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Economics in Brief: Capitol Hill Staffers Win the Right to Unionize

Also, survey finds wage theft is pervasive among fast-food workers and the Biden administration plans to foot the internet bill for some Americans.

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House of Representatives Votes to Give Their Staff the Right to Unionize

The House of Representatives has voted in favor of providing staffers with protections should they seek unionization, The American Prospect reports.

The Congressional Workers Union (CWU), a coalition of staffers across the political spectrum, formally announced their intention to unionize in February, after a survey by the Congressional Prgressive Staff Association (CPSA) found that 91% of employees surveyed wanted greater protections to give them voice at work because they were underpaid and overworked

Amid increased pressure from the union, Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed in a press release last week to increase the minimum annual salary per staff to $45,000 by September 1, to which she gained appraisal from the CPSA. The speaker also increased the maximum pay salary to $203,700 to match the Senate’s increase.

Congressional staffers were given the right to unionize through the Congressional Accountability Act in 1995, but according to the New York Times, lawmakers did not provide workers with the necessary legal protections to freely do so.

“For 26 years, Congress has had the opportunity to pass this resolution but has failed to act, until our collective demands were too loud for them to ignore,” said the CWU in an online statement. “Tonight is a reminder of the power of collective action and what the freedom to form a union truly means — democracy not just in our elections, but in our workplaces too.”

Wage Theft is Pervasive Among California Fast-Food Workers, Survey Finds

A survey by the Fight for $15 campaign, funded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), found that wage theft is common among California’s lowest-paid fast-food workers, KQED reports.

Of the 400 people surveyed, 85% said that they experienced at least one labor law violation, including insufficient overtime pay or zero compensation for working off the clock.

The survey’s authors blame this type of mistreatment on the fact that most fast-food chains operate on a franchise model, meaning corporations are protected from taking responsibility for wage theft or other violations.

California could be the first state to change that through the FAST Recovery Act, a new bill that would make corporations responsible for any labor law violations.

But while this legislation remains up in the air, workers remain vulnerable.

Such is the case of María Bernal, a Jack in the Box worker, who was only paid for two-thirds of the hours she worked. “It made me very angry because I needed that money to pay for my expenses,” Bernal told KQED. When Bernal, a single mother of three, brought up her concerns to her store manager, she was threatened with decreased hours.

Bernal was able to file a claim to investigate the $86,200 wage theft she experienced. But because of understaffing in the Labor Commissioner’s Office, a hearing can take years to be heard. And even on the federal level the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) faces similar challenges with about a thousand workers in charge of policing more than 7.3 million businesses, as Next City previously reported.

For now, the SEIU is working to best support the FAST Recovery Act, which would also create a council that would allow workers to have greater voice.

The bill has passed in the State Assembly and is now awaiting another vote in the Senate.

Biden Administration to Provide Financial Assistance for Internet Costs

The Biden administration will work with internet providers to help cover internet costs for low-income Americans, NPR reports.

The initiative, dubbed the Affordable Connectivity Program, will give 48 million Americans access to internet plans of at least 100 Megabits per second of speed for a maximum of $30.

Twenty internet providers — including companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — have committed to the plan. “It’s time for every American to experience the social, economic, health, employment and educational benefits of universal scaled access to the Internet,” said AT&T CEO John Stankey.

To see if you are eligible, click here.

This article is part of The Bottom Line, a series exploring scalable solutions for problems related to affordability, inclusive economic growth and access to capital. Click here to subscribe to our Bottom Line newsletter.

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Solcyre (Sol) Burga was an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow with Next City for summer 2021. Burga graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in political science and journalism in May of 2022. As a Newark native and immigrant, she hopes to elevate the voices of underrepresented communities in her work.

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Tags: internet accessunionswage theft

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