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Illinois Commits to Protect Pregnant Workers

Bene’t Holmes, a 25-year-old single mother of a five-year-old son, worked at Walmart in Chicago when she became pregnant last year. Holmes describes having trouble lifting 50-pound boxes on the job when she was four months pregnant. Walmart’s written policy at the time was to provide reasonable accommodations for disabilities and on-the-job injuries, but not for pregnancy. Holmes knew that her work was putting excessive strain on her body, and her doctor said she needed temporary job duties that would be less physically strenuous. But according to Holmes, a store manager denied her request, explaining that when she took her job, she was expected to lift 50 pounds. The day after her request was denied, Holmes had a miscarriage while at work at Walmart.

Unfortunately, Holmes’ story is not unique. Today, more women are in the workforce than ever before and are working later into their pregnancies. While most women continue working throughout their pregnancies with no need for changes in their jobs, some—particularly those in physically demanding jobs—will need temporary adjustments to continue working safely. Frequently these women need only a simple accommodation—like avoiding heavy lifting for a few months, being permitted to sit occasionally during a long workday, or staying off high ladders. Read more »

Supreme Court Case About Unionizing Home Care Workers Raises High Stakes

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t do snow days, apparently. While much of D.C. hunkered down Tuesday for our latest winter storm, the Court went on as usual, hearing oral arguments in a case that could upset years of established labor law. It could leave low-wage workers, overwhelmingly women, who provide home health care services under Illinois’ Medicaid program—and potentially other public employees—without a voice at the negotiating table. Knowing how high the stakes are, I ventured out to listen.

The case, Harris v. Quinn, addresses key questions about the unionizing of in-home care providers paid by the state of Illinois through two Medicaid programs. Here is a boiled-down version of the main issues: First, if a majority of care providers vote in favor of an exclusive bargaining representative (a union), can the state recognize and negotiate with that union? Second, can the providers who voted against unionization be required to pay a “fair share fee,” a payment that goes to cover the administrative costs of bargaining the contract that also benefits them? Read more »

States Taking the Lead on Higher Minimum Wages

It’s been a busy few weeks on the minimum wage front, as policymakers in a slew of states have moved to raise wages for low-paid workers. If you follow our blog, you already know that minimum wage increases are on the agenda in Maryland and New York – and you know that this is especially good news for women, who make up the majority of minimum wage workers in those states and across the country.

While a federal minimum wage increase – like the one proposed in the Fair Minimum Wage Act last year – is needed to boost pay for minimum wage and tipped workers throughout the U.S., it’s great to see momentum building at the state level. Here’s a quick run-down of recent developments:

  • California. A bill pending in the Assembly, AB-10, would increase the minimum wage from $8.00 per hour to $8.25 in 2014, $8.75 in 2015, and $9.25 in 2016, then adjust the wage annually for inflation beginning in 2017.
  • Connecticut. A bill pending in the Senate, S.B. 387, would raise the minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to $9.00 in July 2013 and $9.75 in July 2014, with annual indexing beginning in July 2015. NWLC’s new fact sheet shows that over 246,000 Connecticut workers would get a raise by 2014 under this proposal – and about six in ten of those workers would be women.

More Good News on the Minimum Wage: Bill Passes Illinois Senate Committee

Earlier this week, I reported that the New York Assembly passed a bill to raise the state minimum wage but Illinois postponed a Senate Executive Committee vote on a minimum wage bill. Today, I’m happy to report that I was misinformed about Illinois: the Senate Executive Committee voted on – and passed – a bill that would raise the minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to its historic high, estimated to be at least $10.65 per hour by 2014, then index the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation. The bill would also eliminate the tipped minimum cash wage of $4.95 per hour, making tipped employees entitled to the same minimum wage as other workers.

Once again, this is great news for women, who are nearly six in ten minimum wage workers in Illinois. For a mom working full time to support two kids on the minimum wage, a raise to $10.65 per hour would mean an extra $4,800 per year – enough to lift her family out of poverty. Base earnings for tipped workers who make the current minimum cash wage of $4.95 per hour would more than double. Nationally, nearly two-thirds of workers in tipped occupations are women.

A minimum wage increase would also be great news for the Illinois economy. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that raising Illinois’ minimum wage to $10.65 over four years would generate about $2.5 billion in additional economic activity and around 20,000 new jobs. More than one million Illinois workers would get a raise – 56 percent of them women. Read more »

Minimum Wage Update: Bad News in Connecticut, But Progress Still Possible

Connecticut’s legislative session ended last night at midnight. Unfortunately, the Senate did not take up the minimum wage bill that passed the House last month, so many workers struggling to get by on $8.25 an hour will have to wait until at least 2013 to get a raise. (The Senate did act at the last minute to approve a bill permitting the keeping of reindeer year-round, though, so to any Connecticut readers who always wished for Rudolph as a pet, you’re in luck!)  

But all is not lost. As I mentioned earlier this week, bills to raise the state minimum wage are still pending in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts, and an increase looks likely to be on Missouri’s ballot in November.

And in a very exciting development at the federal level today, Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Bruce Braley (D-IA) just introduced the Rebuild America Act in the House. Like its companion bill introduced by Senator Harkin, the bill would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80 per hour over three years and then index it for inflation, and would also gradually raise the minimum cash wage for tipped workers from $2.13 per hour to 70 percent of the minimum wage. Read more »

State Minimum Wage Update: Illinois Senate Executive Committee to Vote on Minimum Wage Increase

Yesterday we told you about several states in which efforts are underway to raise the minimum wage. Today’s update comes from Illinois, where the Senate Executive Committee will vote next week on a bill that would give minimum wage workers a substantial boost in pay. Nearly six in ten minimum wage workers in Illinois are women.

The Illinois bill (S.B. 1565) would gradually raise the minimum wage from its current level of $8.25 per hour to its estimated historic high, which would be $10.65 per hour, and then index the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation. S.B. 1565 also would eliminate the tipped minimum cash wage of $4.95 per hour, making tipped employees – mostly women – entitled to the same minimum wage as other workers.

Increasing the minimum wage to $10.65 per hour, an estimate of its historic high, would increase a worker’s annual earnings by $4,800 per year – enough to lift a mom with two kids out of poverty. Tipped minimum wage workers will see an even bigger increase of $11,400 per year if the bill becomes law. Since the majority of workers who would get a raise are women, S.B. 1565 could also help narrow the gender wage gap in Illinois; in 2011, the typical Illinois woman working full time was paid just 76 cents for every dollar paid to her male counterpart. Read more »

States Taking the Lead to Raise the Minimum Wage – But Time Running Out in Connecticut

I hope you saw the new infographic we posted this morning. I think it makes a pretty clear case for raising the minimum wage! Fortunately, in recent months, quite a few states have been getting the message: legislatures in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are all considering bills to increase the state minimum wage, including the minimum wage for tipped workers. And in Missouri, state advocates just delivered 175,000 signatures in support of a voter initiative that would get a minimum wage increase on the ballot in November.

As of today, the bill in Connecticut (H.B. 5291) – which passed the state House of Representatives last month – is closest to being law. At $8.25 per hour, Connecticut’s minimum wage is higher than the federal level ($7.25 per hour), but still leaves a mother with two kids more than $1,000 below the poverty line if she works full time. H.B. 5291 would raise the state minimum wage to $8.75 per hour over two years and raise the minimum cash wage for tipped workers from $5.69 to $6.04 per hour by 2015. Read more »

State of Women: NWLC Hosts State Partners in Washington, DC

The National Women’s Law Center hosted a daylong seminar in Washington, DC welcoming 18 state advocates from 10 states across the country to launch a new project, State of Women. Read more »