Commentary

DC leads the way on minimum wage, will NC follow?

Washington, DC took an important step forward for workers last week, joining a growing number of states and cities that have raised the minimum wage. Meanwhile, workers in North Carolina continue to wait on the General Assembly to take positive steps to raise wages.

The capital city joins 17 states that have changed their minimum-wage laws since the start of 2014. The ordinance was adopted by the District Council earlier this month and will be formally signed into law by the city’s mayor in July. The schedule puts the city’s workers on a path to $15 an hour by 2020, with a gradual, phase-in that gives businesses time to adapt. And future increases will be tied to inflation, ensuring that the minimum wage will not lose purchasing power as costs rise over time.

The legislation isn’t perfect, of course—advocates have criticized it for failing to properly address tipped workers, whose minimum wage will only rise to $5 by 2020. A higher proposal from Mayor Muriel Bowser was rejected by the council but tipped workers will still see their wage rise with inflation. Despite this gap, the law is rightfully being celebrated as a major victory by national advocates.

Unfortunately, North Carolina’s workers can only wait for their own legislators to enact a wage increase. Here in North Carolina, a win for minimum wage advocates faces enormous obstacles. The Republican-controlled legislature has not only failed to make progress on this issue but is actively dragging the state in the wrong direction. The passage of HB2 has far-reaching consequences beyond restricting LGBTQ rights, removing basic worker protections and enabling discrimination by businesses. The bill also preempts municipalities from following DC’s example and acting to boost wages for public sector contractors.

Despite the unfounded claims that raising the minimum wage will reduce employment, empirical evidence shows otherwise: substantial, recent research detect little to no impact on employment when utilizing rigorous methodology. And the benefits to vulnerable workers are well documented:

 Raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of those workers most likely to spend it. For example, boosting the wage floor to $10 an hour would affect approximately 1 million workers in North Carolina. And because of the boom in low-wage work, the vast majority of those North Carolinians benefiting from the wage increase are no longer the part-time, teen-aged workers who once filled the bulk of entry-level jobs in past generations. Now, more than 85 percent of those benefiting from a minimum wage increase are workers older than 20 years of age, and more than half work full-time.

While the recent federal overtime ruling marks a positive step for 425,000 middle-class workers in North Carolina, low-income workers have been severely neglected by state policymakers. Hopefully, the wage-boosting momentum generated by DC and other states and cities can contribute to a much-needed course change from the General Assembly.

 

Commentary

Minneapolis moves ahead of North Carolina on paid leave

The Minneapolis city council recently voted unanimously to implement an ordinance requiring businesses to offer paid sick leave. Despite numerous opportunities, the North Carolina General Assembly has not taken similar steps to let workers take paid time off when sick, welcoming the birth or adoption of a new child, or recovering from a long-term illness.

Minneapolis is now the first city in Minnesota to require employers to offer paid sick leave, marking a key victory in the Midwest for a movement that has largely been restricted to the coasts. ThinkProgress reports that the city council’s is the 31st paid sick leave law passed in the past decade. The ordinance, which goes into effect July 2017, covers nearly all employees who spend a significant amount of time working in the city. According to the MinnPost:

Under the ordinance, employees in workplaces with six or more workers would be allowed to accumulate one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, topping out at 48 hours of accrual each year. Workers could rollover unused sick leave from one year to the next until they accumulate 80 hours. That leave could be taken when the worker or a family member is sick; for physical and mental illnesses or injuries; and for medical appointments. In cases of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking, time could be taken for treatment, counseling, relocation or legal proceedings.

The city will enforce the requirements with financial penalties employers who fail to comply. However, Minneapolis’ new law is not perfect. The council’s decision to drop a provision requiring employers to give employees advance notice of schedules is particularly disappointing, given research on the benefits of fair scheduling. Additionally, the law will likely face legal challenges and may be pre-empted by Minnesota state law.

Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly a major win for the paid sick leave movement. Minneapolis officials have taken a step towards expanding paid leave and bringing the city in line with the rest of the developed world.

In North Carolina, legislative leaders have proven less supportive of these important policies, despite their popularity with voters. The Healthy Families & Workplaces/Paid Sick Days Act—legislation allowing workers to earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked—has languished in committee since it was first introduced in 2011.

More than 1.2 million private-sector workers in North Carolina cannot earn any paid sick leave. And 60% of workers earning less than $20,000 per year—those who feel the most acute effects of lost wages—lack access to paid leave. Passing even a modified version of the previously proposed legislation would grant workers the very basic flexibility required to stay healthy and take care of their families.

Minneapolis has led the way and North Carolina legislators should follow suit to provide workers the long overdue right to paid sick leave.

Commentary

A new way forward on protecting workers in the gig economy

Uber’s major settlement last month illustrates the pressing need for regulatory action in the emerging “gig economy.” And a recent speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren last week shows us the direction that regulatory action should take.

Cases brought by Uber drivers to district courts in California and Massachusetts throughout the past year have shed light on the problems that accompany the flexibility and autonomy of working in the on-demand economy. Many companies like Uber have been challenged on whether drivers are legally classified as employees of the company or as 1099 independent contractors.

This classification has far-reaching implications, since contractors are not covered by basic employee protections like minimum wage, workers compensation, health and safety rules, and collective bargaining. In particular, the ability to bring class action suits against an employer and bargain as a group has been completely eliminated by mandatory arbitration clauses in Uber drivers’ contracts. Read more