The Truth About Tipped Workers

By Gabriela Vasquez, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

The minimum wage for tipped workers has remained at $2.13 since 1991, a fact that is sometimes obscured in discussions about raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC) held a forum on tipped workers on July 23 to address the question of why tipped workers should receive the full minimum wage. And with 70 percent of tipped workers in the food industry, much of the conversation centered on restaurant workers.

Laura Fortman from the Department of Labor discussed the role the Wage and Hour Division plays in regulating wages of tipped workers. Fortman’s perspective was that the division should enforce the federal law that requires employers to pay $2.13 per hour to tipped workers who earn at least $30 in a month. The goal of the Wage and Hour Division, according to Fortman, is to “make sure that a fair day’s work results in a fair day’s pay.”

Since EPI recently released a report on tipped workers in coordination with the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics (CWED) of the University of California at Berkley, the bulk of Wednesday’s forum focused on the findings of that report – “Twenty-Three Years and Still Waiting for Change: Why It’s Time to Give Tipped Workers the Regular Minimum Wage.” Sylvia Allegretto, CWED co-chair and one of the authors of the report, advocated for eliminating the tipped minimum wage altogether. Using the seven states that have no subminimum wage as an example, Allegretto claimed that the “restaurant industry does not hinge on paying tipped workers $2.13.” David Cooper of EPI, who co-authored the report, further explained several of the report’s findings. Cooper stated that the “vast majority of [tipped] workers are not doing that well,” but are doing much better in states where they are paid the full minimum wage. In fact, Cooper pointed out that the gender gap is smaller and poverty rates are dramatically lower for workers in these states.

Providing more personal perspectives were Marcie Gardner and Amber Grinden, who are tipped workers in the restaurant industry. Both women touched on the difficulties of having their income depend on customers’ tips. Imar Hutchins, owner of the Florida Avenue Grill, shared his views as a restaurant owner, pointing out that many people aren’t even aware of the existence of a subminimum wage for tipped workers.

While accomplishing reform nationwide faces many obstacles, it is clear that Cooper was right in saying that “the system needs to change.”

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Mascot Debate Should Focus on Harmful Effects on Youth

A month after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) cancelled six federal trademark registrations for the name of Washington’s football team, the Center for American Progress says the team’s name is more than just racist: it has real effects on American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth every day.

The report, “Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth,” reveals that offensive mascot names can foster hostile learning environments for AI/AN students, result in lower self-esteem and mental health, and lead to the development of cultural prejudices since the stereotypical depictions are often understood to be true.

AI/AN youth, according to the report, have some of the nation’s lowest high school graduation rates and have a suicide rate that is 2.5 times higher than the national average. Native mascots not only misrepresent the AI/AN community – they mask an enduring affliction that is felt every day.

In May, 50 senators wrote a letter to National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell, urging the team to change its name. That request was quickly denied, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D. Nev., continues to be outspoken on the issue.

Members of Congress aren’t the only ones opposing the name. Last week, the granddaughter of the team’s founder said the name should change. In December 2013, The Leadership Conference voted unanimously at its national board meeting for a resolution urging the team’s owner to change the name.

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34 Years After Signing, United States Still Hasn’t Ratified CEDAW

By Amrita Bamrah, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Today marks the 34th anniversary of the United States signing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – a United Nations treaty intended to bring equality to women around the world. But more than three decades after Jimmy Carter signed the treaty, the United States still stands out as one of a handful of countries that has not ratified it.

CEDAW is an international agreement designed to uphold fundamental human rights. Also known as the women’s equality treaty, it supports equality between men and women around the globe by providing countries with guidelines on how to promote progress for women. By ratifying CEDAW, countries commit to implementing measures that would help end discrimination against women in all forms. The treaty has helped overcome barriers to combating discrimination throughout the ratifying countries, for example, by decreasing sex trafficking and domestic abuse, ensuring the right to vote and ability to work, and helping to improve maternal health care.

Today, 187 countries have ratified CEDAW – and the United States remains one of only seven countries that has not taken this step despite support from Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama.

Ratifying CEDAW would affirm the United States as a leader in promoting equality for women everywhere. During a Senate hearing last month on combating violence and discrimination against women, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D. Mass., said, “The U.S. must be committed to protecting the rights of women and girls, committed to preventing violence and discrimination against women across the globe.” Warren also urged, “Investing in women and girls means investing in the future. It is prosperous, secure, just, and peaceful for all and it’s time for Congress to carry this fight forward.”

Share this image on social media if you think it’s time for the United States to join 187 other countries in ratifying the women’s equality treaty.

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Is America Really a Nation of ‘Soon to Haves’?

By Juliet Eisenstein, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Our country was founded as a land of opportunity, and we have long upheld the ladder of success to be equally accessible to all. If everyone is created equal, however, as our Declaration of Independence asserts, how have some experienced much greater success than others, more so than merit can account for? “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver explored issues surrounding income inequality in a recent segment, saying, “Just because politicians can’t talk about income inequality doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.” In 14 minutes, Oliver explores the current economic divides permeating American society and introduces a system called “America Ball,” a version of the lottery where the wealthiest and most low-income citizens are really playing two separate games: one which easily grants some individuals continued wealth, and one system that struggles to operate, allowing little to no upward movement.

Oliver also shows a clip of Sen. Marco Rubio, R. Fla., testifying that America is “a nation of haves and soon to haves” to drive home frequent misconceptions of income inequality. Oliver uses Rubio’s terminology throughout the segment to question how accessible our nation’s ladder of success truly is, and to ask how “soon” those at the bottom of the income ladder may experience the successes of those at the top.

Watch the full segment here:

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Henderson: Common Core an Important Part of Driving Equitable Change

During the Rethinking Accountability conference last month in Washington, D.C., Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that by supporting the Common Core State Standards – which he calls “an important part of driving equitable change in our public school system” – we are also supporting greater investments in education to prepare effective teachers and provide the resources students need to succeed.

“This is a moment when – because of the anniversary of the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, because of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act – we have both looked back as a nation, but we’re also looking ahead,” Henderson said. “And in looking ahead, we recognize the diversity we celebrate today – the emergence of the Latino community, the continued expansion of the African-American community, the Asian American community, as well as a group of progressive Whites of a new generation, who believe that the values that we support as a country should affect us all and are committed to achieving the same goals that we want for ourselves. I’m actually very optimistic that our country will be able to address the needs of its educational system and to make sure that equity is a principle we can all support.”

The conference discussed how schools, districts, and communities across the nation are charting new paths to student- and learning-focused accountability, and how new approaches are making a difference in improving education. It was hosted by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Sandler Family Foundation.

Watch Henderson’s interview and keynote address at the conference below.

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#MoreThanAProfile: Quad Caucus Leaders Call For Revision of DOJ Profiling Guidance

By Quaila Hugh, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Last week, leaders from the Quad Caucus – comprised of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Congressional Progressive Caucus – stood with civil rights advocates and victims of profiling at a press conference to discuss the impact of profiling, to call on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to revise the 2003 Department of Justice Guidance, and to launch the #MoreThanAProfile campaign.

The guidance – issued in 2003 and still unrevised – is in dire need of revisions to ensure the protection of civil rights. Specifically, civil rights groups want the guidance to prohibit profiling based on religion and national origin, eliminate loopholes that currently allow for profiling in the name of border and national security, prohibit profiling in the context of law enforcement surveillance activities, apply to state and local law enforcement agencies working in partnership with federal agencies or receiving federal funding, and include enforceable accountability mechanisms.

Leaders from the Quad Caucus expressed the same urgent message to Holder last week: the current guidelines need to be revised to protect all persons in the United States.

The often silenced voices of profiling victims were heard, too. Individuals shared compelling stories about how debilitating an illegitimate encounter with law enforcement can be.

  • Bonita Rhodes Berg, an African-American mother, was stopped in a Minneapolis airport on her trip home from visiting her son. After holding the elevator for the undercover officers who later stopped her, the officers examined her “heavy” carry-on only to find her “Bible, devotional book, toiletries…. But no drugs and no money.”
  • Gurwinder Singh, a Sikh American student, was profiled by Capitol Hill officers in front of Congress. On the Hill to provide testimony on school bullying, he was stopped and grilled with questions, and released only when others came to verify his account.
  • Daniel Trejo, a gay Latino, shared how he was not only profiled but also identified as a target to law enforcement. After calling the police for a medical emergency, he and his friends were treated as objects, referred to as “it,” and one transgender friend was solicited for sexual favors.

The time to end profiling is now. The #MoreThanAProfile campaign directly asks Holder to change the guidance to help eliminate profiling. You can participate in the campaign, too! Post a message on social media sharing a personal story or message of support to end all forms of discriminatory profiling. Be sure to include #MoreThanAProfile.

View a recording of last week’s the press conference below.

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Making Progress for Working Families

By Gabriela Vasquez, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

This week, the White House took a big step towards starting the conversation on fair policies for working parents in the United States. The White House Summit on Working Families addressed many of the problems working families face, such as lack of flexibility in the workplace, paid leave, and access to childcare.

Leaders from a variety of fields spoke at the summit about how the United States can help working parents who are struggling with work and family obligations. Business leaders like Makini Howell, owner of Plum Bistro Restaurant, emphasized the benefits fair workplace policies provide a company. Howell firmly stated that businesses “can care about working families and still make a healthy profit.” This was underscored by many of the panelists, including Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard, who said that the “businesses that survive the longest are the most responsive to change.”

While some at the summit praised the progress that has already been made in the United States to help working parents, a recurring theme was how far behind the nation is on a global scale. In his afternoon remarks, President Barack Obama said, “There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us. And that is not the list you want to be on. It’s time to change that.”

Since working women now make up almost half of all workers – and since six in 10 women are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners for their families – the topic of women in the workforce was discussed extensively. And while advances have certainly been made, women are still paid less than men for doing similar work – and Congress isn’t helping.

Many of the panelists encouraged Americans to take action. From pushing for a raise in the minimum wage, to pressuring local and state officials to act, it was clear that – in their minds – there are ways to move forward on these issues. As First Lady Michelle Obama noted in her remarks, “there is no excuse for America to be following on this issue. We should be leading.”

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