Worker Shortages Are Pushing Wages Up at the Bottom

New Orleans       With more than twenty candidates signed up for the Democratic primary, they are undoubtedly getting more advice than they want from all corners, friend and foe, including for many that they need to get out of the race, so who am I to throw water on their fire?  Regardless, I’ll say this one thing more than one year out, remember James Carville’s line, “it’s the economy, stupid!”  Once they do, they need to not take lower wage, service workers for granted in the race against Trump, nor should they mistakenly assume they will turn out in huge numbers to beat him despite the rising inequality, his tax cuts for the corporations and the rich, his anti-immigrant and anti-poor positions and policies, and the endless list of other infractions and embarrassments in the White House.

Why?  Because record unemployment is finally forcing wages up at the grassroots.  I’ll tell you from the frontlines of the battlefield how I know.

A chain of nursing homes where our union, Local 100, United Labor Unions, has a contract for a number of homes in Shreveport in north Louisiana, had changed hands over recent years.  One company in more of a real estate play got in trouble with a REIT and had to declare bankruptcy.  A new one has taken over and was bargaining the successor contract for the homes with us.  We made our proposal to improve wages, and they came back.  We are now going to have a starting wage there of $11 per hour, a significant jump in the land of $7.25 minimums, and there were seniority bumps and shift differentials.

Was this one off, you might ask?  No, another contract that came up in Napoleonville on the west side of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge at another nursing home a month ago.  There we also won record increases on starting wages and up and down the scale of almost a dollar an hour.

Did we just become stronger or better?  I wish!

The reality is that we are catching the wave of record, 50-year lows in unemployment rates close to statistical full employment.  Nursing homes require certified nurse aides, so it’s not simply hire-off-the-street, even though companies have not always valued the wages in the same way.

This wave of wage increases shows up in the Fight for $15 effort certainly and has spread to mass employers like McDonalds, Walmart, Amazon, and many others, who can’t get the workers they need.  I’m not pretending this is trickle-down and every boat will rise.  That won’t happen with the level of precariousness, gigging, and less than full-time work. Nonetheless, there are going to be a ton of lower wage workers who would normally be base voters, and still might be, but who are going to hit the polls with more money in their pockets, and less desperate to throw the bum out.  They won’t be focused on whether this employment run is a continuation of the Obama recovery and whether or not Trump’s claims are valid, but they will know their money is better.

Anyone taking these voters for granted will lose badly.  They aren’t Trump voters, but truth to tell, many of them are not chronic voters, so the message to our members and many millions more is going to have to be better than, “come out and vote for anybody but….”  They don’t like him, but they won’t break a leg to beat him, because they don’t like the elites any better than he does, and for all the sound and fury, they will know their money is better now, even if the rich are richer.

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Hello, Landlords and Your Bankers, Meet ACORN!

New Orleans      Landing in New Orleans at 1:30 AM, the calendar alert said it was ACORN’s anniversary, our 49th birthday.  The real celebration though had already happened the day before in Hamilton, Ontario, as ACORN Canada’s Convention had featured a final day of marches and multiple actions on a gorgeous day in every way.

The crowd shook off their early morning wakeup and packing and rocked the halls of McMaster University as the leaders led the chants before the buses loaded up to take everyone to the rally site at a local park near downtown Hamilton.  This was going to be a day of not one-two punches against landlord renovictions in the city, but almost a one-two-three-four swing of roundhouses for tenant rights and against rapacious gentrification not only in Hamilton but across the country.  As the members were assembling to march, an advance team of several dozen was already at work putting banners on various Malleum properties along the downtown corridor.  Malleum has been a Hamilton-based property owner that has exploited rising rents and evictions on the pretense of renovations to evict tenants.

The first stop on the march of course was the headquarters of Malleum itself which was on lockdown as members streamed up the steps and accessible entry points.  Others hung protest banners over the balcony as members let their voices roar about the “war on the poor.”  The next stop as the march snaked through the streets towards the center of town was yet another Malleum property in development.  A second punch delivered.

Most days this would be a good day’s work by the hundreds of members from around Canada who assembled to make their points heard across the county.  Not today!  The march stretched several blocks in length now and had attracted an extensive police escort as we took the street and left the sidewalk behind.  It should not have been a surprise to bystanders or our escorts once the chants changed to RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada, as a predatory lender, that another upper cut was coming in hard as a haymaker.  When we hit the building, organizers opened the doors and all of the members came streaming into the mall entry at the ground level, then down the stairs and around the bend, as building security grabbed their radios and hit call buttons, the ACORN members marched into the bank itself, filling up the space.  The demand was straightforward:  stop lending to predatory landlords evicting tenants in rent gouging schemes!  There’s no more hiding the hand, while the Malleum’s throw the rocks at tenants the banks are enabling.

Not through yet, the march ended in a rally in front of City Hall demanding more protection from city bylaws for tenants in these ongoing battles.  The previous day members had door knocked in three wards initiating phone calls to city councilors and generating hundreds of signatures on petitions for support of rent limits and tenant protections.  One of the councilors came down from city hall to address the members briefly in response.

ACORN at 49, still kicking and swinging at the enemies of low-and-moderate income families.  That’s the way to celebrate any birthday.  For icing on the cake, the busloads of members from Ottawa detoured through Toronto to the headquarters of Timbercreek, a REIT that has resisted our demands, winning a meeting.

How sweet it is!

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