Category Archives: News Brew
At a pancake house in Houston, Claudia spent two hours rolling silverware into napkins on a slow weekend night. Without any tables to serve, she wasn’t tipped to supplement her $2.13 hourly wage. Like many other restaurant employers, Claudia’s boss did not make up for her shortfall in tips despite the legal obligation to do so.
Claudia’s story, reported in the book Behind the Kitchen Door by Saru Jayaraman, speaks for millions who struggle to make ends meet on a tipped minimum wage of $2.13.
Despite record profits reaching upwards of $660 billion in 2013 and projected to go higher in 2014, the restaurant industry has fiercely opposed raising the wage. Though the tipped base wage used to rise along with the minimum wage, it has been frozen in place at $2.13 since 1991.
The decoupling of the tipped wage from raises in the minimum wage did not happen by accident. A powerful and organized lobby in Washington — the National Restaurant Association — has worked diligently to ensure that servers like Claudia continue receiving $2.13.
Known as “the other NRA,” this restaurant lobby successfully pressured lawmakers in 1996 to separate President Bill Clinton’s minimum wage increase from the tipped minimum wage, keeping it at $2.13. At the time, no one predicted that $2.13 figure would become permanent.
That most Americans still never question the $2.13 wage is testament to the NRA’s influence.
The consequences of this stagnation have been dire for restaurant workers. Tipped workers are nearly three times as likely to fall into poverty and twice as likely to be on food stamps as the general population. Women are disproportionately affected since more than 70 percent of restaurant servers are female.
Stagnating wages for tipped workers is also part of a bigger story of rising inequality in America. Even when restaurant industry profits and CEO pay have skyrocketed, restaurant workers haven’t shared this growing wealth. The NRA’s influence as a corporate lobby signals how the wealthy have organized to an unprecedented degree to promote their interests. Meanwhile, workers’ influence has waned with the decline of organized labor.
But change is on the way. Since 2008, thousands of restaurant workers have joinedRestaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), which fights to improve wages and conditions for the nation’s restaurant workforce. Since its founding, ROC has brought more than 10,000 restaurant workers on board and expanded to 26 states.
The NRA is paying attention. The industry group has joined forces with Richard Berman, a lobbyist notorious for his take-no-prisoners approach, to help the restaurant industry discredit ROC. Known for pioneering corporate smear tactics to attack public-interest causes, Berman has launched a website to vilify ROC and its work.
Once Claudia was able to do so, she quit her job at the Houston pancake house and became an organizer for a local ROC chapter. Across the country, these chapters are fighting for passage of the Miller-Harkin Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and boost the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the federal minimum.
ROC is organizing a National Day of Action on February 13 to raise awareness of the $2.13 tipped minimum wage. All Americans should unite behind the nation’s restaurant workers on this day.
Even if you can’t take part in a rally near you, tell your representatives in Congress to support raising the minimum wage, including for tipped workers.
Marjorie Elizabeth Wood is an economic policy associate at the Institute for Policy Studies and the Managing Editor of Inequality.org. IPS-dc.org (otherwords)
The Left is hoping to push Bill de Blasio’s administration, but his choice for police commissioner may not budge.
The New York City left’s plan for working with incoming mayor Bill de Blasio is to use his dependence on progressives’ support to hold his feet to the fire when he drifts too far to the right. But will such a strategy work for police policy, with activists aiming to eliminate quotas and stop and frisk, when de Blasio’s NYPD commissioner is someone so self-absorbed and intransigent that he earned a pink slip from Rudy Giuliani the last time he held the post, and is a key architect of the policing philosophy that helped produce such reactionary policies in the first place?
The announcement that the progressive mayor-elect would bring in the mastermind of the aggressive police tactics that defined the city in the 1990s angered progressives. Not only does the choice lessen the possibility of meaningful reform in the NYPD, but it threatens de Blasio’s ability to make good on his grand promise to address economic equality in the city.
The move shouldn’t be a surprise. De Blasio needs a law-and-order police head because he fears any rise in crime under his watch would embolden his right-wing critics, and a former NYPD commissioner is an acceptable replacement for Ray Kelly in the eyes of the force’s rank and file. (The city’s largest police union has already praised the appointment.)
But the mayor-elect’s choice of Bratton goes beyond an attempt to keep an onerous but important constituency placated. De Blasio’s choice also signals to the city’s finance and real estate sectors that he isn’t the Occupy Wall Street candidate some right-wing editorial boards fear — Bratton reportedlysays he would have evicted the Zuccotti Park encampment on day one. And then there’s Bratton’s record of instituting George Kelling and James Q. Wilson’s “broken windows” theory of policing in New York City — a policing strategy centered on automatic suspicion of the poor and disenfranchised.
In a clip from the documentary Giuliani Time, Bratton and his then-Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple discuss how their anti-crime tactics were modeled on the British air defense’s World War II strategy of predicting where enemy fighters were coming from. Bratton, whose firm demeanor and thick Boston accent are supposed to be symbols of his take-no-shit attitude, was hardly the first American police chief to further militarize public safety. But he stood out as a public servant who very clearly believed that someone who was homeless, lacked money, or was in need of food or medicine was not a victim of circumstance or even a citizen that simply needed help, but a likely enemy soldier in a never-ending war.
Police sycophants usually respond to this point by celebrating the reduction in crime in the city. But crime has been going down in the nation since the 1980s in general, and different regions and cities have used different policing tactics. The dip in crime is largely a result of capital investment into what were once seen as “blighted” inner cities, pushing out existing communities to make way for condos.
For Bratton, Giuliani, and other adherents to the theory, fixing a neighborhood’s broken windows and addressing other “quality of life” issues didn’t mean cleaning up and investing in a community for the benefit of its inhabitants, but displacing those undesirable residents to the outskirts while attracting a whiter, richer demographic. The drop in crime statistics in a place like Williamsburg and Bushwick is as much the result of high-end real estate developers as the doggedness of the Brooklyn North Command.
The NYPD’s increasing militarization, then, has to be understood as a class issue rather than simply the overzealousness of the state. Gaping inequality, rising rents, and stagnant wages create a growing population for whom the necessities of life are never within reach; a class of people who are to be surveilled, monitored, and generally treated with suspicion until they are eventually forced out of the city.
And Bratton’s definition of victory in this “war” shouldn’t be overlooked. The quotas for arrests and stop-and-frisk, criticized by reform advocates and average cops alike, are the result of Bratton’s deference to cold metrics. Robert Gangi of the Police Reform Organizing Project illustrates this point by repeating what one cop told him: If a cop breaks up a fight between two kids, he doesn’t get any credit. If he delivers a baby in an elevator, he doesn’t get any credit. He only gets credit if he brings in an arrest.
Bratton has left a legacy of criminological bean counting that is central to 21st century policing. Cops are urged to downgrade offenses or dissuade victims from filing police reports out of fear that the numbers would show a rise in crime. As Leonard Levitt explains in his book NYPD Confidential, this system provides no incentive for detectives to conduct long-term investigations that could lead to arrests of major criminals like mob bosses, instead rewarding the street cops who can round up as many low-level drug dealers and petty thieves as possible.
And Bratton, who turned his status as a public servant into celebrity, was defensive not only of his policies, but his ability to promote them. As Levitt also documents, Bratton believed the city’s media answered to him, not Giuliani — a tension that ultimately led to his ouster.
A de Blasio administration can open opportunities for the Left to hold the mayor accountable. The police violence during Occupy Wall Street and the civil rights communities organizing around stop-and-frisk helped create a new coalition that was able get two pieces of police reform legislation passed in the City Council with a veto-proof majority under Mayor Bloomberg. But Bratton was notorious for running his own show even under Giuliani, a man well-known for his obsession with personal loyalty.
Bratton’s return is not just startling for New York City, but sets a troubling precedent for progressive Democratic activists in major cities, many of whom look to New York City as a standard setter. Even if the rabble can push the new progressive mayor, on issues of policing, it’s unlikely that the commissioner will budge.
This article was originally published in The Jacobin
When this school year started half of New York City's public schools had overcrowded classrooms. Alleging that "teaching and learning have been undermined by inadequate funding" the suit by a group of parents and students seeks to force the state into action.
Targeting the governor and the Department of Education, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of students and parents throughout the state, noting that classrooms are "bursting at the seams."
The suit, entitled New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. The State of New York, is being led by Michael A. Rebell, the attorney who successfully litigated the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York case.
According to a press release, "the lawsuit seeks to win a rapid court decision that will (1) provide immediate relief for schools by forcing the state to end unconstitutional practices that currently preclude adequate funding for schools; and (2) order new reforms to the state education law and the state’s school financing system to guarantee that now and for the future every school is provided adequate funding and is able provide all students a meaningful educational opportunity."
“Our goal is to end the state government’s neglect of its constitutional responsibility to ensure that all New York schools have sufficient funding to meet students’ educational needs,” added Rebell.
Further Details From the Press Release:
The CFE case established the very important legal basis upon which the NYSER case is built. In CFE, the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, declared that the state constitution entitles all students in New York State to the opportunity for a sound basic education, one that provides them a meaningful high school education that prepares them to be capable citizens and competitive workers.
The Court found that students in New York City were not receiving such a high quality education and ordered the state to increase funding for the city schools.
Following CFE, in 2007, the state legislature enacted reforms to the state aid system that promised students, not only in New York City, but throughout the state, billions of dollars in increased funding and a more equitable distribution of state aid.
Since the recession of 2008, however, the state has not lived up to these commitments.
Basic state aid for school operations is now almost $4 billion below the amount that the legislature declared in 2007 was necessary to provide students the opportunity for a sound basic education. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals terminated its jurisdiction of the CFE case in 2006 and enforcement of students’ constitutional rights requires that a new suit be initiated.
Research undertaken by the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College and others
show that, in many New York school districts, particularly those that serve children from low- income households, students are suffering because teaching and learning have been undermined by inadequate funding.
Many schools lack the basic educational resources needed to ensure students can meet state standards.
“Without litigation, politicians have so far been unwilling or unable to establish adequate systems for providing students the level of resources to which they are constitutionally entitled on a stable, permanent basis,” said Rebell. “NYSER will work with many partners around the state on political and public-engagement activities that, coordinated with the lawsuit, will maximize progress in closing budget gaps this year and achieve lasting results.”
Basic information about the lawsuit, including the complaint, can be found at NYSER’s website address: www.NYSER.org.
Budget Cuts and Rent-Free Charter Schools: The Ugly Education Legacy of Ex-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
On December 16, 2013, two letters were sent to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. One was a letter signed by 140 principals from across the city. The other, a letter signed by 19 of the 32 Community Education Councils in addition to the Citywide Council on English Language Learners, the Citywide Council on Special Education, the Citywide District 75 Council, and individuals from the Citywide Council on High Schools and Community Education Council 23.
The common thread to these letters was clear, the NYC school system needs to purge itself of the toxic "reforms" instituted by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
the Board of Education
and community school boards:
In 1969, then mayor John Lindsay relinquished control of NYC schools after a series of protests and demands from the public for community control of community schools. This led to the creation of 32 elected community school boards and a central Board of Education(BOE) made up of 7 members appointed by the mayor and borough presidents.
In 2002, Mayor Bloomberg took control of NYC schools and abolished the BOE and the community school boards, essentially shutting down parental democratic access to their children's education.
The BOE was replaced by the Panel for Educational Policy(PEP). The PEP consists of 13 appointed members, 8 appointed by the mayor and one each appointed by the borough presidents. Community boards were replaced with Community Education Councils(CECs).
Not only do the CECs have very little power when it comes to affecting change in community schools, they are poorly advertised and sparsely attended. These changes have left parents feeling locked out and voiceless in their children's schools.
Changes in funding:
The introduction of "Fair Student Funding"(pdf) had 3 main goals; to increase equity in funding schools while preserving stability, to improve student achievement, and to make school budgets more transparent.
The Independent Budget Office(IBO) has found that the funding formula actually underfunds 94% of schools and is not easily understood or transparent, according to a report released April 10 of this year.
Increase in the
number of charter schools:
Ex-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been a champion of for-profit charter schools. Under his management, 175 charter schools have opened in NYC since 2002.
These schools are often opened in place of larger community schools that have been closed by the Mayor-controlled PEP. Or, they force their way in to already existing school buildings rent-free, using space and resources that were originally meant for public schools.
While the majority of public schools are seeing their budgets cut, spending for charter schools is expected to exceed $1billion in the next school year.