First the good news: The DC living wage bill, a measure that would force certain big-box retailers to pay a living wage of at least $12.50 per hour, was recently passed by the DC city council.
Next the better news: Wal-Mart stridently objected to the living wage bill — actually issuing DC councilmembers with an ultimatum: kill the bill or Wal-Mart would halt construction of three of its six planned stores.
Why is this good news? Well, for starters, Wal-Mart stores tend to bring many difficulties into local communities, including fewer small businesses, poverty wages, and a higher taxpayer burden.
The bad news is the bill isn’t out of the woods yet — DC Mayor Vincent Gray, who has the power to veto the bill, is being urged to shut the whole thing down by other mega-retailers such as Target and Home Depot.
We spoke with DC Council Member Vincent Orange on why he’s taken a leadership position on the living wage bill, his thoughts on the possibility of a veto and his personal vision for DC’s economy.
Green America / Martha van Gelder: What kind of responses to the bill have you gotten from your constituents?
DC Councilmember Vincent Orange: I’ve gotten good response — [voters] want us to stay strong and keep pushing the living wage bill. We’re going to see if we can get a ninth vote of support so we can override the mayor if he vetoes it.
Martha: How hard is it to live in Washington, DC on minimum wage?
Orange: DC is the ninth most expensive city to live in – our expenses are 42% higher than the average US city. The housing market has doubled in cost. It is extremely difficult to live off of $8.25 per hour, which comes to a yearly salary of about $17,000.00.
Martha: You‘ve noted that 1,000 people are moving to DC each month — and that you want to make sure the people who were here during the bad times get to stay for the good times. What are your plans for making that happen?
Orange: By ensuring the entities that are coming to town are providing good jobs, jobs that citizens can utilize to purchase a home and have a good quality of life without government assistance – people shouldn’t have a full-time job and yet rely on the government to provide food stamps, and housing assistance, where your kids have to get reduced fare lunches. DC residents should have full-time jobs where you can stand on your own.
We do not believe at this point that Wal-Mart is offering that kind of job. What Wal-Mart does is they pay poverty wages and shift the social cost to Government and the tax payers of DC.
Martha: If Wal-Mart doesn’t represent your ideal DC employer, what is your vision for DC’s economy?
Orange: My vision includes implementing policy that consists of the ability to earn a living wage, have affordable housing, affordable health care, and quality education. Then our citizens can prosper. We would like more partners like Costco who are paying an average of $21 per hour. 84% of DC Costco employees are DC residents. That is the kind of company we want to grow and prosper with.
Want to learn more?
In the last issue of the Green American magazine, we explore the question of whether “made in the USA” means sweatshop-free. We found that it doesn’t — and Wal-Mart’s labor practices are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the mistreatment of workers in the US.
How can you ensure your dollars aren’t supporting worker abuse? Subscribe to our magazine, sign up for our free e-newsletter, or read up on the “Fair Labor at Home” tips from the latest issue of our magazine.
Most likely shadowy factories in faraway places like China or Bangladesh, where workers are packed into small spaces with their machinery, breathing in dust-filled air and working 14- to 18-hour days for poverty-level wages. Anyone who has ever read about sweatshops knows that abusive working conditions are the norm in such places.
But they’re “over there,” not here in America, right? With our better labor and environmental laws, surely sweatshop conditions don’t occur on US soil?
It’s a popular myth that even the most knowledgeable Green Americans may believe. In fact, after Green America’s online editor Andrew Korfhage posted a link to a story on the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh back in April, one commenter urged people to buy “Made in the USA” to avoid purchasing from companies that do business with sweatshops.
If only it were that easy. Unfortunately, worker abuse—horrific, inhuman worker abuse—does occur in the US, and it’s more prevalent than you think.
“Fair Labor at Home,” the July/August issue of the Green American covers in-depth how workers in US restaurants, farm fields, domestic labor situations, and workplaces tied to national corporations like Walmart, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s are regularly subjected to sweaetshop-style working conditions. Because they may still be learning English or may be unfamiliar with US labor laws, recent immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are among the most exploited workers in the country, enduring wage theft, dangerous working conditions, discrimination, and even physical assaults.
In 2012, student guest workers from Latina America and Asia on J-1 cultural visas won a settlement against McDonald’s, which agreed to pay them $213,000 in stolen wages and $141,000 for health and safety violations the students endured in the workplace.
Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), a coalition of workers at US warehouses in Walmart’s supply chain, has, to date, recovered over $700,000 in stolen wages through lawsuits against Walmart-contracted warehouse companies, with more suits pending. The majority of the workers are people of color, says WWJ’s Leah Fried, with up to half of them being immigrants.
And farmworkers picking tomatoes for Wendy’s say the company isn’t doing enough to protect workers from abuse and assault, and it hasn’t raised its wages of 50 cents per 32-pound bucket of tomatoes for 30 years. Almost all of the top fast food chains in the country have signed onto the Fair Food Program—an agreement spearheaded by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in which they agree to pay a penny per pound premium to tomato pickers and implement real protections for workers. Wendy’s, however, is the lone holdout.
The “Fair Labor at Home” Green American has more details on each of these cases. But imagine our editors’ surprise (not really) when, as we sent the issue to the printer, news broke that 7-11 was being investigated for luring more than 50 Pakistani immigrants into the country to work for 14 7-11 stores in New York and Virginia. Upon their arrival, the workers had to put in 100-hour workweeks (That’s right—at least 14-hour workdays.). In addition, they were forced to live in employer-owned boarding houses and had “rent” money deducted from their paychecks. In fact, the money that was left over was so miniscule that the New York Times referred to the scheme as a “modern-day plantation system.” The federal government is also investigating allegations that the 7-11 employers stole additional, “substantial” money from the workers’ paychecks.
The 7-11 franchise owners also stand accused of committing identity theft to give the workers false identifications and conceal their trafficking scheme. The 7-11 corporation did little to monitor the situation, even though its records showed that stores in two different states had several workers with the same name and Social Security number on their employee rolls.
7-11 stores in at least seven other states are under federal investigation for similar trafficking and labor violations.
As we noted in the Green American, “The immigrant rights movement is not about handouts, but about ensuring that every US immigrant’s situation is handled fairly and with compassion—and that exploitation of this vulnerable worker population comes to an end.”
For the next four weeks, join the Green America editorial staff every Tuesday and Thursday as we blog about worker rights in the US.
As a regular featured speaker at our Chicago Green Festivals, Solar Service, Inc. owner Brandon Leavitt enjoys seeing his customers from 36 years of Chicagoland solar installations drop by to say hello.
“We’ve counted more than a dozen of our customers at the shows, some of them clients from 30 years ago whose solar systems are still going strong,” says Brandon. We asked him to tell us more about his first solar installation and about his inspiration to start his solar company…
Green America: What does your business do and what are your most popular products?
Brandon Leavitt: Solar Service designs and installs both solar PV and solar heat and hot water systems for new and existing residential, commercial, municipal and multi-family buildings in the Chicago area. Today, our most popular products are multi-family solar hot water systems and residential and commercial grid connected PV.
What makes Solar Service green?
Brandon: Obviously, by selling and promoting the use of renewable energy systems we are a green business at our core. Also, Our solar thermal panels are made in Florida and Minnesota. The solar storage tanks are manufactured in the USA. The vast majority of our PV panels are produced and/or assembled in the USA. We have never purchased PV panels made in China.
We are a ’family friendly’ company where our employees’ needs for flexible work time are respected. We have always recycled our in-office plastics, glass, metals, batteries and paper. We pay our refuse hauler extra for a bin to recycle cardboard. Every year our holiday party is financed by the proceeds from the sale of leftover scrap copper, steel and aluminum from our installs. Our crew plants a vegetable garden each spring outside our warehouse. All our drinking water is purified on tap. Our sales director drives a company-owned Prius. And of course, all three of our company buildings are solar powered…both PV and thermal!
This Solar Service installation for HarvesTime Foods in Chicago incorporates PV panels as a part of the store’s awning.
Green America’s Campaign Director delivers nearly 10,000 petitions to General Mills.
Thanks to the nearly 10,000 of you that have so far taken action with GMO inside, calling on General Mills to remove GMO ingredients from their products! Yesterday, GMO Inside, a Green America campaign, delivered 9,830 petition signatures to General Mills at their headquarters outside of Minneapolis, MI!
Along with the petitions, we shared our concerns about GMOs with General Mills’ team, and the fact that every day more and more consumers are learning about GMOs and demanding non-GMO choices. Additionally, we warned them that as more states propose labeling initiatives, it will only be a matter of time before companies are required to disclose their GMO ingredients. We encouraged General Mills to commit to dropping their genetically modified ingredients completely, in order to get ahead of the curve.
General Mills prides itself as a company that gives consumers what they want. We need to keep letting General Mills know that what consumers really want is healthy choices for their families, free of GMO ingredients. (and if we can achieve and non-GMO food supply in the process, that’s even better!)
If you have not yet signed our petition, please sign today and share with your friends.
The Summer of Solidarity Tour is a new, innovative approach to building relationships between union activists and local organizations working for economic justice. The Tour is a 17-day, 15-city coast-to-coast grassroots program that will bring together Steelworker local union activists and community groups. The goal is to support local economic justice struggles and to connect them with broader strategies addressing unjust corporate power. The tour starts in Philadelphia, PA on August 17th and concludes in Los Angeles on Labor Day, September 2nd.
Workshops along the tour will include Creative Direct Action, Arts in Action, Organizing Online, Corporate Research & Power Analysis, Women & Workers’ Rights, and more. Renowned singer/songwriter Anne Feeney will also join the Tour, sharing her inspirational music that has infused hope and energy in many struggles for labor rights and economic justice nationally and internationally. Local groups that are interested in working with the Tour can propose other workshop themes as well that would help build their community organizing efforts.
For more information, to schedule an event, or to make a donation visit: www.SummerofSolidarity.org
As the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline undergoes its second State Department review, the House of Representatives took yet another vote to try to force the pipeline project to move forward. On May 22, the House voted 241-175 in favor of legislation (H.R. 3) to thwart the President’s decision-making authority on the pipeline and expedite construction. The Administration has yet to announce its position on the pipeline which would further entrench our fossil fuel-based economy.
This time around the vote received less Democratic support than past, similar bills on the KXL have garnered. Nineteen Democrats supported the legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) and one Republican voted “present” rather than for or against the bill.
The White House has stated that it would veto the bill were the Senate to pass it. The Senate might defeat the measure if it comes to a vote – yet if it passed the Senate there are not sufficient votes to over-ride a Presidential veto.
As reported in the Daily Kos, Oil Change International found that “supporters (of the KXL legislation) have taken six times more campaign contributions from the oil industry than did the opponents, a total of $56 million.”
Green America strongly urges President Obama to act on his commitment to addressing climate change and to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline for the sake of present and future human and environmental health. We haven’t a moment to lose in shifting to a clean energy economy.
Today Green America participated in the White House Leadership Summit on Women, Climate, and Energy. More than 100 women leaders from across the country gathered in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to share information and strategies for promoting clean energy, cutting carbon emissions, mitigating climate change impacts on the most vulnerable populations, and developing messages and actions that will resonate with a majority of Americans.
Participants represented civil society organizations, academia, business, government agencies, and philanthropy. The new U.S. Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, addressed the group on what was his third day in office. He stated that science requires that we respond to climate change and reminded everyone that the 400 parts per million of CO2 now measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii does not include non-CO2 greenhouse gases – so the danger is even greater. Many scientists worldwide believe 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
Former astronaut Dr. Kathy Sullivan discussed how seeing Earth from orbit really makes one understand how much time we waste on boundaries that divide us – when there is only one “we” – we Earthlings.
The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham of Interfaith Power and Light acknowledged the magnitude of the challenge before us and asked, “What is the difference between hope and optimism?” She said, “Hope is a verb, with your sleeves rolled-up.” So we must all roll-up our sleeves and take all the actions we can to reduce carbon pollution and promote renewable energy and efficiency — immediately.
As Green America’s policy director, I was able to introduce the potential of Clean Energy Victory Bonds as an innovative financing mechanism for clean energy and efficiency and will be following up with new contacts from the event to advance the bond.
The Summit was hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the White House Council on Women and Girls, and the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Yesterday, faith-based leaders, activists and colleagues gathered in Washington, DC for the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care’s (NRCCC) 15th Annual Washington Prayer Breakfast, followed by meetings with policy makers. Green America staff and members participated in this inspirational gathering focused on climate change and its impacts on the earth and humanity.
An interfaith panel of leaders spoke movingly about the spiritual mandate, across faiths, to protect the natural world. Premier climate scientist James Hansen joined in bestowing this year’s NRCCC award to Bill McKibben, founder and director of 350.org.
The religious leaders spoke on a range of themes, including:
- * The role of the faith community in developing a compelling message of urgency and hope as we confront the global climate crisis.
* The linkage between ecological and spiritual crises.
* The need to continue to focus on carbon mitigation, not just adaptation.
* The plight of environmental refugees.
* The destruction of ecosystems and animals unable to adapt.
* The human role in repairing or healing the earth; “creation care” as a matter of life.
Bill McKibben was introduced as “a writer, warrior, philosopher, and patriot.” NRCCC recognized Bill’s leadership in building a movement that harnesses the energy of young people and empowers people to take action. Bill spoke of “the most interesting technology of the 20th century,” saying it wasn’t nuclear power or the internet – but rather the process of non-violent social change. He added, “It is impossible to guarantee that we will win, but at the same time, if we believe and hope while we take action, then we may prevail.”
For information on 350.org summer actions visit – http://joinsummerheat.org/
It’s time to whip out those talking points against the Keystone XL Pipeline yet again — the House is expected to vote, likely this week, on legislation it’s tried to pass before to expedite construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. As with the past House legislation, the Republicans’ goal is to undercut President Obama’s decision-making authority on the pipeline and to try to force the pipeline project to move ahead. Because the proposed pipeline is an international (US-Canadian) project, it requires approval by the Administration.
The measure is anticipated to be fully supported by Republicans and it might garner some Democratic support as well. Fortunately, this push for more fossil fuel is unlikely to advance in the Senate.
We need to maintain pressure against the KXL – from concerned individuals, businesses, investors, religious leaders, students, and everyone who recognizes the need to focus our nation on renewable energy development.
The pipeline has dire implications for climate change, human health, the environment, and the U.S. economy. Extracting dirty, Canadian tar sands oil, transporting it through the U.S., and exporting much if it via the Texas Gulf Coast is an irresponsible strategy….unless you represent Big Oil. It does not serve the interests of the U.S. public that will have to endure oil spills, health problems, and rising fuel costs in Midwestern states that could lead to increased unemployment. It does not serve the interests of the Cree, Dene and Métis indigenous communities that now endure the consequences of tar sands extraction.
Tell your Representative today that you oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and urge your Representative to VOTE AGAINST any legislation to advance this dirty energy project. Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121. To find your Representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Last week, NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s leading atmospheric research facility, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, reported that carbon dioxide concentrations have exceeded 400 parts per million in moderate latitudes for the first time in human history.
NOAA states that this record:
“marks an important milestone because Mauna Loa, as the oldest continuous carbon dioxide (CO2.) measurement station in the world, is the primary global benchmark site for monitoring the increase of this potent heat-trapping gas.
Carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning and other human activities is the most significant greenhouse gas (GHG) contributing to climate change. Its concentration has increased every year since scientists started making measurements on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano more than five decades ago. The rate of increase has accelerated since the measurements started, from about 0.7 ppm per year in the late 1950s to 2.1 ppm per year during the last 10 years.”
Climate leader Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, asserted, “The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it.” Many scientists believe that 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. It has never been clearer that we must do everything in our power to end our reliance on fossil fuels. To support financing for renewable energy and efficiency, visit: www.CleanEnergyVictoryBonds.org