For the umpteenth time, fast food workers protests to improve wages. Most of the protests involved picketing a franchise during work hours, but several protestors were arrested outside McDonald’s corporate office. So the obvious question is, will the protests work?
The National Labor Relations Act permits workers to collectively strike for the purpose of improving or drawing attention to a workplace condition. Therefore while an employer may refuse to compensate a worker for an absence, an employee is protected from being fired for an absence on account of a protest. An employer, however, does not have to heed an employee’s demands and alter schedules or hire a temporary employee to perform the work while an employee protest. An employee, therefore, risks financial hardships to protest for the off chance that the employer will consider a slight change.
The average hourly wage for full time fast food employees at McDonalds is $9.09 per hour. President Obama on several occasions has expressed interest to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. Unfortunately for him, Congress has other issues like immigration reform and re-elections that have taken priority. So workers are redirecting their efforts to the public.
According to Time, the movement to protest fast food restaurants began in New York City in November 2012. For many workers, the purpose is a personal message to their employer to increase their wage (versus a message to Congress to increase the national minimum wage). They must, however, identify and recognize the employer with the power to increase wages. According to McDonald’s spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, “approximately 80% of our global restaurants are independently owned and operated by small-business owners, who are independent employers that comply with local and federal laws.” Therefore it is not a billionaire corporate executive hoarding money from a full-time cashier, it is a small business franchise owner conserving his or her expenses to ensure a profit. In some cases a franchise owner cannot afford to raise wages. So if Congress is not listening, corporate office has little power, and franchise owners have financial hindrances, perhaps the best means for demanding change is through state legislators.
It is no secret that the cost of living in New York or California is higher than the cost of living in Georgia or Tennessee. And both New York and California have higher minimum wage requirements than federal law, unlike Georgia or Tennessee. State legislators are more assessable for workers to demand change, and residents are more sympathetic to the plight of their own to advocate for change. The National Employment Law Project provides that thirteen states have increased their minimum wages by an average of 28 cents. So while some workers are getting their employers to take notice, and in some cases increase a wage by 10 cents or slightly more, state legislatures can make bigger changes for a large amount of people. That is the change that makes the protests worth it.
Tuesday January 28, 2014 may be remembered for one of the following reasons: 1) if you live in the South, being stuck in traffic for hours due to rarely seen and never prepared to handle snow, 2) President Obama’s 2014 state of the union address, or 3) another random day. For fellow southerners or citizens with only a slight interest in politics, below are potential changes President Obama addressed in his speech and the Republican’s response. Both speakers spent the majority of their time discussing issues or providing political philosophy, so this article is not intended to endorse one party over the other. Do keep in mind, however, that President Obama’s speech was longer and by virtue of his position is more pertinent than the Republican’s response. Therefore his speech has more content than the Republican’s response.
President Obama noted the importance of improving education for the future of America’s economy and workforce. After highlighting Estiven Rodriguez, a student who despite not knowing English at the age of 9 was able to successfully apply and encourage other students to apply for college, President Obama stated that he wanted to work with Congress, other elected officials, business leaders, philanthropists, and state governments to make pre-K programs available to everyone. He also pledged to connect 99% of high school students with high speed broadband in hopes of preparing students for high tech jobs.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers presented the Republican’s response. In response to President’s Obama’s education initiatives, she stated that Republicans wanted to work with parents to improve their child’s education. By enhancing various training and other educational programs, Republicans want to empower parents to decide the best institution for their child’s education.
Income Equality/Minimum Wage
President Obama focused on the disparate pay of women when addressing a lack of equal pay in the workforce. While calling for Congress to improve benefits and pay for women and men raising families, he also requested Congress raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour to enable all full-time workers to avoid poverty.
Representative Rodgers, on the other hand, encouraged Americans to focus on opportunity equality rather than income equality. She encouraged people to avoid focusing on possible limitations and focus on individual possibilities. She stated that individuals should not define themselves by their limitations, but rather by their potential. Congress should therefore empower them to achieve their potential.
Affordable Care Act
The exhausting yet must be mentioned spill on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). President Obama used Amanda Shelley to show that the Affordable Care Act helps millions of Americans obtain health insurance who would have otherwise been denied. As a result of having insurance, Ms. Shelley received medical care without liquidating all her assets.
In response to his praise of the Affordable Care Act, Representative Rodgers reminded viewers that the legislation raised premiums for several Americans. She therefore insisted that healthcare choices be the choice of individuals and not the government.
The main difference between the two speeches continues to rest in political philosophy. President Obama wants government to provide jobs, opportunities, educations, and other services to the people, whereas the Republican response indicates a desire to have government empower people to work hard and create their own jobs and opportunities. So we will once again see if they will work to stand on philosophy or work to stand for people.
It is commendable that President Obama sought congressional approval to strike Syria instead of exercising discretionary power to declare war. Especially given that Congress often fights his initiatives. But if his action is merely a formality, and no matter the outcome he will strike Syria, then his attempt to deceive the nation into believing the strike was a united decision obliterates the initial accolades. Manipulating the government, even if well intended, is wrong because it is deceptive. The problem with Iraq is not being wrong about weapons of mass destruction, but that Americans believed they were deceived.
The Constitution grants Congress the power to execute all powers vested by the Constitution, which includes the President’s power to declare war. The War Powers Act requires the President to consult Congress before submitting armed forces into hostile situations. History, however, presents instances where Congress did not approve a presidential declaration of war or was not consulted prior to the President’s submission of armed forces. For example the Vietnam War, invading Grenada in 1983, and military action in Panama in 1989. Therefore in theory, the democratic government requires the President, Congress, and the people to agree and have a stake in declarations of war. In practice, however, the President can exercise his or her own best judgment.
The draft resolution to strike Syria outlines Syrian’s alleged violation of international law, using chemical weapons against its own people. It insufficiently explains the evidence that either supports Syrian’s direct use of chemical weapons, or why Assad’s assertion that rebels were the culprits is false. Additionally, it does not explain why waiting for the United Nations to review the evidence of chemical weapons before deciding whether to join U.S. efforts is inadequate. It does, however, make clear that President Obama’s goal is to ensure the U.S. acts as judge and executioner as it relates to international law violations.
President Obama’s reasoning for striking Syria may be irrelevant so long as he believes it to be America’s best interest. If democracy is voting on representatives to legislate and enforce our best interests as they see it, then whether Congress or Americans understand the reasoning for many government decisions, including war, is irrelevant. But if a democracy is voting on representatives to voice interests articulated by the American people, then understanding why his opinion is best and obtaining congressional approval ensures collective responsibility in accordance with the Constitution.
One of the most riveting shows on Black Entertainment Television was American Gangster, a television series that documented the most powerful gangsters and drug dealers in the African American community. It used upbringing to understand their behavior, while showcasing neighborhoods dying at the same rate as drug users because of the distribution of drugs. Watching the effects drugs had on families and neighborhoods in addition to the users, would make any community demand for harsher punishment of drug offenders.
But hindsight is 20/20, and while harsher sentencing sounded great at the time, for many it created more problems. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 set mandatory minimum sentences based on several factors including quantity of drug, type of drug, and extenuating circumstances like a second time offender or the presence of a firearm when drugs were discovered. For example being convicted of possession with the intent to distribute five grams of crack cocaine is a five-year sentence. For a second time offender, the sentence is ten years. If the individual is carrying a firearm, another five years is added to the sentence.
According to Attorney General Eric Holder, the guidelines created the following problems: increased the prison population 800%, cost the US billions of dollars, and was disparately applied to African Americans. The Fair Sentencing Act tried to decrease such disparity, but African Americans remain incarcerated at a higher rate than other races for drug related offenses.
Recently, the Attorney General announced that the Department of Justice will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders. He explained that what had incited the guidelines, the war on drugs, has been ineffective and unsustainable for solving the problem. He proposed replacing some mandatory sentences with drug treatment and community service programs. Is he overstepping his authority?
Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General under President Bush, disagrees with mandatory minimums but rejects Holder’s approach stating that it is the role of Congress to change law. William Otis, a former federal prosecutor, also rejected Holder’s approach arguing that the sentences have deterred certain drug offenses. This is not the first time a federal agency has used its enforcement power to change the application of federal law, but is sidestepping branches of government the answer? Though Congress during the second term of President Obama’s administration has been slow to take action, does that justify Holder’s decision not to enforce federal laws?