POW! 2017 Annual Conference

116th ANNUAL CONFERENCE: 
Persisting & Organizing to Win! Putting the POW in EMPOWER!

October 5-6, St Louis, MO

Online Registration is NOW OPEN!

Empower Missouri is dedicating the 2017 Annual Conference to the role of labor organizing. With continued attacks to reduce the reach and influence of the labor community, now is the time to focus on building strong alliances across the broad social justice spectrum.

Keynote Speakers:

  • Nancy Cross: Opening Keynoter, Vice President SEIU Local 1
  • Tiffany Dena Loftin: Closing Keynoter, Senior Program Specialist, NEA
  • Rev. Traci Blackmon & Rabbi Susan Talve: Dinner & Awards Speaker

 

Workshops:

Workshop titles and times subject to change, more details to follow.

Breakout Session #1 1:30-3:00 PM   Breakout Session #2 3:15-4:45 PM
Housing & Food Insecurity Among Low-Wage Workers (AHHTF & HTF)   Housing & Food Insecurity Among Low-Wage Workers (Repeat) (AHHTF & HTF)
Justice in the Workplace (HRTF)   Faith/Labor Alliance
MO Budget Project (EJTF)   Ban the Box - Fair Chance Hiring Policies (CJTF)
Impact of Trauma on Low-Wage Workers (H/MHTF)   Minimum Wage and #FF$15 (EJTF)

Scholarships:

10% of the total tickets sold are available at a Scholarship Rate of 10% of the conference price. Click here to apply for a scholarship. If selected, you will receive registration instructions.

Sponsoring:

You and/or your organization can show your support for worker's rights and grassroots organizing by sponsoring our conference and contributing to our scholarship fund for low-wage workers. 

Thank you to last year's Sponsors. 2017 Sponsors include:

Missouri Jobs with Justice

When & Where

October 5-6, 2017

Sheraton Clayton Plaza Hotel, St. Louis

7730 Bonhomme Ave.

St. Louis, MO 63105

(Special hotel rate of $109/night is available under "Empower Missouri October 2017")

 

Sponsors

 

Documents

Governor’s Commission Deletes Vital Tax Reform Proposals

By Jeanette Mott Oxford
Executive Director, Empower Missouri

On January 25, 2017, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens issued an executive order creating the Governor’s Commission on Simple, Fair and Low Taxes. The commission was to hold at least four public hearings and issue a final report by June 30, 2017.

The commission held several meetings at which testimony was taken, mostly in Jefferson City, and I testified for Empower Missouri and our Missourians for Tax Justice sub-committee of the Economic Justice Task Force at the May 23 meeting. The four public hearings were held in May and June, and none of these was set for an urban area.

On June 30, the commission did indeed release a final report. The report followed expectations by various political pundits, proposing that tax credits be subjected to the appropriations process, that the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program be converted to a low interest loan program and that a lower cap be established on the Historic Preservation Tax Credit.

But a curious thing happened on the way to the publication of the final report. A draft version of a much longer commission report was leaked to the media and published by the Missouri Times newspaper on June 28. That draft included several recommendations that Empower Missouri made in our May 23 testimony and suggestions from our allies at the Missouri Budget Project as well.

Why Is Missouri’s Revenue System In Such a Mess?

On the same day that the commission’s final report was released, Gov. Greitens announced $251 million in new withholdings due to revenue shortages. This is a common story, occurring whether a Democrat or a Republican occupies the governor’s mansion, because, expressed simply, Missouri’s revenue system is a mess. There are multiple factors that have created a perfect storm for Missouri’s revenue system. Among these are:

1) The Hancock Amendments

Voters in our state helped to create our repeated budget woes by passing the Hancock Amendment in 1980. This established that total state revenues cannot exceed 5.64% of Missourians’ personal income or tax dollars have to be returned to Missouri income tax payers. (This provision was triggered more than once in the 1990’s.) A second revenue-limiting amendment was passed in 1996, forcing the General Assembly to take most revenue-producing ideas to the voters for approval.

According to the most recent audit from May 2017, we are now $4.1 billion below the point at which Hancock refunds would be triggered. We believe this is an indication that our General Assembly is not providing a maintenance of effort related to the common good in Missouri.

2) Tax Cuts

The General Assembly has repeatedly cut taxes over the past twenty years – with cuts totaling approximately two billion dollars cumulatively, according to testimony given by Jim Moody at a hearing on Senate Joint Resolution 12 on February 21, 2017.

Cutting taxes is popular, but history shows us that it does not cause prosperity to break out all over as promised. Pres. Reagan raised taxes after cutting them. The “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” cuts in Colorado had to be changed because of damage done to their state, especially educational institutions, by those cuts. The Kansas Legislature has now overturned part of Gov. Brownback’s cuts.

3) Our System Is Outdated

The General Assembly has not updated our graduated tax table since 1931 – leaving our state with an outdated, unfair and inadequate revenue system – and one that is harder to fix with every year that passes. Our top tax bracket starts at $9,000 of taxable income, a lot of money in 1931, but poverty-level in 2017. (In 2017 dollars, $9,000 equals $143,786, yet we have not adjusted our tax brackets for modern realities.)

4) Our System Is Unfair – In More Than One Way

Right now, a Missourian making less than $18,000 annually pays 9.5% of their incomes in sales, excise, property and excise taxes, while a Missourian making more than $407,000 annually pays 5.5%. This is a function of our state’s essentially “flat tax” due to lack of modernization of the 1931 progressive brackets, combined with the deduction for federal income taxes paid.

Missouri is one of only six states allowing a deduction on state taxes for federal taxes paid. The wealthiest 40 percent of Missourians receive 83% of the benefit of this tax feature (sometimes called the FIT Deduction), and the tally of funds not collected due to it in the most recent year for which we have data was nearly $600 million, according to data shared by the Department of Revenue with the Missouri State Tax Study Commission in autumn, 2016.

Improvements That Could Be Made

Taken in combination, Missouri’s voters and General Assembly have structured our state to fail to provide essential programs and services and destined Missouri governors to face withholdings repeatedly. But there are solutions that could be implemented:

We could update Missouri’s tax brackets to match modern economic realities. They are so outdated that it is almost impossible to do this while reaching even tax revenue neutrality since they are so badly out of date. Loss of revenue is apt to happen without a new higher rate for some bracket (hopefully at the top incomes) or reform of some tax feature like elimination of the FIT Deduction described above.

A state-level Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the best ways to help these families. It is structured to reward work and to avoid “cliff effects.” It is simple to administer because it is based on the federal EITC. There are families in every Missouri county who would receive much needed help from a state EITC, and those families would also spend much of the funds received in their home counties on the basics, stimulating local economies. .

Participating in The Main Street Fairness Act (Streamlined Sales Tax) would also level the playing field between bricks and mortar businesses in Missouri and online shopping venues in other states. Many avoid paying sales taxes currently by shopping by Internet. Our Missouri stores are disadvantaged.

In Conclusion

We agree with the concluding paragraph in this July 6, 2017 editorial by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board.

Given the political influence of big tax credit recipients, those reforms aren’t likely to pass, either. Tax reform is hard work and fraught with political peril. It requires more courage than Missouri’s politicians have been able to summon.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, courage is “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Fear does not have to disappear to be courageous; one just must be able to withstand it. Missouri’s General Assembly should gather the courage to undertake reality-based tax reform work as our state’s future health and well-being depends upon it.

Legislative Update Week of 3.13.17

 
Three Cheers for You! SB 28, the block granting of Medicaid, has been put on the back burner. Thanks for making all those calls. The bill was briefly debated in the senate floor before being laid over to the informal calendar - so it could come back, but it was not put forward for a vote at this time. Take a deep breathe and soak in that moment.
 
 Advocates testified on two bills (HBs 712 and 713) put forward by Rep. Dan Shaul (R-Imperial) and Rep. Crystal Quade (D-Springfield), respectively, to create a pilot program to address the Cliff Effect specifically as it relates to when working parents lose ALL child care subsidies over often miniscule raises. Read more.  Reach out to the House Children and Families Committee members, tell them your experience with this, and urge them to approve this legislation.
 
 
We thank Rep. Cora Faith Walker (D-St. Louis County) for filing HB 847which would require training about trauma and trauma-informed approaches as part of preparation to become a teacher. Email or call the House Special Committee on Urban Issues in support of the bill.
 
 
Our Human Rights Task Force members testified in support of SB 287, to reduce bias in policing. Encourage Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence committee members to approve this legislation.
 
 
That was the good news.
 
 
The state legislature is trying to keep St. Louisians from the raise in the minimum wage they passed 2 years ago. HCS HBs 1193 & 1194 are moving quickly, having been introduced, heard, and passed through the House chamber all last week. They might try to push this through the Senate before Legislative Spring Break (March 17-24). Tell your senator this bill deserves time for debate and discussion, not a rubber stamp. Let your senator know you support a higher minimum wage and local control and want to defeat these bills; watch our Facebook page for announcement of a hearing or any floor debate.
 
 
 We stand up to discrimination.We're watching a number of bills that attack workers by weakening employment non-discrimination protections in the MO Human Rights Act (SB 43, HB 550, HB 552, HB 676) and by requiring arbitration (SB 45).
We ought to be passing stronger worker protections like the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA), not undermining civil rights protections that took decades of blood, sweat and tears to secure. Watch Facebook and Twitter for developments throughout the week. It was while testifying on these bills earlier in the session that MO NAACP Pres. Rod Chapel was cut-off from testifying.
 
 
 
Go back up to the top and read that good news one more time. Then call your state rep. and senator and see if they've got time for a meeting with you and your friends while they're back in town for Spring Break, or if they're doing a town hall. If so, let us know and we'll share public events with others on social media. Thank them for their service and make sure they know how you'd like to see them representing you.
 

EJTF Task Force Meeting – New time! Feb. 23 at noon

In order to allow the St. Louis-area members of Empower Missouri to attend the Legislative Reception on February 23, our Economic Justice Task Force meeting will be held at noon on that day.  The agenda includes an update on Earned Income Tax Credit from Mike Sutherland, Missouri Budget Project; an update from Sarah Gentry, Missouri Healthcare for All; and an update from Stanley Jackson on the “Fight for $15” campaign.  Notes from the previous meeting and a copy of the agenda will be posted soon on the EJTF tab of empowermissouri.org.

 

Remembering Where We Came From: A Brief History of American Progress

Guest Blog by Empower Missouri Member Fred Tilinski

Troublesome people keep trying to find meaning in things President Trump says. But when was America great? Was it when business ruled the country and profits came first? If so, that was the age Mark Twain named Gilded. Not only was the US economy growing at a fantastic pace in the last quarter of the 19th century, but there were no impediments, no regulation to trouble venture capitalists.

Between 1880 and 1890, the average annual wage per industrial worker (including men, women and children) rose 48%.

High wages beckoned and job hungry immigrants found an immediate place at the table. New replacements were always needed. Factory work was dangerous. By 1900 25-35,000 deaths and 1 million injuries per year occurred on industrial jobs. Many deaths occurred on railroad jobs. Fires, machinery accidents, train wrecks and other misfortunes were common. No federal regulation of safety and no enforcement of state or local safety regulations existed. Insurance and pensions were rare, there was no such thing as social security or health insurance and courts were not sympathetic to worker claims. To support themselves and their families, thousands of men, women and children worked a standard sixty hour, six day week in unsafe factories to meet the American appetite for cheap, mass-produced goods. The concept of paid vacations and holidays, sick leave, and personal time off was generations away. By 1890 18% of the labor force consisted of children between the ages of ten and fifteen.

Large corporations and “trusts,” representing materialism and greed, were controlling more and more of the country’s finances, By the beginning of the 20th century, gross domestic product and industrial production in the United States led the world.

Robber barons and their descendants controlled billions, in 1900 almost 15% total of national assets were controlled by .03 percent of the 12 million American citizens.

Following the 1930’s Depression, with regulation and high taxes on the super wealthy, the share of national wealth between the haves and the have less class continued shrinking until the late 1970s. Then, another president promised: “to get government off our backs (the backs of the rich?) And we’ll have jobs, –wealth will trickle down”.

Twenty five years later those in the poorest 20 percent income group have actually received a whopping six percent actual income increase from that trickle. But it was the top one percent who would strike a gusher, and realize a 266% increase. America was great again– for them.

Today one single individual controls as much wealth as nine hundred. The share of total household wealth they own has risen from 7% in the late 1970s to 22%. They represent just 160,000 families.
The middle class is shrinking. The share of total US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of families fell from 36% in the mid-1980s, to 23% in 2012. Only for one in a thousand has an average increase flowed steadily upward.

In the Gilded age when America was great the government was pro-business. Congress, the presidents, and the Courts looked favorably on growth, and left leadership to the captains of industry. Lacking leadership on the political level, corruption spread like contagion through the city, state, and national governments. Forgotten presidents and greedy legislators dominated the political scene. True leadership resided among those most wealthy in the Gilded Age.

Greatness for the elite and squalor for the multitudes did not fit the beliefs of most religious denominations. Some faith groups established parochial schools, colleges, hospitals and charities. For religious people many of the problems faced by society during the Gilded Age cried out for reform. A Progressive era was coming.

Secular reformers also believed that the problems of poverty, poor health, violence, greed, racism, and class warfare could best be addressed by providing good education, a safer environment, an efficient workplace and honest government. These progressives believed that government could be a tool for change. They exposed unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry, generating public support for federal inspection of meatpacking plants. The Department of Agriculture disclosed the dangers of chemical additives in canned foods. A muckraking journalist uncovered misleading and fraudulent claims in non-prescription drugs.

Unions crusaded for an 8-hour working day and the abolition of child labor; middle class reformers demanded civil service reform, prohibition, and women’s suffrage. Local governments created schools for children instead of factory jobs, and built public schools chiefly at the elementary level. Public high schools began to emerge.

In 1891 a young member of the New York legislature spoke out against the excesses of “the wealthy criminal class” on his way to becoming a trust busting president.

It is not yet clear how a new administration dedicated to “a government of the rich, for the rich and by the rich” will best serve their 160,000 favorite families, or how soon the consequences soak in on enough of us lesser folk to understand how our meager percentage of national wealth will only slip further away.

That realization and coming reaction is exactly what will make America great again. It will create a new and successful progressive movement that rebuilds the middle class and leaves the rich still comfortable, but well and fairly taxed. And wouldn’t it be nice if the improved schools springing from that movement helped new generations absorb history and master the math that helps us all understand and seek the values of caring and compassion? That truly will keep America great .

Right to Work (for Less) Bill Threatens Security of Missouri Families

ACTION ALERT:

The Missouri Senate is expected to debate so-called “Right to Work” (RTW) during the week of January 23. Gov. Eric Greitens highlighted Right to Work at the beginning of his first State of the State address on January 17. (Read a full transcript at: https://governor.mo.gov/news/speeches/2017-state-state-address.)

Despite Gov. Greitens’ claims that RTW is needed for Missouri to compete with surrounding states for jobs, there is little evidence that this is truly a priority for company owners. According to an article by David Nicklaus of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 22, executives did not list RTW in their top ten answers when asked what they consider when locating a new facility, according to Area Development, a magazine for corporate planners and site selection consultants. See full article by Nicklaus at:  http://bit.ly/2kkIPaO

Senate Bill 19, sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown (R- Rolla), is a controversial measure that would make it a crime punishable by incarceration for business owners to negotiate labor contracts that require workers to pay dues for the union representation they receive. It was debated briefly on January 22 before being laid over so that senators could attend a charity event. It is expected to come to the floor again repeatedly this week.

Labor unions refer to such bills as “Right to Work (for Less)” because of evidence that RTW states have lower wages when comparing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, RTW states have higher rates of poverty and infant mortality, lower rates of health insurance, and higher rates of workplace fatalities. See a compilation of sources for these claims at: http://bit.ly/2jqWD3R

The Missouri House of Representatives has already taken up and passed House Bill (HB) 91 from Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) by a mostly party line vote of 100-59 (with most Republicans voting yes and most Democrats voting no). This bill also may reach the Senate floor for debate.

Call or email your state senator right now and tell them to vote no on “Right to Work (for Less)” regardless of the bill number. To find your Missouri senators contact information, go to: http://www.senate.mo.gov/LegisLookup/Default.aspx

Pro-tip: save your legislators’ numbers in your cell phone so you don’t have to look it up each time. Star it in your “favorites” section next to your go-to babysitter, your spouse, your BFF. We’re going to be giving you lots of reasons to call them.

EJTF Task Force Reminder!

The next meeting of the Economic Justice Task Force will be held on Thursday, January 26 from 4:30-6:00.  The call-in number is 712-432-1500 and the Passcode is 167856#

The meeting’s agenda will focus on our goal of “Moving Missouri toward progressive taxation through advocacy before the State Tax Study Commission” with Commission member Jeanette Mott-Oxford, Executive Director of Empower Missouri presenting information on the interim Commission Report with input from Dylan Grundman,  from The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP.)

At 5:30, John Amman will join the call to give members an update on the ruling on the Kansas City Minimum Wage Case.

The agenda as well as notes from the previous meeting will be posted on the Task Force site on the Empower Missouri web site.

Task Force members will also discuss the scheduling of the next meeting, and whether future meetings should continued to be scheduled on Thursday afternoons at 4:30.

If you have questions about the meeting, or additional information on the work of the task force, please contact chairperson Chris Guinther at christine.guinther@gmail.com