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‘It’s all backwards-looking’: June’s positive jobs data obscures a grimmer reality

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Thursday’s jobless data failed to capture the latest devastation, economists say.

Thursday’s monthly jobs numbers look great on paper: 4.8 million jobs were added in June as states reopened. But those numbers are a deceiving bump — with the resurgence of the virus and a fresh wave of shutdowns, the reality of the job market is likely far more bleak.

With more than 40 percent of the country now reversing or pausing its plans to reopen, the already struggling U.S. economy has begun to show signs of another shock. Another 1.43 million Americans applied for jobless benefits last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday, and 19.3 million remain on unemployment insurance — a slight increase from the previous week’s revised level.

Real-time measurements ranging from job postings to restaurant reservations and small-business operations are also suggesting a renewed decline in economic activity. And the number of households expecting to lose income over the next month increased in the most recent week, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey released on Wednesday — the first rise recorded since the agency began conducting weekly household surveys two months ago.

But because of a lag in the federal data, the employment numbers the Department of Labor released Thursday morning for June — the results of a survey conducted through the middle of the month — are failing to capture the latest round of devastation, economists say. The numbers therefore should be taken “with a whole stockpile of salt,” said Diane Swonk, the chief economist at Grant Thornton.

“It’s all backwards-looking because of what we’ve experienced since then,” Swonk said. “Fear is its own tax, and the pullback was pretty dramatic.”

The official unemployment rate came in at 11.1 percent in June, a drop from May’s 13.3 percent. The steady improvements from April to June suggest the economy has been starting to recover, and employees were getting called back to work. 

President Donald Trump celebrated the data on Thursday, saying that it “proves that our economy is roaring back.”

“We have some areas where we’re putting out the flames of the fires, and that’s working out well,” he said at the White House.

But the monthly unemployment rate does not include those who haven’t been actively searching for work over the past four weeks, potentially leaving out those who were waiting for new job opportunities as states reopened. The economy is still down 14.7 million jobs from February levels.

And while the economy has improved since the spring, there have been some signs that the pace of growth may be slowing. Weekly unemployment claims have steadily dropped from their peak of 6.8 million in late March but plateaued at around 1.5 million for most of June — still more than double the previous highest level on record. When you add in Americans applying for aid under a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, the total number of people filing for benefits climbs as high as 2.3 million last week, a slight increase from the week before. 

The number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits has also held relatively steady at roughly 20 million in the most recent weeks of data.

“There’s no shortage of concerns around what we’re seeing in the jobless claims data and … of course the fact that the improvement in the data has seemed to have slowed somewhat,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. “And then there is a risk that new restrictions will cause further job loss.”

Private companies have also been collecting data suggesting a slowdown. The reservation website OpenTable has seen the number of restaurant diners fall in the past few days after weeks of steady improvement. Homebase, a company that collects data from more than 60,000 businesses and 1 million hourly employees, has recorded Main Street business activity flattening in late June and even starting to drop in the past week, particularly in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas where coronavirus cases are surging.

And the online jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter — which had seen the number of job openings posted rise more than 14 percent in May compared to the month before — recorded a 7 percent drop in June, dragged down by particularly weak numbers in just the past few days, said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with the company.

“That likely reflects increasing awareness that we haven’t got this virus under control yet, that businesses may have to re-close,” Pollak said. “I think that is a very upsetting and worrying thing.”

The new numbers come as the Senate is gearing up for negotiations over another coronavirus relief package, including whether to extend the extra $600 per week in jobless benefits that are currently due to run out at the end of July. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is also hammering out the details of additional business rescue programs that would offer forgivable loans to employers who are able to maintain a percentage of their payroll — similar to the rules of the Paycheck Protection Program.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled this week that Republicans are willing to move quickly on some sort of package, saying the chamber will focus on talks when it returns from its two-week July 4 recess. Another month of positive jobs numbers could alleviate pressure on Republicans to continue some of the more heavily debated aspects of that program, including the $600 sweetener.

Many GOP lawmakers argue that the benefit is so high that it provides a disincentive to return to work. Republicans have generally been taking a “wait-and-see” approach to the potential next round of stimulus funding, while House Democrats have already moved to extend it until January.

Other aspects of the stimulus, including the PPP, are likely keeping the economy as strong as it is, and economists warn it could quickly fall if and when benefits expire. Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of the national staffing and recruiting firm LaSalle Network, said he doesn’t expect the unemployment figure to be an accurate reading of the economic situation until September’s or October’s report, when the small businesses relief program created under the CARES Act runs out.

“I think the numbers are wholly inaccurate as to where the state of the economy is,” Gimbel said, adding that when the government’s forgivable loan Paycheck Protection Program ends more people will be laid off. The program stopped accepting new applications this week but Congress is moving to keep it open until Aug. 8.

Not all of the real-time data is showing a slowdown. Daniel Zhao, a senior economist with Glassdoor, accurately predicted that nearly 5 million jobs would be brought back in June. But he also warned that job openings grew the fastest last month in the Midwest and South — areas that were some of the first to reopen, and that have also seen Covid-19 infections swelling in recent days.

“The jobs report is often thought of as a look in the rearview mirror, because the reference week is now two or three weeks past, and we’ve seen this surge in Covid-19 cases across the country,” he said.

“There is this open question about how it’s actually going to take into account the most recent information,” he added, suggesting the effect of the reinstated business closures could take a week or two to trickle down into the economic data.

There’s also the question of a misclassification issue that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has acknowledged contributes to an understatement of the actual level of joblessness in the country. That’s because large numbers of people have been classifying themselves as employed but absent from work in its monthly survey, which can artificially suppress the unemployment rate.

The issue reduced the overall April unemployment rate by as many as five percentage points, and the May rate by about three percentage points, the agency said. The same misclassification problem also occurred in the March report, but only reduced the unemployment rate by about 1 percent.

BLS said it had “taken more steps to correct the problem” and implemented more training for interviewers ahead of the most recent report. The agency said on Thursday that the degree of the problem “declined considerably” in Juneand that it only affected the unemployment rate by 1 percentage point at the most.

Despite the mixed picture, many economists and lawmakers are emphasizing that the new spike in coronavirus cases alone spells more trouble for the economy, which they say will need further help.

“The jobs crisis won’t be over until the public health crisis is over,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said on a press call Wednesday. “This administration is burying its head in the sand and pretending that the virus is going to miraculously disappear. It won’t. And that approach will only prolong our nation’s crisis.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on July 2, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter. Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.


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Economy Gains 4.8 Million Jobs in June; Unemployment Declines to 11.1%

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The U.S. economy gained 4.8 million jobs in June, and the unemployment rate declined to 11.1%, according to figures released Thursday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The improvements reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that previously was curtailed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in leisure and hospitality (+2.1 million), retail trade (740,000), education and health services (568,000), other services (357,000), manufacturing (356,000), professional and business services (306,000), construction (158,000), transportation and warehousing (99,000), wholesale trade (68,000), financial activities (32,000) and government employment (33,000). Mining lost 10,000 jobs in June.

In June, the unemployment rates declined for teenagers (23.2%), Blacks (15.4%), Hispanics (14.5%), Asians (13.8%), adult women (11.2%), adult men (10.2%) and Whites (10.1%).

The number of long-term unemployed workers (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) increased in June.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on July 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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Immigration agency warns of furloughs amid cash crunch

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USCIS says it’s facing a $1.2 billion shortfall, but lawmakers say they’re still waiting on a detailed budget breakdown from the White House.

The agency charged with administering the nation’s immigration system is facing a $1.2 billion budget shortfall that it says will force thousands of furloughs in the coming weeks absent an emergency cash infusion from Congress, which could come in the next round of coronavirus relief.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says the pandemic has led to a dramatic drop in fee processing, putting the agency’s finances in dire straits. But Democrats and Republicans say they’re still waiting on a detailed budget breakdown from the White House that fully outlines the problem and addresses the agency’s needs.

Meanwhile, former Obama administration officials — who have raised concerns about existing budget problems at USCIS and what they view as the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda — say Congress should tread with caution.

A senior Trump administration official contended that it has given Congress ample warning about the coming budget shortfall, including in a June 19 letterfrom acting OMB Director Russ Vought to House and Senate appropriators.

“The Administration has provided Congress with all the information they need to do their job,” said Robert Kuhlman, a former Department of Homeland Security official who’s now a spokesperson at OMB. “If Congressional Democrat appropriators have a problem with keeping the lights on at USCIS they should just say so.”

But that letter, Democratic and Republican appropriators note, didn’t even include a dollar amount.

“The Trump White House is responsible for requesting supplemental funding, but all they have sent Congress is a one-page letter that provides virtually no information on the shortfall or proposed remedies,” said House Appropriations spokesperson Evan Hollander.

“Despite this egregious lack of communication, House Democrats are closely tracking USCIS’ financial difficulties and are prepared to discuss solutions as part of negotiations on the next phase of coronavirus response legislation. So far, Senate Republicans are unwilling to begin those talks.”

A Senate GOP aide confirmed to POLITICO that Republican appropriators are still waiting for an official budget request that provides a top-line number, including a more detailed breakdown of the pandemic-related needs at USCIS.

Without intervention from Congress, the shortfall threatens to put 13,400 USCIS employees on furlough beginning August 3.

The agency said last Wednesday it will prioritize southwest border screening and fraud detection in its refugee and asylum office during the furlough, according to a copy of an email reviewed by POLITICO. The administration ramped up those procedures during his first term in an effort to discourage illegal immigration.

In response to a request for comment on its priorities during the furlough, a USCIS spokesperson told POLITICO via email that, “In the event of a furlough, all agency operations will be affected.”

A former Obama administration official and the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute say that a falling number of immigration applications, as well as the agency bringing on more personnel to detect fraud and vet applications, likely played a large role in the funding gap.

“They went on a huge staffing surge … so they ramped up their expenses at the same time revenues were going up. And then, Covid just exposed the fragile position they put themselves,” said Doug Rand, who worked on immigration policy in the Obama White House and is now the co-founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship.

He argues that the increased vetting practices implemented as part of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration agenda also slowed down processing and increased application denials, sapping potential revenues for the agency.

“You’ve got an agency that in the best of times was adding all this red tape, slow walking adjudications, wait times are skyrocketing, denial rates are going up …” Rand told POLITICO, “then Covid hit, and suddenly they’re claiming they’re insolvent and they might just shut down legal immigration completely for some period of time.”

The agency, which relies solely on immigration fees for funding, did shutter its field offices during the pandemic. But USCIS acknowledged it was facing a funding deficit as early as November, writing in a proposed rule that it needed to raise immigration application fees and charge a first-ever fee for asylum — and that without the hike in fees, it would face an annual shortfall of $1.2 billion.

USCIS counters that the deficit predicted in the rulemaking and the shortfall it’s seeing from the pandemic are “different scenarios.”

A spokesperson said in an emailed statement that USCIS “did not spend at the levels estimated in the proposed fee rule” and that “the precipitous decline in revenue as a result of COVID-19 began in March.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on July 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Caitlin Emma covers the federal budget and congressional spending bills on Capitol Hill for POLITICO Pro. Prior to that, she spent five years as an education policy reporter for Pro.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter. Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.


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Labor Secretary Scalia Wrongly Rejects Federal Role in Enforcing Unemployment Rights of Workers Who Refuse Unsafe Work

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The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the structural challenges that have plagued the nation’s unemployment insurance (UI) system for decades. Reduced federal funding starved the program of the resources needed to upgrade its antiquated IT infrastructure, causing state systems to slow to a crawl and crash amid the unprecedented volume of claims over the last three months. After the Great Recession, many states slashed UI to the point where only one in four unemployed workers (27 percent, a record low) received UI last year. With the nation’s unemployment rate now well above the highest levels reached during the last recession, and far higher still for Black and Latinx and other workers of color, the stakes are greater than ever to achieve lasting reform of the UI program.

COVID-19 is having an especially devastating impact on communities of color, disproportionately claiming the lives of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people at rates far higher than for white people, and causing far more layoffs of those employed in the service sector and other jobs that cannot be done from home and that do not offer paid sick leave or other benefits. According to a recent New York Times survey, Black workers are twice as likely as white workers to report losing their jobs because of the crisis. A recent Somos survey of Latinx families found that 35 percent reported losing their jobs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while 46 percent reported taking a pay cut. As a result, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous workers will likely be required by their employers to return to work at higher rates than white workers, while having far less financial security to exercise their right to refuse an offer of work if it poses a serious health and safety threat due to COVID-19.

The current economic crisis offers a unique opportunity to collectively reflect on the vital role of the UI program, its compelling history, and the need to continue expanding its reach. Born out of the New Deal, the federal-state UI program was created by the Social Security Act of 1935, which was championed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Frances Perkins, the nation’s first woman Cabinet member and the first female U.S. labor secretary. For all its historical significance, however, it must be acknowledged that the New Deal shamefully excluded from its protections the country’s domestic and agricultural workers, who were predominantly Black women and workers of color. As the U.S. confronts the current crisis, policymakers must ensure that as many workers who need it can access the help of the UI program.

A Legal Right to Refuse Dangerous Work

As more states move to reopen their economies, millions of workers who were forced out of work and have been receiving unemployment insurance are now being called back to work. Many, however, are justifiably concerned about returning to work in unsafe conditions that could expose them, their families, and the broader public to COVID-19. Were it not for a key provision of the federal UI law, today’s unemployed workers would be left without any viable recourse to refuse unsafe work.

Specifically, for workers receiving regular state UI, the federal “prevailing conditions of work” provision governs “work rules, including health and safety rules” (emphasis added) and situations where there has been an intervening change in the conditions of work, such as COVID-19. In fact, the “prevailing conditions of work” statute was the only standard relating to benefits rights included in the Social Security Act. It was also key to creation of the federal-state UI system because it provided assurance to the labor movement against the possibility that the compulsory nature of UI “might be used to break unions or weaken labor standards.” Absent this provision, which also allows workers to reject a position that is vacant due to a labor dispute, workers would be disqualified from receiving UI for refusing work that degrades the labor standards in their community.

What’s needed is strong enforcement of the federal law. Unfortunately, that enforcement has been conspicuously lacking. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued guidance that “strongly encourages” state UI agencies to push employers to report workers who fail to return to work—so that the workers can be disqualified from further receiving UI. In separate letters sent to U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia—one signed by more than 200 organizations and another signed by 22 U.S. Senators—supporters of workers’ rights urged the DOL to honor and enforce this critical provision of federal UI law that applies to workers who are confronted with health and safety concerns when called back to work in the context of COVID-19.

But when questioned repeatedly by Democrats at a recent hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Secretary Scalia “abdicat[ed] his responsibility to keep workers safe by not providing guidance to states about when workers can turn down jobs in unsafe conditions and continue to receive unemployment benefits,” according to the ranking member, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). After failing to respond in writing to the letters referenced above, Secretary Scalia passed the buck in his testimony, claiming that it’s a matter for the states to regulate, not the federal government (“The requirement is that it be suitable work—suitable work has to be safe. And so the states are to judge that.”). Secretary Scalia’s testimony, however, flies in the face of the history of the Social Security Act, which sets the federal floor for the states to follow in order to maintain labor standards for all workers. This was also the intent behind the Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal labor laws passed in response to the Great Depression.

To their credit, several states have recently clarified how their “suitable work” laws apply to further protect workers receiving unemployment insurance from being forced to accept unsafe work. In Colorado, for example, the governor issued an executive orderrequiring the state UI agency to issue new COVID-19 guidelines. While Colorado employers have reported that more than 1,000 workers have not returned to work when recalled, 85 percent were allowed to continue receiving UI mostly because they or a household member were considered immunocompromised, or because adequate child care was not available, limiting the worker’s ability to return to work. Similarly, in North Carolina, the state UI agency issued a clear and transparent policy incorporating the COVID-19 workplace guidelinesissued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while also extending the protections to workers who are caring for children or vulnerable household members.

While the UI program has been a convenient target for critics who attack it as out of touch with the current realities of work and the economy, today’s COVID-19 crisis provides a vivid reminder that the core features of the program are as timely and relevant now as they were when they were conceived and fought for 85 years ago. However, the program must continue to evolve, to expand to include all workers, and the DOL must fully enforce the federal UI laws during this unprecedented health and economic crisis. True to the Social Security Act’s mission, it’s also time to pass federal legislation proposed by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and others that would reverse the decades of weakening the UI program and restore the nation’s commitment to UI as the “first line of defense” against economic hardship and a key to a robust recovery.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on June 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maurice Emsellem joined NELP in 1991, after working for the Legal Aid Society in New York City. At NELP, Maurice has worked on collaborations with organizers and advocates that have successfully modernized state unemployment insurance programs, created employment protections for workfare workers, and reduced unfair barriers to employment of people with criminal records in state laws and in city hiring practices. He has testified before Congress and numerous state legislatures, promoting innovative policy reforms. He was a Soros Justice Senior Fellow in 2004 and a Stanford Public Interest Law Mentor in 2003.


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Local unions defy AFL-CIO in push to oust police unions

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Several local unions have moved to oust police unions, despite the federation’s approach that collective bargaining can be used for police reform.

The nation’s labor movement is splitting over police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Local unions are defying leaders of the AFL-CIO, who have rejected calls to cut ties with the labor federation’s law enforcement arm and stressed the importance of collective bargaining instead to counter the use of excessive force. Several local unions, including those affiliated with the AFL-CIO, have moved to oust police unions within their locals and remove officers from schools and other workplaces. They argue that police have used their bargaining power to resist reform and protect those who have killed unarmed African Americans.

The vastly different approaches to solving what has become a major election year issue have not only exposed the rift within the labor movement but also threaten to diminish law enforcement unions in liberal cities and could even affect the behind-the-scenes race to succeed AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“There are a lot of unions that are very concerned about police brutality,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of Writers Guild of America-East, which adopted a resolution calling on the AFL-CIO to disassociate itself from the International Union of Police Associations, the federation’s police union affiliate. “There’s definitely a lot of talk in the labor movement about, ‘Why is this happening and what can we as unions do about it?’”

The second-largest local teachers’ union in the nation, United Teachers Los Angeles, last week voted to eliminate police in Los Angeles public schools and “redirect funding to mental health and counseling” for students. The Chicago school board voted down a similar measure to cancel a $33 million contract with city police that was backed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in protests and rallies throughout the week.

The Martin Luther King County Labor Council, a body of labor organizations representing more than 100,000 workers in the Seattle area, voted to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild earlier this month. The Association of Flight Attendants, which sits on the AFL-CIO’s executive council, passed a resolution demanding that police unions embrace change “or be removed from the labor movement.”

Even the leader of the Service Employees International Union, the second largest union in the country, which itself represents some law enforcement employees, has expressed openness to the idea of ejecting police unions from the movement, though she has stopped short of endorsing the move.

“That’s an option,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry of the Seattle federation’s decision to oust the police union. “I think another option is to use the union structure and leadership to educate and engage every member” in “re-imagining policing and criminal justice.”

That would have been unheard of just months ago — and demonstrates how much has changed since Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis cop sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.

While labor activists say it is unlikely that Trumka would ever support efforts to expel law enforcement unions from the labor movement, the push from locals and some national unions to ostracize the police, as well as the larger Black Lives Matter movement, could drive more modest changes.

Police unions have fought back, saying that no one forced local governments to sign collective bargaining agreements that contain provisions protecting police and warning that attacks on law enforcement unions are part of a pattern of going after organized labor.

“No contract is rammed down the throat of a city or jurisdiction. They signed it, they negotiated it, they agreed to it,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police.

Sam Cabral, the president of the International Union of Police Associations, slammed Trumka’s response to the unrest, writing in a June 12 letter that the federation’s comments regarding America’s “history of racism and police violence against black people” were “inflammatory and patently false.” Cabral said he wouldn’t be willing to sit down with those who “have already indicted” law enforcement “based on one horrible incident.”

California’s largest police unions ran an ad in the Washington Post earlier this month calling for a national use of force standard, misconduct registry and “ongoing and frequent” training. Trumka also wrote in a recent op-ed that the labor movement is calling on Congress to adopt reforms including a chokehold ban and demilitarization.

Still, AFL-CIO leaders have maintained that the best way for the group to address the issue of police brutality is to “engage” its affiliates “rather than isolate them.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the federation, said many members of the movement believe it’s important to have a conversation with police unions, “to the extent that they were willing to have it, for them to change and for us to change the criminal justice system.”

At the same time, the AFT recently passed a resolution calling to remove police from schools and instead train security personnel as “peace officers.”

Part of the solution, SEIU’s Henry suggested, is changing police collective bargaining practices.

“The role of the labor movement is to be a vehicle for the structural change that the Movement for Black Lives is demanding in policing and criminal justice all over this country,” she said.

Some progressives say those collective bargaining agreements often help shield officers accused of misconduct.

Dozens of city police departments, including in Minneapolis, have added provisions to their contracts that delay officer interrogations after suspected misconduct, according to a 2017 study. Agreements with police agencies in Austin, Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C., have included language that mandated the removal of disciplinary records from personnel files over time.

As more local unions choose to step away or distance themselves from the police, the pressure to break with law enforcement unions has generated an internal debate over the issue within the AFL-CIO executive council itself in recent weeks.

Color of Change, a racial justice organization, said it has discussed the possibility of ejecting police unions with at least five labor groups in the AFL-CIO.

Weingarten said “a couple members of the council raised it” during a three-day meeting in June. In a call earlier this month, American Postal Workers Union leader Mark Dimondstein brought up the matter, according to a person on the line.

The federation’s general board released several recommendations on June 9 for affiliate unions to address police violence but declined to drop the International Union of Police Associations as requested by the WGAE.

The debate could affect the quiet race to succeed Trumka, who is expected to step aside. The election won’t be held until the federation’s convention in October 2021, but Flight Attendants union president Sara Nelson, whose organization has taken one of the most progressive stands on the question, and AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler are both rumored to be interested in taking the role.

In June, Nelson publicly accused AFL-CIO leadership of misleadingly attributing a statement opposing the ouster of the IUPA to the entire general board.

“To be clear, this issue was not discussed by the General Board today and there was no vote on the resolution put forward by WGAE,” she tweeted. “Also, collective bargaining empowers workers; it is not a means to oppress workers’ rights.

Tim Schlittner, the AFL-CIO’s communications director, disputed the claim. He said Trumka referred to the WGA-East’s resolution but that no one offered a motion on it.

The labor movement has successfully ousted unions in the past that didn’t abide by its principles. The Congress of Industrial Organizations expelled 11 member unions around 1950 due to their alleged links to the Community Party. The AFL-CIO also cut ties with three unions in 1957 over corrupt behavior. And throughout the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, the AFT moved to expel local unions that were racially segregated.

Police unions, meanwhile, insist that any efforts to oust them will blow back on all of labor.

“Those who are looking to kick police officers out of the union movement should be very careful,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York. “The rhetoric that they are using now is the same rhetoric that has been used to strip union protections from teachers, bus drivers, nurses and other civil servants across this country.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 30, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

About the Author: Holly Otterbein is a reporter reporting on the 2020 race, PA’s Electoral College prize & the left.


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Corporations & the Pandemic Killing Fields; Taking a Cleaver to the Pentagon Budget

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Big companies don’t give a second thought to making big profits during the COVID-19 pandemic even if that means thousands of workers—and their families—will get sick and die from the virus. Actually, it’s a feature not a bug, no pun intended—in food processing, all those workers who make sure you get beef or chicken on your plate, are getting sick by the droves, and the only way that happens is because companies, big rich companies, keep dangerous plants operating unsafely because to make things slightly safer would cost them a few bucks. That’s criminal in a normal world. Debbie Berkowitz, director of the worker health and safety program at the National Employment Law Project, joins me to look at the threat to workers—a threat that is growing as the pandemic surges.

A few days ago, Bernie Sanders introduced a bill to cut the bloated Pentagon bi-partisan budget by a very, very modest 10 percent, with the money saved slotted to underwrite human and social programs in cities and communities where the poverty rate is 25 percent or higher. Ashik Siddique, research analyst at the National Priorities Project, talks with me about where the Pentagon could be cut—and how the slashing could go far, far deeper.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on July 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


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These Workers Don’t Get Aid and Are Going Hungry. A Tax on New York Billionaires Could Help Them.

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Coronavirus cases continue to climb across the Southern and Western United States. In New York, previously the nation’s epicenter, many of the residents reeling from the economic consequences are excluded from any government assistance.

Clara Cortes lives in Long Island with her family. Both she and her husband tested positive for the virus, and while Clara has since recovered, her husband spent 54 days in the hospital. Now he is in a rehabilitation center dependent on a ventilator to breathe. “My husband is fighting for his recovery right now and it’s all because of the simple fact that he went to work to support his family,” Cortes said in a virtual press conference. Cortes is out of work, and without steady access to income, it is difficult to pay her mortgage, her husband’s medical bills and support her family. Her husband used to work in a supermarket. “It was there that he got sick because he was not allowed to use a mask,” she said. “When he had it on, the owner told him to take it off because he would scare the customers. He complied and, unfortunately, has suffered a lot.”

Families across New York state are facing food insecurity. As an undocumented immigrant, however, Cortes does not qualify for state or federal financial assistance excluding her from unemployment, food stamps or the coronavirus relief bill. Cortes’ daughter and husband are both U.S. citizens, but mixed status households were excluded from the meager assistance the bill provided.

State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Carmen de la Rosa have proposed legislation to create an excluded workers fund. The bill would enable workers who do not qualify for unemployment insurance—such as undocumented workers like Cortes—to receive $3,300 in monthly financial assistance. As New York faces a budget crisis, the bill would produce revenue by taxing the capital gains of billionaires’ assets.

Cortes is a member of Make the Road, an immigrant rights organization advocating for the bill. For Angeles Solis, organizer at Make the Road, a major obstacle for the bill is the lack of any indication of when the legislature will reconvene “to pass lifesaving legislation for our communities.”

The bill would also benefit informal workers such as day laborers, street vendors and sex workers. For many transgender individuals facing widespread discrimination, sex work is one of the few available work options that has been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

Alisha King is an advocate with the Bronx Sex Worker Outreach Project and a trans woman and former sex worker. King noted the funds would “help [trans sex workers] survive because they won’t be out there in the streets or online trying to find some way to make money dealing with this john and that john. It would keep them housed and keep them fed.”

Advocates anticipate Governor Cuomo’s opposition to the worker’s fund. While the governor’s office did not response to requests for comment, Cuomo has consistentlyopposed increasing taxes on the wealthy despite support from both the public and legislators. He has said providing financial support to undocumented immigrants would be fiscally “irresponsible.”

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) expressed her support for the fund in a statement to In These Times noting that undocumented immigrants “pay a greater share of their income in state and local taxes than many big corporations and billionaires. Yet, during this pandemic they have been left alone to struggle to get food and financial aid, and to make matters worse, we are on the cusp of an eviction crisis.”

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) is a community organization building the power of working-class South Asians and Indo-Caribbean members. During the pandemic, their members (who are mostly undocumented) were forced to choose between risking exposure to Covid-19 in order to work low-wage jobs or deal with the financial implications of unemployment. Two members, Rajkumar Thapa and Rashida Ahmed, chose the former and died from the coronavirus. As proponents of the bill, it is clear to DRUM that the current  crises members are facing are a result of neoliberal capitalism. They describe capitalism as “governments and systems that serve the rich, and punish the poor.” Fahd Ahmed, the executive director of DRUM, explained that neoliberalism builds on capitalism to cut spending on social needs and systems such as safety net programs.

“For a state like New York which claims to be progressive, has a large immigrant and undocumented population, why in the past did we never think of setting up economic support systems for undocumented immigrants?” said Ahmed, “The only answer is that, under the neoliberal logic, that wouldn’t make sense. Why invest in people?”

Lexii Foxx is a 29-year-old Black transgender woman and sex worker. Foxx said she receives $162 in government assistance every month via food stamps, but living in Brooklyn, it’s not enough to survive. “I have a lot of regulars that have actually stopped coming,” Foxx said referring to clients. “As far as the roads, it’s not as many cars that’ll be out. I’m even working corners. Just a little bit helps. I don’t need much. I just need to stay afloat.”

When Foxx’s cousin recently passed away she prepared to return home to North Carolina. With no savings, she needed to work to pay for her trip despite the risks. Tahtianna Fermin, co-founder of Black Trans News, which supports and uplifts Black trans sex workers, was able to intervene when she learned of Foxx’s plans.

“Thank god, with the organization, people have been donating. We were able to give her $200 so she wouldn’t have to go out and sell her body for the night,” Fermin said. “She was so thankful she started tearing up and that touched my heart. That right there shows me that these girls need this money. These girls need this help.”

Black trans sex workers, many of whom are homeless, were also in a precarious economic situation before the pandemic. New York has the highest ranking of per capita homelessness in the country. The bill itself captures how massive wealth inequality has become the new normal: Taxing the investments of the 112 billionaires residing in New York state would produce $5.5 billion in revenue, which is more than the $3.5 billion cost of the entire worker bailout fund. While $200 from a Black trans led organization (currently soliciting donations) made Foxx emotional, billionaires across the country have increased their wealth by $584 billion.

Ahmed described Cuomo as the “quintessential representative” of “the neoliberal logic,” citing his persistent austerity measures such as cutting Medicaid or education funding. Absent federal aid, Cuomo has warned of 20% cuts to public schools, healthcare and local governments.

“Investing in people is not going to maximize profits for the corporations and for the elites,” Ahmed said. “The more precarious we leave people, the further we’re able to keep wages lower, have easily controllable labor populations and maximize the profits that can be made from exploiting their labor.”

Many of these workers are now unemployed. In New York City, Solis speaks to people on winding pantry lines, urging them to join the campaign and call their representatives. Fermin is expanding Black Trans News to support more Black trans sex workers like Foxx and step in where the government—and the current economic system—has failed.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 30, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Chowdhury is a freelance investigative journalist based in New York City. A native New Yorker, her work focusing on underreported communities has appeared in The Appeal, The Indypendent and Human Rights Watch.


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The thing about systemic racism is it’s systemic: This week in the war on workers

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According to government statistics, the wage gap between white men and Black men has shrunk dramatically since the 1950s. But that’s only true, The New York Times’ David Leonhardt points out, if you compare workers—and the problem is, a lot of Black men have been pushed out of the workforce, in significant part by mass incarceration. When comparing Black men and white men, regardless of if they work, the wage gap is about the same as it was in 1950. “An end to mass incarceration would help,” Leonhardt writes. “So would policies that attempt to reverse decades of government-encouraged racism—especially in housing. But it’s possible that nothing would have a bigger impact than policies that lifted the pay of all working-class families, across races.” 

It’s the combination of racism and inequality we can see in this pattern that set the stage for the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Black people. Black people have been more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic than white people, but they also disproportionately work at essential jobs that require them to expose themselves to possible infection. They’re less likely to have paid sick leave, the ability to work from home, and health insurance. Racism and inequality produce chronic health problems that make Black people more vulnerable to COVID-19. The list goes on and on and on.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 27, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Trump Is Using the Pandemic to Wage War on Immigrants and Separate Families

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When President Donald Trump first began talking about ending “chain migration” in 2017, media outlets pointed out that his own parents-in-law had likely obtained lawful permanent residency through their daughter Melania—a naturalized U.S. citizen. At the same time that Trump was ranting on Twitter, “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!” his wife’s parents were in the process of becoming U.S. citizens after five years as so-called “green card” holders.

When the coronavirus pandemic was declared, Trump saw his chance to attack immigration policies that reunite families, and in April 2020 he announced a 60-day ban on green cards that impacted people like his parents-in-law were when they lived in their home country of Slovenia. At the time he announced the ban, I was in the process of applying for my own elderly parents to obtain lawful permanent residency in the United States, just as Melania Trump must have done only a few years ago.

Under existing immigration law, U.S. citizens have been able to sponsor their spouses, children, siblings, and parents, to obtain green cards, or permanent residency. Since his presidency began, Trump has wanted to limit that sponsorship to only spouses and children under 21. To that end, he backed the RAISE Act, which would effectively have done through legislation what his unilateral ban accomplished through executive order under cover of the COVID-19 crisis.

When the 60-day ban was up in June 2020, Trump extended it to the end of the year and added a number of other visas to the list, including H-1B visas for foreign workers, to match the outlines of the failed RAISE Act. The White House claims that the ban will keep 525,000 foreign workers out of the country and make those jobs available to U.S. workers at a time of mass unemployment. One immigrant advocacy group pointed out that Trump’s ban is designed to favor immigrants from Western Europe.

The ban is the brainchild of Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who entered the White House with Trump and is considered to be the “driving force” behind Trump’s racist anti-immigrant agenda. Miller began his job with a wish list of the types of immigration and immigrants he wanted to ban, both undocumented and legal. He is considered the “architect” of the Trump administration’s most cruel policy—separating parents from their young children after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Since 2017, he has been the brains behind Trump’s “Muslim ban,” the restrictions of refugee quotas, the cancelation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and more. Today, under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump has been busy deporting young immigrant children in violation of the United States’s own anti-trafficking laws.

Miller’s uncle David Glosser wrote about the hypocrisy of his nephew’s agenda, saying that had the United States adopted Miller’s anti-immigrant wish list when his ancestors were escaping the Nazis, the family would have perished. America’s immigration policies have long served white elites like the first lady, but the rest of us have often been deprived of accessing those same policies.

For all of Trump’s talk about prioritizing American workers, he has already carved out exceptions for “any alien seeking to enter the United States to provide temporary labor or services essential to the United States food supply chain.” In other words, there are some jobs that Americans are too good for and that only low-wage immigrant labor will do. The Washington Post pointed out, “So far this year, the Trump administration is approving H-2A visas at a rate 15 percent faster than last year, and it took steps to make it easier for farmers to hire temporary farmworkers even after the pandemic began.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has decried Trump’s new ban, saying, “Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back.” Indeed, at a time when health care workers especially are in short supply, and more than 15 percent of all doctors and nurses nationwide are immigrants, it is unclear how a ban on H-1B visas that limit such workers into the country until December will help Americans. Jobless Americans are hardly going to rush to medical and nursing schools, incur huge debts, fast-track their degrees at an unheard-of rate, and emerge as fully-fledged professionals in time to handle the expected surge of new COVID-19 cases.

It is also unclear how preventing U.S. citizens like me from bringing my retired elderly parents will help American workers. My parents plan to bring their entire life savings with them to spend on private health insurance and other basic needs until the end of their lives, thereby creating jobs and stimulating the U.S. economy. More importantly, they will be able to spend the golden years of their lives with their daughter and family, instead of alone and isolated. But to Trump, my parents do not deserve the same treatment as his in-laws did.

As the immigrant advocacy group Value Our Families declared recently, “Immigration is not just about the economy. Our system is designed to unify family members and is a legal right for many Americans.” Trump has trampled over that right and the rights of so many people over and over since he took office. His trampling of rights is precisely why millions of Americans—comprising a minority, albeit a significant one—voted for him in 2016 and plan to vote for him a second time. Trump did not come into office in spite of demonizing immigrants—he was elected because he repeatedly dehumanized non-Americans, particularly brown-skinned ones. He brought with him Steven Bannon, a man who said he was a fan of The Camp of the Saints, a horrendously racist tome written by the late French author Jean Raspail, that depicted ugly caricatures of Indian immigrant hordes destroying the European way of life.

Trump’s presidency is a clear symbol of the last gasp of white supremacy angrily asserting its power over a country that, in spite of centuries of institutional policies designed to privilege whites, is becoming browner every year. As someone who spent the last 30 years of my life navigating the intricacies and obstacles of the U.S. legal immigration system, I am one of the relatively privileged ones, especially when compared to the traumatized undocumented children who have been separated from their desperate parents, or the refugees fleeing violence whose legal right to seek asylum has been decimated. And yet today, even I remain separated from my parents.

Trump’s unilateral ban on green cards and immigrant work visas upends congressional legislative oversight. California Representative Judy Chu (who happens to be my representative) last year introduced the Reuniting Families Act to streamline legal immigration pathways and make them more humane. So far the bill has 78 sponsors.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court, which far too often tilts rightward, slapped back against the president’s egregious attacks on DACA registrants. In a 5-4 decision on June 18, justices voted to keep the Obama-era program intact, offering some measure of relief to the 650,000 young immigrants who have been able to defer deportation and legally work in the United States. Justice Sonia Sotomayor correctly pointed out that Trump’s decision to cancel DACA was marked by “impermissible discriminatory animus.”

Trump has expressed such “discriminatory animus” to non-white Americans since the beginning of his candidacy and presidential tenure. Through his anti-immigrant policies, he is keeping families like mine separated. He has made no secret that his goal is to preserve white domination in America, and it is for that reason he has enjoyed the fervent, irrational, cult-like following of millions of Americans terrified at the prospect of equality with non-whites.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.


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Coronavirus has upended many lives, but immigrant journalists on visas face a grim reality

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For Trey Taylor, moving to New York City was nothing short of a dream come true. The Canadian citizen had worked tirelessly for about two years to secure a work visa that allowed him to work freely within the country. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the young journalist was unceremoniously terminated from his position at The Face Magazine. While the loss of a job is devastating for anyone, coupled with the anxiety around finances and securing unemployment, it came with deeper ramifications for an immigrant like Taylor.

With economic uncertainty on the rise and a recession looming, layoffs have hit almost every sector in the U.S., and the media has been no exception. From W Magazine, Conde NastThe AtlanticViceThe Outline, The Face, Culture Trip toThrillist—multiple publications have either laid off their entire staff or have had a significant number of furloughs, mostly as a result of business models that still rely on advertising—now largely dried up—for a significant chunk of revenue.

It did not help that the visa category Taylor was on, O-1B—a non-immigrant visa for individuals “who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics”—was particularly complex. Demonstrating being an “extraordinary artist” meant gathering tons of evidence showcasing his entire life’s work along with a series of expert recommendations and potential job offers from media companies. And the sudden loss of employment meant that Taylor’s visa would expire at the end of June unless he quickly redid the application process, since his status was tied to employment with a specific company.

“To save on costs, the owner of the company [in London] decided to close U.S. operations entirely, meaning that the company I was employed by would be shutting down as of June 30,” he explained. 
He is now working with his lawyer to find a way to put together a sizable portfolio of “proof” in  record time as the U.S. government has suspended the option for expediting a decision within two weeks. For now, his future hangs in the balance.

“That means I am unable to even return home to visit my family,” he said. “It’s a costly, byzantine process and it is causing me a lot of anxiety.”

Sadly, Taylor isn’t alone in this predicament. Just ask Alejandro Filippa, a partner at New York-based law firm Lehach & Filippa,that works with a number of journalists and creatives to help them secure an O-1B visa. Filippa says that while his inbox is always flooded with emails from curious artists, over the past two months, he has received several panicked inquiries from clients questioning “what to do.” 

“Without a new sponsor to employ them, there are certain solutions that can only act as a bandaid to remain in the United States, such as switching to a temporary visitor visa to get one’s things in order or to buy some time perhaps,” Filippa explained.

While some, like Taylor, have chosen to remain in the country as they figure out a solution, others left to go back home when the pandemic started and are now permanently stuck. 

“Jane Smith,” who prefers to use a pseudonym, was ecstatic when brought on board to work with a top financial magazine on an H-1B from Singapore earlier last year. While H-1B continues to be one of the most popular work permit categories, it is still a legally complex and expensive process for the sponsoring employer. Most journalists and artists know it’s a category largely used by finance and tech companies with more resources. Naturally, Smith, who was hired for a top editorial position, considered herself lucky—until now. 

Assuming her job was safe, she decided to return back home to spend the duration of the pandemic with her family. With offices shut for the time being, everyone was stuck working from home anyway, she thought. Weeks into April, panicked messages from colleagues started pouring in, telling her they’d been laid off or furloughed. Soon she received a notice of termination along with a lengthy apology from her superiors explaining they had run out of options. Under the terms of her visa, she cannot be furloughed, leaving them no choice but to end her employment. Employees under H-1B have about 60 days to find another job (within a strict salary bracket and industry) or face deportation—rarely enough time in ordinary circumstances, let alone when it means conducting a remote job search from abroad in the midst of a pandemic. 

“I’m stuck,” she said. “Companies aren’t willing to sponsor right now, as if it wasn’t challenging enough to be looking for a job in journalism. I’m still on a lease and I have furniture, and so much more stuff back in my apartment in America, that I didn’t bring along. It’s an absolute nightmare.”

“Unemployment for the H-1B raises a myriad of problems,” said Florida-based top immigration attorney, Tammy Fox-Isicoff. “Many professionals on the H-1B visa have leases, families in school, own homes, [and] have belongings. These ties can’t necessarily be undone in 60 days or less. Many cannot even travel back to their countries of nationality to due closed borders. There were requests made to the administration to offer some type of ameliorative assistance to these individuals. No assistance will be forthcoming.”

President Donald Trump has indicated he would halt issuing new work visas across multiple categories including H-1B to counter the soaring unemployment within the country.

For immigrant journalists of color, many of whom hail from disadvantaged backgrounds, all this can mean going back home for good and leaving their entire lives and career prospects behind.

“I’ve lived here for just over three years. I’ve established a home, career, a relationship here,” said Taylor. “I cannot fathom having to leave at this point. I’ve sacrificed enough as it is just to be here, and would hate to have to leave due to circumstances beyond my control. I was hoping to apply for a green card soon, but I’ve been told that is just impossible. My heart truly goes out to other immigrants, especially immigrants of color and those with dependents. It’s never easy to start a new life anywhere, but for immigrants there is seemingly so much more to lose.”

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeena Sharma is a writer and editor based in New York City. She writes extensively about politics, social justice, fashion, and culture.


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