What One Online Retailer and the FCC Chairman Both Want Changed in Washington

By Jennifer Tran, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

On September 9, online retailer Etsy took a positive step toward fairness and decency by announcing that it would no longer permit items with the name or logo of Washington’s professional football team to be sold on their website. The announcement was in line with other moves by the company to prohibit sellers from selling threatening and demeaning products, like items that promote rape and domestic violence.

In announcing the policy change, spokeswoman Bonnie Broeren wrote on Etsy’s blog that this decision was to ensure that their marketplace was “safe, welcoming, and respectful for everyone, including artists, women, and minorities.” She also emphasized that they would no longer sell products with the name because “the fact remains that Native Americans themselves find the term unacceptable.”

The day after the Etsy announcement, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, also expressed his concern with the team name. Speaking to reporters at a wireless conference, he said that he found the term “offensive and derogatory.” He urged people to continue expressing their discontent with the name with the hopes that “if enough people express themselves, [owner] Dan Snyder can see which way things are going.”

Although Etsy is among the first retail companies to explicitly come out against the name, it joins a number of prominent organizations that have already taken a stance. Media outlets such as Slate Magazine and the Washington Post’s editorial board have banned the team name from their publications.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also expressed this sentiment when it voted unanimously at its national board meeting in December 2013 for a resolution urging the team’s owner to change the name. Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, articulated the importance of the ban, noting that “having an offensive slur for the Washington team name teaches young people to celebrate the denigration of people for being who they are.”

With any luck, these moves will inspire other companies, individuals, and organizations to take a stand on the issue. While many have criticized this movement as an instance of overblown political correctness, it is, at its core, a fight for the respect of a community.

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In Wake of Ferguson, Sen. Cardin Calls for Measures to Prevent Profiling

Sen. Ben Cardin, D. Md., on September 10 spoke on the Senate floor about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the need for Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), a bill that was endorsed by President George W. Bush but – despite being re-introduced year after year – has not been brought up for a vote.

Cardin also urged Attorney General Eric Holder to issue new profiling guidelines that have not been updated since their release in June 2003.

“This legislation provides training and monitoring for law enforcement agencies at all levels of government,” Cardin said of ERPA. “By enacting this legislation, we can begin to reduce the racial disparities that plague our nation’s criminal justice system. We need to better educate more of our law enforcement officials in the differences between specific suspect descriptions and sweeping generalizations or profiling that wastes valuable resources. Racial profiling is un-American. It has no place within the values of our country. It turns communities against the partnerships needed to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

Cardin’s speech echoes a call made by more than 100 organizations last month for federal action to prevent discriminatory profiling.

Watch his full floor statement below.

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Service Employees Join Forces to Strike for Minimum Wage Increase

By Kaidia Pickels, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

On September 4, fast food workers from across the country were joined by home care workers in an unprecedented series of strikes in 150 cities. The protesters, led by the Fast Food Forward movement, were demanding the right to unionize as well as an increase in the minimum wage for service employees to $15 per hour.

The movement began in November 2012 with a similar strike in New York City. Since then, Fast Food Forward has organized several major demonstrations nationwide and created a large online presence using the hashtag #StrikeFastFood. This is the first time the movement has gained support from other workers in the service industry.

According to organizers, approximately 500 protesters were arrested. Among them was Rep. Gwen Moore, D. Wis., who wrote “Proud to support #MilwaukeeWorkers risking arrest in pursuit of a better future for their families!” on her official Twitter following her arrest.

In late July, more than 1,200 fast-food workers from around the country gathered in Addison, Ill. to plan the recent strikes. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), delivered the keynote speech in which she said that her organization – a union with two million diverse members – stands by the fast food workers’ fight.

“When we stick together we can raise wages, raise our communities, and raise America so we have an economy that works for everyone and a democracy where everyone has a voice,” Henry said in a statement issued by SEIU on Labor Day.

Because of the disproportionately high poverty rates of people of color, women, and the LGBT and disability communities, raising the minimum wage for all service employees is crucial. As previous civil rights struggles have proven, communities can make amazing things happen when they support each other in solidarity to demand change – in this case, a fair wage. With service workers from different sectors joining the Fast Food Forward movement for the first time, could these protests mark the beginning of large-scale collaboration in the fight for an increased minimum wage?

In response to a failed Senate vote on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act in April, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, said in a statement that “[r]aising the wage is a popular idea with bipartisan support that would help to lift working families out of poverty and expand the economy for everyone.” To learn what you can do to take action for America’s lowest paid workers, visit The Leadership Conference’s minimum wage action center.

A vote on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act is expected in the Senate as soon as later this week.

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New Film Documents Community’s Response to Sikh Temple Shooting

Waking in Oak Creek, a new film produced by Not In Our Town in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, documents the community and law enforcement response to a Sikh temple shooting two years ago in Oak Creek, Wisc.

The film is a story of the community’s healing after a White supremacist killed six worshipers and injured four others at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin – an act of hate that forces the town to address hidden intolerances.

“Sikh, Muslim, South Asian and Arab-American communities have an additional element to contend with: greater scrutiny and suspicion after the 9/11 attacks,” wrote Deepa Iyer for NBC News on the anniversary of the shooting earlier this month. “I have heard from many community members who tell me they are routinely targeted, whether being secondarily screened at an airport, harassed for wearing a hijab or turban, or surveilled by authorities in their places of worship, student or community gatherings.”

It is this continued surveillance nationwide that requires we share the story of Oak Creek and have meaningful conversations about how to affect change in our communities – especially in light of other recent tragedies that have resulted from profiling. Not In Our Town and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services have partnered to provide free DVDs of Waking in Oak Creek to help facilitate community screenings and discussions, in addition to lesson guides for educators – all which are downloadable here.

Be sure to share these resources – and watch the film’s trailer below:

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John Oliver Takes on Predatory Payday Lending

Calling them the Lays potato chips of finance – because they’re not good for you, but you can’t have just one – John Oliver in a recent segment described payday lending as “one of America’s most resilient industries” – a $9 billion industry that’s been around for just over 20 years.

Payday lending companies present themselves as a way for people to get back on their feet, but the loans are often accompanied by frightening levels of interest and fees that consumers probably aren’t aware of. That’s why so many people become trapped in an impossible pattern of repayment.

According to a CFPB report released last year, payday loans’ circular repayment structure and lack of underwriting creates for many consumers a cycle of indebtedness. “To the extent these products are marketed as a short-term obligation,” the report says, “some consumers may misunderstand the costs and risks, particularly those associated with repeated borrowing.”

Established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, the CFPB began overseeing payday lenders in January 2012, and as of November 2013 accepts complaints from borrowers who encounter issues with payday loans.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights passed a resolution at its national board meeting in December 2013 urging states, Congress, and federal agencies to increase regulatory oversight and enforcement of payday lenders.

See Oliver’s entire segment on the industry below:

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The Truth About Tipped Workers

By Gabriela Vasquez, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

The minimum wage for tipped workers has remained at $2.13 since 1991, a fact that is sometimes obscured in discussions about raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC) held a forum on tipped workers on July 23 to address the question of why tipped workers should receive the full minimum wage. And with 70 percent of tipped workers in the food industry, much of the conversation centered on restaurant workers.

Laura Fortman from the Department of Labor discussed the role the Wage and Hour Division plays in regulating wages of tipped workers. Fortman’s perspective was that the division should enforce the federal law that requires employers to pay $2.13 per hour to tipped workers who earn at least $30 in a month. The goal of the Wage and Hour Division, according to Fortman, is to “make sure that a fair day’s work results in a fair day’s pay.”

Since EPI recently released a report on tipped workers in coordination with the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics (CWED) of the University of California at Berkley, the bulk of Wednesday’s forum focused on the findings of that report – “Twenty-Three Years and Still Waiting for Change: Why It’s Time to Give Tipped Workers the Regular Minimum Wage.” Sylvia Allegretto, CWED co-chair and one of the authors of the report, advocated for eliminating the tipped minimum wage altogether. Using the seven states that have no subminimum wage as an example, Allegretto claimed that the “restaurant industry does not hinge on paying tipped workers $2.13.” David Cooper of EPI, who co-authored the report, further explained several of the report’s findings. Cooper stated that the “vast majority of [tipped] workers are not doing that well,” but are doing much better in states where they are paid the full minimum wage. In fact, Cooper pointed out that the gender gap is smaller and poverty rates are dramatically lower for workers in these states.

Providing more personal perspectives were Marcie Gardner and Amber Grinden, who are tipped workers in the restaurant industry. Both women touched on the difficulties of having their income depend on customers’ tips. Imar Hutchins, owner of the Florida Avenue Grill, shared his views as a restaurant owner, pointing out that many people aren’t even aware of the existence of a subminimum wage for tipped workers.

While accomplishing reform nationwide faces many obstacles, it is clear that Cooper was right in saying that “the system needs to change.”

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Mascot Debate Should Focus on Harmful Effects on Youth

A month after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) cancelled six federal trademark registrations for the name of Washington’s football team, the Center for American Progress says the team’s name is more than just racist: it has real effects on American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth every day.

The report, “Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth,” reveals that offensive mascot names can foster hostile learning environments for AI/AN students, result in lower self-esteem and mental health, and lead to the development of cultural prejudices since the stereotypical depictions are often understood to be true.

AI/AN youth, according to the report, have some of the nation’s lowest high school graduation rates and have a suicide rate that is 2.5 times higher than the national average. Native mascots not only misrepresent the AI/AN community – they mask an enduring affliction that is felt every day.

In May, 50 senators wrote a letter to National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell, urging the team to change its name. That request was quickly denied, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D. Nev., continues to be outspoken on the issue.

Members of Congress aren’t the only ones opposing the name. Last week, the granddaughter of the team’s founder said the name should change. In December 2013, The Leadership Conference voted unanimously at its national board meeting for a resolution urging the team’s owner to change the name.

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