February 21, 2007

Amnesia on the Death of Reconstruction

I am going to pick on Brad Delong precisely because he is a brilliant and well-educated academic-- and his list of "constitutional moments" where the Supreme Court rewrote American law against the decisions of elected officials is glaring in its silence about the Supreme Court murder of Reconstruction after the Civil War.

This amnesia about the Supreme Court judicially striking down a series of Reconstruction Civil Rights laws in the 1870s and 1880s, de facto licensing the Klan to murder at will, and sanctioning segregation and disenfranchisement of black voters is all too common, a point I made in this piece a few years ago. In fact, that Brad so easily forgets this piece of constitutional history is a triumph of rightwing historiography and it's remarkable that it has persisted so long:

Distorting the history of Reconstruction and the New Birth Amendments was a deliberate and sustained project of racist historians and legal scholars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries...While the worst revisionist history has been removed from textbooks, it has been replaced mostly by silence. Teachers mention Reconstruction in passing, if at all. In most American schools, it is as if history stopped at the end of the Civil War and did not resume until the Gilded Age and the emergence of populism near the end of the nineteenth century.

There is no question in my mind that every other action by the Supreme Court pales in comparison in the effect of this judicial murder of Reconstruction after the Civil War. It not only helped usher in the injustice of American Apartheid but turned the South into a peculiar enclave of rightwing politics whose effects persist to this day.

And the history of how that came to be is still foreign to even many of the most educated Americans.

Posted by Nathan at 08:48 AM

February 18, 2007

So What if Mitt Wants A Person of Faith as President?

There's a bit of a furor that Mitt Romney declared:

We need to have a person of fiath lead the country.

So what? I disagree with the statement, but it's no different in kind from someone saying they support Obama because they think we need a person of color as President, or saying they support Clinton because it's high time a woman was President. There's no violation of the Constitution for VOTERS to vote their religious beliefs, just as ethnic and racial solidarity has been common in elections without violating the 14th Amendment.

And at some level, why shouldn't a person's religious beliefs be relevant?

Atrios raises the adsurdum fear that we'll be asking whether a person is a "a member of the Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915", but that's actually more relevant than the vague question of whether they are a "Christian." Folks who share a denomination, especially if it's a tightly knit community, do share a host of values that are often relevant to how they will act in a range of policy areas.

I'll freely admit that if someone is a United Church of Christ member, I generally will trust their likely public policy instincts more than if they are a Mormon or a traditional Southern Baptist, as opposed to the more liberal Baptist denominations which I trust more. And I have a certain degree of comfort with Catholic politicians who are generally more pro-labor than non-Catholic politicians.

Now, polls show a tremendous bias against atheists. Some of this is just religious bias but another part is this-- if a politician is atheist, what does does that really tell you about what they believe? Not actually a lot. Ayn Rand was an atheist, as was Karl Marx, and I think part of the bias against athetists is that people just then lack a short-hand sense of what the politician's belief system is grounded in.

The challenge for any atheistic politician is to clearly annunicate what their belief system is and the likely policies that will flow from that belief system. It's a tough challenge in a 90% Christian country that understands and is comfortable with the variations of Christian belief-- and will even throw in the Jews occasionally into that comfort zone -- but just doesn't have a short-hand heuristic when you leave that comfort zone. Which is why most politicians retreat to the "person of faith" mantra since it evokes that comfort level for voters.

It sure doesn't end the debate over beliefs, as Obama's Church of Christ anti-poverty rhetoric wars with radical Christian Right rhetoric, but it's a field of debate that many voters are just more comfortable with.

I think it's a profound mistake for atheists to demand that such religious debates be taken out of the public sphere, since they will never be taken out of voters' minds. Instead, us progressive atheists should be engaging in that faith-based discussion more vigorously, laying out our belief systems and helping make voters comfortable with our viewpoint as part of the menu of "religious" options, not in order to convert them but just to integrate it into the terrain of debate that people are more familiar with.

Otherwise, atheism will just remain the unspoken Other, which voters will inherently (and rightly) distrust because they just won't know what it means personally to the politician involved. So I'm all for a religion in public life debate -- and I'm prepared to argue for why progressive atheism leads to the kinds of public policy voters should want. But if we don't make the case, we can't expect Christian voters to want anything other than what they are familiar with.

Posted by Nathan at 01:46 PM

February 16, 2007

States Taking Action Against Iraq Escalation

So the New York Times is covering the story that resolutions denouncing Bush's Iraq Escalation have been introduced in over twenty states and have begun being passed this last week: Frustrated by the inability of Democrats in Cong
ress to pass a resolution opposing President Bush's policies in Iraq, state legislators across the country, led by Democrats and under pressure from liberal advocacy groups, are pushing forward with their own resolutions.
Vermont, California and the caucus state of Iowa have each had a chamber approve a resolution attacking Bush's escalation:
Senate President Jack Kibbie, an Emmetsburg Democrat, said the war needs to be brought to an end. "Most people believe there were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein is history, and so it's my opinion the people of Iowa are asking their political leaders to express their opinion and send this message," he said.

As the New York Times highlights, the campaign really got off the ground a few weeks ago when Progressive States Network distributed sample resolutions to state leaders around the country and held a conference call with allies like MoveOn and U.S. Senator Kennedy, who urged state leaders to support his efforts to require Congressional authorization for any troop increases. Progressive States and its allies sent out emails to grassroots members to urge them to write and call their legislators, which helped spur these votes in states around the country. (You can email your state legislator by using this online tool provided by Progressive States Network).

One thing this campaign emphasizes is that the states are an untapped resource for moving the media debate on major issues, even foreign policy which is usually seen as outside the jurisdiction of state legislatures. ABC.com's The Note gave progressives credit for using the issue to "to become positively Grover Norquistian in their capacity to ram wedge issues through state legislatures in order to pressure Washington"

In this case, since so many of the troops being deployed for the "surge" were coming from National Guard troops, it was easy for state legislators to see the local connection, but on a myriad of issues, state political work can create a bumpercrop of local media stories.  More examples from the Iraq campaign: 

Posted by Nathan at 12:15 PM

January 01, 2007

Wal-Mart Doing Good for Environment

Seriously. This initiative by Wal-Mart to promote energy-saving light bulbs is a major environmental initiative.

"Compact fluorescent" bulbs fit in normal sockets but use 75% less electricity than regular bulbs, last ten times longer and produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases over the course of their life than those regular bulbs. And consumers save $30 over the life of these bulbs- a big personal savings for consumers.

I'm not always as green in my personal life as I'd like (other than living in NYC and not owning a car) but when I moved into my present apartment two-and-half years ago, we had a bank of ceiling lights that are great for illiumination, but I knew would be a serious energy suck. So I invested in about $50 worth of energy-saving bulbs and haven't had to replace any since-- and cut our energy bills significantly.

So an honest bravo to Wal-Mart for using their power for good for once.

Posted by Nathan at 10:48 PM

December 22, 2006

Dems' Stupid Positioning on Minimum Wage

As a followup to discussing why politicians need to appeal to a broad consensus, it's worth emphasizing that it's easier for them to do this when non-politician leaders and advocates are pushing for even bolder goals-- thereby allowing the politicians to position themsevles as "centrists" and consensus builders.

Which makes Dem leaders' positioning on the minimum wage, at least as detailed in this NY Times story a few days ago, look absolutely stupid. Apparently with the Dem leaders pushing a position of raising the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour, the Economic Policy Institute was pressured to drop a public recommendation for the rate to be raised to $8 per hour:

Trying to push the populist case, the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research center, posted a statement in late November calling for an increase in the minimum to $8 an hour in 2009 instead of the $7.25 proposed by the party leaders. That recommendation was quickly withdrawn, however, under pressure from the leadership. “Our friends on Capitol Hill said our statement would be heard as criticizing the Democrats,” said Ross Eisenbrey, the institute’s policy director.

Let's be clear-- many states have already raised the minimum wage above $7.25 per hour. Back in 1968, adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage had a value of $9.50 per hour. So the Economic Policy Institute was making a pretty basic progressive argument that $7.25 per hour was not adequate.

The Dem leadership should have just said that they recognized the need for greater wage increases for the working poor, but in the name of consensus, they were willing to compromise with the GOP at $7.25 per hour. But slapping down EPI means that the Dems have cut off their left flank and positioned themselves on the left of the debate, not in the middle-- a very stupid move.

In reality, Dems should welcome criticism from progressive organizations, since the stronger grassroots messaging for more ambitious social change, the more "moderate" the Dems can portray themselves as in pushing their more consensus positions. Especially when $7.25 per hour is so clearly a pathetic wage and far below the historic rate, Dems should be happy to have voices arguing that a higher rate is justified to make the inevitable GOP complaints look all the more pathetic and nasty.

So the Dems slapping down EPI is just bad message positioning by the Dem leadership.

Posted by Nathan at 01:16 PM

December 21, 2006

Obama and the Need for Large Progressive Majorities

I've been as disappointed as many other progressive bloggers with Obama's bad votes on tort reform and seeming trimming of rhetoric to "centrist" sensibilities. But in November Harpers, Obama is quoted as making an important point about why progressives can't replicate the narrow political majority strategies of the rightwing:

“My argument,” Obama says, “is that a polarized electorate plays to the advantage of those who want to dismantle government. Karl Rove can afford to win with 51 percent of the vote. They’re not trying to reform health care. They are content with an electorate that is cynical about government. Progressives have a harder job. They need a big enough majority to initiate bold proposals.”

This assymmetry of left versus right strategies is a key problem, since the Rightwing can fuck up government and destroy confidence in their leadership-- yet win the broader political debate if this leads to general distrust of all government solutions.

And destroying progressive programs can be done through narrow majorities-- either defunding programs in the budget process or just blocking changes needed to keep up with changes in the economy and society. The erosion of the minimum wage due to inflation from over $9 per hour back in 1968 (in inflation-adjusted terms) down to just $5.15 per hour today is a clear example of this rightwing success by just blocking updates to laws.

Progressives need sustained and filibuster-proof majorities to create bold new programs and keep them updated over time. No major progressive law-- from the minimum wage to Social Security to Medicare -- was created in its full-fledged form the first time around. It took sustained organizing and clear majority support year-after-year to make those laws fixtures of the modern state.

So while progressives need to fully mobilize their base, they also need to figure out how to appeal to the broader public that, if their cynicism in government can be overcome, fully support health care for all, challenging economic, racial and gender inequality, and support a more positive role for the government in raising wage standards for Americans.

The real challenge for progressives is not getting 51% of the vote for President or Congress but moving towards 60% plus across all voting groups. That is unlikely to happen with just Democrats, but will likely happen when we achieve enough support in the public that Republicans start running towards our issues to protect their incumbents. We've seen this happening in areas like clean energy and (with a bit of gamesmanship) the minimum wage, but Obama's point is that the core challenge for progressives is not the narrow political gamesmanship that has been Karl Rove and company's stock in trade but winning the public over to full support of our ideas and policy goals.

So if Obama can find new words and connections with different kinds of voters to win them over, I'm willing to give him some slack to see what kinds of inroads he can make.

Posted by Nathan at 01:13 PM

December 13, 2006



Posted by Nathan at 04:36 PM

November 27, 2006

Ecuador Goes Left

Another country moves left-- whatever you want to say, Bush has been very good for reviving the global left, especially in Latin America.

Posted by Nathan at 05:07 PM

Building a Progressive Majority in the Statehouses

The Progressive States Network today rolled out its legislative agenda for the 2007 session and is looking to promote it to the netroots and get activists to sign up as "citizen cosponsors."

Folks who sign up in each state will have a key role in making sure legislative bills pass -- by working with legislators and raising the profile of agenda items in the media. You can see the list of organizations signed up on task forces to help coordinate legislative campaigns in the states and provide the expertise and firepower to take on rightwing opposition.

Below the fold is the email we sent out to supporters today outlining the issues and strategy behind the agenda.

Continue reading "Building a Progressive Majority in the Statehouses"

Posted by Nathan at 03:12 PM

November 13, 2006

The Future Belongs to US

While the actual results seem razer-thin in this election, I'll be bold and argue that they are part of a significant move towards a more progressive future for America-- one foretold by the stolen 2000 election and only delayed by the hysteria of post-911 war fever. But when you look at shifts in voting patterns, especially among youth and latinos, it's clear the future belongs to progressives.

Kevin Drum, among others, is pooh-poohing the youth vote, arguing that youth turnout was nothing special this year. I think the key in looking at the youth vote, as well as the latino vote, is whatever the numbers year to year, these votes represent the future-- and we should all be wearing shades 'cause it looks so bright.

Young people may not be registering beyond belief turnout numbers, but their margins in favor of the Dems (60% in this election) means that we have a generation that, as they settle down and vote more consistently, are likely to futher reinforce progressive voting patterns. Similarly (and in some cases overlapping), the heavily Democratic latino voting patterns (69% in this election) means that you have a community that, as more gain the right to vote -- whether by legalization or just the children of undocumented turning eighteen, progressives will gain voting support.

Remember every four years, more progressive youth grow up to become voters and more immigrants are gaining citizenship -- whether through legalization or through the children of immigrants getting old enough to vote. The demographics are pretty relentless, as I've argued here in the past (I was wrong about it tipping the election in 2004 in the midst of terrorism fears, but the basic long-term trends hold, as evidenced by the election results Tuesday.)

What America is experiencing is what California experienced in the wake of the Prop 187 fight in that state back in 1994. The GOP won that year's election but a polarization of voting patterns, by both age and race, meant the future of California politics was lost for the rightwing -- Schwartzenegger's lunge for the center this year just emphasizing that point. In 1994, the Republican candidate received 67% of the vote of those over age 60, but only 42% of the vote of those under 30. That polarization was part of the dynamic that crushed the GOP is state legislative races and increasingly Congressional races throughout the state in the years to come.

Just for nostalgia, here's my 1994 analysis of that election and the youth vote posted to the pre-blogging Usenet world, an analysis that largely applies to the nation now:

Posted by Nathan at 10:23 AM

November 11, 2006

Pro-Labor "Conservative Democrats"

One more nail in the narrative that the victory of a few moderate Democrats means this election is really a triumph of conservative ideology; in talking about labor's agenda at Capitol Hill, the New York Times notes:

Representative Jim Matheson, a Utah Democrat who is co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate to conservative Democrats, said he strongly supported a higher minimum wage and the Employee Free Choice Act, the bill that would make it easier to unionize workers.
Let me emphasize how significant this is that the most conservative faction of the Democrats supports labor reform. In the past, there was always a significant faction of Democrats opposing labor law reform. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which gutted labor rights in this country, was passed over Truman's veto because a majority of Democrats in the Senate voted for it.

The fact that there is NO signficiant anti-labor faction left in the Democratic party is massive change in American politics. Yes, there will be differences within the party over some substantive labor issues. Some Democrats are still wedded to an ideological free trade agenda, but the fact that all agree on the need to protect and expand the basic right of workers to form unions is major sea change.

And as for trade, check out this report by Public Citizen of the massive expansion of the fair trade caucus in Congress. By Public Citizen's count, their was a net gain of seven fair trade votes in the Senate and a net of twenty-seven fair trade votes in the House-- a rather radical sea change in trade politics since this is larger than the margin of victory for CAFTA.

This turn of Democrats in a more pro-labor and fair trade direction is hardly suprising given the role of union voters in this victory on Tuesday. Not only did union members support Democrats by a 74%-26% margin, but through institutions like Working America, the union movement mobilized non-union voters around the bread-and-butter issues of concern to working Americans of all kinds.

If the mainstream media wants to call these voters and the candidates they elected "conservative", well viva the "conservative" victory of Turesday. But just between progressives, this was a massive victory for working families and the labor movement as well.

Posted by Nathan at 06:20 AM

November 10, 2006

The Collapse of Tax Cut Politics

You can check out Progressive States rundown of progressive successes in the states on Tuesday, but I want to focus on one key area-- the humiliating collapse of the tax cut politics promoted in the states by people like Grover Norquist.  

While it got little national coverage, for those concerned about health care and education, the number one issue in the states this year was defeating the so called "TAxpayer Bill Of Rights" (TABOR) initiatives. A version of TABOR passed in the early 90s had crippled education and health care budgets in Colorado until it was partially repealed last year and the rightwing had hoped to have TABOR on ballots across the country.

Their plan began to fall apart earlier this year when progressives highlighted the fraud in signature collecting in multiple states and had them thrown off the ballot in Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma and Missouri.

And then on Tuesday, voters in Maine, Nebraska and Oregon finished the job in voting down the remaining TABOR initiatives left. (See these Progressive States' talking points on TABOR distributed to legislators and advocates early for more on TABOR).  In addition, an initiative to repeal Washington's state estate tax was also rejected by voters, while Oregon and South Dakota rejected other significant tax reduction initiatives.

The media may try to spin this election as only about Iraq or simple disenchantment with Bush, but the rejection by voters of tax revolt politics-- a core ideological base of the whole Reaganite agenda from its birth -- is a clear message that modern conservatism had run seriously into the ditch and it's not clear what will pull them out.  Their coalitions are fraying and it's not clear what will hold many of their folks together without the glue of tax cut politics.

So yes, this was a very ideological election and a clear victory for progressives, which they can build on during the policy debates to come.

Posted by Nathan at 04:29 PM

November 08, 2006

A Good Night for Progressives

Let's be clear-- this wasn't just a good night for Democrats. It was a good night for progressives, and no media spin that these new elected officials are "conservatives" changes who they are. The media is always marvelling that "new" Democrats are so much more conservative than "traditional" liberal Democrats of the past-- which would surprise all the folks firehosed in the streets of the South by many Democrats of a generation ago.

There are no doubt some conservatives among the new Democrats elected but as Rick Perlstein, Ezra Klein and Chris Bowers note, many were progressive and Netroots supported and almost all were tough on core economic justice issues.

Let's remember-- those massive Democratic majorities of a generation ago were fake. In 1981, Ronald Reagan was able to control the agenda in Congress because 67 Boll Weevil Democrats essentially caucused with the GOP. In 1993, the Democrats had a "majority" of 258 but Clinton was only able to pass his initial budget by one vote, so he had a de facto majority of 218 votes. I actually am more confident in the present 228-230 Dem majority we are getting this round to support progressive initiatives than those fake-larger majorities of the past.

And the ideological meaning of this election is nowhere clearer than in the state initiatives passed across the country. The obvious examples are passage of minimum wage initiatives in every state where they were proposed, passage of stem cell funding in Missouri, passage of ethics reforms in Montana, approval of early education funding in Arizona, a prescription drug program for the uninsured in Oregon, and a program for alternative energy reform in Washington State (the last one teetering on passage).

Add in the rejection of the rightwing ideological agenda-- while bans on gay marriage where passed, voters said No on the abortion ban in South Dakota and defeated parental notification in California, Ohio and Oregon. Voters rejected repeal of the state estate tax in Washington. The tax revolt died this year as across the country "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" -- which would have put a meat axe to state budgets -- were defeated at the polls or blocked earlier in the petition gathering process. While "eminent domain" was restricted in a number of states, the attempt by the rightwing to hitch those bills to a radical theory of "regulatory takings" was defeated in California, Washington and Idaho -- with only Arizona approving this deceptive rightwing gambit.

The signs of ideological collapse on the right are relatively clear as different coalition partners fight with each other -- and those fights between corporate interests, libertarian small government types and religious zealots are only likely to increase without as much access to power and the budget to bind their differences over with money.

So celebrate-- this was not a partisan victory but a real victory for progressive values across the country. There's still lots of work to be done, but it's a great first step.

Posted by Nathan at 11:07 AM

November 01, 2006

Labor Cold War Ends - New International Labor Federation

At the dawn of the Cold War, the international union movement divided up between the ICFTU, dominated by US and Western European unions, and the World Confederation of Labor, largely allied with the Soviet Union.

It's taken a decade and a half, but the irrelevancy of that division will end today as the two federations merge-- bringing together 241 labor organizations from 156 countries representing 190 million workers.

The new International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is a good step for a labor movement looking to globalize itself in the taking on global capital power.

Posted by Nathan at 07:05 AM

October 19, 2006

Immigrant Poor Send More Foreign Aid than US Govt

The United States government spends less money on foreign aid as a percentage of its budget than almost any other developed nation in the world. And even the nominal amount it officially spends- $23.7 billion in 2007 -- is tied overwhelmingly to military and political alliances -- with Irsarel receiving $2.49 billion in aid of which $2.25 billion is military assistance and Egypt receiving $1.78 billion, of which $1.28 billion in military assistance.

So the actual amount of humanitarian aid by the US government is pathetic on a global scale.

But thanks to immigration and remittances to home countries, US immigrants will send $45 billion this year to Latin America alone.

If the US would devote serious resources to strengthening the economies of Latin America-- countries that past US policies and proxy wars helped devastate -- we wouldn't have the massive immigration from those countries. But the problem may be partially self-correcting as aid from the immigrants themselves has emerged as key economic support for those countries.

Posted by Nathan at 07:35 AM

October 17, 2006

Valuing Families:  State Legislative Models Brought to you by Progressive States and MomsRising

What would a policy that really values families look like? 

Parents need real programs, not just rhetoric, that help them take care of their children or sick family members and supports the decent wages and health care all families need. 

Here's the good news: progressive leaders across this country have been enacting policies to help American families and, while no state has pulled all the elements together, there is a pretty good blueprint for a policy program that values families out there.   Teaming up with MomsRising, the Progressive States Network has pulled these policies together in a set of on-line resources, including legislation, articles, research reports and other resources, to help legislators and advocates bring these policies to your states.   

You can find these State Legislative Models at:


We invite you to explore these online resources, but here is a quick tour based on MomsRising.org M*O*T*H*E*R typology of issues: 

M- Maternity/Paternity Leave  *   O- Open Flexible Work  *  T- afTer-School Programs

           (Paid Family Leave)
H- Health Care for All Kids      *   E- Excellent Child Care  *  R- Realistic & Fair Wages

Continue reading ""

Posted by Nathan at 08:26 AM

October 09, 2006

Emaciated Models, Labor Regulation

There's a bit of debate in the blogosphere around Spain's new law banning underweight models from the runways in that country. See Jordan, Amanda at Pandagon and Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise on whether this is an intrusive regulating violating free expression or something like that and whether OSHA safety regulations are appropriate.

Just to throw my two cents in-- any broader OSHA approach would seem cumbersome and bureaucratically intrusive in a deep way.

But the original Spanish proposal is brilliant in its high-impact, low-intrusion approach. Regulate only the fashion week type runways, where in a single spotcheck, models can be blocked from the runways. Much like a weigh in for a boxing match-- where under and overweight boxers are barred from matches regularly -- models would have to meet the appropriate weight criterion for the runway event. What they do the rest of the year is up to them, but with the runway setting the overall aesthetic standards during the media frenzy of fashion week, other outlets are likely to follow the trend of the runways, avoiding more intrusive year round types of regulations.

So I stick with the boxer weigh-in metaphor. If it's good enough for Nevada gaming regulators, what's wrong with Spain's proposal?

Posted by Nathan at 11:37 AM

October 03, 2006

Big loss for Labor--

The National Labor Relations Board ruled today that a range of professionals are now deemed "supervisors" and thus lose all protections under labor law. That means if they say a positive thing about unions, their bosses are free to fire them at will. The AFL-CIO has more here.

To put this denial of labor rights in perspective, 32 million workers or 25% of the workforce already have no right to form a union under federal, state or local law (see this GAO report and this ARAW summary).

This includes:

Supervisors 16.6 million workers, 8 million new supervisors plus traditional 8.6 million now excluded (see EPI report)
Agricultural Workers 3 million workers
Domestic Workers 1 million workers
Independent Contractors 7 million workers
Managers 10 million workers
Employees of religious institutions 500,000 workers

Additionally, millions of public employees are excluded from labor law protections and depend on state law for whether they have any labor rights.

Beyond the official numbers excluded, in practice, the millions of undocumented workers in the country have no labor rights since when they seek for form unions, they can be fired at will by employers without financial penalty under the Hoffman Plastics decision by the Supreme Court.

Human Rights Watch has analyzed these exclusions as violations of international human rights laws covering labor rights.

See also this report by Hon. George Miller of Committee on Education and Workforce on NLRB stripping workers of rights, including denying organizing rights to disabled workers, graduate teaching assistants, and many temporary workers.

But beyond the statistics of who CAN'T be organized, these kinds of exclusions means that other workers rights are also undermined. The fact that independent contractors can't unionize means that many firms can contract out work to block or undermine unionization. Undocumented workers in the workplace can be threatened with deportation to break unions.

And the new expansive definition of "supervisor" means that more workers will be given nominal supervisory responsibilities to undermine their right to unionize-- and lock every union vote in endless delays as companies litigate who is and who is not a supervisor. Even if the workers "win", the election will probably be delayed long enough to kill the union drive.

And here are the dynamics when large numbers of workers are declared to be supervisors-- it means that friends in the workplace immediately are turned into enemies as supervisors are told to spy on their friends or lose their jobs. Instead of a union being about workers challenging the power of top management, it is turned into an internal workplace civil war.

But divide and conquer, pitting people against each other based on race, ethnicity, gender and now menial distinctions in authority on the shopfloor are the tools of the trade for the corporate rightwing. This decision is just one more bullet to the rights of working Americans.

Posted by Nathan at 08:20 AM

September 27, 2006

Civil War on the Right- Dick Armey trashes Dobson

The economic business- right and the religious right are moving towards total civil war. This piece by former GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey, representing the business right, lays out the attack on Dobson and the rightwing:

Armey – who became majority leader when the GOP took control of Congress in 1994 and retired in 2003 – said: "The criteria of choice in just about every behavior you see in Congress today is politics. Where in the hell did this Terri Schiavo thing come from? There’s not a conservative, Constitution-loving, separation-of-powers guy alive in the world that could have wanted that bill on the floor.

"That was pure, blatant pandering to James Dobson. That’s all it was. It was silly, stupid, and irresponsible. Nobody serious about the Constitution would do that. But the question was will this energize our Christian conservative base for the next election.”

"To a large extent because Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies. I pray devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being stupid. There’s a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer in schools. Demagoguery doesn’t work unless it’s dumb . . . These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy and can appeal to a large demographic.”

Armey is President of FreedomWorks, one of the key corporate-backed lobbying groups in DC and in statehouses around the country, so this is a serious declaration of war between previous political allies.

Grab the popcorn and let's hope for the rumble to escalate.

Posted by Nathan at 02:58 PM

September 24, 2006

Allen the Racist

Three college teammates confirm that George Allen regularly used the N- word:

Allen said he came to Virginia because he wanted to play football in a place where 'blacks knew their place,'" said Dr. Ken Shelton, a white radiologist in North Carolina who played tight end for the University of Virginia football team when Allen was quarterback. "He used the N-word on a regular basis back then."
Add in the mounting the confederate flag, proclaiming Confederate History Month as governor, and the Macaca incident and you just have the profile of a racist.

That Allen is still even in the running to remain Senator shows how little real progress has been made in ending racial inequality in this country.

Posted by Nathan at 10:28 PM

Iraq War Increased Global Terror Threat

Not a startling charge against the Bush administration-- except it comes from US government spy agencies in the National Intelligence Estimate:

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

And of course, it's not just that the war has increased hatred for the United States. We've also devoted resources to the war that could have gone to combatting terrorism in other ways, a point our good ally Afganistan President Hamid Karzai just made:
The $300 billion the United States has spent prosecuting the war in Iraq could have been better used stabilizing Afghanistan against the resurgence of the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

“Three hundred billion dollars? You give that to Afghanistan and we will be heaven in less than a year,” Karzai said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

So we've dropped hundreds of billions of dollars on a war in Iraq that has made things worse, while neglecting Bid Laden's original home base in Afghanistan.

Bush. Worse. President. Ever.

Posted by Nathan at 03:57 PM

Biased Anti-Union Reporting

Every year, big corporations spend insane amounts of money on parties and unless someone gets indicted, as with Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, the press makes no big deal of it. But a union throws a holiday party to reward major volunteers and the NY Daily News runs a story with the title, Union for poor lives high.

So what kind of spendthrift union bash are we talking about?

Well, health care union local SEIU 1199 spent a little under $500,000 for a party for 4000 union members activits from across the northeast-based local-- which works out to about $120 per member, an amount that included travel and accomodations for those coming in from out-of-town. Which Which is hardly an extravagant amount in the scheme of large events, yet nowhere in the story does the reporter bother to even mention that typical parties and events in New York usually spend far, far more per person for this kind of party.

But I guess the kind of folks attending this parties -- home care workers, hospital orderlies and such -- don't deserve any party at all. How dare the union spend money on a band? Kazoos would have been far more appropirate apparently.

And as a union official mentions in the story, every person attending had to earn attendance at the party by attending at least 20 union activities during the year. So that $500,000 party helped motivate more than 80,000 separate volunteer activities by the 4000 members attending the party-- a pretty damn smart investment aside from just being a good way to build camraderies among union activist leaders scattered across the local's territory.

Part of the hook for the story was a rightwing corporate-funded group, the Center for Union Facts, used new data collected by the Bush Department of Labor that highlights all expenses by unions.

So why didn't the reporter just compare that data to similar party expenses by big corporations? Oh right, corporations don't have to publish similar information. Corporations only have to publish general information about their spending, usually massaged by major auditing firms, and that only applies to publicly-traded companies. Many businesses are essentially black boxes with the public getting no information on how they spend their money.

Which is the point. The government audits unions down to practically what they spend on paperclips. Literally, if you know someone who works for a union, their exact salary is listed by the government on a website. That's the level of disclosure imposed on unions.

Which allows these kinds of stories maligning unions as "big spenders" while businesses waste money in ways orders of magnitude more extravagent, but they can't be analyzed systematically because the data on business spending isn't available easily.

But even the lack of data doesn't excuse this kind of shoddy reporting. The reporter has union officials explaining near the end of the story that such spending on the occasional party and retreat helps build teamwork and motivation, but you know if this was a story about a successful business, talking about creating an environment to promote team building would be the headline and first few paragraphs.

I pick on this story not because it's worse than the typical story covering labor unions-- it's actually probably better since the Daily News actually does decent labor coverage on occasion -- but because it so exemplifies the constant bias in press coverage of unions. Stories invariabley lead with strikes, conflict or corruption. Stories about what unions DO day-to-day-- organizing workers, helping solve their problems on the job, building volunteer networks -- those stories almost never get published.

So we're stuck with biased stories condemning a union for daring to have a band at a holiday party.

Posted by Nathan at 01:16 PM

September 17, 2006

The China Problem

Why do we worry about freedom in Iraq, when our government looks the other way as free speech and labor rights are ruthlessly suppressed in China?

Google took a lot of bad press (rightly) when it agreed at one point to censorship by Chinese authorities. But in some ways it's hard to blame them, when the Chinese government blocks US companies that promote free speech, even as US trade deals help build companies built on exploitation of Chinese workers or Chinese censorship. For a pure example of the latter, Just look at the dominant Chinese Internet search engine, Baidu:

Baidu is doing what no other Internet company has been able to do: clobbering Google and Yahoo in its home market...In exchange for letting censors oversee its Web site, Baidu has sealed its dominance with support from the Chinese government, which regularly blocks Google here and imposes strict rules and censorship on other foreign Internet companies.
If China blocks companies who violate its rules-- such as censorship -- why doesn't the US block goods coming into the US using labor that violates international laws protecting labor rights?

This is where "free trade" ideology exposes even its economic idiocy, since it punishes companies that live up to international norms of human rights and free speech, while rewarding companies that agree to kowtow and even take advantage of human rights violations in places like China.

Posted by Nathan at 08:05 AM

The Abuse of Incentive Pay

One standard criticism of union contracts is that workers doing the same job with the same experience usually get the same pay-- with fewer bonuses for outstanding work. It must just be union rigidness protecting lousy workers that explains such an approach, right?

Well look at the Center on Disease Control, courtesy of the NYTimes, where abuse of incentive pay has ended up diverting pay from front-line scientists to the top management:

In 2005, the records show that officials in Dr. Gerberding's office received 60 premium bonuses totaling $515,075, or about 4 percent of all bonuses granted within the centers. Because bonus money is limited — about 1.5 percent of the total personnel budget, Mr. Skinner said — the growing share of premium bonuses for Dr. Gerberding's closest advisers has meant less money is available for some scientists and other workers.
Incentive pay sounds nice, but it usually means that management lines its own nest and bonuses get handed out to those who tow the management line-- and those who challenge management in any way get nothing.

So the upshot is that incentive pay often ends up doing very little to improve performance, but does a lot to lower the pay of all workers while undermining overall worker power in the workplace. Which explains why most workers when they vote on a union contract decide to eliminate incentive pay where they can. In most cases, the best workers under a union contract will get more pay without incentives than they will from an incentive system that over time lowers pay for all workers.

Posted by Nathan at 07:31 AM

September 15, 2006

Tax Revolt 2006 Skids into the Ditch

Little noticed, but the progressive movement had massive victories in multiple states this last week-- victories that mean that millions of children will have better schools and families will have better services and health care. The rightwing had been hoping to export Colorado's "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" (also known as TABOR), a severe tax cutting measure that crippled that state for most of the last decade.

Ballot petitions had been filed in multiple states for TABOR-like initiatives, but this last week in Michigan, Nevada and Montana, state courts and agencies tossed the measures off the ballot-- largely due to variations of fraud committed by rightwing activists. This followed Oklahoma and Missouri tossing similar measures off the bollot earlier in this year.

While TABOR-like initiatives remain on the ballots in Oregon, Maine and Nebraska, the collapse of this rightwing effort in so many states means that progressives will be able to spend their money fighting on other fronts-- rather than draining their budgets to fight the TABOR danger across the country.

What is remarkable is that those funding these initiatives -- centered around a rightwing network led by New York developer and libertarian patron Howie Rich -- could be so reckless and arrogant in their fraud. Examples include:

  • In Michigan, initiatives had such high rates of duplicate and invalid signatures that a startling 40% of the signatures were deemed invalid.
  • In Montana, a judge declared "the signature-gathering process was permeated by a pervasive and general pattern and practice of deceit, fraud and procedural non-compliance" in tossing the initiative and additional companion rightwing propositions.
  • In Nevada, the backers filed one version of the language with the state, then circulated other language to voters asked to sign the initiative-- a clear violation of state law.
  • In Oklahoma, the campaign illegally relied on out-of-state signature gatherers and struck the state's TABOR proposal from the ballot.

Hard work by progressive activists across the country exposed these frauds and deceit, so we all should celebrate these victories. And it's one more example that fraud and illegal behavior have become such constant tools of the rightwing that their arrogance may be catching up with them.

For more on the campaign, see this piece by Progressive States and this earlier one on why TABOR is so threatening to progressive goals in states.

Posted by Nathan at 01:00 PM

September 11, 2006

Chicago Mayor Vetos Retail Living Wage Law

In his first veto over 17 years as mayor, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has vetoed the ordinance passed by the city council which would have required large retail stores of at least 90,000 square feet to pay $10 an hour, plus $3 in benefits, by July 2010.

This is the issue where Daley has decided to divide the city, despite polls showing 71% of Chicagoans support the ordinance. But Daley is sticking with his corporate supporters and blocking a decent wage for retail workers in the city.

Daley hides behind the fig leaf of threats by retail stores to avoid development in the City, yet ignores the experience of cities like Santa Fe and San Francisco that have raised local minimum wages-- and yet the businesses keep coming in. Leaders from both those cities came to Chicago recently to testify that higher living wages have been good for those cities' economies. In fact, in Santa Fe, which raised its minimum wage for all businesses with 25 or more employees, Wal-Mart announced plans to open a new Super Center store in that city.

Big box retailers want access to urban consumers-- and the only question is whether political leaders will stand up for their employees or stand in the way. Unfortunately, Daley has chosen to stand in the way of a decent life for low wage service workers in his city.

See also the AFL-CIO blog and ACSBlog for more

Posted by Nathan at 05:03 PM

September 03, 2006

The Brilliance of Labor

Admit it. Many of you think labor unions are dinosaurs, lumbering beasts with pea-sized brains stumbling along waiting for extinction in a world passing them by. God knows, union leaders have done stupid things at times, but what strikes me is the sustained innovation and intelligence by unions over the last decade or so, barely noticed by the media or even fellow progressive activists.

So on this Labor Day, this is my celebration not of the justice of the labor cause, but of the brilliance of those fighting and often winning against long odds in the modern economy.

What's Been Won: Just surviving in the fact of political and corporate assaults by a rightwing that wants to kill off labor is an underestimated victory. I remember in the early 90s when talk of the death of the labor movement started and many analysts confidently predicted that union workers would make up less than 5% of the workforce. If you look at this table, labor has seen some steady erosion in the percentage of works organized since the early 90s -- although even that stabilized a bit last year -- but the actual number of workers unionized has largely stabilized around 16 million members in the last decade.

With total annual budgets from dues of $5-6 billion per year and with hundreds of billions od dollars in union-connected pension and health funds, unions remain the only institution that combines more resources that pretty much all other progressive groups combined with a mass membership. Which is why they have faced bad laws, hostile courts, and anti-union political and corporate attacks-- and their holding onto to nearly 16 million members is a testament to the innovative tactics and strategies they have developed over the years.

And what were those strategies?

Card Check to Replace a Hostile NLRB: As federal labor law and the National Labor Relations Board largely abandoned protecting workers, leaading to over 20,000 workers being fired each year for trying to organize unions, labor leaders realized in the last decades that they needed to emphasize new ways to strengthen the freedom of workers to form unions without depending on the NLRB. The tool was pressuring companies to agree to have independent groups - church leaders or private arbitration groups - measure whether a majority of workers had requested having a union brought into the workplace. (See these resources at American Rights At Work for more on how card check works).

The results have been dramatic. In an early signature campaign reviving the fortunes of the union movement, janitors began organizing around the country, largely using card check to win. In Los Angeles, for example, a union local where once 5000 workers were organized collapsed down to just 1800 members by the mid-0-s. But with the support of community allies, they used dramatic street protests to pressure janitorial companies to recognize the union and raise wages and benefits in the industry. Now, over 25,000 building service workers are organized in California alone. Similarly, hotel unions in Las Vegas would use card check to expand a local to over 50,000 members in that city alone.

And in the high-tech world, traditional telephone-based unions used card check to make inroads into new industries like cell phones. The Communication Workers of America has organized over 39,000 cell phone workers at Cingular Wireless, many of them workers in the US South. After initial resistance, this campaign has even forged a partnership with SBC (now AT&T) that has helped workers and management pursue win-win gains in the workplace, rather than the hostility bred of constant union busting and outsourcing in so many industries.

Corporate Campaigns: Beyond traditional "street heat", unions have begun wielding economic resources they control, such as union pension funds, as part of the tools to pressure companies to agree to card check agreements. William Greider in this Nation article describes many of the tactics used by labor, from proxy fights to shareholder lawsuits, to put pressure on management, but one of my favorite descriptions of this work is by an anti-union consultant who explains to companies in this piece what they face. The author describes the combination of boycotts, pension actions and other publicity actions as a coordinated strategy that brilliantly turns former financial allies against corporate management:

These tactics are not meant to get banks or consumers or regulators to redefine their self-interest. Rather, they encourage these constituency groups to act selectively in their own self-interest. The campaign tries to create a business environment in which that self-interest actually promotes the goals of the unions and anti-corporate groups. Thus, the company’s essential supporters become de facto allies of its opponents. This is a very sophisticated organizing strategy.
Signficantly, business recognizes the effectiveness and sophistication of current labor leaders often far more than many other progressives.

Mobilizing Customers: As part of such corporate campaigns, unions have long used simple consumer boycotts to pressure companies, but now they are becoming even more sophisticate in organizing consumers before a conflict to preemptively pressure companies before a conflict even begins. A brilliant recent example is the Informed Meetings Exchange, a project of UNITE-HERE where a broad range of academic, political and religious organizations have signed onto an organization that will advise them on which hotels to stay at for large organizational conferences-- the lifeblood of many hotels. By providing experise to help these groups get a better deal at conference hotels, the union will also be in a position to steer those groups away from hostile hotels and towards those less likely to disrupt a conference with a strike or lockout. As John Stephens, Executive Director of the American Studies Association and Board Chair of INMEX, stated:

"Subscribers will use INMEX to help them make more informed decisions about where and how they spend their highly coveted meetings and conventions dollars. With this type of transparency and information exchange, all of us can ensure that the dollars we spend have a positive impact on hotel workers lives and the communities they live in."
It's a nice summary of how progressives can work with labor to strengthen the whole movement.

Use of Local and State Politics: Getting little help from the federal government, unions have found ways to mobilize locally to support new union campaigns. The "living wage" campaign that demanded that private workers paid for with public money receive a decent wage is one of the most prominent examples of this kind of politics. More specifically, the campaign to organize the hundreds of thousands of home health care workers -- those paid by governments to care for the sick and disabled in their homes -- has been a key success for unions in recent years. This piece describes the successful campaign in California, where workers previously treated as "independent contractors" with no right to form a union were converted into employees of newly created public authorities and then unionized, most dramatically in Los Angeles in 1999 when 74,000 home care workers voted to form a local union, the largest union vote in decades, which has been accompanied by tens of thousands of other home care workers unionizing. Similarly, tens of thousands of child care workers have also unionized in recent years.

Organizing Globally: Part of the success of the union movement has been matching global outsourcing by the business community with global organizing of its own. This is a still a tough challenge, but unions are increasingly making inroads. Unions increasingly draw on help from overseas, as the chemical workers union did a few years ago in Alabama-- taking on Imerys, one of the largest global minerals companies in the heart of the anti-union South. Mobilizing help from the 20 million-strong International Chemical Energy, Mining and General Workers Unions (ICEM), the workers were able to pressure the company to recognize the union.

And instead of just bemoaning corporate outsourcing, unions are increasingly organizing the outsourcers themselves. For example, three large multinational firms -- Sodexho, Aramark and Compass -- subcontract work from other firms to do everything from food service to laundry work to janitorial services, employing 300,000 workers in the US and 1.1 million globally. Unions are forging global alliances with European and counterparts in other countries to demand global agreements with those companies. And they are succeeding with all three companies signing card check agreements to allow organizing of their employees.

Conclusion: These strategies by labor don't often get a lot of play in the mainstream media, but on this Labor Day, I thought it was a good time to celebrate the sophistication and persistence of US workers and their labor leaders in taking on the challenges of the new economy and actually winning where many people had already written the labor movement's obituary.

So Solidarity Forever everyone.

Posted by Nathan at 10:02 AM

August 18, 2006

Health Care: The Worse the Better

There a strain of liberal advocacy for national health care that hopes for the system to get worse, in the assumption that only then can serious reform happen. Ezra Klein makes this argument in a post attacking the Chicago Retail Workers bill as a danger since it might actually improve the lives of Wal-Mart workers; instead progressives should "view a slightly better menu of options for Wal-Mart employees as delaying the ultimate, more important victory."

So the worse the lives of low-wage workers, the better for liberal social engineers trying to enact national health insurance. Then, we can eliminate employer responsibility for health care with a completely government-financed system.

Ezra makes a broader argument about "progressives" like himself serving the public interest better than unions -- which I'll return to later in the post -- but let's start with why employer responsibility for health care is not going to happen, at least any time soon. Look at the following graph of who currently pays for health care in America:

So currently, federal and state governments cover just 39% of funding for $1.75 trillion in US health care spending annually. So for the government to take over the rest of health care financing would requre roughly a $1 trillion annual increase in general revenue taxes. (This doesn't include the costs of extending health care to those presently foregoing health care because of lack of insurance, but it's reasonable to argue that savings from a national system could pay for the uninsured.) Look again at the graph above-- without that employer contribution to health care, does anyone seriously think there is any way to help out the families paying hundreds of billions out-of-pocket or going without health care presently?

Back in 1994, the rightwing filibustered even the moderate Clinton reforms; they will lay on railroad tracks to prevent these kinds of revenue increases. Yet folks like Ezra want retail workers in Chicago to go with less health care today so that liberals get a better opportunity to convince William Kristol that blocking single payer health care is a bad idea.

Ezra also makes the argument, as he has before, that the current problems Ford and General Motors face is due to requriing employers to be responsible for health care costs. Yet he ignores the basic fact that Detroit's main Japanese competitors operate in a country, Japan, which is based on employers paying for health care. In fact, the Japanese health care system looks a lot like the "fair share" requirements that unions and their allies have been promoting across the country.

So if Japanese companies are increasingly dominating the global car market under a system of employer-responsibility for the health care of their employees, let's abandon the argument that employer responsibility for health care is the problem. The overall costly, dysfunctional US health care system may be a problem for all employers, but making the employers pay their fair share of costs in a reformed system is no obstacle to global competition.

But let's go back to the present cost numbers to refine what national health care needs to accomplish, with a different graph (also courtesy of the California Health Care Foundation):

Now to amend the number above, some of the present health care costs by individuals and businesses are taxes already paid for Medicaid and Medicare, so the really relevant spending on health care for those not covered by those programs are the $442.1 billion spent by individuals and $342.8 billion spent by businesses on insurance and out-of-pocket health care expenses.

So here's a question for progressives. Don't we want to keep that $342.8 billion employer health care commitment in place and concentrate new taxes on easing the $442.1 billion burden of health care expenses paid by individual families?

Of course we need reforms of the system to eliminate wasteful paperwork, avoid duplication and control costs, but as Japan and a number of European countries show, that can be done in a system where employers retain a financial responsibility for paying their fair share of health care costs.

Part of Ezra's argument is trying to blame unions for the lack of national health care in the country. It's actually amazing that he argues that unions are only interested in "tangible gains for their workers now," while ignoring the historic role of unions in fighting to enact Medicaid and Medicare and SCHIP for children and a range of other government programs. And guess what, no Wal-Mart workers in the US are in unions, so bills to increase health benefits for Wal-Mart workers DOESN'T create tangible gains for unionized retail workers right now. It does have long-term gains for union workers since a level playing field, where all employers, union and non-union, have similar health care costs, may help unions, but that just points out why unions actually inherently and institutionally push for a "just society for everyone."

Contrary to Ezra's supposed opposition between the "progressive movement" (a nebulous institution) and the union movement, a more just society is better for union workers, which explains why unions have been core part of social advancement, from the New Deal and Great Society to the civil rights movement.

Here's a thought. Maybe the unions and churches and community allies like ACORN, all representing millions of working families, aren't dumb. Maybe they recognize:

  • That the multi-hundred billion dollar per year health care contribution by employers can't easily be replaced by tax revenues;
  • That the better option is to require a level playing field where ALL employers are required to make a commitment to health care for their employees, so none has an unfair competitive advantage; and
  • That new tax revenues would be better spent on easing the $442.1 billion burden of direct health care spending by families, rather than using that revenue to subsidize large employers like Wal-Mart.

    I'm in favor of moving towards an integrated national health care system, since it's the best way to make sure no one falls through the cracks and to achieve a more rational, less costly health care system. But if employers bail on their present spending on health care, that just means that the government will have to raise MORE revenue to achieve such an integrated system and make it less likely.

    Some believe that the worse the health care system gets, the better, since that will open up the possibility of national health care reform. But it's actually the opposite-- the more we shore up the employer side of health care responsbility, the more likely we can afford to bring the rest of the population into a reformed system.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:28 AM

    August 16, 2006

    Non-Growth in Hours of Work

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released a report showing that while jobs have increased since the depths of the recession, the average work week has not recovered to the pre-recession level, meaning many folks may have a job but they aren't getting the same hours and pay as earlier.

    This reflects one of my favorite measures of real job creation-- ignore the total number of jobs and instead look at the total number of hours of work created. The St. Louis Federal Reserve puts those numbers together in this nice graph which emphasizes that after a serious dip in hours of work in the economy, we are just barely above the pre-recession level of hours worked -- divided among a larger growing population.

    Just more evidence of how truly anemic this recovery has been. And without any party, many economists are expecting the economy to take another dive soon.

    Bush: Incompetent at War, Incompetent at Home.

    Posted by Nathan at 10:36 AM

    August 10, 2006

    Target Corp. Blackmails Chicago Over Wage Law- Take Action!

    As Progress States highlighted a few weeks ago, the Chicago City Council approved a groundbreaking ordinance to require all large retailers in that city to pay a living wage of $10 per hour plus $3 in benefits.  

    In retaliation, the Target Corp. is making a blackmail threat to cancel the opening of stores in three predominantly African-American Southside Chicago neighborhoods unless the mayor vetoes the ordinance. Advocates for the Chicago law are calling on allies to call Target's CEO and end this political bullying.  

    Adding to community anger is the fact that Target already operates seven stores in the city and opened one in a a predominately white Northside community just two weeks ago, leading to charges of discriminatory redlining by the corporation.  

    What makes it clear that the threat is political blackmail and not merely a calculated business decision is the fact that the company admits that its Chicago Lincoln Park store is its most successful in the country-- and economic analysts note that big box retailers have been pushing hard to get access to urban consumers in recent years: "I think Target is making these threats to try to scare Chicago into scrapping this law," said Annette Bernhardt, deputy director of poverty programs at Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School. "Everyone knows they'll expand into the city. That's where the untapped market is."

    Target already operates stores in cities like Sante Fe and San Francisco which have comparable minimum wage rates of $9.50 per hour and $8.82 per hour respectively, so the argument that the marginally higher wage rates in Chicago will make or break the new stores in that city is just not credible.  

    Advocates are especially suspicious since Target is aiming to intimidate predominantly black communities and elected leaders with its threat, paralleling nasty threats and racial manipulation by Wal-Mart during that company's campaign to enter Chicago and fight the new ordinance.  In fact, the parallel is so close that advocates challenging Target have dubbed the company "Tar-Mart" for resorting to the same kinds of heavyhanded tactics used by Wal-Mart that have angered so many community groups.

    This is shaping up to be a defining political divide in the city, of grassroots forces mobilizng against an establishment, represented by Mayor Daley, too willing to accomodate special corporate interests.  From community groups like ACORN to the unions, activists see Daley giving into the threats by Target and Wal-Mart as open up what Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon labels "World War III" in the City.

    To protest this heavy-handed blackmail, use these resources to call or write Target CEO Robert Ulrich to demand that he stops these threats against the poor communities of Chicago.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:44 AM

    August 09, 2006

    UE on Mexican Elections

    One of the best sources of information on labor issues in Mexico is the United Electrial workers (UE) newsletter Mexican Labor News & Analysis and their recent issue has a full rundown of issues from the contested Mexican election. The most interesting part of their reporting is the use of worksites for employer campaigning:

    The Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT) has informed us that business leaders illegally ran a major campaign of TV spots attacking López Obrador and that this message was also conveyed to workers by their supervisors and through captive audience meetings where they were instructed how they should vote and often told that a vote for the PRD would mean that their plant would close.
    While a lot of people are focused on the pure electoral fraud, the broader issue is the economic inequality in Mexico that allows the business class to demand political obedience based on threats of economic retaliation if the votes don't go the way they want.

    Posted by Nathan at 04:48 PM

    August 08, 2006

    Lieberman Makes Rightwing Happy

    With his announcement of an independent run, the Freepers are all happy:

    Don't know if he can pull it off but this move helps whichever GOPer is in the race

    Republicans! Start your engines!

    Lieberman will now run as an independent with about 50% of the Dem vote, and the rest we can supply him. Lieberman wins as an independent, and the Dems lose another vote in the Senate. This *could* mean that we get the nuclear option.

    This is great, now, here comes the fun part. What are the 27 Rat candidates for POTUS going to do?

    Go Joe... Screw the Dems and win one for the good guys.

    If Lieberman was serious in his statements of caring about progressive values, he would look at who is cheering for him-- and drop out of the race. It's a sad spiral for Lieberman to go from Democratic nominee for the Vice-Presidency to betraying his party on a bitter ego trip.

    Posted by Nathan at 11:52 PM

    August 05, 2006

    The Successful War on Poverty

    Looking at the graph, what's remarkable is how successful the war on poverty was in the 1960s, cutting the poverty rate in half from the 1950s, with upticks only under Reagan with a decline under Clnton, and now an uptick again under Bush.

    But for all the claims by the Right that the war on poverty was a failure, it actually made a dramatic difference.

    Posted by Nathan at 12:39 PM

    August 04, 2006

    My Generation Gap on Lamont

    There's been a good discussion on the "generation gap" in response to the Lamont-Lieberman race, generations being something like ten years in the political world. (See here for links to some of the discussion).

    So what strikes me most is Ed Kilgore's view that his politics is defined by the DLC beating down the left in the early 90s. As someone who was a left activist in that period, I agree with Ed that those fights back then set the stage for today.

    Which is one reason I find some of the blog triumphalism over Lamont being something so new a bit off. As many in the blogs admit, the organizing around Lamont is quite rooted in actions by older activists like Tom Swan, Lamont's campaign manager and a leader in the Connecticut Citizen's Action Group (whose sister organization the now-defunct Mass Fair Share I did early political work with in the 1980s).

    The idea that the Democratic establishment is disconnected from the grassroots and too beholden to corporate interests is nothing new. Jesse Jackson's "Rainbow Coalition" run for President in 1988 was based on that argument and a range of new people ran for office in the 1980s and early 1990s based on that argument, most notably Paul Wellstone who had managed Jackson's 1988 campaign in Minnesota and connected "people powered politics" to a Senate campaign before most people had even heard the word "Internet."

    What is true is that most activists had great distrust of electoral politics and it was hard to get them to take seriously buiding serious infrastructure to keep winning elections in this way. In a pre-blog world, back in the mid-90s I wrote an essay, Are the Democrats are the Third Party We've Been Looking For?, which got blog-like distribution in various email lists and links on left websites at the time. It analyzed the emerging political realignment of the parties-- as progressives gained greater power within the Democratic caucus and as Newt Gingrich helped wipe out corporate-DLC types -- to argue for greater attention by progressives to strengthening that progressive wing in the Democrats. This was largely in reaction to the general electoral apathy and third party fetishism of many progressive activists of the time.

    So the new Democratic partisanship of the liberal blog world is welcome. But as Ed emphasizes (from the other side of the trench from those earlier internal battles) -- the Lamont-Liberman fight is hardly unprecedented. Some in the blogs argue that the Lamont campaign is not about "ideology" (shudder at the thought) but about Lieberman being insufficiently partisan.

    Yet why partisanship is needed is unclear unless you have a clear understanding of the values and ideology that define the differences of progressives from the rightwing. The activists who supported the Jackson and Paul Wellstone counter-establishment campaigns were clear about those ideological differences-- and were unashamed to stand up for those values. Of course, most in the blogs express progressive values much of the time, so it's just odd that they are so shy of admitting it matters in places like the Lamont race.

    Progressives sometimes argue they are building an infrastructure to counter the rightwing, but it's worth remembering that the Right didn't build a strong Republican Party, then add a program to help it win elections. It was the other way around. Organizations with clear ideology built a range of organizations-- the Free Congress Foundation, Young Americans for Freedom, the Christian Coalition, the Federalist Society -- then used programs and ideas from those organizations to define what the modern GOP program would be. Folks like Newt Gingrich who engineered the GOP takeover of Congress in the early 1990s were partisans around ideas and ideology-- and unapologetic about it.

    For the GOP, a lot of this was disingenuous-- corporate money fueling electoral ideas they couldn't care less about as long as they got their special interest goodies -- but those ideas and ideology were crucial for mobilizing the church and other grassroots activists that gave the GOP boots on the ground to claim an electoral majority. And many of those grassroots activists are disenchanted now that Bush has so clearly abandoned that ideology in favor of naked corporate payoffs to GOP special interests.

    The Democrats may win back Congress based on this internal collapse of the GOP -- encouraged by general anger over the Iraq War -- but once they win, the general pro-partisan, ideology-light blog-related Democratic activism is likely to give away to internal ideological disarray and fights. What I share with Ed Kilgore is that the fights from the early 90s, when the Dems last had control of Congress, are likely to return with a vengenace very soon.

    Mark Schmitt says hopefully that the blog world really represents the end of "checklist liberalism", implicitly a vision of a just world, which I think has truth but is encased in a movement that pretends to eschew ideology. But it's actually easier to hold such nascent ideology in opposition-- with any degree of power, the corporate "friends" of the Democrats will reappear quickly and try to drown that vision in a bathtub. So whether blogish unity around "strong partisanship" can survive victory seems uncertain.

    That said, victory is better than defeat, and Lamont seems like a good guy who will be more progressive than Lieberman. But Lamont's uncertain ideological profile -- clearly contrasting with a Paul Wellstone of an earlier political generation -- is a reflection of this uncertain bloggish partisan profile. So for my part, I'm far more excited by the likely elections of Bernie Sanders and (hopefully) Sherrod Brown, who come with clearer records of clear progressive values reflecting that earlier generation of political politics.

    Posted by Nathan at 07:48 AM

    Applauding Google's "War on Copyright"

    The idea that card catalogues violate copyrights would be absurd, but Google faces a whole storm of litigation over its search strategies that use snippets of words and images to help people find sources of information freely available on the web.

    Blogs should care a lot about the "fair use" lawsuits Google is embroiled in, since if Google doesn't have the right to grab headlines and sentences from news stories, most of what bloggers do is illegal under copyright law.

    Posted by Nathan at 07:34 AM

    August 01, 2006

    Greens Now Officially Arm of GOP

    And their candidates aren't even embarassed that the major funders of the Green Party are often Republican donors:

    Thanks to the generosity of GOP donors, a Green Party candidate is expected to make it onto the ballot in Pennsylvania's Senate race and siphon votes from Democratic front-runner Bob Casey in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Rick Santorum...Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli, making his first bid for statewide elective office, acknowledged Monday that Republican contributors probably supplied most of the $100,000 that he said he spent gathering signatures to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot.

    "I have friends in all political parties. It's just that my Republican friends are more confident about standing with me than my Democratic friends. And as a group, my Republican friends are a little better off," [Romelli] said in a telephone interview...An analysis showed that at least $29,000 came from donors who also have given to Santorum's campaign, and nearly all the donors had given to Republican candidates in recent elections.

    At this point many Greens are financially just an adjunct of the Republican Party and strategically serve their goals, even if they delude themselves otherwise in some cases. Just sad.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:02 AM

    July 31, 2006

    Israel as Imperialist

    While there is no doubt lots of antisemitism in the Middle East, the hostility to Israel is far more complicated-- and it relates to Western dominance of the region during the imperialist age. And folks forget that Israel jumped on the side of the imperialists during the 1956 Suez crisis, as the Economist reminds us: When the British wanted to take back the Suez Canal from Egypt's Nasser, they used the cover of Arab-Israeli conflict as an excuse to get their troops on the ground:

    Israel would invade Egypt and race to the canal. The French and British could then invade, posing as peacekeepers to separate the two sides, and occupy the canal, ostensibly to guarantee the free passage of shipping. When this plan was presented to Eden, he jumped at it. Thus was collusion born. The details were agreed on at a secret meeting in Sèvres, outside Paris. Not for nothing is the Suez crisis known in Egypt as the “tripartite aggression”. The British and French forces now had a pretext to invade.
    Keep that history in mind when people wonder if the US is behind Israel's actions in the region.

    Posted by Nathan at 11:00 AM

    Lamont and 1968

    Comparing the Lieberman-Lamont race to 1968, Jonathan Alter argues "the romance of the antiwar left...gave the world Richard Nixon in 1968." Actually, it was the dedication of antiwar folks to running a constructive alternative, first McCarthy then Kennedy, that reflected the popular will that year. That was frustrated first by Kennedy's assassination and then by the Humphrey's and the Democratic leadership's refusal to honor those antiwar votes, until the last few weeks when Humphrey belated came out fully against the war-- giving him an uptick in the polls but too late to make a difference. Maybe it's the Dem leadership that should learn the lessons from 1968, since the Lamont forces are being the grownups here.

    Posted by Nathan at 10:44 AM

    July 27, 2006

    Groundbreaking Chicago Retail Wage Law

    By a vote of 35 to 14, the Chicago city council yesterday approved a new ordinance requiring large retailers in the city to phase in a living wage for their employees of $10 per hour plus $3 per hour in benefits-- the highest minimum wage established for any industry sector in the country.

    If signed by the mayor, this law would not only raise pay for tens of thousands of workers in retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us, Lowe's and Home Depot, but will open up a new arena for activists to engage the wage issue for a broader range of workers than the minimum wage.

    As discussed at Progressive States , this law is part of an emerging trend of states and local governments establishing different, higher minimum "living wage" standards for selected industrial sectors, from larger employers to tourist zones to hotels. While innovative in the modern era, the Chicago law is a return to the historic practice of federal and state laws creating different minimum wage levels both between and within different industries.

    Because the Chicago ordinance allows employers to pay higher wages in lieu of paying the increased benefits required under the law, the law is clearly not preempted by federal ERISA law, as this legal analysis by the Brennan Center explains. “Every federal court of appeals that has reviewed a wage law like the Chicago ordinance," explains Paul Sonn, deputy director at the Brennan Center, "has upheld the law under ERISA.”

    And while large retailers covered by the ordinance are making noises about not building new stores in the city, the reality is that after Santa Fe created a living wage of $9.50 per hour for large employers, Wal-Mart asked for approval to build a new Supercenter. The fact that leading retailer Costco already pays all its employees a living wage of $10 per hour plus benefits nationwide emphasizes that "big box" retailers can thrive paying a living wage. See this economic analysis of why the expansion drive by large retailers means higher wage standards will not deter their growth.

    Full disclosure-- I drafted the original version of the ordinance back in 2004 when I was back at the Brennan Center, so I have a proprietary interest in this model, but it does bridge the discussion on wages between the lowest wage workers receiving the minimum wage and prevailing wage laws involving often much-better paid construction workers. As noted above, historically there were often different minimum wage rates for different industries, and even larger and smaller employers within the same industry. It was really only in the 1970s that the minimum wage became uniform for all kinds and sizes of firms-- and coincidentally began its decades long slide in inflation-adjusted value.

    So Chicago may be pointing us to the next wave of the wage debate, looking at different industries and size firms to establish higher wage standards where policymakers deem the industry can absorb higher wages without loss of job growth. Of course, that is what unions delivered historically industry by industry, but the Chicago-style approach may fill in the gaps to raise wages beyong the minimum wage.

    Posted by Nathan at 02:08 PM

    July 25, 2006

    Health Care for All Debate Gets Real

    Crossposted from Progressive States

    Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to create a health care plan to provide health care coverage for the 85,000 uninsured residents of that city, adding to the sense that 2006 became the year when the debate on health care for all became real in a range of states.

    Maryland kickstarted a national debate on employer responsibility for health care costs, Vermont and Massachusetts enacted new plans that each promised significantly expanded health care coverage, and Illinois finalized details on its AllKids program to provide affordable health care for all children in that state.

    And it was a year when serious campaigns in both California and Wisconsin to create integrated universal health care systems moved forward, emphasizing how states aren't waiting for the federal government to shake up our health care system.

    Continue reading "Health Care for All Debate Gets Real"

    Posted by Nathan at 02:12 PM

    CA: State Rules FedEx Drivers Employees, Not Contractors

    For years, the delivery company FedEx has claimed that its ground drivers are not employees but independent contractors-- meaning the company didn't have to pay for workers compensation, unemployment insurance or a range of other worker protections.

    But along with two Internal Revenue rulings, decisions by the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board have found that FedEx exercised such strict control over its drivers that their nominal independent status was a facade designed to undermine the labor rights of employees and evade millions in taxes owed the state.

    FedEx is just a high profile example of an all too common abuse of workers by misclassifying them as independent contractors. States are increasingly proposing new legislation to tighten these rules to protect employees, as this gude to Combating Independent Contractor Misclassification in the States by the National Employment Law Project explains.

    Posted by Nathan at 01:39 PM

    July 22, 2006

    Those Dangerous Suburbs

    I live up in the heart of Harlem. Just in the last year, there was one murder on my block and another about a block away. So if I plan to raise kids in such a dangerous environment, would I be an irresponsible parent?

    But if you look at the statistics, the really reckless parents are those raising their kids in the suburbs.

    Despite media hype, if you look at this graph of causes of death for 5-14 year olds, "unintential injuries" (accidents) dwarf other causes of death by a large margin:

    Diseases of various kinds when aggregated are a significant second place. But murder is responsible for a comparably small number of childhood deaths (and most are by family members, not street crime).

    On the other hand, in the overwhelming "unintentional injuries" category, the majoriy are due to automobile crashes. So when you break down the numbers, it's not urban crime but suburban SUVs that kill off far more children.

    Thank god for New York mass transit. It makes me rest easier that I'm not intending to subject children to those scary, dangerous suburbs.

    Posted by Nathan at 10:03 AM

    July 20, 2006

    What's Wrong With World Trade

    So the WTO is investigating whether US shutting down gambling web sites violate international trade law.

    Yet no international trade laws stop China from censoring its citizens access to Internet information on trade unions or human rights organizations that might help workers there demand better wages.

    When offshore gambling corporations have standing to challenge Internet restrictions and workers in slave labor camps don't, the law is an ass.

    Posted by Nathan at 12:20 AM

    July 19, 2006

    Southern Baptists: The SECOND largest Baptist Group

    One thing I learned this past weekend attending the Progressive Faith Blog Con was that there are moves afoot to unify the various non-Southern Baptist organizations within the Baptist community.

    And those Baptist groups, recently brought together at the Carter Center to explore building a "North American Baptist Convenant", would include 20 million members, more than the 16 million folks in the Southern Baptists. Encouragingly, this group of Baptists came together to affirm:

    They specifically committed themselves to their obligations as Christians to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, welcome the strangers among us, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.
    So for those looking for the "religious left", they could do worse than follow developments around this emerging alternative Baptist bloc.

    Posted by Nathan at 07:42 AM

    CA: San Francisco Approves Universal Health Care

    Combining proposals from the city's mayor and other advocates, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Monday gave initial and unanimous approval to a plan to extend health care coverage to all uninsured residents in the city.

    The plan would require businesses and other employers not providing health insurance to their employees to pay $1.06 or $1.60 per hour per worker, depending on the size of the company. The balance of the estimated $200 million annual cost of the program would be covered by consumer premiums and co-payments and by the $104 million a year San Francisco already spends on providing care to uninsured patients at city clinics and hospitals.

    Medical care would be provided at city clinics and hospitals that already treat residents who qualify for the state's public health insurance for poor Californians.

    Here is the ordinance approved by the Board.

    Posted by Nathan at 06:53 AM

    July 18, 2006

    Big Dig Death: Corruption of Privatization

    The death last week due to faulty construction in the "Big Dig" construction project in Boston should be seen as a canary in the coal mine of the corruption and even murder due to privatization in this country.

    A lot of conservatives might try to blame this on Massachusetts liberals, but the actual management of the project was handed over to the often GOP-allied Bechtel Corp. See this Boston Globe website for a decade plus of stories on privatization problems, but here are some key stories tracing the problem:

    1994: Project poses a test for privatization- "Bechtel Corp...is head of a private partnership that will ultimately receive as much as $2 billion in contracts for managing the $7.7 billion Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project...The conflict of interest, critics say, is that Bechtel is overseeing a project that it designed itself. Bechtel, as the lead firm in the joint venture responsible for managing the project, is also responsible for completing up to 40 percent of the engineering design work in some sections."

    2004: Big Dig found riddled with leaks- "Engineers hired to investigate the cause of September's massive Big Dig tunnel leak have discovered that the project is riddled with hundreds of leaks that are pouring millions of gallons of water into the $14.6 billion tunnel system. While none of the leaks is as large as the fissure that snarled traffic for miles on Interstate 93 northbound in September, the breaches appear to permeate the subterranean road system, calling into question the quality of construction and managerial oversight provided by Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff on the massive highway project."

    But here's my favorite story, which is a story about how the workers on the project knew Bechtel's management was a clusterfuck but were ignored:

    2006: Workers doubted ceiling method- "Field tests by construction workers indicated that bolt-and-epoxy fasteners might not support the multi-ton ceiling panels in the Interstate 90 connector tunnel, but the firm that designed the tunnel persuaded Big Dig officials to use the system anyway, law enforcement officials said yesterday...The engineers also said they have discovered documents showing that Bechtel managers were aware that the wall breached this fall was deficient from the moment it was built in the late 1990s, yet did not order it replaced and did not inform state officials of the situation."

    READ THAT LAST PARAGRAPH. Bechtel had workers complaining and documents showing that the roof in the tunnels were faulty, yet they covered it up, no doubt because they wanted to save money.

    This is what comes from handing management of public projects to private entities with a conflict-of-interest between protecting the public and maximizing their own profits. And of course at the federal level, we've seen the frauds perpetuated by Haliburton and company.

    Unfortunately, this kind of privatization is accelerating across the country, not just in construction projects but in handling children in foster care, evaluating health care systems and a range of other public services. But progressives should be focusing on the story of the Big Dig as one more example of why profit-making companies shouldn't be trusted to manage in the public interest.

    Posted by Nathan at 10:59 AM

    Drug Costs Soar on Medicare Part D

    Here's proof that states have been making inroads on controlling prescription drug costs in their Medicaid programs:

    When poor elderly patients were moved from state-run Medicaid programs to the federal Medicare Part D prescription drug program, drug costs for those patients apparently soared by more than $2 billion as pharmaceutical companies pocketed windfall profits.

    The difference is that where state programs have been negotiating for lower costs for patients, the Part D law barred the federal government from negotiating for lower prices-- a giveaway to big Pharma that couldl end up costing federal taxpayers big money.

    To add insult to injury, the federal government is demanding payments from states based on "cost savings" from not paying for patients now transferred to Part D-- but states allege that the feds are wrongly assuming that the state Medicaid were paying Part D inflated drug costs and ignoring the savings negotiated by the states when they distributed prescription drugs.

    Multiple states are now suing the federal government over the charges.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:06 AM

    July 16, 2006

    New Citizens- Bad News for GOP

    The NYTimes highlights that immigrants are increasingly becoming citizens, with 604,280 taking the citizenship oath in 2005, or 12.5% more than the year before.  And a lot of it is being driven by a backlash against anti-immigrant rhetoric at the national level:

    Philip E. Berns, a Stamford lawyer who focuses on immigration issues, said many of his clients who have been in the country legally for many years had begun seeking citizenship because of concerns over the debate in Congress about stricter immigration laws and fears about the war on terrorism.

    "A lot of people are stepping forward to get citizenship who were not doing so before," he said. "They are really scared."

    One thing to note is that while a lot of the new immigration is happening in expected places (see these Homeland Security numbers) -- California, New York and Florida -- there have been large numbers of new citizens, ie. new potential voters, in red states like Texas (38,553 new citizens) and Virginia (17,653) and many of these new citizens are in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington and Georgia.

    And these are 2005 numbers.  This year record numbers of immigrants are applying to become immigrants:

    According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, naturalization applications in the first three months of the year increased 19 percent over the same period last year. And in March, visitors to the USCIS Web site downloaded a record 162,000 citizenship applications.
    S0 in all the calculations for 2008, just remember that there will likely be anywhere between 2.5 and 3 million newly naturalized citizens, many of whom are primed to be mobilized against the hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric we see out there.  

    Which is all the more reason why Dem leaders should pay attention to Colorado Luis's critique today and not run to short-term anti-immigrant rhetoric and thereby sacrifice long-term support from these emerging new citizens.

    Posted by Nathan at 02:29 PM

    Death of the First Amendment

    No seriously, read this federal court decision in a trademark case where trends in intellectual property are leading to complete elimination of free speech rights.

    This is not a case about commercial use of a trademark for rival goods. This is a trademark case where even talking about whether the trademark should be recognized by the government is prohibited by the court. So this is about class political speech being silenced by the court:

    The background for the case is at the Volokh Conspiracy but here is a summary:

    The case starts with the "Freecycle" movement, where people are encouraged to recycle, reuse and regift goods, a now worldwide movement that started with a non-profit group called Freecycle in Arizona.

    A former volunteer with Freecycle concluded that the organization's attempts to control use of the term was bad for the movement, so he started sending messages to other activists that he "encouraged people to use term freecycle as a generic term which would block The Freecycle Network (TFN), and all others, from holding a trademark on the term" and "The best way to keep freecycle in the public domain is for as many people and groups as possible to continue to use the term generically."

    And a court has now ordered the defendant to stop making such statements to other activists-- essentially using court power to silence even advocacy of defying trademarks.

    Hopefully, the Freecycle organization loses on appeal.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:03 AM

    July 11, 2006

    Gutting Labor Rights for Nurses -- and Millions of Others

    Today, nurses will rally across the country to protest likely decisions by the National Labor Relations Board that would declare most Registered Nurses (RNs) to be "supervisors" under the law and therefore stripped of any protection under labor law. If these rulings go as expected, mosts RNs could be fired at will if they say anything positive about unions or are even suspected of being in favor of unions.

    The core of the problem derives from the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act which denies labor rights to "supervisors", meaning that anyone deemed a supervisor can be fired at will if they say anything nice about unions or try to take action to support unions in their workplace.

    Once upon a time, it was generally understood that a supervisor was someone who had some degree of power to hire and fire those below them, but the in a series of decisions, the courts and NLRB have expanded the meaning of supervisor to mean people who, because of their expertise, direct the actions of other employees in some way.

    How far this goes has been disputed, but essentially since Registered Nurses often direct other hospital employees on what routine tasks need to happen for patients, the move is to strip RNs of their labor rights.

    And here's the kicker-- once a group of nominal "supervisors" lose their labor rights and can be threatened with being fired, they are forced to become anti-union shock troops to spy on other employees and undermine unionization by other workers. So not only does this kind of decision threaten unions for RNs, it threatens the labor rights of workers throughout the health care industry.

    This is all part of a trend where the NLRB and the courts, without any legislative change, have been overturning decades of rules to deny workers rights to a wide range of employees previously protected under the law. This American Rights at Work memo outlines additional attacks on labor rights by the NLRB in recent years:

  • July 2004: Graduate teaching and research assistants were deemed students and not employees, making them ineligible for NLRA protection.
  • September 2004: The Labor Board determined that disabled workers who receive rehabilitative services from employers should not be classified as workers and are, therefore, ineligible to form unions under the protections of federal law.
  • November 2004: Employees of temp agencies were barred from organizing with regular employees without both employer and agency permission.
  • This is on top of a range of other rulings that have weakened protections for workers still covered by labor law but now subject to be fired if they stand up for their rights in the workplace.

    But this attack on RNs as nominal "supervisors" could lead to the largest number of workers stripped of their labor rights in modern history. And it could cascade through other workplaces as employers strategically hand nominal supervisory roles to various workers to strip them of their labor rights.

    Posted by Nathan at 08:27 AM

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