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Commentary

Dr. Aparna Jonnal, an Orange county physician, has a great essay over on Blue NC today that serves as an apt follow-up to Miriam Thompson’s fine op-ed that ran in Raleigh’s News & Observer last month. The subject: the societal imperative to combat poverty with living wages and the critical need for even those who wouldn’t benefit directly to join in the fight.

This is from Dr. Jonnal’s post:

“As a doctor, I learn about people’s lives in an intimate way. I can easily say that the greatest obstacle to health that I have seen is poverty. So many of my patients have been very poor, crushingly poor where they have to choose between basic necessities such as food and heat, where there is no chance for them to buy presents for their children, where they lie awake at night wondering if they will have a roof over their heads the next day. And most of them are working.

In fact, being a doctor has often been disappointing because I have to prescribe treatments that people cannot afford, and I have to treat symptoms of problems that have their roots in poverty. This is what led me to work on raising wages for working people, but this fight is a long, hard one. In my years of working toward economic justice, I have only seen the wage and wealth gap grow, and the conditions for low-wage workers plummet. I hear presidential hopefuls talking about the importance of raising wages and raising taxes on the wealthy but none of this will happen without many, many of us working toward these ends on our own.

This struggle should not fall solely upon the shoulders of low-wage working people. Ms. Thompson wisely writes that we all have ‘…the awesome responsibility to challenge the current economic environment.’ I wholeheartedly agree, and believe that the lion’s share of this responsibility is actually on the shoulders of those of us with higher paying jobs.”

Jonall concludes by asking folks of all income levels to become engaged in the Fight for 15 movement. Click here to learn more about that outstanding cause.

Commentary, News

With Thanksgiving season upon us, here’s a great event worth supporting this weekend:

Triangle Community, Farmworkers to Protest Publix, Calling on Retailer to Join White House-Backed Human Rights Program
As Publix rapidly expands throughout North Carolina, farmworkers and consumers demand an expansion of the supermarket giant’s commitment to human rights of farmworkers in their supply chain

On Sunday, November 8, at 2 pm, scores of Triangle area community members will gather with farmworkers of the internationally-recognized the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) for a protest at the Publix in Cary. They will demand that the Florida-based grocer support the human rights of farmworkers by joining the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a groundbreaking collaboration that has won the praise of human rights observers from the White House to the United Nations for its unique success in addressing decades-old farm labor abuses at the heart of the nation’s trillion-dollar food industry. Since Publix began expanding their stores into the Tar Heel State, North Carolinians have been demanding that Publix end its six-year refusal to be part of this transformative solution to decades of farmworker exploitation, most recently holding a lively picket outside of a store in Asheville this past Sunday and another action at a Charlotte Publix yesterday. This coming Sunday’s protest comes a few days after Wednesday’s free screening of the film “Food Chains” at the Raleigh Grande Theater, which focuses on the work of the CIW, exploring the exploitation of farm workers in the agriculture industry in the United States, the complicity of corporations in perpetuating human rights abuses, and the role consumers can play in working for justice.

What: Large and lively picket at Publix
When: Sunday, November 8, at 2 pm
Where: Outside of the Publix at 1020 Bradford Plaza Way, Cary
Why: Farmworkers and consumers will call on Publix to join the Fair Food Program, a social responsibility program to ensure respect for basic human rights for farmworkers in its tomato supply chain.

After decades, the CIW has fundamentally transformed the Florida tomato industry through the Fair Food Program (FFP), an historic partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and 14 multi-billion dollar tomato retailers, such as McDonald’s and Walmart. This past summer, the Fair Food Program began to expand into tomato fields up the east coast through New Jersey, including North Carolina. Participating companies require more humane labor standards from their tomato suppliers and pay one penny more per pound to improve workers’ pay, agreeing to buy only from tomato growers that are part of the Program. The FFP is ensuring human rights protections for tens of thousands of farmworkers, including required shade and water, other critical health and safety protections, and a zero tolerance policy for slavery and sexual violence. Since 2011, nearly $20 million has been distributed to farmworkers’ paychecks through the penny-per-pound premium. The Fair Food Program was heralded in the New York Times as “the best workplace monitoring program … in the US” and “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” in the Washington Post.

Commentary

In yet another round of rather remarkable hypocrisy for a group comprised of members who have repeatedly complained about the supposed problems of “state government mandates” and threats to “local control,” state lawmakers are advancing bills in  the waning days of session to seize more power in Raleigh at the expense of local governments.

Late last night, the Senate passed and sent to the House a bill that will, among other troubling things, reduce the number of forms of ID government officials, including police, can accept. In addition, IDs handed out by individual cities and embassies would no longer be recognized. WRAL has the story here.

Meanwhile, the conference committee report on a bill that was originally dealt with sex trafficking prevention, emerged yesterday with all new language that would place all new sorts of limits on local governments with respect to their ability to mandate wage standards and prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, services and accommodations. (Click here and scroll to page 8.)

As is so often the case in the General Assembly these days, the language appears to have materialized out of nowhere without discussion so it’s hard to say exactly what its effect will be. But given the recent shenanigans on Jones Street and the hostility the leaders there have displayed toward immigrants, LGBT citizens and other frequent targets of discrimination, there is reason to be very concerned. Stay tuned.

 

Commentary

In case you missed it, the North Carolina Justice Center is calling on North Carolinians to celebrate Labor Day this year by adding their names to a petition that calls for policies that promote quality jobs. Here’s the specific language:

“We, the undersigned, call on Governor McCrory to support policies that create quality jobs that boost the economy in our communities. And given that many jobs no longer provide workers with all the necessary aspects of quality employment, the Governor must recognize the necessity of policies that provide workers with the supports they are no longer receiving through work.

Specifically, we urge Governor McCrory to support the following policies aimed at creating quality jobs capable of boosting our state’s economy:

  • Raise the minimum wage to allow workers to afford the basics, make ends meet and provide for their families.
  • Allow workers to earn paid sick days and paid family medical leave so they can recover from illness, welcome the birth or adoption of a new child or care for a sick family member.
  • Promote retirement security, including access to sufficient income to retire with dignity, by establishing universal access to private retirement accounts.
  • Provide access to affordable health insurance through the expansion of Medicaid.
  • Allow workers to collectively bargain with their employers for better wages and benefits.
  • Adequately fund the pathways for skill development and career mobility in our community college system.

Let’s build a North Carolina economy that works for everyone.”

For more information and to add your name, click here.

Commentary

In case you missed it, the latest edition of the Justice Center’s “Prosperity Watch” has some less-than-encourgaing news about the “Carolina Comeback”:

With wages stagnating, the price of many necessities soars

Getting by is getting harder in North Carolina. The cost of some basic necessities are growing faster than wages in North Carolina, catching households that have to spend the bulk of their income on things like food and housing in a tightening vice. When families don’t earn enough to make ends meet, they can’t buy goods and services that provide jobs for other North Carolinians, so the entire economy slows down.

Inflation has been low over the last year or so, with some economists arguing that this should blunt concerns over wage stagnation. From the end of 2007 through July of this year, the cost of all goods and services that the average household purchases increased by 12.6%, while wages increased by almost the same amount. However, as can be seen above, the cost of essential needs like food and shelter has actually outpaced many other types of consumer goods. The price of shelter increased by 14.5% from December 2007 to mid-2015, and the cost of food went up almost 20% during that same period, growth that outpaces wages in both instances.

The practical effect of these trends is that families living in poverty are feeling the squeeze more than the average household. It should come as no surprise that low-income families are forced to spend a larger share of their income on basic necessities than their more prosperous neighbors.

For example, households in the bottom fifth of income spend 16% of their outlays on food, compared to 11% for the top income group. Households at the bottom of the income distribution spend over 40% of their budget on housing, while the top group comes in around 30%. The real world consequence of this is that poorer families have seen the cost of what they have to spend their money on go up much faster than middle of high income families.

High-level economic data can often shield the most economically vulnerable from view, masking the daily challenges that arise when wages don’t keep up with the growing costs of the basics.  Before anyone declares victory in North Carolina, we need to see wage growth that allows working people, and the economy, to make progress.