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The Just Transition for Coal Workers Can Start Now. Colorado Is Showing How.

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Rachel Cohen

This past May, Colorado’s Democratic governor Jared Polis signed a series of new environmental bills into law, with the enthusiastic backing of the state’s labor movement. Legislation ranged from expanding community solar gardens to establishing a “Just Transition” office for coal-dependent communities.

Organized labor in Colorado hasn’t always been an ally in the fight against climate change, but beginning in 2018, a Democratic messaging bill that called for 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 forced local unions to start having some tough conversations.

“Republicans controlled the Senate, so the bill had no chance of passing, but it forced the conversation on our end as to what do we need to do to get behind these bills in the future, instead of just blocking them or delaying,” explained Dennis Dougherty, the executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, which represents approximately 165 unions representing more than 130,000 workers. “It was really the first time we asked ourselves, well what’s our game plan?”

In February 2018, Colorado activists launched a state-based affiliate of the Peoples Climate Movement, a coalition of community, faith, youth and environmental groups focused on promoting an equitable response to climate change. Dougherty, who worked for years as a federal mediator before joining the labor movement, soon became co-chair of the Colorado coalition. “This was the first time labor has really stepped out in leadership on climate,” he told In These Times.

What followed were a series of organized talks between unions and environmental groups. With resources from its parent organization, the Peoples Climate Movement Colorado even hired a skilled facilitator from the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University to help guide its conversations. The work culminated in a Climate, Jobs and Justice Summit last September.

Democrats won a majority of seats in the state Senate after the 2018 midterms, giving them trifecta control over Colorado politics, and the ability to pass many climate-related bills this year. Those bills included two pieces of legislation advocates hope can serve as a model for climate, jobs and justice organizing in other states.

One is HB-1314, which establishes a Just Transition Office in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The first-of-its-kind office, which will have both a dedicated staff and an advisory committee of diverse stakeholders, is charged with creating a equitable plan for coal-dependent communities and workers as the state transitions away from fossil fuels. The goal is to mitigate the economic hardship that will accompany this energy transition. A draft plan is due by July 2020, and by 2025, the state will start administering benefits to displaced coal workers, and provide workforce retraining grants to coal-transitioning communities like Pueblo, Larimer, Delta, Morgan and others.

As part of the legislation, labor unions successfully pushed for language around “wage differential benefits” for those workers who end up in jobs that may pay less than the jobs they currently have in the fossil fuel industry. The Just Transition office would provide “supplemental income” to cover “all or part of the difference” between a coal worker’s old job and their new one.

Dougherty said they pushed for an office precisely because they thought it would be stronger than an advisory board or a task force. “I’m not worried it will be something without teeth,” he said. “There’s also so much groundswell to keep up pressure.”

The second bill, SB-236, includes language to authorize the so-called securitization of coal plants, as a way to hasten their retirement and to bring additional funds to coal-dependent communities. The idea is to allow a utility company to swap its remaining coal plant debt for a ratepayer-backed bond. Twenty other states have bond securitization laws, and they have been used by governments to close a nuclear plant in Florida and a coal plant in Michigan. The twist in Colorado is to use some of the millions of dollars in savings from securitization to reinvest back in workers and vulnerable communities.

The bill sponsor, Democratic State Rep. Chris Hansen, first introduced the idea in 2017. While his bill passed the House, it died in the then-GOP-controlled Senate.

Labor and environmental groups supported the securitization bill this year, though Dougherty emphasized that the savings it could generate would not be enough on their own to fund the kind of just transition they’re looking to see. “We see it as just one funding mechanism for communities and workers,” he said. (A separate bill also passed this year by Colorado lawmakers enables the state’s public utilities commission to distribute some of the securitization savings to vulnerable communities.)

According to the Colorado Mining Association, Colorado is the 11th largest coal-producing state, with six active coal mines, employing a little over 1,200 mine workers. The National Mining Association estimates that nearly 18,000 people across Colorado are employed directly by the state’s mining industry.

For both the Just Transition office and the coal plant securitization bill, leaders say key to passage was a lot of education, research and tough, honest dialogue.

Rep. Hansen, who has a PhD in resource economics and worked in the energy sector before running for office in 2016, said getting his bill passed was a multi-year process of stakeholder engagement. “I also really had to educate my own colleagues about securitization,” he told In These Times.“Some folks in Colorado thought this was a giveaway to the utilities industry, but it’s really the opposite of a bailout because for the securitization to work the companies have to walk away from significant amounts of revenue.”

Rep. Hansen said he’s been trying to be honest with people that major economic transitions are coming, and the best thing leaders can do is proactively plan ahead. “There will be dislocation and disruption but the alternative is to let what we’ve typically had happen in this country which is just kind of a free-fall for transitioning communities with no real help from government,” he said. “I much rather try and prepare then be reactive after-the-fact.”

Within the Just Transition office, Dougherty said labor unions plan to push for the wage differential benefit to cover a transition of up to three years. For example, if someone was earning $100,000 in a coal-industry job, and retrains for another position that pays $60,000, labor wants to see the state cover that difference for several years.

Dougherty said at first unions thought a “just transition” could mean demanding jobs at the same level of pay and benefits that workers are currently earning in perpetuity, but after doing research into the issue and assessing the political realities, they modified their demands.

“We hired someone to research every ‘just transition’ that’s been done across the world,” he explained, adding: “We said, okay, well what can we realistically do at the state level that we think is fair while also not coming out and demanding something that’s never going to happen?”

“I think what happened in Colorado is really, really important,” said Paul Getsos, the national director of the Peoples Climate Movement. “It’s a real example of union leaders who are really willing to educate other union leaders about the issues to see how they can move their institutions forward.”

Getsos added that Colorado’s experience reflects how successful legislative victories are not won overnight. “It takes a lot of relationship building,” he said. “A lot of trust.”

This article was originally published by In These Times on July 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachel M. Cohen is a journalist based in Washington D.C. Follow her on Twitter @rmc031


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Trump nominates mini-Scalia as labor secretary, this week in the war on workers

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It’s important to uphold the principle that someone who lets a sexual predator—who preys on children, no less—off easy because he’s rich and connected and has good lawyers should not be in charge of a large chunk of the federal government, so Alexander Acosta had to go. That said, many, many workers will be much worse off as a result of his departure. Acosta was a conservative Republican who could be counted on to put the interests of the wealthy over the interests of workers, but he wasn’t in a big rush and he wasn’t ready to burn down the entire system of government to screw workers a little more quickly. Now, Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court justice, to replace Acosta.

Scalia has represented Walmart against corporate whistleblowers. He’s represented Wynn casinos against table game dealers who objected to tip pooling rules that gave some of their tips to managers. The list goes on and on.

Of course we knew Trump was going to nominate someone terrible. And that’s just what he did, because Trump and his entire party are all about putting a boot on the neck of workers.

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Breaking Up Amazon Doesn’t Go Far Enough—We Must Put It Under Public Control

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What should be done with Amazon? While some parts of the company should indeed be broken up, its sprawling scale is not its only problem. Much of what Amazon does is harmful for reasons inherent to the logic of private ownership, and would remain so at any scale. While the public probably does not need to own, say, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, much of Amazon can and should be nationalized and put to use to build a democratic economy.

David and others suggest that breaking up Amazon would restore some semblance of market fairness and that regulatory action could keep the power of its remnants in check. But historically, breakups of monopolies have been relatively inefficient. The Bell System, led by AT&T, was broken apart in 1984 and is today on track to be even larger, as the AT&T-Time Warner merger proceeds. Antitrust mechanisms can temporarily roll back monopolies, but the preference to dominate, rather than compete, survives.

Even should antitrust action succeed, it’s not clear that restoring competition would be better for society at large in the case of Amazon’s primary application—connecting buyers with sellers. Online platforms attain a natural monopoly when a certain level of market share is achieved and competition becomes next to impossible. What little competition among platforms remains doesn’t produce better outcomes, but instead creates a race-to-the-bottom to cut costs. Take Amazon’s new promise of one-day delivery; Walmart quickly followed suit. While it might appear convenient, neither entity has to account for the intensifying extraction from workers and the environment; both can continue to externalize these costs. Profit-driven private ownership of the Amazon marketplace will continue to create “innovation” at the expense of public good.

While David does suggest that the Amazon marketplace could operate under public ownership, he doesn’t seem to see the significance of such a “nationalized digital mall.” Amazon’s ownership of this digital mall is what allows its success, using its primacy to extort and manipulate the market in its own interests. It is Amazon’s profit imperative, not an inevitable function of a marketplace platform, that drives it to pressure third-party sellers, squeeze workers, and recommend products that fail consumers. By becoming the market, Amazon has effectively become the market’s regulator. Such powers should belong to the public.

Democratic public ownership of the marketplace platform could retool this infrastructure for public good. The People’s Amazon—call it Ourmazon—could guarantee access to the marketplace for smaller producers rather than driving down the cost of their goods and services. As a public distribution network, Ourmazon could stabilize prices at a point that ensures viability and competitiveness for small businesses at a cost that benefits consumers.

Critics of nationalization contend that the government would be forced to adopt Amazon’s extractive practices to operate at an enterprise scale. But if those practices are indeed necessary for efficiency, why would new regulations produce different outcomes? A nationalized platform could shift the definition of efficiency to include metrics beyond shareholder value.

One of Amazon’s key (and controversial, due to real privacy concerns) features is the massive amount of data it harvests and leverages to maximize its profits. In its current position, Amazon picks winners and losers for its own ends, with algorithms that impact prices, order search results and collate recommendations. That data could instead be optimized for a wide array of economic priorities, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to hobbling products with labor abuses in their supply chains. A nationalized entity, managed along democratic priorities, could advantage small businesses, unionized businesses, or worker-owned businesses.

There are still more clear benefits to the public ownership of Amazon’s distribution and logistics infrastructure. The promise of one-day shipping, unchecked, poses a logistics nightmare, creating precarious work conditionsand significant environmental impact. Democratic public ownership could ensure that the flow of goods meets labor and environmental standards. Amazon’s HQ2 fiasco epitomizes race-to-the-bottom urban planning, while democratically decided plans could incorporate considerations like resiliency to natural disasters or areas needing an economic revival.

Amazon is dominating its way to becoming the backbone of the U.S. economy. A nationalized company could play the backbone of a more equitable system. As Amazon expands into activities like providing easier-to-access credit cards, it is creating new markets out of sectors that would be better served with social provisions. Similarly, look at Amazon’s move into online pharmacy. We can imagine how powerful a publicly owned pharmacy could be, expanding access to affordable medication, driven by care rather than profit.

The flaw of antitrust is that the problem of power is reduced to a matter of scale, when power should be rooted in democratic control and ownership. Who owns the data? Who programs the algorithm? Who governs the platform? Breaking up Amazon may be necessary, but some of its pieces would inevitably become natural monopolies that would be better served as publicly owned platforms operated for public benefit. Public ownership of Amazon would enable a redesign to maximize public benefit over profit.

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Katie Parker is a Washington, D.C.-based researcher focused on regional planning and community economic development. Adam Simpson is a Washington, D.C.-based researcher and writer as well as a co-host of the podcast Future Left.


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Angry About Low Pay and Sweltering Heat, These Amazon Warehouse Workers Are Organizing

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Thousands of Amazon workers struck on “Prime Day” this week in what was perhaps the largest multinational action to date against the online behemoth. European Amazon employees have been waging coordinated strikes against the company since 2013, but this time they were joined by U.S. counterparts at a Shakopee, Minnesota fulfillment center, where workers staged a first-of-its-kind six-hour work stoppage. To date, Amazon has successfully fended off all attempts at unionization in the United States since the company’s founding in 1994.

Meanwhile, at another U.S. Amazon facility in Chicago, a new organizing effort is underway. Early Tuesday morning, a group of 30 workers at the company’s DCH1 delivery station on the city’s South Side staged a “walk-in” to the facility’s management during a 2:30 a.m. break on the overnight shift.

The group delivered a list of demands to site management that included a pay bump, health insurance and functioning air conditioning in the facility, where workers say they are laboring in sweltering heat.

The DCH1 delivery station is the last place that Amazon parcels arrive before reaching the doorsteps of Chicago-area customers. Workers scan and sort at a grueling pace inside a building with a metal roof and walls, and towers of packages often block ventilation from overhead fans. The workforce includes seniors and people with medical conditions such as diabetes, and dehydration and heat stroke are frequent problems, according to four employees at the facility who spoke to In These Times on condition of anonymity.

Last month, when a small fire broke out in the facility, managers told workers not to leave their stations, according to one of the employees. No one was injured, but the incident stoked anger.

DCH1 Amazonians United, which has launched a public Facebook page, says workers decided to take action on Prime Day in part after hearing about Minnesota workers’ plans to strike. At present, the workers are not affiliated with any union or community organization.

They’re also building off a successful action this spring, when about 140 employees—roughly a quarter of the workforce—signed a petition demanding adequate access to drinking water at the facility. Managers had stopped providing workers with water bottles, and five-gallon water jugs weren’t being replaced throughout the day, says Terry Miller (a pseudonym), who has worked at the facility for four and a half months.

During his second week on the job, he remembers, a coworker passed out from dehydration.

But as soon as workers delivered the petition in May, a manager went out and bought water bottles, says Miller. Shortly after that, water stations were installed.

“Ever since then, people saw that if we move, if we demand our rights, we can win,” says Fred Brown (a pseudonym), another Amazon employee who began working at the facility in 2017.

After circulating a survey to determine which issues fellow employees cared most about, workers decided to stage another action for Amazon’s highly publicized July Prime day. Apparently short-handed during this peak week, the facility has been offering employees a pay bump to come in an hour before their regular shift is scheduled to start—they receive $18, rather than the usual $15, but only for the extra hour.

DCH1 Amazonians United is demanding “prime pay for Prime days,” or $18 an hour throughout “blackout periods” when workers aren’t permitted to schedule time off and are handling a high volume of packages as a result of the company’s promotions.

Employees received a pay bump as part of a much-touted decision by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to raise the starting wage to $15 an hour. The announcement came after years of criticism from labor, as well the “Stop Bezos Act” introduced by Bernie Sanders that would have penalized large employers that pay low wages.

But employees at the DCH1 facility typically have their hours capped at 28 a week, and many still struggle to pay their bills, says J.R. (a pseudonym). After working a homecare job during the week, on the weekends he pulls three overnight shifts at the Amazon facility and then reports for a childcare job with just a few hours of sleep in between.

“Jeff Bezos’ net worth is about $160 billion,” he says. “Thank you for the $15, but you can’t expect us to stay there forever. The way I see it, $15 is the new minimum wage.”

In a statement e-mailed to In These Times, an Amazon spokesperson said that the company is “proud to offer great employment opportunities with excellent pay, benefits, and a safe workplace for our people.”

The spokesperson did not respond to In These Times’ questions about the facility.

Employees who spoke with In These Times say that in addition to low pay, workers are dissatisfied with the lack of health benefits. According to the workers, they receive some vision and dental benefits, but in lieu of health insurance they are encouraged to call a health hotline number.

In the past year, Amazon has more than doubled the rate at which workers are expected to scan packages at the facility, say the employees, who also complain of seemingly arbitrary write-ups and firings. One of the workers says he was written up after a manager accused him of scanning a package incorrectly two months after the fact.

An investigation by the Verge this spring revealed that Amazon automatically tracks its employees’ productivity and may fire as much as 10 percent of its workforce annually for failing to meet internal targets.

After presenting their list of demands on Tuesday, the DCH1 workers say they were promised a meeting with the site manager that has yet to occur. They are circulating a public petition to demand the meeting.

In the meantime, Brown says that news of Tuesday’s action is reaching more coworkers. “You can feel the shift in power,” he says.

Amazon opened the DCH1 facility in Chicago in 2015. “I always say, they came to the wrong city,” says J.R. “Chicago is known for unions, so you can only get away with it for so long.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Burns is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The Baffler, the Chicago Reader, The Intercept and other outlets. She is a contributing editor at In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.


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As temperatures rise, the poor suffer most

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As a heat wave bakes large pockets of the United States this weekend, it is society’s most vulnerable who suffer most.

Take the unnamed 32-year-old Ace Air Conditioning of Louisiana worker who died while installing duct work on July 20, 2017. The man began to show signs of heat exhaustion while working in the attic of a modest home in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Less than an hour later, he collapsed and died.

The company was fined a few thousand dollars because it did not “furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards.”

Or take the watermelon picker in Five Points, California, who collapsed on the way to his vehicle after a six-hour shift in temperatures above 100 Fahrenheit. No one on the team got a break that day, according to a colleague, despite state labor laws. When the man was pronounced dead at he hospital, his body temperature was 109 Fahrenheit. The company was fined $25,750.

These are just two examples of what outdoor workers face when temperatures rise.

The heat wave gripping much of the country has already been blamed for six deaths. As global temperatures continue to rise and heat waves become more common and extreme, it is the poor, the elderly, laborers, and people with medical conditions who will be at the greatest risk.

People over 65 are among those with the greatest risk of heat-related deaths, followed by men who work in outdoor occupations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Any person can suffer from heat stress, regardless of age, sex, or health status,” the agency wrote in a 2016 report on heat-related illness. “Older adults and children, however, have a higher-than-average risk of becoming ill due to exposure to extreme heat. People working outdoors, the socially isolated and economically disadvantaged, those with chronic illnesses, and some communities of color are also especially vulnerable to heat.”

When a massive heat wave struck Chicago in July 1995, the city was ill prepared to deal with the crisis. That lack of preparation had deadly consequences: 739 people died, including Valerie Brown’s grandmother, Alberta.

“They put my grandma’s body in a refrigerated truck,” Brown told NBC News. “There is no death certificate. They just took her body away and put her in a mass grave.”

It wasn’t just the elderly who were hit hardest by the 1995 heat wave in Chicago, according to Judith Helfand, who directed a new documentary about the heat wave, Cooked: Survival by Zip Code.

“The people who died in 1995 were poor, and disproportionately black,” Helfand told NBC News.

“Racism kills people,” she added.

Research has shown that climate change and the resulting heat waves will hit large urban areas particularly hard, in part because the concrete, brick, steel, and glass these cities are built from creates “heat islands” that trap heat during the day then slowly release it overnight, preventing the city from cooling down once the sun sets.

That creates a dangerous situation for people like construction workers, the elderly, the poor, minorities, and the homeless, who tend to be concentrated in cities and may not have the resources to stay in air-conditioned buildings when temperatures soar.

Just three states have regulations in place to protect outdoor workers in extreme heat. The advocacy group Public Citizen launched a campaign last year to get the Occupational Safety and  Health Administration to put tighter rules in place to protect workers during heat waves.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia — son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a lifelong opponent of labor regulations — to head the Department of Labor, which oversees OSHA.

This article was originally published at Think Progress on July 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Joshua Eaton is an investigative reporter. His work has also appeared at The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, PRI’s The World, and Teen Vogue. Before joining ThinkProgress, Joshua was a digital producer at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (now The Eye) and WGBH News.

Contact Joshua at jeaton@thinkprogress.org or via Signal at 202-684-1030.


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Citing discrimination, HUD denies L.A. $80M

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Katy O'Donnell, Pro-- Staff mugshots photographed Feb. 23, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)The Department of Housing and Urban Development is denying Los Angeles $80 million in federal funding on the grounds that the city is violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against people with disabilities, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO.

The city’s plan for the disbursement of Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership funds has been rejected, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a letter to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti Friday evening.

“As you have been notified time and again, the city is unlawfully discriminating against individuals with disabilities in its affordable housing program under federal accessibility laws, including the Fair Housing Act, and has refused to take the steps necessary to remedy this discrimination,” Carson wrote.

Garcetti told POLITICO he was “disappointed” in HUD’s decision, adding that he was “looking forward to meeting with Secretary Carson next week, so that I can speak directly to HUD’s concerns and bring this matter to a resolution that will not displace already vulnerable Angelenos.”

The city, Garcetti said in an email, had been “negotiating in good faith to resolve HUD’s concerns, most recently signing off on an offer to create 4,000 accessible housing units over the next ten years, and implementing a rigorous monitoring and compliance regime.”

HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in April notified Garcetti that an agency review of Los Angeles’s affordable housing program had determined that the city was not complying with the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements — a “widespread failure” HUD said it had first raised with L.A. in a January 2012 letter.

L.A. had recently “made a variety of representations that it had begun to achieve compliance,” FHEO Enforcement Director Lynn Grosso said in the April 1 letter to Garcetti.

“Based in part on these representations, HUD undertook additional investigation to determine whether these representations were accurate,” Grosso wrote. “HUD’s on-site compliance review of housing recently constructed or altered using funds received from HUD confirmed that they were not.”

L.A. will have 60 days to comment and to revise or resubmit its plan, according to Carson’s letter today.

“The city may also obtain approval of its Annual Action Plan once the city has entered a Voluntary Compliance Agreement that remedies its violations of federal accessibility requirements to HUD’s satisfaction,” Carson added.

This article was originally published at Politico on July 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Katy O’Donnell is a reporter for POLITICO.


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Dem campaigns bulk up with hiring spree

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Daniel StraussSen. Elizabeth Warren has the largest staff in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. Sen. Bernie Sanders is close behind. And others trying to go big are weighing the dangers of the most expensive piece of the “invisible primary”: the people running the campaigns.

Warren had 303 people on her campaign payroll during the second quarter of the year, according to a POLITICO analysis of Federal Election Commission records. It’s a reflection of her campaign’s belief in the importance of early organizing, which is shared by Sanders’ campaign and its 282 people on salary and echoes the successful approach of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

The early size of the 2020 campaigns roughly illustrates the current tiers in the Democratic primary, with the top five candidates in polling and fundraising and several underdogs hoping to lay groundwork for a future leap among the leaders. No 2020 Democrat has yet matched the size of Obama’s early campaign operation, which employed a whopping 432 staffers at this point in 2007 as he and Hillary Clinton (339 staffers) prepared for their primary. A large team can create positive feedback loops for campaigns, Democratic operatives said — organizing and gathering more supporters, which leads to higher fundraising and momentum and can be reinvested in more staff to keep the cycle going.

But staff buildups are also fraught with danger, reliant on unpredictable future fundraising projections to sustain them and prevent financial ruin.

“Every staff decision in terms of scale is a calculated risk,” said Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, the Democratic outside group focused on the 2020 presidential race. “Because you’re making some assumptions about whether or not you can sustain it over time.”

Warren and Sanders’ campaign staffs are well ahead of the next-biggest campaign — former Vice President Joe Biden’s — and the four others who have staffs numbering over 100: Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

And Warren won an early gamble on staff by turning in a massive second-quarter fundraising total, $19.1 million, after a much slower start to the year, meaning she can sustain the big campaign she’s building — which cost her nearly $4.2 million in salary, payroll taxes and insurance in the last three months. Warren has managed to fundraise competitively with her top 2020 rivals despite eschewing traditional campaign fundraisers and focusing on online contributions instead.

“Ultimately, the risk paid off,” Cecil said. “I think it’s especially important when you think about how quickly the primary calendar moves.”

Booker and O’Rourke don’t generally poll near the front of the pack, and both have struggled to fundraise at the same level as the top candidates in the primary. But the large number of staffers on their payrolls underscores that their respective campaigns are betting an early heavy investment in bodies will pay off later in the primary.

“A couple of these campaigns jumped out early and hired a bunch of staff and really put those folks off the table,” said Brandon Davis, a veteran Democratic strategist. “There was an opportunity, which I think was a strategic play for hiring this staff — and both having a good operation and taking some folks off the table [for other campaigns].”

But some campaigns still have to prove they can survive the costs imposed by their size. Past presidential elections are littered with examples of large campaigns flaming out, like Scott Walker’s short-lived White House bid in 2015, or massively downsizing to try to survive until the voting starts, like John McCain’s in 2007.

There are already signs of the financial stress imposed by hiring a big staff in 2019.

Just over half of Booker’s $5.3 million in total second-quarter expenses were on personnel (including salary, payroll taxes and insurance), and Booker spent $740,000 more than he raised from April through June. Personnel accounted for nearly one-fifth of O’Rourke’s outlays in the second quarter, when he raised $3.6 million but spent a whopping $5.3 million.

Even on the smaller end, staff can still squeeze an upstart presidential campaign budget. Staff costs helped put Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (66 people on salary) and Amy Klobuchar (79) in the red for the second quarter, though both, like Booker, have some cash leftover from their Senate campaign accounts to help handle the expense.

It’s clear why the campaigns want to build up in size, though, and spending breakdowns show how much campaigns value their manpower. Booker is the only candidate whose personnel spending accounted for the majority of overall spending in the second quarter, but Warren’s salaries, payroll taxes and insurance accounted for 39 percent of total expenses, while Sanders and Harris came in at 32 percent.

Steve Elmendorf, a deputy campaign manager on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, said that a large staff can be part of a feedback loop generating attention, fundraising and more staff hiring in a virtuous circle.

“It’s all self-reinforcing,” Elmendorf said. “They’re increasing their seriousness and get you paying more attention to them therefore they raise more money therefore they’re on the debate stage.”

That means a set of steps for the rest of the field, especially candidates who have been lagging in fundraising and polling.

“Everybody else has to figure out how they get in the game financially and get in the game in terms of the narrative out there,” Elmendorf said of the rest of the field. “I assume it’s go to the next debate and do what Kamala did which is try and create some conflict. Then they get noted then they can raise more money then they can hire more people.”

This article was originally published at Politico on July 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author:Daniel Strauss is a politics reporter. He previously covered campaigns and elections for Talking Points Memo and before that was a breaking news reporter for The Hill newspaper. Daniel grew up in Chicago and graduated from the University of Michigan where he majored in history.


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6 years after fast food workers walked off the job, House passes $15 federal minimum wage

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The federal minimum wage would rise to $15 an hour under historic legislation passed Thursday by the House of Representatives.

Three Republicans jumped the aisle to support the Democratic-led measure. Six Democrats defected to vote no. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Donald Trump can now give tens of millions of working people a raise any time they want.

The bill would double the national pay floor in a plan that would roll out gradually, ticking up from the current $7.25 over a six-year period. The measure also permanently pegs the minimum wage to inflation, automating future increases to break a vicious political and economic cycle that’s become the norm over the past half-century.

Congress has not raised the wage floor in a decade. That hike, too, followed a decade of stagnation. So did its predecessor legislation in the 1990s. The government has slipped into a pattern of ignoring wage policy for long stretches as costs of living rise and erode the earning power of the lowest-paid workers in the country.

That cycle has helped fuel the massive economic inequality that’s ravaged the country for decades, through recessions and economic expansions alike. Today’s $7.25 is worth less than the minimum wage of the 1970s in inflation-adjusted terms.

The $15 wage floor wouldn’t just catch workers up for all that lost time and buying power the way past wage hikes have, though: It seeks to establish a higher standard of living for low-wage workers than the previous record high, set in the 1960s. Nearly 20 million workers would see their pay increased by the measure, and an estimated 1.3 million people would be lifted out of poverty.

The sheer magnitude of the hike — more than doubling the pay floor nationwide — has dismayed even some economists who are typically supportive of minimum wage raises in general. Supporters shrug off those worries, noting that the current wage system is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, who are left to make up the difference between corporate poverty wages and what it costs to keep a family alive in the 21st century.

“There’s always been this attempt for some to hold onto this gross inequality and these scare tactics,” Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign told reporters on a call before the vote. “We have had an economy that goes up on Wall Street but it’s fueled by low-wage jobs on back streets and back roads and city streets. That is what we have to end. We cannot really be a full-fledged democracy when you have 140 million people poor and low-wealth, and 62 million people working… for less than a minimum wage.”

If conservatives are distressed here, they have only themselves to blame: Republicans had a chance to cut a reasonable deal almost a decade ago, years before the fast-food walkouts were even underway. Progressives had only wanted a $10.10 federal floor as recently as 2012, arguing that would bring minimum-wage buying power back to its 1970s levels.

The Fight for $15 movement is also an indirect byproduct of longer-running policy failures. After Wall Street wrecked the real economy at the close of the Bush presidency, the wealthy bounced back almost immediately. Taxpayers bailed out bankers first, the government declined to extract ownership stakes in their firms, and the modern American economy returned relatively quickly to business as usual: Income inequality grew steadily.

The anger that set of policy choices instilled in the U.S. electorate and working class has helped foster the political conditions that followed. If the idea of a $15 minimum wage scares anyone who watched the House’s vote Thursday, odds are they should direct their anger towards the people who opted to hang working-class people out to dry for the past decade.

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

About the Author: Alan Pyke  covers poverty and the social safety net. Alan is also a film and music critic for fun. Send him tips at: apyke@thinkprogress.org or


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A Quiet Trump Administration Rule Change Could Allow a Federal Union-Busting Spree

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Image result for Heather GiesThe Trump administration has proposed a change in rules governing union membership for federal government workers that could embolden federal agencies to discourage staff from joining or remaining in their union.

The proposed rule, published in the Federal Register on Friday, would enable federal workers to drop union membership—and opt out of paying membership dues—at any point after their first year of membership. A rolling opt-out rule would mark a break from current practice, in which workers can revoke their membership at yearly intervals upon their anniversary of joining.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, senior lecturer and director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, tells In These Times that beyond a mere administrative tweak allowing workers to opt out of membership whenever they please, the policy opens the door for employers to bully workers out of staying in their union, or joining in the first place. She said the issue of dues deduction could be a pressure point for employers to “intimidate and coerce workers” out of union activity.

Employers, in this context, are the Trump appointees heading dozens of federal agencies that together employ millions of workers, including 1.1 million employeesrepresented by unions. These agencies include the Departments of Veteran’s Affairs, Defense, and Agriculture, the Internal Revenue Service, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many more.

“Under the current administration, we’ve seen very intense anti-union activity,” Bronfenbrenner says. “This is not a law for employees. This is a law to allow employers to push workers out of the union.”

Nicole Cantello, president of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 704 representing 1,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota, tells In These Times such rules interfere in the union-worker relationship by eliminating the opportunity for meaningful conversations about why a member might consider leaving the union, or what she calls a “cooling off period.”

“We’re already struggling under a similar rule,” Cantello said, referring to directives in a contract the EPA “imposed” on nearly 9,000 EPA employees. “We feel it is equivalent to union busting.”

The latest salvo in an ongoing attack

J. David Cox, national president of AFGE representing 700,000 federal and D.C. government workers, said in a statement that the Trump administration’s rule change request represents “part of an all-out assault on federal employees’ collective bargaining rights.”

“They are throwing out our contracts, enforcing illegal executive orders, and now trying to make it harder for workers to join and stay in the union,” Cox said. “Their ultimate goal is to destroy federal sector unions, and we will do everything in our ability to prevent that from happening.”

The proposed change comes amid a series of moves aimed at hollowing out federal unions. Those efforts received a boost this week when the U.S. Court of Appeals gave the green light to Trump’s executive orders limiting collective bargaining and the amount of time federal workers can spend on union activities. The National Labor Relations Board also just made it easier for employers in both the public and private sector to eliminate unions.

The proposed membership withdrawal change also follows on the heels of Janus v. AFSCME, a 2018 Supreme Court decision that barred public sector unions from collecting “fair share dues” from workers who are represented by the union, but who opt out of full membership. Janus, the result of a suit bankrolled by right-wing think tanks, brought the rest of the public sector in line with the status quo for federal workers’ unions, where union membership and dues payment was already voluntary. By invoking Janus, which argued that fair share dues infringe on workers’ free speech rights, the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) new membership revocation proposal lays bare its anti-union sentiment.

“Consistent with Janus,” the proposed rule states, “upon receiving an employee’s request to revoke a previously authorized union dues assignment, an agency should process the request as soon as administratively feasible, if at least one year has passed since the employee initially authorized union-dues assignment from the employee’s pay.”

Borrowing Corporate America’s playbook

The drive to wipe out federal unions isn’t new. “They have wanted to get rid of AFGE and other federal unions for a long time,” Bronfenbrenner said, pointing to the history of Reagan era union-busting and privatization under both Bush administrations. Now,  increased organizing in federal unions in recent years—including a historic 2011 AFGE win securing a bargaining unit of 44,000 Transportation Security Officers as well as support among federal workers for the $15 minimum wage campaign—could further unsettle the anti-union bosses at the helm under Trump.

“This administration is tied with Corporate America,” Bronfenbrenner adds. “They are going to act in the federal sector the way they’ve acted in the private sector.”

In research published in a 2009 briefing paper, Bronfenbrenner found that “the overwhelming majority” of private sector employers in the United States “are willing to use a broad arsenal of legal and illegal tactics to interfere with the rights of workers,” including a “combination of threats, interrogation, surveillance, and harassment” to undermine union election processes.

Bronfenbrenner tells In These Times that anti-union maneuvers, from Janus to the rule change on federal union membership revocation, introduce a similar playbook to the public sector. Together, she believes these actions are about “giving employers more power to bust unions.”

Conservative groups such as the State Policy Network, which helped fund Janus, already have aggressively targeted public sector workers urging them to opt out of their unions, but those campaigns have proved far less effective at ushering in a fatal blow to unions than many anticipated.

The OPM, the federal agency that manages the government workforce and human resources matters, submitted the proposed rule to the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which will accept public comments on the policy change until August 12.

Bronfenbrenner says the new guidelines would ultimately enable employers to “interfere with the day-to-day ability of workers to engage with the union without fear of intimidation, coercion, and threats.”

“The way the law has worked, once you are part of the union, it has been an unfair labor practice [and] a violation of labor law for the employer to oppose your participation in the union,” she said. “But with Janus, and now this, the employer has the ability to interfere with your membership in the union, and that goes against the way the law has been interpreted for years.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 18,  2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Heather Gies is a freelance journalist who has written on human rights, social movements and environmental issues for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, In These Times and National Geographic. Follow her on twitter @HeatherGies.


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Sorry to Bother You: Worker Wins

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Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with big victories for working people in the Minnesota legislature and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.

Minnesota Legislative Session Yields Victories for Working People: As the legislature finished up its work for the current session, several bills that will benefit working people were passed. Among the bills pursued as part of Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Legislative Agenda of Dignity, Justice & Freedom for Working Minnesotans that passed are making wage theft a criminal felony offense, eliminating the sunset provision on the health care provider tax that funds care for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans and expanding the Working Families Tax Credit for unreimbursed work expenses. About the legislation, Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy (UNITE HERE) said: “Despite being one of only two states with divided government, the 2019 legislative session yielded big wins for working Minnesotans, including the strongest law in the nation to combat wage theft. We applaud Governor Walz and the House majority for putting working people at the center of their legislative priorities this year.”

Inspired by Rapper and Filmmaker Boots Riley, Salt Lake Film Society Staff Unionize: Front-of-house staff at the Salt Lake Film Society were inspired by Boots Riley’s film “Sorry to Bother You” to reach out to the Utah AFL-CIO who connected them with an organizer from IATSE. After doing the hard work to organize the new unit, the staffers got more than 80% to sign cards in favor of unionizing. The drive got a boost from Riley himself when he sent the organizers a video message. Riley said: “So much of what you do is getting stories to people. And the thing about what happens when people come together and fight, especially when they do that on the job, is it starts to tell a story to other people…it’s about the story that is being told to millions of other people that will be finding out about what you are doing….What you’re doing is very important, and I’m inspired by you.”

Vox Media Staffers Secure First Collective Bargaining Agreement: After 14 months of negotiations and a one-day walkout, staffers at Vox Media have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. The bargaining committee tweeted: “We are thrilled to announce we have reached a tentative agreement with Vox Media for our first-ever collective bargaining agreement. Our unit still needs to ratify our contract, but we are proud of what we have won in this agreement and can’t wait to share the details.”

Nevada Governor Signs Bill Extending Collective Bargaining Rights to 20,000 Working People: Gov. Steve Sisolak recently signed S.B. 135 into law. The legislation expands collective bargaining rights to more than 20,000 Nevada state employees. About the legislation, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said: “This bill is about respect for state employees who make their communities stronger every day. By signing this bill, Governor Sisolak demonstrates his understanding of the importance of giving working people a seat at the table and the voice on the job they deserve. Americans are looking for an answer to a rigged economy that favors the wealthy, and it’s clear that they are turning to unions in growing numbers. It is time to make it easier all across the country for working people to join in strong unions.”

Fiesto Rancho Casino Workers Vote to Join Culinary Union: After 85% of the nearly 150 workers who voted said they were in favor of unionizing, the Fiesta Rancho Hotel & Casino becomes the sixth Station Casinos property in Las Vegas to unionize since 2016. Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers Union, said: “Workers are standing up and fighting! Two Station Casinos’ properties have voted to unionize by a majority this week. We call on Station Casinos to immediately negotiate and settle a fair contract for the workers at Fiesta Rancho, Sunset Station, Palms, Green Valley Ranch, Palace Station and Boulder Station.”

Radio Station Employees at Santa Monica’s KCRW Join SAG-AFTRA: More than 90 public media professionals at radio station KCRW voted to be represented by SAG-AFTRA. The workers delivered a petition signed by more than 75% of staffers with a request to form a union. SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said: “On behalf of SAG-AFTRA members, I am thrilled to welcome KCRW to our union family. KCRW is a one-of-a-kind radio station that produces some of Los Angeles’ most dynamic and diverse programming, and we’re excited to make sure everyone’s voice is heard through the collective bargaining process.”

Stagehands Ratify Collective Bargaining Event with DNC Venue: Stagehands working at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee have ratified a contract with the venue, which will host the Democratic National Convention in 2020. IATSE Vice President Craig Carlson said: “This agreement illustrates that both parties believe in the dignity of hard work, the honor it instills and the respect it commands. Our agreement rewards all workers with safe working conditions, fair wages and meaningful benefits. I commend Fiserv Forum’s Management and [IATSE] Local 18 for putting together an agreement which will lead to the future success of both workers and management. We look forward to a wonderful relationship.”

Working People at Ikea Distribution Centers in Illinois Vote to Join IAM: Nearly 200 distribution center workers employed at Ikea have voted to be represented by the Machinists (IAM). The organizing campaign is part of a larger IAM campaign to unionize workers at Ikea distribution and fulfillment centers throughout the world. Dennis Mendenhall, who led IAM’s campaign in Illinois, said: “These hardworking men and women are proud to work at Ikea and do tremendous work for this company. Yes, joining the IAM gives them the opportunity to negotiate on wages, benefits and work rules. But this campaign was mostly about fairness and a voice on the job, as well as ensuring that the profits they create also benefit their families and communities.”

AT&T Workers in the Midwest Reach Tentative Agreement on Contract: Technicians and Installers who work for AT&T and are represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), reached two tentative agreements with the telecom giant. Some 8,000 employees are covered by the agreements, which have to be approved by the union’s membership. CWA District 4 Vice President Linda L. Hinton said: “I am incredibly proud of our AT&T Midwest bargaining teams and our members. We did not back down and our agreement reflects the priorities we brought to the bargaining table on jobs, health care and employment security.”

Guggenheim Museum Staffers Join Local 30 of the Operating Engineers: Art handlers and facilities staff at the Guggenheim Museum in New York have voted to join the Operating Engineers (IUOE). The union will represent about 90 workers at the museum. An anonymous art handler, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s incredibly exciting. Workers were able to unite behind a movement despite extensive attempts to exploit divisions by Guggenheim management. It signals a future ability to create a strong contract that benefits all of us equally.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on July 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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