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Archive for January, 2013

Judy and I wrote this one together.  It was published yesterday in the Concord Monitor.  We both testified at the public hearing, along with other advocates for low-wage workers.  The full force of the business lobby and the House Republicans were arrayed on the other side.  This is a good time to contact members of the House Labor Committee to support raising the minimum wage.

When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, the minimum wage went up in 10 states. But not New Hampshire, where the minimum wage is stuck at the federal level and the state’s minimum wage was abolished by the Legislature two years ago. Without change at the state level, thousands of New Hampshire workers will have to wait for the gridlocked Congress to raise the federal minimum wage above the current rate, $7.25 an hour.

What does it mean to live on $7.25 an hour? If you work 40 hours a week every week of the year, your annual income will be $15,080. Enough to live on? Not by a long shot. You’ll earn $4,000 less than the poverty-level income for a family of three. And even the poverty income is less than you need to keep a roof over your head. At the minimum wage, you’d have to work 106 hours a week to afford a typical two-bedroom New Hampshire apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Help could be on the way.

Two bills coming before the House Labor Committee today would re-establish the state’s authority to set a minimum wage and raise it above the federal level. Rep. Tim Robertson of Keene is sponsoring House Bill 241 to establish a New Hampshire minimum wage of $9.25. HB127, co-sponsored by Reps. Peter Sullivan of Manchester and Timothy Horrigan of Durham, would set the minimum wage at $8 per hour.

In 1949 New Hampshire established a state minimum wage, though it seldom rose above the federal rate. But the state law was repealed in 2011. “There is no reason for New Hampshire to set ourselves higher than the national average and make ourselves less competitive for these workers who need to gain experience,” then-House Speaker Bill O’Brien said at the time.

No detectable employment losses

But would employers really hire fewer workers if the wage went up? Research suggests otherwise. Recent research by a team of economists from the Universities of California, Massachusetts and North Carolina “suggest no detectable employment losses from the kind of minimum wage increases we have seen in the United States.”

Why? Wouldn’t higher wages make it harder for businesses employing low-wage workers to earn a profit? Not necessarily. Raising wage rates tends to reduce employee turnover, reduce the costs of recruiting and training, and raise productivity. As Henry Ford discovered a century ago, increasing wages can be profitable.

Some opponents say it is mainly teens who earn minimum wage. Not true. Many of New Hampshire’s lowest-wage workers have families to support. Although we lack state-level statistics, we know that teens comprise only a quarter of minimum wage workers nationally.

Who will benefit from an increase? While most New Hampshire workers earn more than $8 an hour, plenty of workers would see their incomes rise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 14,000 New Hampshire workers earn $7.25 per hour or less.

Raising the wage also will help thousands of workers now earning above $7.25 per hour. For example, a worker who currently earns $7.75 per hour will get a raise if the minimum wage goes up to $8.

Even people with somewhat higher wages will benefit. This is because many employers intentionally keep their pay a certain margin above the minimum in order to compete for employees.

HB 127 has an important additional feature, a process to raise the minimum wage as the cost of living increases. This is critical. The federal minimum wage would be $10.58 per hour now if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years.

Two more minimum wage bills – one in the House and one in the Senate – will come up soon.

Raising the minimum wage will not eliminate poverty in New Hampshire. But it will make a concrete difference in the lives of thousands of people struggling to earn a living. Every New England state except New Hampshire has a minimum wage above the federal level. Our workers deserve better pay for their hard work.

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Talesha Caynon and Marsha Murdaugh make last minute preparations for the 29th annual MLK Day Breakfast.

MLK Day Celebrated in Hollis and Manchester

“Celebrate, Remember, and Act” was the theme of the Rev. Renee Rouse’s message to the Martin Luther King Day Breakfast held in Hollis, New Hampshire jan 21 2013 004 this morning.  Yes, today is a day to celebrate freedom.  But what we each do with it is the challenge, the minister from the Brookline Community Church said to a full hall at the Alpine Grove, where Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity held its 29th annual MLK Day event.

Likewise, Nashua Mayor Donalee Lozeau talked about memory, calling the holiday a day for “thoughtful reflection” on lessons we can learn from history, including what she called “intentional mistakes.”

Surely among those we can count New Hampshire’s stubborn resistance to honoring Dr. King, resistance that was finally overcome in 1999 after a 20-year struggle.  One thing we might learn, I suppose, is the importance of persistence.  Another worthy of reflection is the importance of the holiday itself as a day to not only ponder history but to ponder our own roles as makers of history.  In those roles, Dr. King remains a powerful model.

Every year I  have the privilege of speaking at the MLK Breakfast, giving jan 21 2013 010 what OBU calls “the update.”  Back in the day it was an update on the campaign to prevail at the State House for the King holiday.  Now, I get to speak about what is going on at the State House related to the prophetic vision we associate with Dr. King.

Today I began my comments at the beginning of King’s career, before Rosa Parks (and Claudette Colvin) refused to give up seats on Montgomery buses.  The issue mobilizing the Montgomery “Negro” community was the wrongful conviction and death sentence of Jeremiah Reeves, a Black musician accused of raping a white woman.  In his Montgomery memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, King said “the Reeves case was typical of the unequal justice of Southern courts,” where Black men could be executed based on false accusations yet white men who raped “Negro girls” were jan 21 2013 018 rarely arrested and never brought to trial.

The fact that King’s activism began with a campaign to stop an execution is little known, but might carry some weight in the only New England state where the death penalty remains on the books.  We are also a state in which the outcome of two recent capital trials demonstrates that the “unequal justice” King described is not limited to the South or confined to history.  Remember and act.

King’s career ended in Memphis during a strike of city workers aiming for recognition of their union, and that was where I took my comments.  While our own legislature finally rejected last year’s poisonous right-to-work-for-less bills, attacks on public sector collective bargaining are back.  Senate President Peter Bragdon has just come out with SB 37, a bill that would eviscerate the power of public sector workers at the bargaining table.  We need the spirit of Dr. King and the Memphis workers atjan 21 2013 028 the State House this year.  Remember and act.

But we can’t forget to celebrate, and this year we celebrate the dedication of the  NH Sisters of Mercy, who were awarded the Martin Luther King Award in Manchester at an event aptly called the Martin Luther King Day Community Celebration.  The “Mercies” have been at the forefront of umpteen struggles for social justice longer than I’ve been in New Hampshire.  While the MLK Day Award has almost always gone to individuals in previous years, it felt great for the Sisters to be recognized as the community they are.  

Selina Taylor, an organizer with the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty andjan 21 2013 041 a member of the leadership of the Manchester NAACP was also recognized with an award. 

Richard Haynes delivered the keynote at the afternoon celebration, where he stressed the importance of education to a full house at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s community hall.  I’m sure he would have agreed with Rev. Rouse, who said we make a difference every day by “leaving footprints behind” for those coming up behind us.

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Canadian Solidarity Movement Gets Local Support

Entering fsteeplegate 1-12-13 002rom the parking lot, I was halfway into JC Penney when sounds not typically heard at Steeplegate Mall reached my ears.  From the store’s doorway I saw somewhere between 50 and 100 people dancing, chanting, and drumming in the mall courtyard.

A few signs that said “Idle No More” identified the group with the indigenous  solidarity movement that has spread from Canada in the past month. 

“On December 10th, Indigenous people and allies stood in solidarity across Canada to assert Indigenous sovereignty and begin the work towards sustainable, renewable development,” writes Devon Meekis on the official Idle No More website.  Meekis adds:

“All people will be affected by the continued damage to the land and water and we welcome Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies to join in creating healthy sustainable communities. We encourage youth to become engaged in this movement as you are the leaders of our future. There have always been individuals and groups who have been working towards these goals – Idle No More seeks to create solidarity and further support these goals. We recognize that there may be backlash, and encourage people to stay strong and united in spirit.”

The movement began in Saskatchewan as a protest against a Canadian law, C-45, pushed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which threatens indigenous sovereignty. 

Peter Newell of the NH Inter-Tribal Council said mall security officers told them not to hold their protest, but did not take any action to stop it.  The demonstration went on for about a half hour, with a dozen people drumming and chanting as fifty or more people circled around them dancing slowly and rhythmically in a clockwise direction.

There were no speeches, but leaflets describing Idle No More were distributed.steeplegate 1-12-13 001

A day of action is planned for January 28, when the Canadian Parliament resumes in Ottawa. 

According to an Idle No More press release,

“The Vision of IDLE NO MORE revolves around Indigenous Ways of Knowing rooted in Indigenous Sovereignty to protect water, air, land and all creation for future generations.

“The Conservative government bills beginning with Bill C-45 threaten Treaties and this Indigenous Vision of Sovereignty.

“The Goal of the movement is education and the revitalization of Indigenous peoples through Awareness and Empowerment.  IDLE NO MORE has logosuccessfully encouraged knowledge sharing of Indigenous Sovereignty and Environmental Protections.”

With shoppers passing by it was a little hard to tell who was in the demonstration and who wasn’t.  But it was clear that the spirit was peaceful and boisterous, and that Idle No More has a future in New Hampshire.

Idle No More has a substantial presence on Facebook, with 72,299 “Likes” as of this morning.

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