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Maryland's Fair Employment Preservation Act Would Restore Strong Protections from Harassment

Sexual harassment remains a pervasive problem in the American workplace, with one in four women reporting being harassed on the job. Yet, in 2013, in Vance v. Ball State University, a narrow 5-to-4 majority of the Supreme Court watered down workplace protections from harassment. On Wednesday, the Maryland House Committee on Health and Government Oversight considered the Fair Employment Preservation Act (HB 42, SB 527)—a bill introduced by Delegate Rosenberg and Senator Raskin that would restore the strong protections from harassment that workers need. Adaku was there to testify for NWLC in support of this important legislation. Read more »

Maryland House Committee Holds Hearing on the Right to Earn Paid Sick Days

Today, the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee is having a hearing on the Healthy Working Families Act of 2015, which would provide Maryland workers with the right to earn paid sick days. NWLC submitted testimony in support of this important bill. Read more »

Listen Up: States Continue to Pave the Way on Minimum Wage Hikes

 With public polling showing remarkably strong support for increasing the minimum wage, legislators around the country are pushing to raise the wage – and they’re making it happen. We’re only nine days into April, and already, this month is one for the history books. Here are some highlights of what’s happening in the states:

  • Just last week, West Virginia’s governor signed into law a bill that will boost wages for 120,000 West Virginians. The minimum wage is now set to rise from $7.25 to $8.75 by 2016. Women make up about two-thirds [PDF] of the state’s minimum wage workers.
  • On Monday, Maryland’s legislature sent a bill to the governor to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by 2018, making the Free State only the second state to set the $10.10 figure called for in the pending federal Fair Minimum Wage Act. (Connecticut beat Maryland to become the first state with a $10.10 minimum wage last month.) Gov. Martin O’Malley has announced he’ll sign the bill, and for the state’s minimum wage workers – more than six in ten of whom are women – an increase can’t come soon enough. 

More States and Localities Move to Raise the Minimum Wage as President Calls for a Nationwide Increase

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the holiday shopping season is officially in full swing. But while some of us retreat to the internet to avoid frenzied shoppers at the mall, the season is far more stressful for many of the workers restocking store shelves and serving meals in the food court (and not just because they have to deal with swarms of cranky customers). For millions of employees in retail, fast food, and other industries that pay poverty-level wages, the end of the year means hard work and higher expenses – without any chance of a holiday bonus.

As Paul Krugman points out in the New York Times this week, the inflation-adjusted wages of nonsupervisory workers in retail have fallen almost 30 percent over the past four decades. That drop parallels the declining value of the federal minimum wage, which is just $7.25 per hour today; if it had kept up with inflation since reaching its peak in 1968, it would be over $10.70 per hour by now. In another recent piece for the New York Times, Professor Arindrajit Dube notes that this “erosion of the minimum wage has been an important contributor to wage inequality, especially for women” (who make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the U.S.); in fact, “the evidence suggests that around half of the increase in inequality in the bottom half of the wage distribution since 1979 was a result of falling real minimum wages.”

Fortunately, there’s movement on the minimum wage in a number of states and localities – and even some encouraging signs nationally. Today, in a major speech on economic mobility, President Obama renewed his call to raise the minimum wage. Recognizing the link between the low minimum wage and widening economic inequality, he described an increase as a key piece of an agenda to restore opportunity for all. Read more »

Several States Boost Early Care and Education Funding

A number of states have taken important steps forward this year to expand access to high-quality early learning programs, according to a new National Women's Law Center fact sheet. While some states' budgets are still being debated, at least sixteen have already increased funding for child care and early education, and at least another eight are considering proposals for additional funding. 

Progress was made in a wide spectrum of states, including both states already providing substantial support for early care and education as well as states that had not previously made significant investments in this area. Indiana and Mississippi, which had been among the ten states that did not fund prekindergarten programs, established new prekindergarten programs, with Indiana investing $2 million and Mississippi investing $3 million. Michigan increased funding for its existing prekindergarten program by $65 million (60 percent), which will be used to serve at least 10,000 more children. 

A few states acted to enable more families to receive help paying for child care. Maryland has reduced the number of children on the waiting list for child care assistance from over 17,000 in 2012 to just 76 a year later. North Dakota increased its income eligibility limit for child care assistance from 50 percent to 85 percent of state median income (the maximum allowed under federal law) and provided funding to raise reimbursement rates for child care providers and to support grants for child care facilities and other efforts to increase the supply and quality of care. 

However, the news is not all good. Two states significantly reduced families’ access to child care assistance, and two additional states are considering cuts to child care and early education programs. Read more »

A Step Forward For Pregnant Workers: Maryland Passes Bill Requiring Reasonable Accommodations

Peggy Young, a pregnant UPS driver in Maryland, brought a doctor’s note to her employer stating that she could not lift more than 20 lbs. Her employer refused to honor the restriction—saying that light duty was only available to other classes of workers such as those injured on the job, those with disabilities recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and those who had lost their commercial driver’s licenses. Peggy Young sued for pregnancy discrimination and lost; the courts held that she wasn’t comparable to those workers who UPS accommodated.

If Ms. Young were seeking her accommodation today, the story might be much different. That’s because earlier today the Maryland governor just signed into law the Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers Act. Maryland’s law addresses a misreading of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires employers to treat pregnant workers the same as those “similar in their ability or inability to work.” Unfortunately, many courts around the country have held, like in Ms. Young’s case, that, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant workers are not similar to workers in these other categories. As a result, many pregnant women in Maryland and around the country have been denied minor and inexpensive accommodations, forced onto unpaid leave, been fired, or had to continue to do tasks that posed risk to their pregnancies, even while workers with comparable limitations have been accommodated.

Similar to the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, a bill proposed on the federal level the Center has written about many times before, Maryland’s new law takes the comparator issue off the table and simply requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant-related disabilities as long as such accommodations do not present an undue hardship to the employer. Read more »

New York Raises Its Minimum Wage (For a Price) and the Fight Continues in Other States

There’s a lot to report on the minimum wage today, but I’ll start with the biggest news: the New York legislature has approved the state’s 2013-2014 budget, which includes a minimum wage increase. Specifically, the minimum wage will rise from $7.25 to $8.00 per hour on December 31, 2013, to $8.75 one year later, and $9.00 on December 31, 2015.

This is good news for minimum wage workers in New York, nearly two-thirds of whom are women. But the phased-in minimum wage increase in the budget is weaker than the increase that the state Assembly passed just a few weeks ago, which would have raised New York’s minimum wage to $9.00 per hour in one step in January 2014, then indexed the wage annually to keep up with inflation. The budget also drops a provision in the Assembly-passed bill that would have raised the minimum cash wage for tipped food service workers from $5.00 to $6.21 per hour, but it does provide a path to an increase for these workers by authorizing the labor commissioner to have a wage board examine the adequacy of New York’s tipped minimum wage, then issue an order to raise the wage. Read more »

Pregnant Workers Get New Protections in Maryland

Great news! Yesterday, a bill that will protect pregnant workers who need workplace accommodations passed in Maryland. This victory is due to the hard work of local advocates, especially the ACLU of Maryland. Now, when pregnant workers in Maryland need a simple accommodation to be able to continue to work safely – for example, a stool to sit on, or more frequent bathroom breaks – they will have clear-cut legal protection from being forced onto unpaid leave or even terminated. We have already seen the success of laws like these in protecting pregnant workers in states like California. Plus, experience shows accommodating pregnant workers, like accommodating individuals with disabilities, can be good for the bottom line. As a Maryland resident, I am very proud of my state. Read more »

Good News for Maryland Women: Minimum Wage Increase to Be Introduced

Remember when a hot dog and a soda cost 39 cents? Yeah, neither do we.

We all know that restaurant prices rise nearly every year with inflation. The cost of everything from groceries to gas to rent rises, too. But many workers have not seen their wages rise in years, leaving them straining to make ends meet on paychecks that keep getting smaller relative to the cost of living.

For our neighbors in Maryland, the minimum wage is stuck at $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum, and the minimum cash wage for tipped workers is woefully low at $3.63 per hour (though higher than the federal floor of $2.13 per hour). If the minimum wage had risen with inflation over the past several decades, it would be close to $10.60 per hour today. But neither the minimum wage nor the tipped minimum wage is linked to inflation in Maryland, so the purchasing power of these extremely low wages erodes further each year.

Today, full-time minimum wage earnings in Maryland amount to just $14,500 annually – more than $3,600 below the federal poverty line for a mom with two children. Women represent over 60 percent of the workers struggling to get by on the minimum wage in Maryland, and people of color are disproportionately represented among the minimum wage workforce as well.

But there is good news on the horizon. Maryland lawmakers are about to introduce a bill to gradually raise the Maryland minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.00 per hour, set the tipped minimum wage at 70 percent of the minimum wage, and index both wages to keep pace with inflation. Read more »

In Rehearing Maryland Crisis Pregnancy Center Cases, the Fourth Circuit can Reverse Decisions that Threaten Women’s Health

Last Thursday, the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in two cases concerning laws that would require Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC) to disclose factual information about the services they offer.

Earlier this year, a divided three judge panel struck down a law in Baltimore, Maryland that required CPCs to post disclaimers in waiting rooms stating that they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control services and a law in Montgomery County, Maryland that required CPCs to disclose that they do not have licensed medical professionals on staff and that the county encourages women who may be pregnant to consult with licensed medical personnel. Judge Robert King dissented in both cases. Read more »