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Workers’ Rights Issues Aired at Funders’ Meeting

April 16, 2012

While the economy and jobs are still the most important issues on voters’ minds as the U.S. presidential election approaches, there is still strong support for increasing the minimum wage, even when it is attacked as a job killer. Voters also strongly support paid sick leave policies, even though they have been more vulnerable to attack.

Those were among the survey conclusions presented by pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and other panelists at a recent briefing for about 60 funders and advocates for workers’ rights. The briefing, conducted by the Neighborhood Funders Group Working Group on Labor and Community Partnerships, was held at the Public Welfare Foundation’s True Reformer Building.

In addition to support for higher wages and paid sick days, Lake and other panelists found that members of the public across the ideological spectrum worry about the disappearing middle class and the fading American dream of opportunity for low-income families. Yet, according to Julie Martinez Ortega, a policy researcher and a principal with Project New American Latino, these families are willing to pay more in taxes to improve education as a way of reviving the dream.

A key theme throughout the day-and-a-half briefing was articulated by Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority, who spoke of the need to focus on rebuilding the strength and visibility of community organizations that are “waging defensive battles” in the states. Perera focused on policies that try to prevent immigrants from working or from obtaining an education. Another speaker, Naomi Walker, Director of State Government Relations and Deputy Director of Government Affairs for the AFL-CIO, also addressed struggles in the states on matters affecting workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively.

At the same time, these community groups and other local organizations such as worker centers identified a need for support to advocate for state efforts to improve workplace standards. Among the efforts discussed were those in Maryland and Illinois to raise the minimum wage to $10.00 and $10.50 an hour, respectively -- a significant boost from the current federal level of $7.25 an hour.

The Working Group on Labor and Community Partnerships is a network of funders and philanthropic advisors who support workplace issues and organizing of low-wage workers.

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