Our values: Opportunity, equal opportunity, fairness, fair share, justice, level playing field
Our vision: Our economic system is unfair because the rules are rigged to favor the rich and powerful over the middle class and working families. We need to ensure that lower-level jobs provide at least a living wage and that middle-class jobs support a middle-class standard of living. Four policies are fundamental, laws that: (1) set a floor on wages for different types of work; (2) guarantee a minimum set of job benefits; (3) ensure that hiring and retention processes are fair; and (4) protect the right to collective bargaining in order to secure for workers a fair share of the profits.
Between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Reagan Administration, the wages of average American workers rose at the same rate as nationwide productivity. But since then, wages have stagnated and nearly all new wealth has been captured by the rich. Recently, over a dozen states and localities have responded by raising the minimum wage. Seven states have the same minimum wage for tipped workers as everyone else, which is a matter of simple justice. State and local jurisdictions have also implemented a living wage for government employees and contractors. Although it’s not yet been attempted, it is entirely possible to dissuade employers from paying a poverty-level wage through a surtax on large businesses like Walmart that pay workers so little that they have to rely on public-assistance programs.
American workers used to take for granted that their jobs would include fair benefits like health insurance, sick days and paid vacation. Today, progressives have to fight for every benefit. Recently, states and cities have mandated paid sick leave, while others have set up family leave systems or required overtime pay. California also created a program that helps workers set up retirement accounts.
Because of the unsteady economy and the lack of union representation, employers are using more and more arbitrary and unfair tactics against both job applicants and existing employees. Some employers have demanded that job applicants or employees give them their social network usernames and passwords, or “friend” the employer, or submit to credit checks, or disclose arrest or criminal histories when those are irrelevant to the job, and progressive governments have stepped in to stop these practices.
Although public policy can require a series of minimum wages and benefits, that is no substitute for collective bargaining. Only labor unions can insist that workers receive a fair share of a company’s profits that their hard work creates. While this is mostly a federal issue, states and localities can ensure that their own employees have the right to bargain collectively, expand collective bargaining rights for specific types of jobs, and prohibit public funds from being used to influence union organizing.
FEATURED POLICIES FOR 2021
Americans overwhelmingly support an increase in the minimum wage, even when that minimum has been increased in prior years. This is because average Americans understand that the current minimum wage is too low to keep families out of poverty. They also understand that when workers are paid a very low wage, that taxpayers make up the difference in social programs like Medicaid and CHIP. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the minimum wage, adjust it annually for inflation, and apply it equally to tipped employees. Localities that lack the power to affect the minimum wage can still enact a Living Wage Act to ensure that government contractors provide their employees with appropriate wages and benefits.
Wage theft is an epidemic among low-wage workers. Wage theft leads to poverty and homelessness. Although it’s usually already illegal, low-wage workers are the least able to enforce their rights. They often don’t have the knowledge or resources to obtain legal help, and they fear retaliation if they try to demand what they deserve. These workers need new legislation with tougher penalties and realistic enforcement mechanisms so they will have both the incentive to report wage theft and the confidence that the system will protect them.
It is not unusual for employers to require a non-compete clause in employment contracts when the employee is highly-paid and develops highly-specialized, marketable knowledge through his or her employment. But in recent years, employers in service industries have begun to impose non-compete clauses on low-wage, low-skill employees, such as fast food workers. This is unreasonable and makes it easier for such employers to exploit their workers. The Protection Against Unfair Non-Compete Clauses Act makes it illegal to insert a non-compete clause into the employment contract of a lower-wage worker.
Nondisclosure agreements are very common in business and it is widely accepted that such agreements are appropriate for a business to maintain its trade secrets. However, it has become fairly common for businesses to broaden nondisclosure clauses to cover more than trade secrets, including forbidding employees from making any critical comments that could harm the company’s or the company executives’ business reputation. Employment contracts should be explicitly prohibited from including nondisclosure for sexual harassment.
Require paid sick leave
Nearly 40 percent of private sector workers and nearly 80 percent of the lowest-income workers do not earn any paid sick time at all. When employees are compelled to come to work when sick, it’s obviously bad for employees while simultaneously a public health risk to customers. The Paid Sick Leave Act would provide that all employees accrue a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for a certain number of hours worked, with reasonable restrictions. Polls consistently demonstrate that such legislation is overwhelmingly popular across regions and parties.
Ban the box
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an increasing number of federal, state and local governments required employees and contractors to submit to criminal background checks. In recent years, private employers have also demanded criminal history checks of both job applicants and existing employees. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimated that 65 million Americans—or one in four adults—have a criminal record that may show up on a routine background check. A number of jurisdictions have passed legislation to remove conviction history questions from job applications—a measure commonly known as “ban the box.” Generally, “ban the box” laws allow employers to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history some time after the job application or initial interview.
Prohibit questions of salary history
The practice of an employer asking a prospective employee for his or her salary history tends to perpetuate gaps in pay that disproportionately impact women and people of color. There is no need for employers to know a prospective employee’s salary history in order to negotiate a fair wage; in fact, fairness depends on the job and the skills that the employee brings to the position, and not at all on salary history. The Salary History Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits such questions.
Ban credit checks by employers
Nearly half of employers now require job applicants to consent to a credit check and sometimes current employees are asked to do the same. And yet, credit checks are not designed as an employment screening tool and there is no research that suggests people with poor credit reports become poor employees. In fact, bad credit scores may be due to injury or illness, the Great Recession, identity theft, or simple reporting mistakes. That’s why several states and cities have enacted laws to forbid employers from conducting credit checks on workers or job applicants.