Colorado. “We’re are all in the same situation, one that Walmart creates by paying us poverty wages that aren’t enough to cover holiday meals. We don’t want handouts; we want an employer that pays us enough to afford Thanksgiving dinner – and dinner every night of the year.”
Workers and community supporters have been inspired by actions across the country in recent weeks. In Los Angeles, workers went on a two-day strike that culminated in the largest-ever act of civil disobedience against Walmart, and last week, workers in Seattle, Chicago, Ohio and Dallas joined them in walking off their jobs.
The strikes, which call for an end to illegal retaliation at Walmart, come as the federal labor board this week issued a decision to prosecute Walmart for widespread violations of its workers’ rights. The decision will provide additional protection for Walmart’s 1.3 million employees when they are speaking out for better jobs. The Board will prosecute Walmart’s illegal firings and disciplinary actions involving more than 117 workers, including those who went on strike last June.
With the Labor Relations Board moves forward to seek a settlement that could include the reinstatement of fired workers, a group of Walmart employees who were illegally retaliated against are traveling to Bentonville, Arkansas to call on Walmart CEO Bill Simon to reinstate them immediately. Early Fridaymorning, November 22, the fired workers will visit Home Office to urge Walmart to live up to the anti-retaliation policy it professes to follow.
“I’m traveling to Bentonville with other workers who were wrongfully fired because Walmart needs to hear from us directly: we want our jobs back, and we want you to put the anti-retaliation policy you talk about into practice,” said Jeanna Slate, a fired striker, mother and grandmother from rural Texas who is traveling to Bentonville. “Walmart makes $17 billion dollars in profits while the majority of its workers make less than $25,000 a year. Walmart can do better.”
Walmart workers have escalated their online organizing and community outreach ahead of Black Friday 2013, allowing customers and community members to join the fight for $25,000 and an end to illegal retaliation. Chicago worker Charmaine Givens-Thomas launched an online petition asking President Obama to meet with Walmart workers, which currently has more than 100,000 signers; individuals can sponsor a Walmart striker online; and a new online portal,www.associatevoices.com, allows associates to step forward and request Black Friday protests at their stores. Just weeks since the launch, the number of cities that have requested a Black Friday rally is well ahead of the number at this point in 2012.
Gary Younge: How America is killing the poor
November 4, 2013
During a discussion at the University of Michigan in 2010, the billionaire vice-chairman of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway firm, Charles Munger, was asked whether the government should have bailed out homeowners rather than banks. "You’ve got it exactly wrong," he said."There’s danger in just shovelling out money to people who say, ‘My life is a little harder than it used to be.’ At a certain place you’ve got to say to the people, ‘Suck it in and cope, buddy. Suck it in and cope.’"
But banks, he insisted, need our help. It turns out that moral hazard – the notion that those who know the costs of their failure will be borne by others will become increasingly reckless – only really applies to the working poor.
"You should thank God" for bank bailouts, Munger told his audience. "Now, if you talk about bailouts for everybody else, there comes a place where if you just start bailing out all the individuals instead of telling them to adapt, the culture dies."
In the five years since the financial crisis took hold, people have been sucking it in by the lungful and discovering how pitiful a coping strategy that is. In Michigan, the state where Munger spoke, black male life expectancy is lower than male life expectancy in Uzbekistan; in Detroit, the closest big city, black infant mortality is on a par with Syria (before the war).
As such, the crisis accelerated an already heinous trend of growing inequalities. Over a period of 18 years, America’s white working class – particularly women – have started dying younger. “Absent a war, genocide, pandemic, or massive governmental collapse, drops in life expectancy are rare,” wrote Monica Potts in the American Prospect last month. But this was a war on the poor. “Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them.”
This particular crisis, however, has also accentuated the contradictions between the claims long made for neoliberalism and the system’s ability to deliver on them. The “culture” of capitalism, to which Munger referred, did not die but thrived precisely because it was not forced to adapt, while working people – who kept it afloat through their taxes and now through cuts in public spending – struggle to survive. Given the broad framing of economic struggles in the west exacerbated by the crisis, this reality is neither new nor specific to the US. “Over the past 30 years the workers’ take from the pie has shrunk across the globe,” explains an editorial in the latest Economist. “The scale and breadth of this squeeze are striking … When growth is sluggish … workers are getting a smaller morsel of a smaller slice of a slow-growing pie.”
A few days before the bailout was passed, I quoted Lenin in these pages. He once argued: “The capitalists can always buy themselves out of any crises, as long as they make the workers pay.” What has been striking, particularly recently, has been the brazen and callous nature in which these payments have been extorted.
Last Friday, 47 million Americans had their food stamp benefits cut. These provide assistance to those who lack sufficient money to feed themselves and their families. Individuals lose $11 (£7) a month while a family of four will lose $36. That will save the public purse precious little – bombing Syria would have been far more costly – but will mean a great deal to those affected. “Before the cut, it was kind of an assumption you were going to the food bank anyway,” Lance Worth, of Washington state, told the Bellingham Herald. “I guess I’m just going to go $20 hungrier – aren’t I?”
The cut marks the lapse in stimulus package ushered in four years ago. But while the recession is officially over, the poverty it engendered remains. Government figures show one in seven Americans is food insecure. According to Gallup, in August, one in five said they have, at times during the last year, lacked money to buy food that they or their families needed. Both figures are roughly the same as when Obama was elected. This negligence will now be compounded by mendacity. Republicans propose further swingeing cuts to the food-stamp programme; Democrats suggest smaller cuts. The question is not whether the vulnerable will be hammered, but by how much.
The impetus behind these cuts are not fiscal but ideological. Republicans, in particular, claim the poor have it too easy. “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency,” claimed former Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. “That drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”
The notion that food “drains the will” while hunger motivates the ambitious would have more currency – not much, but more – if the right wasn’t simultaneously doing its utmost to drive down wages to a level where work provides no guarantee against hunger. In last week’s paper for the Economic Policy Institute, Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon, revealed the degree to which conservatives have been driving down wages, benefits and protections at a local level after their victory at the 2010 midterms.
He writes: “Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage, four lifted restrictions on child labour, and 16 imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed. With the support of the corporate lobbies, states also passed laws stripping workers of overtime rights, repealing or restricting rights to sick leave, and making it harder to sue one’s employer for race or sex discrimination.”
That’s why 40% of households on food stamps have at least one person working. And the states most aggressive in pursuing these policies, Lafer points out, had some of the smallest budget deficits in the country.
Immediately after Obama’s election in 2008, his chief of staff to be, Rahm Emmanuel, said: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” The crisis didn’t go to waste. But it is the right that has seized the opportunity. Not content with balancing the budget on the bellies of the hungry, it is also fattening the coffers of the wealthy on the backs of the poor.
Black, low-income & special needs students pushed out through suspensions & arrests, NYCLU analysis finds
November 3, 2013
Black and low-income youth and students with special needs are disproportionately suspended and arrested in New York City public schools, a new report released today by the New York Civil Liberties Union shows. The report also includes new data that links suspension patterns to the NYPD’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk practices.
“Our children’s constitutional right to an education is being undermined by the excessive NYPD role in routine matters of school discipline,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “The DOE’s overreliance on suspensions and the importation of police street tactics to the classroom are combining to force the most vulnerable youth out of school and into the criminal justice system.”
The report, A, B, C, D, STPP: How School Discipline Feeds the School-to-Prison Pipeline, documents how Bloomberg-era policy changes have dramatically increased the number of NYPD personnel and metal detectors in the schools, and how zero tolerance practices have skyrocketed.
“There is no clearer demonstration of the School to Prison Pipeline than when a disciplinary interaction between a student and police personnel leads to a student’s arrest,” said the report’s author, NYCLU Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow Samantha Pownall. “The next mayor, the DOE and the NYPD must work together to return discipline to the hands of educators, and reduce reliance on suspensions, summonses and arrests.”
Over the last decade, the suspension rate has more than doubled, from less than 29,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 in 2011. Despite small declines in recent years, dramatic disparities persist: Black students, who make up less than a third of total public school students (29 percent), served half (50 percent) of all 2010-11 suspensions. The NAACP Legal Defense fund called these policies “among the most aggressive and explicit School-to-Prison Pipeline policies in the country.”
Among the report’s findings:
- Students who live in areas where stop-and-frisk activity is high – such as East New York, Brownsville, Mott Haven, Jamaica and Harlem – are the most likely to be suspended from school (see map and Table 1).
- District 7 in the South Bronx had the highest suspension rate in the city – and also the highest enrollment of low-income students (see Table 2).
- Students with special needs are suspended twice as often as general education students.
- Black students with special needs serve 14 percent of overall suspensions, yet represent only 6 percent of total enrollment.
- White students serve only 7 percent of overall suspensions, yet make up 14 percent of total enrollment.
- During the Bloomberg administration, the number of NYPD “school safety” officers has increased by 35 percent, bringing the total to at least 5,400 officers – even though no evidence clearly links the decline of major crimes in city schools to the expanded police presence.
- Students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FLE) constitute two-thirds of New York City student population, but serve three-fourths of total suspensions.
- The racial disparities evident in the suspension data are amplified in arrests. More than 60 percent of all school arrests in New York involve black youth, who comprise less than a third of enrolled students. An arrested student is twice as likely to drop out of school — and dropouts are eight times more likely to land in jail.
Disproportionate school discipline reinforces the challenges faced by many students who are already less likely to graduate. Bloomberg’s 2003 disciplinary plan, Impact Schools, called for an immediate, consistent, response to even the most minor violation of a school’s disciplinary policy, and a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule. Such zero-tolerance policies have been widely discredited as discriminatory and ineffective. Under the mayor’s policy, a student in a school with metal detectors caught with a cell phone may be treated as if he or she has smuggled in drugs or a weapon. These zero-tolerance policies have eroded federal protections that require public schools to carefully examine the connections between disability and behavior.
Striking “for our dignity,” US fast food workers walk off the job
August 29, 2013
25 year-old Beijing Hill is a father of two infant children, and makes $7.25 at an Arby’s in Madison, Wisconsin. I asked Beijing why he was walking off his job on Thursday, when he desperately needs the hours.
“My last paycheck was $67, and I’m the father of two babies. They’re my whole world,” Beijing said, showing me the background of his phone which featured the wide-eyed smile of a small child.
“What am I gonna tell him when he walks up to me and says, ‘Daddy, can I have some new shoes?’ Am I just gonna say no, and then tell him we have to look for a new place to live because I don’t make enough at my job to pay the rent on time?”
On Thursday, August 29, thousands of fast food and low-wage workers in approximately 50 US cities are walking off the job in a massive one-day strike to protest low wages at very profitable companies. The fast food industry makes $200 billion in profits each year. McDonalds CEO Don Thompson saw his salary triple from $4.1 million to $13.8 million just between 2011 and 2013.
In the meantime, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t been raised in almost a decade. If the minimum wage kept up with inflation since the 1960s, it would be over $11 an hour. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out further that if the minimum wage had kept up with worker productivity in that same period, it would be over $22 an hour today.
For a family of four to be considered in poverty, that household has to make less than $23,000 a year, according to federal poverty standards. A minimum wage earner’s annual income currently falls short of the federal poverty line by more than $5,000.
Take Amber, who works at a Dollar Tree in Madison and makes $7.25 an hour. Her last pay stub shows she earned just $104 in the last pay period. Because rent is so high and wages are so low, Amber is homeless during the week and rotates from shelter to shelter on the weekends. I interviewed her at the Hawthorne Branch of the Madison Public Library. During our interview, Amber’s 8-month-old daughter, Maria, had just walked down a set of steps for the first time in her life. Amber was watching from the corner of her eye while we spoke and started to cry tears of joy.
“If I could, I’d like to work with children someday. I’d be a teacher, as long as the kids were young enough that they wouldn’t give me too much trouble,” Amber said after I asked what her dream job would be. “But it’s hard enough just finding a place to stay at night and finding people to watch Maria when I’m at work.”
22-year-old Meghan Ford is in a similar predicament. Her job at Dunkin’ Donuts pays just $8.25 an hour. That low wage combined with rising costs of everything else are hindering her abilities to use the college degree she earned – with $20,000 in loans to pay off as a result.
Critics of the fast food and retail workers’ strikes say those low-paying jobs are historically meant for people in transition, or for those who lack the necessary education. Meghan, who wants to move to Chicago but lacks the financial means to do so, says that’s a myth.
“I’ve got a bachelor’s degree in political science, with a minor in sociology,” Ford said. “How am I supposed to realize the American Dream when I don’t even make enough to buy food? I eat one meal a day. I live with roommates and even then 90% of my paycheck still goes to rent. I work hard for a very profitable company. I deserve to be treated with respect just like anybody else.”
At least 80% of Americans will have or have had to experience poverty at some point in their lives, according to a recent survey. And demographics show that fast food workers are actually much older than the average high-school student – the average fast food worker is 28, and two-thirds are women with children, providing for families on a wage far below the poverty line with no benefits or collective bargaining rights. In the meantime, with $27 billion in annual revenue, McDonalds makes enough money to be the world’s 90th largest economy.
18-year-old Gage, a father of two and a shift manager at the same Dunkin’ Donuts where Meghan Ford works, had the day off when I interviewed him at his home. He had just gotten done working a “triple-shift” – from 10am Saturday to 4pm Sunday, taking one hour in between those 30 to sleep in the back office. Gage said his superiors told him he was “letting down the Dunkin’ corporation” when he took a weekend off to visit family in his hometown of Chicago while his wife, who also works at Dunkin’ Donuts, stayed home and watched their children.
“It’s not just the one store I work at. Thousands of people at thousands of stores are being treated this same way,” Gage said. “If I was paid $15 an hour, I’d feel lucky to work at Dunkin’ and would make sure the donuts were put in the bag right side up, that the coffee was made right, and take pride in what I do. All I’m asking for is to be treated like a human being.”
One article that has gained viral attention pointed out that McDonalds could double its workers’ wages and offset those costs by raising the price of a Big Mac by 68 cents. Another article from Business Insider made the bolder argument that McDonalds could simply adapt a more benevolent corporate policy and double workers’ wages while still making $5.5 billion in profit instead of $8.5 billion. Workers could share in the enormous profits that their labor makes possible, and company shareholders would still see dividends.
When I asked Beijing Hill why he believes he deserves $15 an hour for the work he does, he said it came down to a matter of mutual respect.
“We come to work on time, do what the manager says, and help make money for a billion-dollar company. If we all walk out, they don’t make that money. So all we want is that equal respect. We help them, now they have to help us,” Beijing said. “We’re striking because we need to show these companies that we’re through playing around.”
Photo from last month’s fast food workers strike rally in Union Square, NYC via TPR
July 28, 2013
Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.
Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor and loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.
The findings come as President Barack Obama tries to renew his administration’s emphasis on the economy, saying in recent speeches that his highest priority is to “rebuild ladders of opportunity” and reverse income inequality.
Hardship is particularly on the rise among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families’ economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy “poor.”
"I think it’s going to get worse," said Irene Salyers, 52, of Buchanan County, Va., a declining coal region in Appalachia. Married and divorced three times, Salyers now helps run a fruit and vegetable stand with her boyfriend, but it doesn’t generate much income. They live mostly off government disability checks.
"If you do try to go apply for a job, they’re not hiring people, and they’re not paying that much to even go to work," she said. Children, she said, have "nothing better to do than to get on drugs."
While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in government data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.
The gauge defines “economic insecurity” as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.
"It’s time that America comes to understand that many of the nation’s biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position," said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor who specializes in race and poverty.
He noted that despite continuing economic difficulties, minorities have more optimism about the future after Obama’s election, while struggling whites do not.
"There is the real possibility that white alienation will increase if steps are not taken to highlight and address inequality on a broad front," Wilson said.
Sometimes termed “the invisible poor” by demographers, lower-income whites are generally dispersed in suburbs as well as small rural towns, where more than 60 percent of the poor are white. Concentrated in Appalachia in the East, they are also numerous in the industrial Midwest and spread across America’s heartland, from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma up through the Great Plains.
More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.
Still, while census figures provide an official measure of poverty, they’re only a temporary snapshot. The numbers don’t capture the makeup of those who cycle in and out of poverty at different points in their lives. They may be suburbanites, for example, or the working poor or the laid off.
In 2011 that snapshot showed 12.6 percent of adults in their prime working-age years of 25-60 lived in poverty. But measured in terms of a person’s lifetime risk, a much higher number — 4 in 10 adults — falls into poverty for at least a year of their lives.
The risks of poverty also have been increasing in recent decades, particularly among people ages 35-55, coinciding with widening income inequality. For instance, people ages 35-45 had a 17 percent risk of encountering poverty during the 1969-1989 time period; that risk increased to 23 percent during the 1989-2009 period. For those ages 45-55, the risk of poverty jumped from 11.8 percent to 17.7 percent.
By race, nonwhites still have a higher risk of being economically insecure, at 90 percent. But compared with the official poverty rate, some of the biggest jumps under the newer measure are among whites, with more than 76 percent enduring periods of joblessness, life on welfare or near-poverty.
By 2030, based on the current trend of widening income inequality, close to 85 percent of all working-age adults in the U.S. will experience bouts of economic insecurity.
I really don’t care for the focus on poor whites in this piece. Although the biggest increase is among whites, people of color have always had a larger guarantee of living in near or at the poverty line.
But the main point is this: “Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent…nonwhites still have a higher risk of being economically insecure at 90 percent.”
Workers to protest low pay and wage theft at federal buildings
July 2, 2013
A group representing service employees has organized a morning of demonstrations and civil disobedience at various locations throughout the capital on Tuesday to protest low pay and reported wage theft by vendors at federal buildings.
Good Jobs Nation, which represents low-wage employees of government contractors, plans to start the day with a mock trial in an intersection near the Ronald Reagan Building, according to organizers.
The group also plans to hold a press conference at D.C.’s municipal headquarters and “protests, civil disobedience” near the General Services Administration building.
Last week, Good Jobs Nation filed a complaint with the Labor Department alleging wage theft by food vendors contracting with GSA. The group claims that eight franchises operating at the Reagan Building have paid employees less than the minimum wage and ignored rules on overtime pay.
The Labor Department is investigating the allegations, according to an agency spokesperson.
At D.C.’s municipal headquarters, district council members Kenyan McDuffie and Tommy Wells are scheduled to join low-wage workers and clergy in calling on President Obama to issue an executive order that would require federal contractors to pay a “living wage.”
Good Jobs Nation said it represents the interests of more than 2 million low-wage employees who work for government contractors — doing anything from greeting visitors and selling memorabilia to driving trucks and making military uniforms. The group claims the federal government has created more low-wage jobs than Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, based on research from the Demos advocacy group.
“Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts, grants, loans, concession agreements, and property leases to large, profitable corporations that pay their CEOs millions in salaries and bonuses but pay their workers such low wages that they are unable to afford basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent,” Good Jobs Nation said in a statement.
Trade Center Management Associates, the firm that manages the Reagan Building, said in a statement last week that it would take appropriate action if the Labor Department determines that food vendors in the facility have violated federal guidelines.
Good Jobs Nation held its first demonstration in May (see above photos), when service workers at federal buildings walked off the job to protest low wages. The group also staged a protest last Tuesday, when it delivered the complaint with the Labor Department.
When there’s a fee to get your pay: Pre-paid payroll card fees mean paying up for getting paid
June 25, 2013
In the years since the financial crisis struck in 2008, it’s often been pointed out that gains for bankers have gone hand in hand with losses for workers. But few cases provide a better example of just how direct that relationship can be than that of Natalie Gunshannon, who says her employer put her in a situation that forced her to pay fees to one of the big banks just to access her wages.
Gunshannon, of Dallas Township, Penn., filed a class action lawsuit this week against a McDonald’s franchise where she worked, claiming that she and other workers were paid not through check or direct deposit, but through a pre-paid JPMorgan Chase debit card. Along with her card, her lawsuit alleges, she received a list of fees she’d incur when she used it: $1.50 for ATM withdrawals; $5 for over-the-counter cash withdrawals; $1 per balance inquiry; 75 cents for online bill pay and $15 if she lost the card or had it stolen from her.
“I need to receive all the money I earn,” Gunshannon, who was being paid around $7.44 an hour,told a local newspaper. “I can’t afford to lose even a few dollars per paycheck. I just think people should be paid fairly and not have to pay fees to get their wages.”
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Mike Cefalo of Cefalo & Associates and provided to In These Times by the firm, alleges that the cards violate the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Act, which provides that “Wages shall be paid in lawful money of the United States or check.” The suit further alleges that the fees reduce the actual wages workers receive—in some cases bringing them below minimum wage, which in Pennsylvania remains at the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour.
The lawsuit also notes that managerial employees were paid by regular direct deposit; only hourly workers were stuck with the cards and the fees.
In a statement, Albert and Carol Mueller, the owners of the McDonald’s in question, said that they could not comment on the case, and added, “We are committed to providing them the best possible work environment so [employees] can deliver the fast, reliable service that our customers expect.” (McDonald’s Corporation did not return a request for comment.)
These “payroll cards,” which after being loaded with wages work like a regular debit card, are growing increasingly popular as companies look for alternatives to paper checks and payroll services. Like most debit cards, payroll cards can be used to purchase goods, or they can be used to make withdrawals from banks or ATMs. JPMorgan Chase is one of several banking companies, including Bank of America and U.S. Bank, that offer them.
JPMorgan’s website touts its “Prepaid Card Solutions” as an efficient and cost-effective way to pay employees, calling them a “direct deposit alternative for unbanked and underserved employees.” Cost-effective, apparently, for the employer—who transfers the cost of the service to the workers themselves. As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—the government office founded by Elizabeth Warren to inform consumers of their rights when dealing with financial products—explains, employers make arrangements with the financial institution as to the terms of the cards, including “any fees that may be charged to [the employee].”
According to the CFPB, employers “typically” offer the card as one of several payment options and advise employees who opt for the payroll card to read the terms and conditions carefully. But according to Gunshannon’s lawsuit, when she asked if she could be paid another way, she was told, “If you don’t activate the card, there is no way for us to pay you.” She quit, and called a lawyer.
Connecticut on its way to enact the “Homeless Bill of Rights”
June 12, 2013
Connecticut is on the cusp of enacting a major new law to protect people who are homeless from discrimination.
Last week, Connecticut lawmakers passed the “Homeless Person’s Bill Of Rights” at the literal 11th hour — 11:30pm on June 5th, one half hour before the legislative session ended. The bill, SB 896, a landmark piece of legislation to protect homeless individuals’ rights, adds homeless people as a protected class who can’t be discriminated against in employment, housing, or public accommodations. It also includes protections for homeless people to move freely in public spaces, such as parks and sidewalks, without being singled out for harassment by law enforcement officers.
Here are the bill’s seven protections:
(1) Move freely in public spaces, including on public sidewalks, in public parks, on public transportation and in public buildings without harassment or intimidation from law enforcement officers in the same manner as other persons;
(2) Have equal opportunities for employment;
(3) Receive emergency medical care;
(4) Register to vote and to vote;
(5) Have personal information protected;
(6) Have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property; and
(7) Receive equal treatment by state and municipal agencies.
This is no symbolic victory, Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, explained. “Homeless people are regularly discriminated against in employment and housing,” Stoops told ThinkProgress.
Nate Fox, Project Supervisor for Faces Of Homelessness Connecticut, a group that advocated for the bill, hailed its passage. “Currently, there are certain civil liberties that could be automatically wiped out when you walked into a homeless shelter,” Fox told ThinkProgress. This bill not only fixes that unintended side effect of shelters and other homeless services, it’s also “changed the conversation on how to protect homeless persons’ rights,” Fox said.
The bill now awaits Gov. Dan Malloy’s (D) signature before it can take effect at its scheduled date of October 1, 2013. It will not only play a major role in preventing discrimination against homeless people; it could also have an effect on municipalities like Hartford which currently have anti-loitering and anti-panhandling ordinances.
If it ultimately becomes law, Connecticut will become just the second state in the nation to enact a Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights. Last year, Rhode Island became the first state to do so. Illinois could increase the number to three if Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signs a bill which passed the legislature recently, and other states like Oregon and Delaware are considering similar legislation.
A Homeless Bill of Rights is also pending in California. Last month the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee approved the legislation but the Appropriations Committee put it on hold until January 2014.
With the regular harassment homeless people in California (especially those living on Skid Row) & in other states face, this kind of Bill of Rights legislation could help protect basic human rights like the freedom of movement, healthcare & employment.