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Unions Gaining at Last
Not all the news is bad. In case you missed it, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report on unionization showed union membership increased by more that 265,000 in 1999 — the largest increase in 20 years. Importantly, the growth was not just in the more highly organized public sector, but in the private sector as well.
Some other tidbits from the BLS report: Of all racial and gender groups, black men are most likely to be represented by unions, with a 20 percent unionization rate. That’s double the percentage of white and Latino women who are unionized.
Of course, being in a union does great things for your wallet. In 1999, union members’ median weekly earnings were $672, while the nonunionized had to get by on $516.

Maximum Clash Over Minimum Wage

Pushing for a higher minimum wage, President Clinton says he will veto a Republican plan that would tie an increase to $122.7 billion in tax cuts.

During a speech at the White House, Mr. Clinton said, "If Republican leaders send me a bill that makes workers wait for another year for their full pay raise, and holds the minimum wage hostage for risky tax cuts that threaten our prosperity, I'll veto it."

The president called for a simple, straightforward $1 increase in the minimum wage over two years. That would bring the wage to $6.15 an hour.

Despite the President's opposition, House Republicans are forging ahead with legislation to slash inheritance taxes and cut other taxes for businesses to offset the cost of raising the minimum wage by $1 over three years.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, says raising the minimum wage alone would "saw off the bottom rung of the economic ladder" by reducing the number of jobs smaller employers could afford to offer. But the President on Tuesday disputed this line of argument, saying, "Since the minimum wage was increased in 1996, our economy has created over 10 million new jobs, the unemployment level is at its lowest level in 30 years, the employment of minority youth has gone up, we now have the lowest poverty rates in 20 years and we've cut the welfare rolls in half."

Mr. Clinton said a higher minimum wage encourages people to move from welfare to work, and lures people into the labor force who were not looking for jobs.

CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports Republican leaders generally oppose raising the $5.15-an-hour minimum wage but are willing to put the question to a floor vote Thursday to appease GOP moderates who have strong labor constituencies and to give conservatives another election-year opportunity to vote for tax cuts.

Using a chunk of the projected budget surplus estimated at $122.7 billion over 10 years, the tax package would sharply reduce the estate tax, boost contribution limits for 401(k) plans, make health insurance fully tax deductible for the self-employed and enact several tax changes favorable to small businesses.

"This modest tax relief for those who create jobs will provide an effective antidote to the job-threatening potential of a higher minimum wage," Archer said.

Under the bill, the hourly minimum wage would rise to $5.48 this year, $5.81 in April 2001 and $6.15 in April 2002. Backed by organized labor, Mr. Clinton and congressional Democrats favor a $1 increase over two years and oppose the tax cuts as unnecessary and tilted toward the wealthy.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., have a bill that would increase the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour by a dollar over just two years.

"If wages had kept up with worker productivity gains over the past 25 years, a minimum wage worker would be earning $8.79 an hour today," Kennedy said through a spokesman. "This disgraceful disparity shows how far we have fallen short in guaranteeing that low-income workers receive their fair share of the nation's prosperity."

Democrats fear the GOP won't permit a vote on their plan.

"Their bills are too little, and too loaded," complained Fred Clarke, spokesman for Bonior, who has produced an $8 billion tax plan Clarke said was targeted directly at businesses and others who would be affected by the minimum wage hike.

Clarke recalled that the president vetoed a $792 billion GOP tax cut last year. "What they're doing is using the minimum wage to pass a failed tax plan," he said.

Reducing or eliminating the estate tax is a cornerstone of the GOP political agenda and is part of this year's congressional strategy of passing smaller, bite-sized tax cuts instead of one massive bill like last year's vetoed package.

The House business tax package would:
   Reduce the top estate tax rate from 55 percent to 50 percent by 2002, reduce all estate tax rates by one percentage point in 2003 and 2004 and repeal a surcharge that applies only to estates worth over $10 million.

   Gradually raise the annual contribution limits for 401(k) plans from $10,000 to $14,000 by 2004.

   Make health insurance premiums paid by the self-employed fully tax deductible in 2001, sooner than under current law.

   Give small business a tax write-off on $30,000 of equipment, up from $19,000; raise the business meal deduction from 50 percent to 60 percent; and restore a law allowing the seller of a business to pay taxes as installment payments are received, instead of in an immediate lump sum.