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A minimum wage raise by Congress to $15 an hour would change lives — as it changed mine

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If you watch the debate on Capitol Hill, the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour seems like little more than a skirmish in a larger fight between opposing politicians. But for me and my co-workers, it means something else entirely: the difference between poverty and dignity.

When you’re making only $8.50 an hour — that’s less than $18,000 a year — you have to make very hard choices.

I’ve been working at a McDonald’s just outside Chicago for over a decade now. When I began in 2010, I was young and easy to exploit. It paid me $8.50 an hour, and I was often forced to do work “off the clock.” For example, if my job was to work the cash register, I had to come in 15 to 20 minutes before the shift officially began to count the register and then do the same thing at the end of the shift. That could end up being an extra hour of work for no pay.

While working there, I got pregnant and had my son. Being a single mom is hard enough. But constantly working to support him and still not having enough to live on can put you in a dark place. When you’re making only $8.50 an hour — that’s less than $18,000 a year — you have to make very hard choices.

To afford housing, I moved into a basement-level apartment that frequently flooded, damaging my things and putting me in a constant panic. Almost all our money beyond rent and utilities went to food. But my son is lactose intolerant and needs special milk that costs $6 a container. What do you do when you can’t afford to keep your child healthy?

Adriana Alvarez with her son, Manny, in February 2020 in Chicago.Fight for $15 and a Union

When my boy had a major growth spurt, necessitating new shoes and clothes, there was no way I could get him what he needed and also take care of myself. For clothes, I use my mom’s hand-me-downs. She didn’t want to make me feel bad, so she would say she bought an outfit for herself and then claim it didn’t fit.

During that time, my son and I were unable to do almost anything fun. No going to the movies and no “luxuries” like ice cream or toys. We were essentially quarantining: We stayed home all the time out of financial necessity. The one exception? Going to the park because it was free.

Fortunately, things started to improve. Not because McDonald’s raised my pay out of the goodness of its heart, but because we left it no choice. In 2014, after some of us were offered a measly 10-cent raise, we were outraged. Around that time, an organizer approached me and asked whether I knew about the Fight for $15 campaign. He educated me about my rights and explained that being forced to work off the clock was illegal. I informed my co-workers, and they were outraged, too.

You might wonder whether I was scared to lose my job if I spoke out or protested. The answer is that I was so angry about being exploited and living in poverty conditions despite holding down a job that I decided to go for it. We started with basic house meetings, just five of us at first. Those meetings slowly got bigger and bigger, which raised our hopes and made it clear that we weren’t alone in this fight. Eventually, I even hosted a meeting myself, though I had no chairs and just one two-seater sofa in my apartment. I’ll never forget when 15 people crammed into my apartment, eating pizza and standing in solidarity.

After taking our fight both to McDonald’s and to state officials, we started to see real change. Chicago raised its wage to $13 and then $14, and now it will be $15 in July. On the state level, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker took our side and signed a bill into law that will phase in a $15 minimum wage over the next few years. I was at the State Capitol the day the measure passed and will never forget that moment the rest of my life. We were so nervous but so excited. It gave us the energy to keep on fighting — and the confidence that, one day, we would also win our demand for a union.

Fifteen dollars an hour was a rallying cry that grew out of the first fast-food strike in New York City in 2012, but it still isn’t enough. The living wage for someone like me — a single mom in Chicago — is actually $32.90, according to a living wage calculator produced by MIT. That means that by its estimation, I would need more than twice what I’m paid now to cover the bare-bones costs of housing, food, transportation, health care, child care and other basic needs.

Still, we started by battling for $15. As we did so, we would keep hearing the same arguments from wealthy corporations and their advocates who opposed our efforts. First, they claimed burgers would have to be more expensive if wages went up. Then they claimed jobs would have to be cut.

Here’s the truth: These corporations have so much money stored away in their pockets whether we get $8.50 or $15. When they pay us a living wage, they can still keep their prices low — the key to their business model and the reason their customers go to them in the first place — and still have massive profits.

It can be done. It should be done. They just don’t want to do it.

In the end, we know these false claims were nothing more than scare tactics. As far as I saw, the McDonald’s I work at did not change its burger prices or cut jobs after my salary almost doubled. While minimum wage increases sometimes come with small price increases, they are negligible compared to the benefit they give to millions of exploited workers. And though many studies show that essentially no employment is lost when the minimum wage goes up, even if we lose a few jobs, maybe that means folks no longer have to work two and three jobs because they can survive on one.

After our organizing victories, my wage increased to $14.50. Suddenly I was able to arrange exciting outings for my son. I took him to something called Winter Wonderfest at Chicago’s Navy Pier, where he ice skated, rode indoor roller coasters and did a bunch of other fun activities we had never heard about. We finally were allowed to have fun. I had a blast, and so did he. Our lives were transformed.

The pandemic came and my hours got shortened because customers could no longer eat indoors. Thank goodness my wage was higher when that happened.

Then the pandemic came and my hours got shortened because customers could no longer eat indoors. Thank goodness my wage was higher when that happened. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if my hours had been reduced and I was still making $8.50.

One bright spot of the pandemic is that it highlighted the importance of the work my colleagues and I do. We were labeled as essential workers. But since the federal minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 2009, tens of millions of us across the country are still being paid as low as $7.25 an hour. It’s time for members of Congress to act.

My story proves lives will change when it does.

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Former D.C. Guard official accuses Army generals of lying to Congress about Jan. 6 response

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WASHINGTON — A former D.C. National Guard official is accusing two Army generals of lying under oath in congressional testimony about the military’s response to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Col. Earl Matthews wrote in a 36-page memo to the House select committee investigating the attack that Gen. Charles Flynn, who served as deputy chief of staff for operations on Jan. 6, and Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of Army staff, “repeatedly misrepresented, understated, or misled” the House Oversight Committee and the Pentagon inspector general.

Matthews, who on Jan. 6 was serving as the top attorney to Maj. Gen. William Walker, then the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, alleged that Piatt misled Congress about the D.C. National Guard’s “capability, readiness and motivation” to respond on the afternoon of the riot.

Matthews also alleged that the two generals “falsely claimed” that the National Guard didn’t have the training and resources to move quickly in shifting from traffic control to civil disturbance operations, and he called them both “absolute and unmitigated liars” for their characterization of events.

“Flynn falsely stated that the Army Staff (which is supposed to be running the global operations of the U.S. Army) had to devote 30 to 40 officers and non-commissioned officers to get 154 ill-prepared DC Guardsmen to Capitol Hill,” Matthews wrote in his memo. “This assertion constituted the willful deception of Congress. It is not just imprecision, it is lying. Senior Army officers lied about little stuff.”

Matthews’ memo was first reported by Politico.

Flynn and Piatt didn’t respond to messages from Politico seeking comment.

Army spokesperson Mike Brady told NBC News that the service’s “actions on January 6th have been well-documented and reported on, and Gen. Flynn and Lt. Gen. Piatt have been open, honest and thorough in their sworn testimony with Congress and DOD investigators.”

“As the Inspector General concluded, actions taken ‘were appropriate, supported by requirements, consistent with the DOD’s roles and responsibilities for DSCA, and compliant with laws, regulations, and other applicable guidance,” Brady said in the statement. “We stand by all testimony and facts provided to date, and vigorously reject any allegations to the contrary. However, with the January 6th Commission’s investigation still ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

In his memo, Matthews said that the alleged lies “contributed to the deficiencies” in the Pentagon inspector general’s report.

For example, the inspector general’s report said then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was on a key 2:30 p.m. ET call on Jan. 6 with Walker and other participants, including the chiefs of the Capitol Police and Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. The report, Matthews said, claims that McCarthy spoke for about five minutes on the call when in reality he was unavailable because he had gone to meet with acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

Despite the pleas of then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, Piatt said on the call that he would not advise McCarthy to deploy the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol at that time, according to Matthews. Piatt said during the phone call that “the presence of uniformed military personnel could inflame the situation and that the police were best suited to handle the situation,” Matthews wrote.

“Piatt and Flynn stated that the optics of having uniformed military personnel deployed to the U.S. Capitol would not be good,” he continued.

The senior Army leaders recommended instead that National Guardsmen be used to relieve D.C. police officers of traffic duties to allow more of them to aid in the Capitol response.

The two leaders have denied saying on the day of the riot that the Guard should not be deployed to the Capitol.

Piatt wrote in response to a written question from Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., in June, “At no point on January 6 did I tell anyone that the D.C. National Guard should not deploy directly to the Capitol.”

Flynn, the brother of Michael Flynn, former President Donald Trump’s ex-national security adviser, testified, “I never expressed a concern about the visuals, image, or public perception of sending the D.C. National Guard to the U.S. Capitol.”

Megan Reed, a spokesperson for the inspector general, defended the office’s report in a statement to NBC News.

“We stand behind the conclusions in our review of the Department of Defense’s role, responsibilities, and actions to prepare for and respond to the protest and its aftermath at the U.S. Capitol campus on January 6, 2021,” Reed said.

Mosheh Gains contributed.

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Justice Department sues Texas over GOP-drawn voting maps

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The Justice Department on Monday filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Texas Republicans’ plan for redrawing congressional and state legislative districts based on new Census figures.

The lawsuit alleges that the state’s new maps, in violation of the Voting Rights Act, “deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color, or membership in a language minority group,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press conference.

The maps were drawn withdiscriminatory intent in some places, in a rushed process, with an “overall disregard” for the fact that Texas’ population growth was driven almost entirely by Black and Hispanic residents, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said, speaking after Garland. The suit asks the court to stop the state from using the new maps.

“Our investigation determined that Texas’ redistricting plans will dilute the increased minority voting strength that should have developed from these significant demographic shifts,” Gupta said.

Texas was allocated two more Congressional seats after the 2020 Census, but did not draw a single new district with a majority of Black or Hispanic voters. The two new seats have white voting majorities, Gupta said.

This is the second lawsuit the Department of Justice has filed this fall against Texas. In November, the Justice Department sued Texas alleging that its new voting law, SB 1, made it harder to assist voters with disabilities or without English proficiency.

Throughout this year, Garland has urged Congress to pass new voting legislation, in particular restoring the parts of the Voting Rights Act that required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to clear election changes through the Justice Department before enacting them. The Supreme Court gutted that provision in 2013, ruling that the formula for determining which jurisdictions were included was unconstitutional.

“I want to again urge Congress to restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority,” the attorney general said Monday. “Were that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today, announcing this complaint.”

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Oh dear, Brussels! Bloc shoots itself in foot – Irexit leader handed thousands in EU cash

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THE European Union is facing huge embarrassment after handing thousands of euros a month of its own cash to pay an Irexit leader to support an anti-vaccination Romanian MEP.

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