Aug 31, 2018

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Remarks on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization

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Imagine a more meaningful Labor Day

by | Aug 31, 2018

On Labor Day, we celebrate the contribution of workers to our nation’s growth and prosperity. While I was growing up in my home state of Wisconsin, that meant gathering with family on my grandparent’s dairy farm, grilling brats and talking politics.

Wisconsin had long been known for its pragmatic policymaking — a laboratory for solutions that sought to both lift up workers and promote economic growth. Wisconsin lawmakers adopted the first worker’s compensation program and progressive state income tax in the nation in 1911 and embraced collective bargaining for all public employees in 1967.

Things have changed markedly in my home state. As discussed in a recent book, Wisconsin’s fall from progressive pioneer to conservative case study provides an important cautionary tale for other states. Policies like public-sector collective bargaining have been tossed aside. “Right to work” is the law of the land now in the dairy state. And, unions — the institutions that provide workers a voice in this economy — have been declining in membership and power.

These trends are playing out in various forms in states across the country. One result is that low- and middle-income families have lost substantial ground in the form of stagnant wages, eroded labor standards, and diminished bargaining power — even as the economy has grown. The share of income earned by these families has declined for decades — while the cost of living has continued to rise.

In Colorado, we are facing similar challenges to building an economy where everyone has an opportunity to thrive. We often hear about how Colorado’s economy is booming, but economic insecurity is far more pervasive for Colorado families than is suggested by our low unemployment rate and strong job-growth numbers.

As seen in our State of Working Colorado report, wage growth has been sluggish for most workers in the state, failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living. It has taken a full decade for wages to return to the pre-recession level. And since 2000, wages for low- and middle-income earners are up only 2 percent after adjusting for inflation. A growing share of available jobs in our state pay too little for even single adults to meet their basic needs—low-wage jobs accounted for about 21 percent all jobs in 2016 up from 9 percent in 2001. The growth in contingent work is also affecting Colorado families in the form of income volatility and financial insecurity. A recent poll shows that despite Colorado’s growing economy, nearly half of general election voters feel they are facing economic uncertainty or hardship.

Low- and middle-wage workers are the engines of our economy. When we pursue policies that expand Colorado’s middle class, our economy gets stronger and our communities thrive. This was the sentiment behind the Wisconsin Idea — that policymaking necessarily involves competing interests, but corporate interests should not be given an outsized voice in blocking commonsense solutions or rigging the rules against workers.

CCLP is working to bring Coloradans together on policies that lift up workers and grow our economy. We believe that efforts to promote basic job quality and strengthen collective bargaining are what’s needed to ensure Coloradans have the good wages and economic security that are the foundation of a growing economy and thriving communities — the very things we celebrate on Labor Day.

To promote basic job quality we must address eroding labor standards—those minimum obligations that employers have to their workers. This includes ensuring a fair minimum wage that allows people to afford to live in the communities where they work. Amendment 70, raising the Colorado’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020, was an important first step in 2016. But we also need to repeal the 1999 law that prohibits Colorado’s cities and towns from establishing a local minimum wage that is higher than the state minimum wage. The cost of living varies substantially across the state and communities should be able to set a higher wage if that makes sense for their local economy.

Colorado also needs to consider how we can improve the quality of low-wage jobs. This includes establishing a standard for workers to accrue paid sick days. Currently, two-thirds of low-wage workers lack access to paid sick days. For these workers, the only choices available when they get sick are to go without pay or show up at work sick and delay seeing a doctor if needed.

Colorado should also ensure that workers are paid fairly for long hours by updating the overtime pay protections. The Trump administration failed to follow through on implementing a new rule that would have updated the long-overdue overtime standard at the federal level. Colorado could step up and do this for our workers—adopting the proposed federal rule that would ensure overtime pay for workers earning up to $47,476 annually.

Finally, we believe that when working Coloradans have the freedom to organize together, they raise the wages for everyone, including women, Blacks and Latinos who too often get paid less for the same work. Higher union participation historically has translated into higher wages for both union and non-union workers. One of the most significant factors in stagnant wages for low and middle-wage workers across the country is the erosion of collective bargaining.

Corporate interests have made concerted efforts in Colorado and across the nation to convince lawmakers that adhering to these basic standards of job quality and supporting collective bargaining will stymie economic growth. We know this isn’t true. We know that we don’t have to trade robust job quality standards for economic growth. We can have both.

Our success depends on the success of those around us. Our communities thrive when everyone thrives. The Colorado way of life is for all of us – not just for the wealthy few.

– By Michelle Webster

Recent articles

Remarks on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization

The following remarks are provided by CCLP's executive director Tiffani Lennon. An attack on access to reproductive health is an attack on access to healthcare. Today’s attack on healthcare affects everyone, but particularly those experiencing poverty, with a...