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Trump’s EPA announces new plan to save the coal industry. Experts say it won’t.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Wednesday one of President Donald Trump’s biggest efforts yet to rescue coal, even as projections show the industry in a downward spiral largely due to market forces rather than policy.

The agency unveiled the long-awaited Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, designed to repeal and replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP), which aimed to curb climate change by lowering power plant carbon dioxide emissions. The Trump administration has repeatedly argued the CPP was a federal overreach, one the ACE rule seeks to correct.

The CPP sought to reduce the power sector’s greenhouse gas emissions 32% by 2030, using 2005 levels as a baseline, largely by shifting to natural gas and renewable energy in a blow to coal. By contrast, Trump’s new ACE rule moves power to the states, giving those governments broad authority over coal emissions on a plant-by-plant basis.

“ACE will continue our nation’s environmental progress and it will do so legally and with proper respect for the states,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said during a press conference Wednesday while touting the ACE rule’s boon to coal.

The new rule, Wheeler said, will “ensure coal plants will be part of our clean future.”

Opponents of the new plan took aim at such comments. “Instead of writing an invitation to clean energy producers, President Trump has written a love letter to King Coal,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) in a statement. “This new rule is nothing more than corporate welfare for the coal industry.”

The ACE rule’s introduction marks a major policy move for the Trump administration, which has actively sought to gut the CPP. In October 2017, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency’s intent to repeal and replace the Obama-era plan. The CPP itself had been in limbo for several years after the Supreme Court halted its enforcement in 2016 while lower court lawsuits against it proceeded in an unprecedented legal move.

Experts have largely seen the ACE rule as a wide-scale effort by Trump to save coal; the president has repeatedly pushed to rescue the industry and campaigned on restoring it to its former prominence. But by virtually any measure, coal is dramatically on the decline, and few experts believe that the ACE rule will change that.

More coal plants shuttered during Trump’s first two years in office than during former President Barack Obama’s entire first term. While increased environmental requirements have played a role in coal’s decline, far more prevalent is the rise of cheaper — and often cleaner — alternatives, like renewable energy and natural gas. Overall improvements in batteries and efficiency have also been a factor.

A study released in March meanwhile found that it would be cheaper to replace most U.S. coal plants with renewable alternatives than to keep them open.

And that trajectory is only likely to continue, with national coal production set to hit a four-decade low this year and again in 2020, even as wind power emerges as an economic powerhouse.

Rather than saving the coal industry, environmental advocates and climate scientists agree that the larger threat is to efforts reigning in harmful pollution emissions: experts worry the ACE rule will hinder Obama-era climate targets.

“How we choose to power our nation will determine how serious we are about confronting climate change,” said Shannon Heyck-Williams, director of climate and energy policy at the National Wildlife Federation, in a statement. Heyck-Williams said the plan “does nothing to live up to these responsibilities.”

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the U.S. electricity sector needs to cut its emissions 74% by 2030 in order to avoid crossing the 2 degrees Celsius global warming threshold that the Paris climate agreement seeks to prevent. The ACE rule, experts said Wednesday, would fall far short of paving the way for such a reduction.

Independent analysis published in April found that the Trump plan would in fact increase emissions in 18 states compared to no plan at all.

EPA officials, however, insisted that emissions will still go down under the ACE rule. While the new rule will reduce emissions more than no regulation at all would, the EPA projects it will ultimately offer a reduction of 11 million tons by 2030. The agency had initially argued the ACE rule would see a drop of 13 to 30 million tons and did not explain the shift on Wednesday.

Officials also avoided any mention of the number of lives at risk from increased pollution that is likely to result from keeping coal plants open.

A leading emphasis of the CPP was the number of lives to be saved — the EPA estimated 2,700 to nearly 7,000 premature deaths would be prevented by 2030, due largely to lower pollution levels. Experts worry that the ACE rule could cause up to 1,400 more premature deaths by that time, a number obtained through a regulatory impact analysis using EPA’s own methodology.

But there was no acknowledgement of those numbers on Wednesday. Instead cost was emphasized: the administration says the new rule will save $120 million to $730 million over the next decade, a cost-benefit analysis critics argue has been stacked in favor of ACE.

“With this rule, the EPA is dodging its responsibility,” Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University law school, said in a statement. “The agency is required to control greenhouse gas pollution with the ‘best system of emission reduction,’ but this approach is nowhere close, making the rule legally vulnerable.

“While Americans face mounting threats from climate change, the Trump administration is undermining environmental safeguards and manipulating its math to conceal the damage it is causing.”

The new rule is likely to face lengthy battles in court, with groups like the Center for Biological Diversity expressing optimism that “this attack on our lungs” would not survive a wave of lawsuits. Congressional Democrats similarly indicated that they would seek to fight the new policy.

This article was originally published at Think Progress on June 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: E.A. (Ev) Crunden covers climate policy and environmental issues at ThinkProgress. Originally from Texas, Ev has reported from many parts of the country and previously covered world issues for Muftah Magazine, with an emphasis on South Asia and Eastern Europe. Reach them at: ecrunden@thinkprogress.org.


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House Dems on brink of minimum wage victory

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Sarah FerrisHouse Democratic leaders are on the cusp of a long-awaited victory on the party’s signature $15-an-hour minimum wage bill, overcoming months of sharp resistance from many of the caucus’ moderates.

Top Democrats are saying privately they’re confident that they are close enough to the 218 votes needed to pass it to bring the bill to the floor within weeks, according to multiple sources. It would mark a major political victory at the six-month mark of the Democrats’ majority.

Several one-time holdouts — including Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who has championed a competing approach that would create a “regional” minimum wage — now say they will vote for the bill on the floor, though they are still looking for additional assistance for small businesses that may be hurt by the minimum wage.

The vote, which is expected shortly after the House returns from its Fourth of July recess, will put an end to a frenzied lobbying blitz by top Democrats to win over the caucus’s remaining skeptics, which had become a glaring example of the tensions between moderates and progressives.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in a closed-door leadership meeting Tuesday night that he secured roughly 213 votes, according to aides. Democrats believe the pressure of the roll call vote will be enough to squeeze the few remaining holdouts.

“I don’t have any doubt that we’re going to have the votes,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday, though he stopped short of committing to a timeframe. “There are some folks who would like to see us do something to make sure the small business fears are allayed.”

The one lingering concern, according to people familiar with the discussions, is how to deflect potentially disastrous GOP attacks on the bill when it comes up for a vote.

Republicans are expected to use their procedural powers on the floor to force Democrats to vote on tricky issues related to the minimum wage — like protections for small businesses — that could further expose the caucus’s ideological divide.

It could also tank the entire bill. If Republicans successfully force any changes into the bill, scores of Democrats would likely flee, because progressive leaders have refused to support anything less than their hallmark $15-an-hour proposal.

The lead author of the bill, House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), had struggled for months to rally enough moderate Democrats behind the bill, with some members privately complaining of a “tone-deaf” approach.

But momentum began to shift in recent weeks, with leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition, Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) and Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), helped to deliver votes from red-state Democrats in exchange for their own provision in the bill.

That compromise amendment, from O’Halleran, Murphy and TJ Cox (D-Calif.), will be included in the final bill, according to multiple aides. It would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the policy’s economic effects after roughly two years — which moderates see as a potential way to revisit the issue if economic conditions deteriorate.

Scott and his team also helped win over individual members with district-by-district data that showed the number of people who would get a raise, offering a counterpoint to the objections from some local businesses.

Top Democrats, including Hoyer, have vowed to hold a vote on the minimum wage bill before the August recess, under intense pressure from outside groups to deliver on a key plank of the progressive platform.

Scott and other Education and Labor members have argued behind the scenes for weeks that they have enough votes to bring the bill to the floor. They’ve said that some holdouts would only come out in favor of the bill if they were facing a roll call — a process that one Democratic aide described as a “game of chicken.”

Heather Caygle contributed to this story.

This article was originally published by the Politico on June 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sarah Ferris covers budget and appropriations for POLITICO Pro. She was previously the lead healthcare and budget reporter for The Hill newspaper.

A graduate of the George Washington University, Ferris spent most of her time writing for The GW Hatchet. Her bylines have also appeared at The Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Raised on a dairy farm in Newtown, Conn., Ferris boasts a strong affinity for homemade ice cream, Dunkin Donuts coffee and the Boston Red Sox.


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This Women’s World Cup is reaching new heights thanks to collective actions from female footballers

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Inside the labor movements that are taking women’s soccer to new heights.

The 2019 Women’s World Cup in France is already on its way to being the most successful edition of the event ever. Though the tournament is still in the group stages, it is already breaking viewership records around the globe.

FIFA likes to take credit for this increase in popularity, but that credit is, of course, wholly unearned. In the past four years, as more and more people called for the sport’s governing body to close the gap in prize money between the men’s and women’s World Cup, FIFA actually increased the disparity between the two by $40 million, and on the ground in France, it seems that FIFA has not done an adequate job of promotion or ticketing.

Rather, the increased excitement is owed largely to the overall growth of women’s football; and that growth is due solely to the women who not only play the sport, but have taken it upon themselves to be its fiercest and most effective advocates and activists. Female footballers have always had to fight for the right to merely exist, but since the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, collective labor actions from teams around the world have extracted more concessions and progress from federations than FIFA ever has.

Even the most casual sports fans have likely heard about the defending World Cup champions, the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT), suing U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination, arguing that it pays the men’s team more money than the women’s team, despite the fact that they do the same job, and have achieved more success than their male counterparts.

The USWNT — which has been battling U.S. Soccer for more equitable treatment since it was founded — really brought their fight with the federation into the public square after winning it all in Canada in 2015 and being subjected to a Victory Tour of exhibition games that were played primarily on subpar turf, a surface the men’s team hardly ever has to play on. After boycotting a match in Hawaii because of the dangerous field conditions, the USWNT launched an #EqualPlayEqualPay campaign in 2016 and filed a wage-discrimination suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Since the issue still has not been remedied to their liking, the USWNT has now taken its fight to the biggest stage in the sport.

The Spanish women’s team actually began its collective action in 2015, when the Women’s World Cup was still happening. After the Spanish women finished in last place in their group in their World Cup debut, the players wrote an open letter asking for the firing of their manager, Ignacio Quereda, who was allowed to oversee the team for 27 years despite only winning 38% of their matches under his direction. As detailed by Deadspin, he also emotionally abused the players by attacking them for their weight and calling them immature little girls (“chavalitas”); kept players off the team if they crossed him; and did so little actual coaching that the players actually had to scout their opponents on YouTube themselves.

The letter received enough attention that Quereda ultimately resigned, and the Spanish football federation — which spent less than 1% of its budget on women’s football in 2014 — has begun prioritizing the women’s game a bit more. At this year’s World Cup, the Spanish team has already advanced to the knockout rounds.

In the fall of 2015, the Australian women’s national soccer team canceled a sell-out tour of the United States because players were so upset over their pay, which was far below minimum wage. Despite the fact that the Matildas reached the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup, they left Canada with just $2,014 in their pockets, which did little to boost their $14,844 annual salary. The strike was effective — their annual salary has essentially doubled, and contracts in the Australian pro league have increased significantly as well.

In 2016, the Chilean women’s team was fed up after years of neglect, and decided to form a players’ union. This union ended up integrating with the men’s union, and gained enough power to convince the Chilean federation to host the Copa América, a major women’s football tournament in the region, which ended up being the launchpad for Chile to earn its maiden Women’s World Cup bid.

“The Chilean team would not be playing in the 2019 World Cup were it not for the voluntary labor, blood, sweat, tears of the players themselves,” said Dr. Brenda Elsey, an associate professor of history at Hofstra University and co-author of Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America.

In December 2016, the Nigerian Super Falcons decided to stage a sit-in at the Agura Hotel in the nation’s capital until they received their bonuses for winning the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations — a total of $23,650 per player. Janine Anthony, a presenter and reporter for BBC South Africa, told ThinkProgress that it is not uncommon for bureaucracy in Nigeria to complicate payments, since most of the money for football comes from the government. However, those complications disproportionately impact the women.

“You just know that if it was for the men’s team, a lot of things would be faster,” Anthony said. “Every time you have issues, the girls have to be the one to … just understand. ‘Oh, please bear with us.’”

This time, however, they were done bearing with anybody. Their protest garnered national attention, and the federation very quickly found a way to access the money that had been so unobtainable just a day prior.

The following year, the Swedish women’s football team threatened to boycott the Player Awards Gala and their friendly against France if a new contract wasn’t reached, and Scottish players implemented a media blackout to raise awareness about the lack of financial support and respect shown by the Scottish Football Association. Both actions led to improved contracts.

Also in 2017, Argentinian and Brazilian female players followed in Chile’s footsteps and challenged their federations. In Brazil, multiple players retired in protest and a group of former and current players released a powerful letter denouncing the federation’s abrupt firing of Emily Lima, the team’s first female coach. The Brazilian federation launched a commission to address the concerns raised in the letter, but it was disbanded four months later, without any concrete advances.

The Argentinian women had a bit more luck. In the spring of 2017, the Argentinian women’s team was convened after an 18-month hiatus to play a match in Uruguay. But players had to travel in and out of the country on the same day as the match, there was hardly any support staff present, and the players didn’t even receive their paltry $8.50 per day stipends. So, they went on strike, and wrote a letter as a national team.

The federation ended up re-hiring head coach Carlos Borello, who they had let go after the team failed to qualify for the 2015 World Cup, adding a bit more support staff, and paying the players a stipend. It’s far from equality, but it did lead to the Argentinian women making their World Cup debut in France.

Of course, these examples only come from the 24 teams that qualified for the World Cup. These labor movements are happening throughout the ranks of women’s football.

Last September, the Puerto Rico women’s team actually stopped playing right after their friendly against Argentina kicked off and stood united facing the main stand, putting their hands to their ears, signaling for the Puerto Rican Football Association to listen to their complaints about working conditions and support.

In December, The Guardian reported on allegations that Karim Keramuddin, a top official with the Afghanistan Football Federation, had been sexually abusing players on the Afghanistan women’s national team. The players — who do not all live in Afghanistan, but rather are spread out around the globe — came together and reported the abuse. Just last week, FIFA banned Keram for life, and Afghan officials have issued a warrant for his arrest.

“I think the executives and the men complicit in this abuse were feeling like, because the women were not all in one place that they would not be unified or have that network. But sometimes WhatsApp does wonderful things, and it can keep you bonded. And these women really, literally decided to stick together,” said Shireen Ahmed, a freelance sports reporter and co-host of Burn It All Down, a weekly feminist sports podcast. [Editor’s note: the author of this article is also a co-host of the podcast.]

Thanks to all of these collective actions, progress is slowly unfolding.  In the past couple of years, both Norway and New Zealand have struck historic equal pay deals with their women’s teams, and in 2019, just before they left for the World Cup, the South African football federation told the women’s national team that it would earn the same bonuses that the men earn in tournaments from here on out.

All of these gains are only possible because female footballers worldwide are banding together and demanding their worth, recognizing and embracing the power of solidarity.

Of course, until FIFA itself decides to get its act together and close the $410 million prize money gap, and mandate that federations spend more than 15% of their FIFA funds on programs for women and youth, the gender gap in football is always going to be gaping.

“FIFA is ultimately the gatekeeper because they have the most amount of resources,” said Meg Linehan. “U.S. soccer isn’t happy with them but no one in the world was happy with them either.”

This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on June 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports. SportsReporter CoHost  Tennis  Mystics   


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2018 elections give paid sick leave and family leave new momentum in the states

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Nevada recently became the latest state to pass a paid sick leave law after 2018 put Democrats in control of the state. But Nevada isn’t the only state where paid leave has advanced in 2019, and the Democratic Governors Association is highlighting that momentum.

In addition to Nevada’s paid sick leave law, which will require businesses with more than 50 workers to provide 40 hours of earned sick days to full-time workers:

  • New Jersey has expanded its paid family leave law from six to 12 weeks and up to 85% of pay.
  • Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a law requiring employers with 10 or more workers to provide up to 40 hours of paid leave per year to be used for any purpose.
  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order giving state employees paid parental leave—eight weeks after giving birth and four weeks for other new parents.
  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign the nation’s strongest paid family leave law.
  • New Mexico and Louisiana also passed modest expansions of leave policies.

This is the kind of basic, humane policy to which Republicans are staunchly opposed. Policies that virtually every developed nation has and that are the law in a growing number of states, but that they want us to believe would be a disaster in the U.S. This is the kind of policy we get when Democrats are in charge.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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Pride Month Profiles: Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen

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For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen.

In the early 1970s, Steve D’Inzillo was the business agent for New York City’s Motion Picture Projectionists Local 306, an affiliate of the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). He had built a reputation as a maverick and had a particular passion for expanding civil rights. He wanted  women to gain equal footing in the local, but the prospect was daunting.

For women to win respect and acceptance in the union, they would need both the skills to do the job well and the toughness to deal with the small-minded men that opposed women’s inclusion. D’Inzillo found the right women to challenge the system with Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen, a lesbian couple who were willing to fight for their rights. Laberge had a union background and loved the idea of taking on the status quo. Jacobsen had been a “hidden child” during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

In 1972, D’Inzillo sponsored Jacobsen’s apprenticeship and she got her license a year later, making her New York City’s first female “booth man.” Laberge also applied and was admitted to the trade in 1974. D’Inzillo watched the women on the job and in the union hall and was impressed at how well they supported each other. Jacobsen and Laberge soon proposed that Local 306 sponsor a pre-apprenticeship program for women. D’Inzillo eagerly agreed. Many of those who signed up for the program were the sisters, wives and daughters of booth men, and they were paid less to work in lower-skilled jobs.

Laberge spoke about the success of the program:

We got several licenses out of that first class. It was the first crack of having not just fathers and sons in the trade. We were into the feminist thing. We had the union change how they addressed the letters, to get rid of ‘Dear Sir and Brother.’ The men could be pretty derisive at meetings, so our women’s group dealt with their disruptions.

Laberge and Jacobsen were the proximate cause for Local 306 adding sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policies in the late 1970s. After working with the women for years, the local’s membership had no interest in excluding them. The local also began to regularly make contributions to lesbian and gay charities, and supported three gay members who were sick from AIDS.

This early success led D’Inzillo to ask Jacobsen to join the local’s executive board, but she wasn’t interested in board politics. Laberge, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about it and joined the board herself. Soon after she started a local newsletter, writing most of the articles. She became D’Inzillo’s right-hand woman as he rose up the ranks of IATSE. He twice ran for the national presidency and was elected to be an IATSE vice president, with Laberge by his side the whole time. During his time as a leader in IATSE, Laberge said D’Inzillo was the only person at national conventions who pushed proposals that dealt with larger social and political issues, and she was a key part of those efforts.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 18, 2019. 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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Number of workplace safety inspectors fall under Trump

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Rebecca RaineyDespite assurances from Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta that he will boost the number of OSHA compliance officers this fiscal year, new data shows the number of inspectors has declined.

According to statistics that POLITICO obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the number of compliance safety and health officers tasked with conducting workplace inspections at the agency had fallen in April to 870. That’s down from the 875 safety inspectors that OSHA reported in January (in response to a FOIA request from the left-leaning National Employment Law Project).

In addition, data provided to POLITICO from OSHA reveals that since January the agency has lost two area directors responsible for training and supervising safety and health inspectors.

During the same month that OSHA recorded the 7-person decline, Acosta testified before a House appropriations panel that OSHA “expects to have a significant increase in inspectors in FY 2019.” The fiscal year runs from Oct 1 through September 30.

At that April hearing, Acosta noted that OSHA hired 76 new inspectors in FY 2018.

“These numbers are stunning,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA policy adviser now with NELP. “The agency now has the lowest number of inspectors in its entire history—it will now take over 160 years for the agency to inspect every workplace under its jurisdiction just once. This does not bode well for workers.”

The number of OSHA inspectors fluctuated throughout the Obama administration, rising to 1,059 inspectors from 2009 to 2011, then declining to 943 from 2011 to 2015, then rising again in 2016 to 952 inspectors.

Democrats and safety advocates blame the decline under Trump on retirements and on the federal hiring freeze ordered in early 2017

“This is a sign of erosion in OSHA’s ability to inspect workplaces,” Peg Seminario, director of health and safety at the AFL-CIO, told POLITICO. “Acosta has committed to strong enforcement, but their ability to do so is being hobbled and crippled by losing experienced staff.”

In total, OSHA’s compliance safety and health officers reached 949 in April, but that figure also includes 79 area directors, who do not conduct workplace inspections. According to January numbers obtained by advocates, the agency had 81 area directors on board at the time.

The Labor Department’s budget request for OSHA for fiscal year 2020 included more than $3.7 million to hire 30 additional compliance officers

Asked to comment on the decline in safety inspectors, a DOL spokesperson said that OSHA “has taken several steps to increase its federal enforcement staffing levels.” In 2017, the spokesperson said, Acosta granted OSHA approval to fill all its funded inspector positions.

“OSHA has also begun recruiting for a larger number of positions than available vacancies,” the spokesperson said, “to ensure there is a continuous pool of [compliance safety health officer] applicants for selection when future vacancies occur.”

Despite the decline in inspectors, the number of OSHA inspections rose in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to above 32,000. But a March NELP report said that in both fiscal years the agency cut back on the number of more complex, resource-intensive, and “high-impact” safety and health inspections.

In making this calculation, NELP used the same metric created by OSHA under President Barack Obama. In 2016, OSHA stopped measuring its performance by the number of total inspections and instead started counting by weighted “enforcement units” to better assess the quantity of enforcement activity. Then-OSHA chief David Michaels concluded that a raw inspection count was misleading because one-day inspections were equated with more complicated five-month inspections.

According to NELP’s March report, in FY 2018 OSHA enforcement dropped by 352 enforcement units, to 41,478.

This article was originally published at Politico on June 17, 2019. 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.

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.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.


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Congress makes minimum wage history, going the longest without an increase since 1938

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The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since July 24, 2009. That’s coming up on a decade, but it’s already hit an infuriating milestone: June 16 marked the longest the minimum wage had gone without an increase since 1938, when the U.S. passed its first minimum wage. Because Republicans are happy to have the minimum wage be a poverty wage—and it is a wage so low that a full-time job is not enough to pull a family of two above the poverty threshold.

The Economic Policy Institute’s David Cooper lays out what workers have lost in the near-decade since the last increase: $7.25 in July 2009 was equivalent to $8.70 now. That means a minimum wage worker has seen their purchasing power drop by 17%, or the equivalent of more than $3,000 a year. And still Republicans stand in the way of a raise.

The good news is that many states—31 of them, plus the District of Columbia—have raised their minimum wages above the federal level, and in some cases well above it. Already in 2019 alone, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Connecticut have passed laws gradually raising the wage to $15 an hour, while Nevada and New Mexico are on their way to $12. But that doesn’t excuse congressional inaction, let alone congressional inaction on a historic, record-shattering level. Democrats have proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, but it won’t happen as long as Republicans are in a position to block it.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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Nevada workers get some big wins because elections matter, this week in the war on workers

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Nevada Democrats had a great Election Day in 2018, and Nevada workers are about to start seeing the effects of that. Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a package of major bills, including one giving 20,000 state workers collective bargaining rights, a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, and more.

The state’s minimum wage will only go up to $12—$11 if the employer offers insurance—and won’t reach that level until 2024, with the first 75-cent raise not coming until July 2020. Compared with the laws taking some states’ minimums up to $15 on a faster timetable that’s not spectacular, but since Nevada’s current minimum wage is $7.25 for employers that offer insurance and $8.25 for ones that don’t, it’s still a substantial improvement for an estimated 300,000 Nevada workers. (And something for worker-activists to build on, perhaps.)

Workers at businesses with more than 50 employees will also start getting paid sick leave, up to 40 hours a year for full-time workers. That law will take effect January 1. Nevada will join 10 states and Washington, D.C., in having a paid sick leave law.

The law giving public workers collective bargaining rights is “yet another massive win for working people and the labor movement as union momentum continues to grow across the country,” according to AFSCME. Harry Schiffman, a local AFSCME president in the state called it “a historic day for state employees and all Nevadans, as collective bargaining rights will mean a voice on the job to make meaningful changes in our workplaces and communities.”

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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The Trump Administration’s War on Federal Workers

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Claiming 700,000 members in the United States and overseas, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) stands as the nation’s largest federal and D.C. government employee labor union. The union represents employees who provide care and support for veterans, the elderly and disabled, and people in need of housing through the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with other federal agencies.

A statement on the AFGE website describes these employees as the “vital threads of the fabric of American life.” Now, the AFGE contends, its members are under attack, thanks to recent actions by the Trump administration.

The AFGE is currently in contract negotiations with the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of 260,000 employees who work for the agency. In the process of these negotiations, AFGE District Office Manager Matt Muchowski says that VA management is attempting to undo labor rights that have been won by the union since its founding in 1932.

To better understand the nature of these affronts, Muchowski argues, it is important to look at three executive orders signed by President Trump on May 25, 2018. While the orders have since ostensibly been ruled in violation of labor law by a U.S. District Court in August 2018, Muchowski says that sections of the orders which limit time spent during the work day on union activities (known as “official time”) as well as due process are being pushed into the contract by VA negotiators.

This approach is “making it difficult for federal workers to do what they do,” by seeking to alter key elements of the contracts negotiated between AFGE members—including Veterans Affairs workers—and management, he says. Further, Muchowski notes, this strategy has already been employed during negotiations over the Social Security Administration contract earlier this year, which resulted in major concessions for workers. He says the Trump administration’s approach to the AFGE negotiations “represents an escalation of its anti-union tactics.”

The key elements of the 2018 executive orders fall under three categories: employees’ job protection and due process rights, official time and collective bargaining procedures.

The first order outlines limits on the use of “progressive discipline” approaches for workers in federal agencies and instead calls for the allowance of more immediate dismissals, among other more stringently dictated relations between management and workers.

The second order calls for more regulated and restricted use of “official time”: time employees are allowed to spend on union duties while still on the clock. This is a concept that has been part of AFGE’s labor contracts since the Carter administration, Muchowski notes, when the presence of unions in the workplace was seen as “part of effective governance.”

Under this model, an employee can conduct union business while using government-provided items such as office space, computers or phones. Trump’s executive order, however, calls for employees’ official time to be greatly reduced and also mandates that they should no longer be given free or reduced rate access to an office or a computer.

While the Trump administration holds that this revision is necessary to make the government “effective and efficient,” Veterans Affairs employee Germaine Clano disagrees. Clarno is a social worker at the Edward Hines, Jr., VA Hospital in suburban Chicago, and she says the loss of official time would be devastating.

Clarno provides full-time union representation to doctors, social workers and other professional employees of the VA through the official time provision, whether they are dues-paying union members or not. It’s work she describes as essential. “The culture of the VA is still very retaliatory,” Clarno says, noting that she acts as a resource for employees who would like to bring allegations of “waste, fraud or abuse” to light.

“Taking away official time means taking away employees’ security around being able to report what’s going on at the VA,” Clarno insists, “so that we can make things better for our veterans.”

The third order issued by Trump in 2018 is designed to “assist executive departments and agencies in developing efficient, effective, and cost-reducing collective bargaining agreements.” The order claims that collective bargaining agreements limit managers’ ability to either hold “low-performers accountable” or reward “high performers,” and that they are often drawn out, at the expense of taxpayer money.

The order calls for an expedited contract negotiation period, with lingering disputes to be settled by the politically-appointed members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP). In the post-Janus era—which has brought new challenges to public sector unions—it’s notable that panel member David Osborne’s bio states that he has built a career around “offering free legal services to those hurt by public employee union officials.”

While both the FSIP and attempts to govern through executive orders are not new, they are part of an increasingly fraught era for federal workers and the Trump administration’s federal management team.

Just days before Trump issued his three executive orders, news reports noted the rising tension between workers and federal managers, who had just unveiled “an ambitious and aggressive plan to modernize the civil service,” according to Nicole Ogrysko of the Federal News Network. This plan, union leaders alleged, was intended to cut department budgets while turning more federal employees into poorly compensated temp workers.

Trump’s executive orders were contested in court by the AFGE and other labor unions, and in August 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled in favor of the unions. At the time, a review of the case appeared in the online news outlet, Government Executive, where reporter Erich Wagner stated that Brown Jackson found the executive orders to be in violation of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

This Act upholds the value of good-faith labor-management negotiations and concludes that they are done “in the public interest.” Nonetheless, Muchowski says, the Trump administration has persisted in seeking to negotiate labor contracts with federal employees according to the 2018 executive orders. As evidence, he cites the recently settled contract between the Social Security Administration and the 45,000 AFGE members who work there.

During the contract negotiation process, SSA management and union negotiators could not agree on twelve clauses, according to a reportfiled by Tom Temin of the Federal News Network. As a result, the contract was turned over to the FSIP, which has the power to either “recommend a way to agree,” or “order specific, binding actions” that both parties must abide by, Temin states.

While some government panels are bipartisan, the FSIP is not: All seven members were appointed by Trump. Temin notes that, of the twelve disputed clauses, the FSIP sided with management on ten of them. Although AFGE members were able to keep certain grievance rights, they did lose ground on some central matters, including the implementation of a seven-year contract (the union wanted a two-year term) and the loss of both office space and hours set aside for official time.

David Cann, director of field services and education for the AFGE, says he believes the FSIP’s actions are a violation of Judge Brown Jackson’s ruling against certain aspects of Trump’s executive orders. Brown Jackson’s decision, Cann notes, found that parts of the executive orders violated collective bargaining rights outlined in the Civil Service Act of 1978, and that neither the president nor his subordinates could continue negotiations under such terms.

Because the FSIP is an entirely politically appointed body, Cann argues that its members are, in effect, Trump’s subordinates and therefore should not be allowed to settle disputes, using what he believes are the administration’s executive orders as a guide.

In a statement posted to its website, the AFGE minced no words about the dangerous precedent such a decision could set: “A panel of Trump’s union-busting appointees has imposed anti-worker provisions in a new labor-management contract for the people who ensure elderly Americans and those with disabilities can live with dignity and financial security.”

Clarno has been closely tracking the contract settlement between AFGE and the Social Security Administration and says that, for her, the “fear is that the Federal Service Impasse Panel will push the same thing” for VA workers in contract negotiations. “Federal employees can’t strike,” she states. “Really, what leverage do we have? We have none. It’s very, very concerning.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 14, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English Instructor. She is a 2015 Progressive magazine Education Fellow and blogs about education at brightlightsmallcity.com.


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Renewable industry employed 11 million people in 2018

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The number of workers employed by the renewable energy industry keeps growing. In 2018, at least 11 million people around the world held jobs across the renewables sector, from manufacturing and trading to installation.

According to the sixth annual jobs report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, the majority of these jobs are concentrated in China, the European Union, Brazil, and the United States.

The figures show a steady increase over the years. In 2017, there were 10.3 million jobs. This was up from 9.8 million in 2016 and 8.1 million in 2015.

This growth comes at the same time as countries are setting clean energy generation records. The U.K. recently went at least 10 days without generating any coal power, while last month in the U.S. renewable energy generation surpassed coal generation for the first time in history.

11 million people were employed in the renewables industry in 2018. Credit: IRENA.
11 MILLION PEOPLE WERE EMPLOYED IN THE RENEWABLES INDUSTRY IN 2018. CREDIT: IRENA.

In the United States, the number of people working in renewables is just under the amount employed by the fossil fuel industry. Last year saw a slight uptick in these jobs, with just over 1.1 million people employed in petroleum fuels, natural gas, coal, and biomass across the country.

According to the IRENA report, solar power remains the top employer within the renewables industry, providing 3.6 million jobs last year, accounting for a third of the entire industry’s workflow. This is in part due to expansion in India and Southeast Asia as well as Brazil. China, however, remains the leading solar employer, representing 61% of all jobs in 2018.

Meanwhile, 2.1 million people worked in the biofuel industry, another 2.1 million jobs were in hydropower, and wind employed 1.2 million people.

A third of all renewable jobs globally, the report states, are held by women. This is compared to a 22% average in the oil and gas industry. However, previous reports have shown that at least in the solar industry in the United States, the majority of jobs still go white men.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that tackling climate change means losing jobs. But as this report shows, in fact the opposite is true.

The findings in IRENA’s latest report support a study released last December by the International Labour Review which found that accelerating the transition to clean energy could add 24 million jobs globally by 2030.

In a press statement Thursday, Francesco La Camera, the director-general of IRENA, said countries are investing in renewables not just because of climate concerns, but also because it makes economic sense.

“Beyond climate goals,” he said, “governments are prioritizing renewables as a driver of low-carbon economic growth in recognition of the numerous employment opportunities created by the transition to renewables.”

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on June 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kyla Mandel is the editor for the climate team. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Mother Jones, and Vice. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, specializing in science, health, and environment reporting. You can reach her at kmandel@thinkprogress.org, or on Twitter at .

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