As St. Paul considers minimum wage hike, some want to exempt youth workers

Cookie Cart produces more than just delicious snickerdoodle, chocolate chip and hand-decorated cookies. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit also claims to “bake bright futures” by training low-income teenagers in every aspect of the business, from marketing to distribution, on top of soft skills such as business etiquette and résumé-building. The job-training company, which is expanding to St. Paul’s Payne Avenue in April, now faces a double whammy. Minneapolis has mandated annual increases to its citywide minimum wage, and St. Paul officials are contemplating a similar move. For a small shop that spends at least as much time mentoring vulnerable students as producing a marketable product, nonprofit advocates say the numbers don’t add up. “Every $1 that that minimum wage goes up, that’s another $30,000 we have to make up in fundraising or in cookie sales,” said Cookie Cart executive director Matt Halley, who oversees more than 200 teens at the North Minneapolis production facility. “As an organization, we’re really supportive of the living wage, so this puts us in an awkward and an uncomfortable position.” His concerns are being echoed by others in the “earn to learn” youth-enrichment community. With some reticence, nonprofit leaders plan to ask that their young trainees be exempt from increasing minimum wage rules, such as the $15 hourly minimum that has already been approved and is gradually being rolled out in Minneapolis, as well as those under discussion in St. Paul. They’ll face opposition from advocates they sometimes count as allies. “We do not support any exemptions for any workers based on age,” said Celeste Robinson, co-director of $15 NOW! Minnesota, in a written statement to the Pioneer Press. “A carve-out for young workers would undermine the minimum wage policy. Contrary to the myth that minimum wage workers are high schoolers working for extra pocket Continue Reading

He pleaded guilty to raping a 12-year-old. Forty years later, he says he’s innocent.

Roy Watford was 18 and borderline intellectually disabled, when a Virginia judge asked him to make a decision that would go a long way to determine his future: How would he plead to the charge of raping a 12-year-old girl? Watford contended he was innocent, but his grandfather urged him not to take the risk of going to trial. He was looking at the possibility of life in prison if convicted by a jury, while a prosecutor was offering a deal that would allow him to walk out of the courthouse without serving a day. So Watford rose on March 23, 1978, with a heavy sense of shame and uttered the word that would dog him over the next four decades: guilty. Watford, 58, of Chesapeake, Virginia, is now petitioning the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn his conviction, saying he erred in his plea and new evidence - including DNA tests - show he could not have committed the crime. The state opposes the motion, saying Watford has not met the high bar of proof to be cleared. The court will hear oral arguments Wednesday before returning a decision. Few think they would plead guilty to a crime they didn't commit, but a recent spate of cases like Watford's is bringing increased attention to the issue of defendants who claim they are innocent despite their guilty pleas. Innocence advocates say such cases raise questions about the plea bargain system, which has grown to resolve about 95 percent of felony criminal cases in the United States. U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, Jed Rakoff, said mandatory minimums and other factors that increased the length of sentences during the rise in crime between the late 1960s and mid-1990s have given prosecutors extraordinary leverage over defendants - even innocent ones. "The penalty for going to trial is so high if you lose that, many people cannot take it," Rakoff said. The National Registry of Exonerations database shows nearly 400 of the nation's roughly 2,140 known exonerees pleaded guilty to their crimes before Continue Reading

Ohio, Michigan minimum wages to increase Jan. 1

Share Tweet Share Email Comments Print <!-- --> Ohio’s minimum wage will increase on Jan. 1 by 15 cents. In Michigan, the jump is even higher. ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Ohio’s minimum wage, a frequent hot topic for politicians and lobbying groups, will increase on Jan. 1 by 15 cents — a nearly 2 percent increase that raises the state’s wage floor to $8.30 an hour. In Michigan, the jump is even higher. A nearly 4 percent increase of 35 cents that will reset the minimum to $9.25 an hour on Jan. 1. Ordinarily, one might imagine such news would make unskilled workers break into joyous song and plunge their employers into the depths of despair. But the reality is that the minimum wage in both states, plus the federal minimum wage, which has been fixed at $7.25 an hour since 2009 due to intransigence by Congress, have become largely inconsequential. None of the three reflect the new realities of the labor marketplace, which has become a competitive hotbed for even the most unskilled worker, employers and other experts say. “$8.30 an hour is nice, but good luck finding any businesses paying only the minimum wage,” said Bill Wersell, vice president of business development services for the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce. “When it’s a tight market, people have to pay more and it’s been a tight market for a while now. I don’t know how you can find any employees at $7.25 an hour in this market,” he said. “Anybody who wants to work already is working and they’re making well above that nowadays.” If you want to blame someone for making the minimum wage irrelevant, employers say, blame the nation’s largest employer — Walmart. Sixteen years ago the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer was known for its wages, and not in a good way. Walmart’s average wage in 2001 was $8.23 per hour or $13,861 a year, below the federal poverty line for a family of Continue Reading

Obamas: daughters need minimum wage jobs to know ‘what it’s like to do that real hard work’

The Obamas want their daughters to work for minimum wage. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama told Parade magazine about their own experiences working minimum wage jobs as students, and said they wanted that experience for their two girls. “I think every kid needs to get a taste of what it’s like to do that real hard work,” Michelle Obama said in an interview published Friday, as the President continues to pitch a nationwide hike to the minimum wage. “We are looking for opportunities for them to feel as if going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, not always fair,” President Obama said in the interview. “But that’s what most folks go through every single day.” The Obama daughters were both spotted in Hollywood this week, with big sister Malia at work as a production assistant for an upcoming CBS sci-fi show starring Halle Berry. The 15-year-old fetched coffee during her gig on the “Extant” set, TMZ reported. Younger sister Sasha, 13, was also spotted in Los Angeles, visiting the set of teen drama “Pretty Little Liars” on Thursday, sources told TMZ. But she was likely visiting as a fan and not working as a set gopher. The Hollywood sets are a little more glamorous than the jobs the girls’ parents once worked, which the Obamas told Parade include Baskin-Robbins, a nursing home and a bindery. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Some minimum-wage debate clarification sorely needed

Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a proposal to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour has lit a fire under a debate that has been going on since The Roosevelt Era.The quote-American Dream-unquote, a myth that jingoists created along with their “This is the greatest country on Earth” rhetoric, assumes that every citizen has the right to a comfortable life. Any fool knows that is false as well as Utopian. Any and every society has haves and have nots, and most societies have a class structure with at least three or four tiers. Mind you, I am not saying that this is fair, but as your humble narrator has typed many times in Color In Black & White: Life is NOT fair. READ: Hey readers! It's the August edition Chief's Mailbag READ: Cooke: Jingoists be darned: I support Colin Kaepernick's position READ: Cooke: 'Helicopter' news release shocks your humble narrator READ: Cooke: Professional advice for employment seekersLet me say bluntly that no one is entitled to a comfortable life by birthright. In the United States of America, we do not live in a communist or socialist society. The pure economics of life dictate that we have what we can pay for. Now some want more than they can afford and therefore they use (and almost always abuse) the credit process. This abuse created many businesses and industries including, leasing, pawn broking, payday lending, rent-to-own, repossession, reverse mortgages, and the list goes on and on. “If she can have it, why can't I? If he has it, why shouldn’t I?" It’s the keeping up with the Joneses and the race for status has DEFEATED the United States of America.People sit around and whine, murmur and complain about low wages and such. Even a band that I love and admire wrote a song about “Whatever Happened to the Great American Bubble Factory?” and mused that “if they can make it there, why can’t they make it here?”Well, Continue Reading

Battle rages over NY’s minimum wage

ALBANY - Laura Barber, an employee at Tim Horton’s in Buffalo, just received an increase in the minimum wage to $9.75, but it isn’t helping quickly enough, she says.Barber, who is 20, lives on her own with her 1-year-old child. Pregnant and with another baby on the way, she depends on food stamps in order to supply her and her infant with meals.“It’s still not helping me pay my bills — we need it now,” she said of a proposed $15-an-hour minimum wage in New York.Although minimum-wage workers are eager for the increase in wages, business owners are worried about the consequences a $15 minimum wage will have on their stores or companies.As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democrats press for a $15 minimum wage in New York by 2021, the split between workers and companies over the issue is growing. Cuomo is eying to have a deal in place by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.“I would much rather see people working at my restaurant than out on the streets, but the increase in the minimum wage makes it more difficult,” said Glen Jeter, owner of a McDonald’s restaurant in Rochester.He is responsible for his employees’ wages as the franchisee, not the corporation. And he is planning to hire fewer employees in preparation for the $15 minimum wage. Fight underway Cuomo’s plan would create a $15 minimum wage in 2018 for New York City and 2021 for the rest of the state. Senate Republicans have expressed many concerns about the proposal, but have not officially rejected it.Restaurant owners have threatened that they would turn more to kiosks to replace cashiers.The higher wage’s “impact will be especially significant among young and low-skilled workers seeking entry-level jobs, and in areas upstate that have yet to recover losses sustained during the Great Recession,” Heather Briccetti, president of the state Business Council, said in a statement last month.The minimum wage increased to $9 an Continue Reading

Locals rally for minimum wage hike

Grandmother Addie Davis says she has to work 50-55 hours a week "just to bring home a decent paycheck."Tommie Stephens, a City of Poughkeepsie resident, said an hourly wage increase would help him buy food for his children.The two were among a crowd of people who gathered at a rally outside of City Hall in Poughkeepsie on Tuesday to push for a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. Nearly 30 people attended, including U.S. Rep. Sean Maloney, D-Cold Spring, and called on the state Legislature to pass the minimum wage increase by March 31.The hourly wage Davis makes working at a New Paltz nursing home — $12.20 —  "just isn't enough," said the 44-year-old city resident. "We need to be able to make ends meet and literally, I'm living paycheck-to-paycheck."The rally, organized by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, is one of many that has been held across the nation in support of wage increases."I think it would only greatly improve our local community," said Greg Speller, executive vice president of the Healthcare Workers union. "When our (local) workers have more to spend, they're going to spend it right here in Poughkeepsie."Maloney said raising the minimum wage would help cities like Poughkeepsie build up "good, strong" economies."There is no single step we can take that will help more people who need it more than by raising the minimum wage as quickly as possible," Maloney added.Doug Kellogg, a spokesman for the Reclaim New York Center for Government Reform and Accountability, said the wage hike is “popular on paper for understandable reasons, but in reality, there are negative impacts for real people.”The nonprofit Reclaim New York, which describes itself as a “non-partisan… organization focused on engaging all New Yorkers in a critical conversation about our future,” is that “promising people a better future without clearly informing them of the unintended Continue Reading

Fischer miffed as minimum wage law struck down

Mayor Greg Fischer joined Metro Council Democrats at City Hall on Thursday afternoon in saying the state Supreme Court erred in its decision to strike down Louisville's minimum wage law."Seven dollars and twenty-five cents, the old minimum wage, means you're making $15,000 a year," Fischer said. "So, for the folks with control in Frankfort, I want to ask if you could live on $15,000 a year?"The ruling could mean pay cuts for thousands of low-paid workers if their bosses choose to adjust their payrolls, but Fischer and Democratic leaders also fret that it stabs at the heart of the city's authority."No one should applaud a ruling that diminishes our home rule authority," said Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9th District. "And no one who calls themselves compassionate should be happy with a decision that cuts the pay of people making poverty-level wages."In an 11-page ruling written by Justice Bill Cunningham, the high court said the council exceeded its authority when it voted to eventually boost hourly salaries to $9 an hour nearly two years ago. It had been raised to $8.25 an hour in July in the second of three step increases.The ruling does not automatically cut a minimum wage worker's salary. It will be up to local employers to decide whether or not to adjust their payrolls back to the $7.25 state minimum wage.►READ MORE:  GLI bans Councilman Dan Johnson from events►READ MORE:  Jim Beam union contract up for vote FridayThe high court said in its 6-1 decision that requiring local businesses to pay workers a higher wage conflicts with state law."In other words, what the statute makes legal, the ordinance makes illegal and, thus, prohibits what the statute expressly permits," Cunningham said. "Therefore, the ordinance is invalid unless additional statutory authority permits municipalities to raise the minimum wage."Cunningham said Kentucky's minimum wage Continue Reading

Assembly Democrats push for New York City minimum wage increase, mayoral control of city schools until 2022

ALBANY — State Assembly Democrats want to create a higher minimum wage for the metropolitan area and extend mayoral control of city schools until 2022. The initiatives are contained in the Assembly’s proposed state budget, which outlines its priorities as the budget talks with Gov. Cuomo and the Senate heat up. The Assembly would build on Cuomo’s proposal to create a higher minimum wage for the first time just for New York City. Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau counties would be included in the plan, which would initially hike the rate to $12.50 an hour — $1 an hour more than Cuomo proposed. The Assembly Dems are also seeking to increase the rate to $15 an hour by the end of 2018 before automatically tying future hikes to the rate of inflation. “The current wage floor is not enough to allow full-time workers who put in a 40-hour work week to afford life’s basic necessities, let alone achieve financial independence,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). The Senate Republicans are expected to fight another minimum wage increase. Meanwhile, the Assembly Democrats would expand mayoral control over schools to beyond what would be the end of Mayor de Blasio’s second term. Cuomo has proposed just a three-year extension of the expiring law, which de Blasio wants to make permanent. The Assembly would also increase overall school funding by $1.8 billion, $830 million more than Cuomo proposed. More than half the new funding would go toward meeting a nearly decade-old court order that found the state has traditionally underfunded its schools in needy districts. The Assembly also rejects Cuomo’s attempts to tie school aid increases to passage of his education reform agenda. “We must help our children to succeed, not punish them because they may live in poorer communities,” Heastie said. Continue Reading

Readers sound off Meadowlark Lemon, horses and the minimum wage

Meadowlark rebounds back Scottsdale, Ariz.: Re “ ‘Lark trotted on son — suit” (May 18): Until now, I’ve kept my relationship with my kids private. For my extended family, friends and fans, I felt compelled to respond to the false public allegations made against me by my 48-year-old son, Jonathan Kurt Lemon and his 78-year-old mother, Willye Lemon Campbell. I received a motion for contempt this past October regarding my April 1977 divorce, nearly 40 years ago. Jonathan and his mother are seeking $250,000, using unsupported allegations claiming that I did not fulfill the court-ordered alimony and child-support. While I am stunned and saddened by these allegations, I am confident the court will find these allegations false. I have five children with my ex-wife Willye; Jon is the youngest. I love my kids. Providing for them is one of the most important things I’ve ever done. Thanks to all of you from around the world who have given me your tremendous support and encouragement. I will discuss this further after the motion has been settled in court. Meadowlark Lemon Horse hockey Eastchester, N.Y: Voicer Elizabeth Forel, a horse-ban advocate, says the horse-drawn-carriage trade is inhumane and dangerous. First, these are horses bred for this kind of existence, not people, who aren’t; second, try walking anywhere on sidewalks and streets in Midtown to see cars and bicycles making it far more dangerous to everyone than any horse ever could. Bill Fruhauf Ditto Chattahoochee Hills, Ga.: Voicer Elizabeth Forel claims horse-drawn carriages are not a $15 million business because she claims that the drivers only report a fraction of what they bring in. She also claims it’s not a top tourist attraction. If $15 million is only a fraction of the total, then it would certainly be a top tourist attraction in any city on Earth. Regardless, it supports 300 jobs and 220 horses, so it’s certainly a viable industry. What Continue Reading