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Last October, Walmart cut health insurance for about 30,000 part time workers. Starting January 1, 2015, only part-time associates who work 30 to 34 a week qualify for coverage.

This recent move from the country’s largest private employer is the latest in a series of steps to pare down health care costs, often at the expense of local taxpayers. It wasn’t long ago that Walmart offered health coverage for all part-time workers. But in 2011, Walmart cut coverage for new employees who worked fewer than 24 hours. In 2012, they went even further, dropping insurance for those who worked fewer than 30 hours a week. Now, those workers who were grandfathered into the health plan have been dropped.

Keep in mind: despite recent improvements, individual Walmart associates have very little control over their schedules, and managers are able to cut costs by keeping workers’ hours under the 30-hour threshold. And for those associates who actually qualify, the company’s health care plan is fraught with problems.

Luckily, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it’s now easier for individuals to purchase health coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace. To help everyday workers, OUR Walmart and Working America Health Care have teamed up to offer Walmart associates an even better deal.

OUR Walmart members who enroll in a qualified health plan through Working America Health Care will have access to special member benefits: dental and vision discounts, as well as a personal Health Advocate to answer questions and help workers deal with insurance companies.

This past November, many of us stood up for Walmart associates on Black Friday. More than 11,000 Working America members signed petitions calling for $15 an hour and access to full-time hours for all Walmart workers. We made calls, shared information with friends, and joined in solidarity with Walmart associates at stores across the country.

But making change at Walmart and in the lives of its workers is about more than just one day: and that’s why we’re incredibly proud of this collaboration to help provide answers, stability, and a measure of security for Walmart workers and their families.

Are you a Walmart worker? Do you know someone who is? Click here to learn more about the available health care benefits or call 888-693-0159 for more information.

Whether or not you work at Walmart, you can have access to special benefits by enrolling in health coverage through Working America Health Care by February 15. Click here to learn more or call 855-698-2479.

Working America Health Care is a joint partnership between Working America and Union Plus with the mission of informing folks about the Affordable Care Act and connecting them with quality health insurance coverage.

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We all worked incredibly hard to pass health care reform in 2009 and 2010, and we’re proud to now see millions of Americans accessing high quality, affordable health insurance--many of them for the first time.

But some things haven’t changed. For many Americans, navigating their health insurance is just as complex and frustrating as it was before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. At Working America, we wanted to make sure that information and support before, during, and after enrollment was available to out more than 3 million members--and anyone else who needed it.

That’s why we created Working America Health Care.

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Two studies released in the past few weeks are busting long-held myths about what makes our economy grow.

The first came in June from three professors: Michael J. Cooper of the University of Utah, Huseyin Gulen of Purdue, and P. Raghavendra Rau of the University of Cambridge. They looked at the long-term performance of 1,500 businesses and found that higher CEO pay has a negative effect on a company's performance.

Using data from 1994 to 2013, the professors saw that companies in the top 10 percent of CEO pay produced "negative abnormal returns" (lower shareholder returns than other firms in their industry) or around -8 percent over three years. The higher the pay got, the more pronounced the effect: the top 5 percent of highest paid CEOs steered their companies to a 15 percent worse performance.

Why were these companies doing worse?

In a word, overconfidenceCEOs who get paid huge amounts tend to think less critically about their decisions. "€œThey ignore dis-confirming information and just think that they€'re right,"€ says Cooper. That tends to result in over-investing--€”investing too much and investing in bad projects that don't yield positive returns for investors."€
The second came this week from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which compared employment growth between states and found that those states that raised their minimum wage levels experienced higher growth than those that didn't.

Of the 13 states where the minimum wage went up on January 1, 2014 (either because of legislative action, referendum, or cost-of-living adjustments), all but one had positive employment growth, and nine of them had growth higher than the median. "The average change in employment for the 13 states that increased their minimum wage is +0.99% while the remaining states have an average employment change of +0.68%," wrote CEPR.

"While this kind of simple exercise can'€™t establish causality, it does provide evidence against theoretical negative employment effects of minimum-wage increases,€" writes Ben Wolcott of CEPR.

In other words, it doesn't prove raising the minimum wage always creates a certain number of jobs within 6 months, but it does add to the pile of evidence showing that raising the minimum wage doesn't negatively affect employment.

And CEPR isn't the only group that reached these conclusions. An analysis by banking giant Goldman Sachs (!) also found the states that raised their minimum wages doing better than those that didn't.

Taken together, these studies back up what working people already know: higher wages add to a virtuous cycle that benefits both workers and businesses, and that exorbitant CEO pay does nothing for the broader economy other than line the pockets of an increasingly small and powerful group of uber-wealthy individuals.

Text RAISE to 30644 to join Working America's fight for fair wages.

UPDATE: Thanks so much for getting us on the Rec List! We hope to see many of you in Detroit at Netroots Nation, particularly for our Friday night Union-Made Bacon, Bourbon and Beer Party.

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It’s exhausting. We know.

Trying to counter the misinformation about the Affordable Care Act AND trying to highlight out the few corporate donors pushing the lies AND holding the media accountable for inadequate coverage AND…

...all of a sudden, there are only a few days left to sign up for coverage for this year.

March 31 is the deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If you enroll before then, your insurance will start May 1. If not, you may have to wait until January 1, 2015.

Politics aside, this is the point of the new health care law: getting as many Americans as possible from fear and uncertainty of no coverage to the security of health insurance, thereby bringing down costs and making life better for all of us.

And while we’re bringing more people into the “insured” fold, we also have an opportunity to grow the movement that’s fighting to make our lives better in other areas: higher wages, paid sick days, and protections from indignity at the workplace.

That’s why Working America Health Care is working with GoHealth to bring affordable health insurance to uninsured Americans.

Enter your information at WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org and you can compare and contrast plans and enroll in minutes.

We also offer something extra: by signing up for a health plan through GoHealth, you’re invited to join Working America and gain access to added member benefits, like discounted dental and vision benefits and a personal health advocate to help you troubleshoot with your insurance company.

Plus, by becoming a Working America member, you have access to hundreds of benefits through Union Plus including discounts on car insurance, wireless service, legal assistance, and many more. A full list of Union Plus benefits available for Working America members can be viewed here.

But benefits aside, we all win when the movement for working families grows. By signing up for insurance through Working America, you’re also opting in to receive updates and opportunities to pursue goals we all share: raising the minimum wage, gaining rights at the workplace, countering corporate power at the ballot box, and changing the conversation about the value of work in our country.

So don’t delay! Sign up at WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org and find a plan that works for you. And if you’re lucky enough to have insurance, please email, share, tweet - whatever - this blog post to friends and family who might not be covered.

The Koch Brothers, the politicians, the talking heads--they’ll always be making noise. But let’s focus on the real goal: getting America enrolled, covered, and secure with health insurance.

by Doug Foote - Reposted from Working America's Main Street Blog.

Photo by italintheheart on Flickr

*The relationship with GoHealth does not include MA, RI, VT, WV, HI, WA, OR, and select counties in CO and OH. The personal health advocate service is not available in Hamilton, Lucas, Summit, Stark, Montgomery, and Mahoning counties in Ohio.

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In January, Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois was one of six Republicans to allow a bill extending unemployment insurance (UI) to proceed in the Senate.

But when the bill was coming up for a cloture vote, Kirk said that he would only vote for it if the costs were offset by spending cuts.

After much negotiation, Democrats and Republicans figured out a solution to pay for extending unemployment insurance. That bill was expected to break the filibuster on February 6, but it fell one vote short. Going back on his promise, had Kirk remained with the filibuster. On Twitter, he said it was because the negotiated offsets were "political gimmicks."

Let's get back to gimmicks in a second. First, here's what's happening while the Republican-led filibuster of UI remains in place.

The number of Americans without emergency unemployment benefits continues to grow. 1.3 million Americans, including 20,000 recent veterans, lost UI when the benefits first expired last December. Since then, another 400,000 Americans have joined their ranks.

Illinois has an unemployment rate higher than the national average, 8.9 percent as of October. More than 119,000 Illinois residents will lose benefits by the end of next week if UI is not extended. Not surprisingly, polling shows they support a UI extension 63-31.

The same poll showed that 40 percent of respondents say they are less likely to vote for Kirk because of his obstruction of UI.
It's not clear what Kirk is waiting for. It is clear, however, how he has been spending his time and office resources.

Other than the one tweet, Kirk didn't issue a press release about his vote. On his official website, there is no information on why he voted for, then twice against, extending unemployment insurance.

But there is an extensive Flash-powered page dedicated to the 11 Olympic athletes who hail from Illinois.

Kirk's office also posted extensively on all his social media channels for the two week duration of the Sochi games.
Seems like Senator Kirk is plenty familiar with "political gimmicks."
By April 5, the total number of Americans cut off from emergency unemployment insurance will reach 2.3 million. At any time, Senator Kirk can drop his support for the Republican-led filibuster and allow the bill to proceed on an up-or-down vote. Like he said he would.

Isn't that the least he can do for 1.7 million job-seekers? Or do unemployed Illinoisans have to be Olympic athletes to get their Senator's attention?

Tell your Senator to end the games: renew unemployment insurance now.

Photo by juggernautco on Flickr

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"Here's what my $29.96 bought me," Rep. John Lesch (DFL-Saint Paul) says into the camera. He then turns the camera to his kitchen floor, where he has laid three meals a day for the entire week. Lesch is one of the Minnesota lawmakers participating in our Minimum Wage Challenge, which limits his weekly food budget at roughly $35.

In the homemade video posted on YouTube, Lesch runs over this meal plan: for breakfast, two eggs and one cup of fruit loops; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Ramen noodles for lunch; and depending on the day, repeating that same lunch for dinner. For a few dinners, he includes a Tostino's Personal Party Pizza.

"Now keep in mind, this is for one person," he says. "If you have to raise a family, if you have a child, two children on minimum wage, I have no idea how you are going to pull this off."

We know that many low-wage workers in Minnesota and across the country do have to care for children. Out of more than 356,000 low-wage workers in the state, about 63,000 have at least one child.

As he goes over his meal plan, Lesch points out that he has tried to vary his meals day to day--a few tuna sandwiches mixed in with the PB&J, no mayo--but that it's a pretty repetitive diet. There's also no fruits or vegetables, save for a few cans of green beans and corn.

"I don't know how sick of this I'll get," Lesch concludes, "or how fat I will get, eating all the MSGs and whatever else is in the Ramen...and all the fat in the pizza."

The lack of nutrition available on a minimum wage budget struck Moorhead City Councilwoman Heidi Durand as well. "I can't tolerate another can of condensed soup...I haven't had fresh fruit or veggies since Wednesday," she reported, "I know one thing: our minimum wage is not healthy!"

We've heard since we were children about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. The calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folic acid,  and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables are especially important for a child's development, but also for adults to protect against osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems, and even mental conditions like Alzheimer's and depression.

Durand said she felt the emotional pressure even after just a few days. "[Living on minimum wage] is not emotionally healthy either. There were several moments where I felt completely dependent and helpless and the only thing that got me through was knowing it was temporary."

The Minnesota legislative session will begin today, February 25. Tell the Minnesota Senate to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.

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Minnesota Representative Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) did something at the grocery store he had never done before.

"I had never scrutinized prices while food shopping to this extent," he said, "I even weighed two different kinds of potatoes to see where I could catch a break."

Rep. Hornstein is one of five Minnesota lawmakers taking the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge. Reps. Hornstein, John Lesch, Karen Clark, Metsa, and Shannon Savick are living this week as if they made $7.25 an hour, an effort to raise awareness of the minimum wage as legislators consider increasing it to $9.50 by 2015.

From grocery shopping to transportation, Rep. Hornstein is already "feeling the ‘challenge' part of the minimum wage challenge."

"I decided to take transit to the Capitol because that would allow for three extra dollars for food," he reported.

Luckily, the Minneapolis lawmaker lives and works in the same area, and has access to a robust public transit system. Rep. Shannon Savick, who hails from Wells, isn't so lucky: she has a two hour drive to work.

"The transportation budget is going to be very tight because I need to make a few drives for work that will take up nearly all of it," she told us, "These challenges really go to show just how difficult it can be for low wage workers to get by on the minimum wage alone."

With the $35 per week food budget, Rep. Savick is trying to go without. "I think I'm doing well with the food budget mostly by eating a little less and essentially skipping breakfast," adding that her lunch two days in a row consisted of "a cup of soup and some milk."

"Dinner was a bag of Ramen noodles for under $1," said Hornstein, "After one day I am realizing that living on this budget forces choices all the time."

The low-wage workers we've talked to all mention these forced choices; whether it's choosing between medicine and food or between paying the heating bill or buying diapers for their kids.

"Today's effective minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $15,080 a year for a full-time worker, is not enough to meet basic needs—not for an individual or a family," writes John Clay of the Jobs Now Coalition. "A Minnesota family of two full-time working adults with two children, each worker must earn $14.03 per hour to cover the cost of basic needs."

 As much as they try to plan their budgets, being constantly cognizant of every cent has its limits. To stretch his food dollars, Rep. Hornstein tried breakfast at the McDonald's down the street from the Capitol. "I got a glass of orange juice with my dollar breakfast burrito which added another $1.79 to the tab," he said, "I won't make that mistake again."

by Doug Foote - Reposted from Working Minnestota

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The editorial board of the Salem Statesmen Journal, one of the most influential newspapers in Oregon, is not messing around.

Their piece on the coming fight over making Oregon a so-called “right to work” state goes right to the point: this law is bad for Oregon, and the only reason we’re talking about it is because of deep-pocket out-of-state special interests.

Don’t know what a “right to work” law is? The editorial kicks it off with a succinct definition:

Under right-to-work laws, employees in unionized workplaces no longer can be required to pay unions for the cost of being represented. That’s the sum and substance of right to work, in one sentence.

These laws, passed in 24 states, have nothing to do with protecting those who have a job from losing it or granting anyone who needs a job the right to find it. Yet the phrase persists, because political factions that back such legislation aren’t courageous or honest enough to call them what they are.

Right-to-work is a misnomer. If proponents were straight with us, they’d call these transparently vindictive efforts a “Right to Weaken Unions Act” or a “Right to Punish Those Who Oppose Us Measure.” The laws drain money from unions under the guise of creating a more business-friendly environment for states.

As we’ve written, the national “right to work” effort sputtered in 2013. In Oregon, Portland attorney Jill Gilbson Odell is sponsoring a “right to work” initiative intended for the 2014 ballot. “There’s national money to be had,” she told the Associated Press, mentioning “large donors” who would back her. But 2013 saw little movement for Odell’s effort, and popular Gov. John Kitzhaber has already stated his opposition.

Yet Oregon remains a top target for national “right to work” backers. “[It’s] as if a big red X has been affixed to a map of our state by outside influences who have decided in secret that we are to be the next target in their misinformation campaign,” the editorial board writes.

Odell’s claims may indeed pan out, and the anti-worker initiative could get the big dollars it needs to get to the ballot. In that case, the Statesmen Journal has a simple suggestion:

The misinformation campaign is coming. Right-to-work proponents are expecting you to roll over and play dumb. We suggest you sit up and become informed.
Here are some real facts to get you started:
  • States with “right to work” laws have lower average wages than free bargaining states. Workers earn an average of $1,500 less annually in “right to work” states.   
  • Fewer workers have employer-based health insurance in “right to work” states. There are also higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities in these states.
  • Research in favor of Oregon’s “right to work” initiative is deeply flawed (and funded by the same donors who are pushing the policy in the first place.)
  • Businesses don’t use “right to work” as a primary factor when deciding where to locate.

Learn more about “right to work” laws at WrongforEveryone.com.

Take action for workers' rights by joining Working America today.

Photo by NSNewsflash on Flickr

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A year ago, in one of the most shocking reversals in the state's history, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a "right to work" bill into law behind closed doors as more than 12,000 protesters raged outside.

Right wing groups crowed, saying union restrictions in the home of the auto industry meant the labor movement was on its last legs. They talked about which states would go next.

And then, nothing.

Well, not nothing. But what anti-worker pundits said would be a domino effect was more like a cricket effect. In 2013, no state passed a "right to work" law.

Incorrectly-named "right to work" laws put restrictions on contracts union workers can make with employers. They ban fair share clauses which require that workers pay dues to have the protection of the union. Unions are left in the position of providing services without being able to fund those services, and they starve.

"Right to work" laws have nothing to do with freedom. They are simply a tactic to defund unions and weaken the ability of workers to advocate for themselves. And it shows: states with "right to work" laws have lower wages, higher poverty rates, and more workplace injuries and fatalities than free bargaining states.

In 2013, workers didn't stand for it.

In Missouri, where Republicans controlled supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, some legislators pursued a "paycheck deception" bill, which restricts unions' ability to make political contributions. Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) called it a step toward a "right to work law." Based heavily on an ALEC model bill, paycheck deception moved swiftly through Republican-lead committees.

But workers, union and non-union (including hundreds of Working America members), made their voices heard. Emails, letters, and phone calls flooded legislative offices in Jefferson City. The bill passed the Senate after an 8-hour Democratic filibuster, but House legislators were getting skittish. Bill proponents were having a hard time answering simple questions about why additional restrictions on union dues were needed. Support for the bill dwindled with each test vote.

"Paycheck deception" passed the House by a narrower than expected margin, and Speaker Jones prepared to move on to "right to work." But Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed paycheck deception, calling it unnecessary. By the September veto session, too many moderate Republicans had abandoned the effort, and the bill died outright.

Did Republicans get the message? Absolutely not. In December special session centered around tax incentives for Boeing, a small group tried and failed to insert "right to work" language. ALEC member Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield)called it "a good opportunity to begin that fight" ahead of 2014.

In Ohio, the anti-union effort has centered around gathering petitions to get "right to work" on the 2014 ballot. As we know, you need to get a certain number of signatures to get an issue on the ballot. For Ohio, that number is 385,000, and you always want extra signatures in case some are validated.

The Tea Party group Ohioans for Workplace Freedom started circulating petitions in February 2012. After 20 months, they announced they have collected 100,000 signatures.

At this rate, as Ohio bloggers at Plunderbund noted, the anti-union group would need 40 m0re months to put "right to work" on the ballot. And since they've already burned through $118,000 in paid petition gatherers, chances are they'd run out of money first.

Let's compare that with 2011, when Gov. John Kasich and Republicans in the legislative rammed through the union-busting Senate Bill 5. The bill passed on March 30. On June 29, after only 3 months, We Are Ohio delivered 1.3 million signatures to the Secretary of State to get a repeal of SB 5 on the ballot. In November, SB 5 was repealed by 60 percent of voters.

What's going on here? What the Tea Party and the anti-union forces in Ohio don't get is that once you get past a small group of billionaires and right-wing ideologues, there is no desire to restrict collective bargaining in Ohio. None. People are looking for good jobs, affordable health care, and decent schools to send their kids.

Meanwhile, the 2011 battle over Senate Bill 5, largely ignored by the national media, still reverberates throughout the Buckeye State. Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican supporter of SB 5, lost a Senate bid despite more than $19 million in outside aide. Mitt Romney haplessly flip-flopped on SB 5 and consistently delivered an anti-union message, lost in Ohio in part because of union members of all political stripes voting for his opponent. And in 2013, SB 5 supporter Toledo Mayor Mike Bell was ousted, while a Tea Party-backed pension-cutting amendment was rejected in Cincinnati by a 57-point margin.

In Oregon, the story is even shorter.  An Portland attorney named Jill Gibson Odell is sponsoring a "right to work" initiative in her state. Odell is excited about the "national money to be had" to assist her campaign, so she's not even pretending "right to work" is something Oregonians themselves want. In 2013, little to no progress was made on getting the issue on the ballot, and popular Gov. John Kitzhaber said he will publicly oppose it. Meanwhile, workers in Portland got paid sick days, and a statewide sick leave ordinance is expected to pass in 2014.

What to expect in 2014? Well, as the AP reports, the main targets for "right to work" proponents are Missouri, Ohio, and Oregon, showing that these folks have learned nothing from the past year. While their efforts stall, Americans of all political persuasions are starting to support minimum wage increases, sick leave, wage theft protections, and progressive tax codes in increasing numbers.

Working America will be vigilant to mobilize against any "right to work" measure, wherever it crops up. But make no mistake: Michigan wasn't the start of a domino effect. It was a wake up call. And outside the right-wing think tank bubble, American workers are fully awake.

Join Working America today to get involved with the fight for working families in your state.

By Doug Foote. Reposted from Working America's Main Street Blog. Photo by detroitfreepress on Instagram

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The photo above comes from the Walmart on Atlantic Boulevard in Canton, Ohio.

The bins aren't to collect cans for a food pantry somewhere else in the city. They are meant to collect food for Walmart associates themselves.

Here’s some context. The average Walmart sale associate makes $8.81 per hour, according to the independent market research group IBISWorld. That translates into $15,576 a year if the associate works a full-time schedule of 34 hours a week. But that’s actually pegging it quite high, as many associates have highly erratic or meager work schedules that don’t allow them anywhere close to full-time status.

For a three-person household (two parents and a child, for instance), the 2013 federal poverty level is $19,530.

When their paychecks don’t cut it, many associates turn to public assistance to make up the difference. Walmart’s low wages and insufficient scheduling are behind the enormous costs to the taxpayer incurred by each store. One Walmart Supercenter costs taxpayers $900,000 in Medicaid, SNAP, housing assistance, and other forms of public assistance.

But beyond the numbers are the associates themselves, juggling unpredictable schedules and light paychecks, who see the food bins as a sign that the company sees their struggle as the rule, not the exception:

An employee at the Canton store wasn't feeling that Walmart was looking out for her when she went to her locker more than two weeks ago and discovered the food drive containers. To her, the gesture was proof the company acknowledged many of its employees were struggling, but also proof it was not willing to substantively address their plight.

The employee said she didn't want to use her name for fear of being fired. In a dozen years working at the company, she had never seen a food drive for employees, which she described as "demoralizing" and "kind of depressing".

An analysis by Fortune shows that Walmart can afford to give its employees a 50 percent raise without hurting its bottom line. But low wages are only one part of the widespread culture of disrespect, retaliation, and indifference Walmart shows its employees.

More than ever before, associates are standing up to this culture, and we’re standing with them. On November 29, 2013, protests are planned at Walmart stores across the country, and all are welcome to stand in solidarity with associates.

Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer. They have set the standard for an entire generation of business practices. Whether or not we shop there, what they do at their company affects all of us.

Visit BlackFridayProtests.org to find an event near you.

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Workers across Houston are being robbed. But it’s not by a masked burglar. It’s by their bosses.

Wage theft happens every day across America. Low-wage workers, particularly those in the retail and service sectors, are often cheated out of the minimum wage and overtime that they are entitled to by their employers.

Any time a server is asked to clean tables after they've punched out? That’s wage theft. When an hourly-wage retail attendant is paid less than time-and-a-half for hours worked past 40 a week? That’s wage theft. Whenever a construction worker doesn't receive their last paycheck? That’s wage theft.

Wage theft is illegal, yet employers constantly get away with it. In Houston, more than 100 wage and hour violations occur every week. But we have an opportunity to change this.

Mayor Annise Parker is bringing a wage theft ordinance before the Houston City Council on Wednesday, November 12.

Write a message to the City Council and tell them to support the anti-wage theft bill.

The ordinance would make any business convicted of or assessed an administrative penalty for wage theft ineligible for city contracts. It would create a huge incentive for businesses to follow the law and pay workers what they are owed.

We've gone door-to-door talking to thousands of Houstonians collecting over 1,000 handwritten letters with one message: City Council needs to act now and stop allowing a few businesses to take advantage of workers. We've called on City Council to listen to the people and not make back room deals with lobbyists and special interest groups.

Tomorrow, they’ll show their hand. Tell the City Council to support the anti-wage theft bill.

Here’s a sample of what you can write:

Every worker deserves fair pay for a fair day's work. That's why I urge you to support the Wage Theft Ordinance.

The ordinance will level the playing field for responsible businesses and hold businesses that steal wages from their workers accountable and ensure they do not receive city contracts, permits or licenses.

Every worker deserves wage protection in Houston. Please vote in favor of the Wage Theft Ordinance.

by Durrel Douglas - Reposted from Working America's Main Street Blog

To get involved with Working America in Houston, email Taylor at tthompson@workingamerica.org

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s rejection of federal Medicaid money and his “hands-off approach to rate regulation” has lead to higher than average health insurance premiums in the Badger State.

How high? Up to 99 percent higher than in its neighbor (and longtime rival in all things) Minnesota.

Robert Kraig, the executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said a report he co-authored shows that “rates are much higher in Wisconsin than in Minnesota, despite having similar geographies and similar underlying medical costs.”

Kraig said Wisconsin insurance exchange premiums for a single person are an average of 79 percent to 99 percent higher than premiums in Minnesota, before tax credits are applied. He said the average Wisconsinite will pay $1,800 more annually for health care.

Wisconsin is one of the more than two dozen states whose governors or legislators have blocked federally funded Medicaid expansion.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government is assisting states with expanding Medicaid coverage to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, closing the gap between those who qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage and those who can buy health insurance on the state exchanges. Many states, including Minnesota, have accepted the expansion as a no-brainer.

But as part of the Supreme Court’s decision last June, states cannot be required to accept these federal funds, leading many governors like Texas Gov. Perry, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, and Wisconsin’s Walker to “stand up to Obamacare” by saying no to these funds.

So in states like Wisconsin, the coverage gap persists, pushing about 92,000 low-income Wisconsinites onto the health exchanges. Low-income people, on average, have more medical needs, so adding thousands of them to the exchange pool leads to higher premiums -- for everyone.

In Milwaukee, average cost of health insurance is 112 percent higher than Minnesota’s average; in La Crosse, WI, it’s 136 percent higher. Yikes.

It’s not just the Medicaid expansion. Under Gov. Walker, Wisconsin’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has been very laissez-faire about challenging insurance rates, while Minnesota has “exercised a rigorous rate of review,” according to the Cap Times. Kraig’s study found that such reviews have lowered Minnesota’s rates by up to 37 percent. “We have taken in Wisconsin a clearinghouse approach,” Kraig said, “The insurance company says, ‘Here’s our rate in the exchange’ and the state of Wisconsin says ,’OK.’”

Back to Scott Walker. Not only is Walker up for reelection next year, he’s also laying groundwork for a presidential campaign. Accepting Medicaid expansion through Obamacare would be an anathema to Walker’s Tea Party base and his corporate backers; he can’t say that out loud, which is why his explanation for rejecting the funds has been vague and elusive.

By rejecting Medicaid for ideological and political reasons, Walker is continuing the pattern he’s held since taking office: it doesn’t matter if it makes life worse for Wisconsinites, it only matters that he holds onto power.

Tell Gov. Walker to end the games: accept federal funds for Medicaid now.

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