Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Work then, work now, and organizing to win: Five books about labor in the United States

Share this post

As the Trump administration redoubles decades of Republican efforts to beat U.S. workers and their unions into fearful submission, it’s worth thinking about where we’ve come from, how workers fought for some of the rights we now take for granted—and some of those we’re in danger of losing—as well as where we’re going, and how to make it a better place than Trump has in mind. Here are some books to help do exactly that, looking at the history of work and worker organizing in the U.S., at what it’s like to be a low-wage worker in the U.S. today, and at how to organize for a better future.

Erik Loomis’ A History of America in Ten Strikes is just that—and it’s innovative and exciting in how it fulfills its title. Some of the strikes you may have heard of, like the Lowell mill girls or the Flint sit-down strikes. Some you may not have thought of as strikes, like the ways enslaved people fought back, withheld their labor, and ultimately fled to the Union army. But, Loomis writes, “We cannot fight against pro-capitalist mythology in American society if we do not know our shared history of class struggle. This book reconsiders American history from the perspective of class struggle not by erasing the other critical parts of our history—the politics, the social change, and the struggles around race and gender—but rather by demonstrating how the history of worker uprisings shines a light on these other issues.” In line with that promise, each chapter considers not only a particular strike, but also the context in which it happened.

Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age is the examination of the labor movement in recent years/critique of the broader progressive movement/analysis of power structures/organizing handbook you may not have known you needed, but you do. McAlevey uses a series of post-2000 case studies, from the Chicago Teachers Union to “the world’s largest pork production facility,” to argue that “for movements to build maximum power—the power required in the hardest campaigns—there is no substitute for a real, bottom-up organizing model.” Organizing, she writes, “places the agency for success with a continually expanding base of ordinary people, a mass of people never previously involved, who don’t consider themselves activists at all—that’s the point of organizing.” And it’s with organizing, McAlevey makes the case, rather than with advocacy or mobilization, that big change can be made.

Steven Greenhouse’s Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor is a good overview of the arc of the labor movement, from Triangle Shirtwaist to Walter Reuther and the UAW to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to the teacher uprising of the past couple of years. This is a good book to give a relative or friend who needs an intro text, someone who’s sympathetic to workers and open to the appeal of unions but isn’t all-in for organizing. What’s particularly striking about this book is the contrast it presents with the author’s earlier The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, of which I wrote in 2008, “Having clearly shown that it is corporations that most need to change their practices to improve the lot of American workers, Greenhouse is unwilling to suggest that they be confronted in any meaningful way.” Where that book shied away from acknowledging the reality that its detailed reporting laid bare, that corporations are making war on workers, Beaten Down, Worked Up is more willing to confront the political implications of corporate power, while retaining Greenhouse’s stellar reporting skills that make the stories he tells so compelling.

Emily Guendelsberger’s On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane is a book in the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. After being laid off from a reporting job, Guendelsberger spent time working three different low-wage jobs. She worked in an Amazon warehouse, a call center, and a McDonald’s. Much of the book, of course, is about the routine indignities of these jobs and the financial struggle of making ends meet while working them (though Guendelsberger is clear throughout that “I get to leave”). But what sets it apart is the focus on how technology is used to monitor and control workers, extracting every last possible drop of labor from them—from being timed down to the second at every task to force them to work at top speed through entire shifts to sophisticated scheduling software that ensures that there’s always a line at McDonald’s because there are never quite enough workers. For anyone who thinks that their experience in fast food or retail 15 or 20 years ago means that they know what those jobs are like now, this book is an important corrective.

Joe Burns’ Strike Back: Rediscovering Militant Tactics to Fight the Attacks on Public Employee Unions is an update of a 2014 book—and yes, this is a topic that needed updating between 2014 and 2019. Burns notes that in 2014 “the attacks on public employee unionism were already well underway” in Wisconsin and elsewhere. But those attacks have continued, reaching the Supreme Court with its Janus decision and, of course, reaching the White House with Donald Trump. In response, though, workers—especially teachers—are fighting back. This book offers some of the history behind public employee unions, a history of specific challenges that are being raised again, and a history of militance that is likewise once again relevant.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Share this post

It sure is great to be in the top 1%, this week in the war on workers

Share this post

If you’ve been in the workforce since 1979, how much have your wages gone up? If you’re a little younger, how much have the wages for a job like yours gone up in those years? I bet it’s not 157.8%—unless, of course, you’re in the top 1%.

By contrast, wages for the bottom 90% grew by 23.9% between 1979 and 2018, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis. The top 1% still lags one group, though, and that’s the top 0.1%, which saw its wages rise by 340.7% in those years.

This is economic inequality in action, and it’s reshaped the economy. “The bottom 90% earned 69.8% of all earnings in 1979 but only 61.0% in 2018. In contrast the top 1.0% increased its share of earnings from 7.3% in 1979 to 13.3% in 2018, a near-doubling,” EPI’s Lawrence Mishel and Melat Kassa write. “The growth of wages for the top 0.1% is the major dynamic driving the top 1.0% earnings as the top 0.1% more than tripled its earnings share from 1.6% in 1979 to 5.1% in 2018.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Share this post

Michigan steel mill closure announced two days after Trump told Michigan crowd ‘steel is back’

Share this post

Donald Trump, Wednesday in Michigan: “Look what I’ve done for steel. I mean, the steel is back. We taxed all the dumb steel coming in from China and other places, and US steel mills are doing great — they’re expanding all over the country, and they were gonna be out of business within two years the way they were going.”

Friday, CNN reported that US Steel is closing its Great Lakes Works mill near Detroit, with a loss of 1,500 jobs. The company will shift steel production to a mill in Gary, Indiana, and will also continue making sheets of steel outside of Pittsburgh and in Arkansas.

Trump’s steel tariffs did briefly give the industry a boost, but obviously things are not going so well recently, and 1,500 workers are getting some terrible news for the holidays, though the facility won’t close until spring.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Share this post

“The Algorithm Made Us Do It”: How Bosses at Instacart “Mathwash” Labor Exploitation

Share this post

Image result for Audrey Winn"

Instacart is messing with workers’ tips, again. The company’s workers are so fed up hundreds of them are out on strike this week.

Instacart—a gig economy company for same-day grocery delivery—has had problems with tipping date back to 2016. At that time, Instacart removed tipping from the app, before being shamed into reinstating a tipping policy the next month. Then, in 2018, the company altered its policy again by counting customer tips toward workers’ guaranteed $10 base pay—leading to situations where customers were paying almost the full base, with little contribution from Instacart. Now, Instacart is taking aim at the default tip amount. When customers finish their Instacart orders, the app had previously suggested a tip of 10%. This was unilaterally discontinued and replaced by a 5% default.

In response to the default tip change, Instacart worker and organizer Vanessa Bain penned an impassioned Medium post last month which inspired a walkout of more than a thousand workers demanding reinstatement of the 10% default. Instead of improving conditions in the workplace, their collective action was met with discouraging news. Two days after the walk-out, Instacart slashed workers’ “quality” bonus pay—one of the only remaining pay incentives on the app, and an incentive that has been alleged to make up to 40% of the average Instacart workers’ already low income (some estimates put this between 30 and 35%). The company also did not respond to the concerns workers aired in the Medium post.

Starting December 16 and extending to December 21, over 300 Instacart workers are expected to strike again to challenge Instacart’s incentive cut, tip default changes, and declining work conditions generally, with events scheduled each day.

Amid mounting outrage, Instacart has attempted to deflect criticism by vaguely citing data. “During the last year, we offered a new version of the quality bonus and found that it did not meaningfully improve quality,” the company told shoppers over email in November, after the first walkout. “As a result, we will no longer be offering the quality bonus beginning next week.”

Through this statement, the company blamed unverified, unexplained metrics for the cuts, not its own exploitative model. The metric is presumably based on data, but workers and consumers are never given insight into that data. While the jargon is new, the underlying reality is not: A closer examination reveals this is just a justification for good, old-fashioned exploitation.

By what metric does Instacart measure whether an incentive can “meaningfully improve” quality? For an improvement to be “meaningful,” what quantitative or qualitative factors must be present? Is there a specific “quality” that is being measured, and how does it take into account worker quality of life? Furthermore, how does the company justify the gap between its lowest- and highest-paid employees? The average Instacart executive compensation is $279,596 a year—with the most compensated executive making $790,000. In contrast, the average Instacart worker is making between $9.81 and $12.96 an hour.

By brushing off worker complaints through references to unexplained data that is available to neither workers nor consumers, Instacart is attempting to utilize an insidious rhetorical tactic: “mathwashing.”

Coined by tech-entrepreneur Fred Benenson, the term “mathwashing” can be used to describe attempts to use math terms like “algorithm” to gloss over a more subjective reality. In the case of Instacart, algorithms are being used to justify poor work conditions, since a faceless algorithm is more convenient to blame than the greedy bosses behind the decisions. Benenson is clear in describing why this is a problem.

“This habit goes way back to the early days of computers when they were first entering businesses in the 1960s and 1970s,” he stated, in an interview with Technical.ly Brooklyn. “Everyone hoped the answers they supplied were more true than what humans could come up with, but they eventually realized computers were only as good as their programmers.”

Though Benenson originally used the term to describe how Facebook’s trending topics were not neutral, but instead manipulated by Facebook’s data engineers, it arguably applies to Instacart and a lot of the “don’t blame the bosses, blame the algorithm” language that is common across the gig economy. While other companies like Uber and AirBnb have relied on this rhetoric, however, Instacart is a particularly egregious abuser.

Talking with TechCrunch in 2016, CEO Apoorva Mehta relied on jargon and abstract language to defend workers’ low wages. He praised his workers’ “NPS score” and noted that wages were “not a zero-sum game” because “the problem that we’re trying to solve is very hard.”

Instacart’s process for deciding how to delegate orders is described by its website as a “Stochastic Capacitated Vehicle Routing Problem with Time Windows for Multiple Trips.” In describing delivery scenarios, Instacart’s website discusses using “time-based simulations” to replay “the history of customer and shopper behaviors with the existing algorithm and the new one.” The section shows colorful graphs and charts that fail to describe most of their variables, including one that simply lists “metric” instead of even pretending to have a quantity for measuring efficiency. The language is so loaded with jargon and italics that it is likely inaccessible to the average consumer or worker.

While this jargon conveys little, Instacart uses it to market the company’s “genius” design. To help readers understand that they are dealing with a company that is much smarter than themselves, Instacart includes a grocery-inspired illustration of Albert Einstein to accompany explanations of its black-box algorithim. Instead of leaving with a sense of awe, however, readers leave with a sense of having participated in a game of smoke and mirrors. The explanation reads less like a helpful primer and more like a desperate attempt to get consumers to believe anything other than the truth. Namely, that the company is the “despot” in control of its own algorithm.

This is not a marvel of technological innovation. It is a marvel of exploitation. You don’t need an advanced mathematics degree to know the score.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on December 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Audrey Winn is a Skadden Fellowship Attorney working and writing in New York City. She is passionate about workers’ rights, algorithmic transparency, and the inclusion of gig workers in the future of the labor movement.

Share this post

Cities Aren’t Waiting for a Federal Green New Deal

Share this post

In 1992, recognizing that not all countries had contributed equally to the climate crisis, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change codified the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” This framework insists that developed countries “take the lead in combating climate change” by transitioning to clean energy more rapidly, in order to allow time for developing nations to catch up to the same standard of living.

But it’s not just countries that are disproportionately liable for decades of emissions. One hundred cities account for nearly a fifth of our global carbon footprint. Three of the top 10 are in the United States: New York (3), Los Angeles (5), and Chicago (8)—these cities alone make up nearly 10% of U.S. emissions.

This may seem counterintuitive. Dense cities, after all, are more energy efficient and data suggests that per capita emissions actually decrease with urban population growth. But after analyzing the carbon footprints of over 13,000 cities around the world, one study found that combined high population and high income made cities disproportionately high emitters.

Within wealthy cities, high-consumption lifestyles drive emissions, and those lifestyles are shaped by the architecture of our urban environment. Everything from the shape of the city and the length of commutes to bike- and pedestrian-friendliness, robustness of public transportation (and/or highway) infrastructure, and the physical buildings themselves drive emissions. Rather than simply insisting people change their lifestyles to tackle the climate crisis, we need to insist on changing the cities that shape those lifestyles. And—with the federal government unlikely to pass a Green New Deal until at least 2021—a number of cities are starting to do just that.

Just ahead of Earth Day, the New York City Council passed a historic package of climate legislation that many have called a Green New Deal for New York City. At the center of the Climate Mobilization Act is a bill that mandates buildings over 25,000 square feet reduce emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Behind the scenes, grassroots organizers had been forming a diverse coalition that united low-income communities of color with predominantly white climate activists over a period of several years. “In the end we won because of the coalition building and campaign work that we did,” says Pete Sikora, Climate & Inequality Campaigns Director for New York Communities for Change.

Buildings account for nearly 70% of carbon emissions in New York City, which has the largest carbon footprint of any urban area in the country. The city plans on implementing the policy through the creation of a new Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance which would set performance standards, monitor building energy use and emissions, and determine penalties for buildings that fail to comply.

“There is no way to address the [energy] grid or the radical change needed to reach massive pollution cuts without prioritizing energy efficiency,” Sikora says. The goal is to reduce energy use to such a degree that large buildings, which often rely on fossil fueled-powered boilers and gas for heat and cooking, could be fully powered by the electric grid.

The importance of addressing buildings in general cannot be overstated. Globally, building operations, materials and construction account for nearly 40% of energy use. According to Architecture 2030, the global building stock will double by 2060. “This,” they say, “is the equivalent of adding an entire New York City every month for 40 years.”

While the federal government can set national emissions targets and provide federal funds to cities, much will be left to local governments to monitor and enforce energy efficiency standards—a task too big for the federal government to handle alone.

In July, Berkeley, Calif., became the first city in the United States to ban natural gas use in new buildings. Thirteen other cities across California followed shortly after, enacting new building codes that either require or encourage new construction to be run completely on electricity. In Philadelphia, organizers are pressuring the city council to pass similar legislation. This marks a significant first step towards long-term, government-enforced emissions standards. These progressive cities across the country are beginning to establish what will hopefully become a new normal.

Even with fossil fuel use eliminated within buildings, though, electricity is still only as clean as the grid that supplies it. In New York state, a grassroots organizing coalition successfully pushed for a recent state law requiring the grid to be 70% powered by renewable energy by 2030 and emissions-free by 2050. And around the country, local progressive groups are hard at work trying to put electric utilities under public ownership. The Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has been waging a fierce campaign, in collaboration with some of the city’s six socialist city council members, to bring their main electric utility company, ComEd, under municipal control. Similar DSA campaigns to take back the grid have appeared in New York City; Boston; New Haven, Conn.; East Bay, Calif.; and Providence, R.I.

“Our main campaign is energy democracy and we see that as a key aspect of winning a Green New Deal” say Sydney Ghazarian, who serves on the steering committee of DSA’s National Ecosocialist Working Group, which she helped found in 2017. (Full disclosure: This author is a member of DSA, though not involved with the ecosocialist working group.)

She and a few other members, Ghazarian says, “realized that [the climate crisis] was going to be the ultimate contradiction of capitalism” and would “require massive restructuring so socialists needed to be on the forefront of this issue.” The first priority for the Ecosocialist Working Group was infrastructure to implement municipal-level climate campaigns in local DSA chapters.
“We can’t wait until 2021 to start,” Ghazarian says. “What we can do is actually make real changes at the city level and the local level to start [the transition].” While supporting candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is pushing for a national Green New Deal, DSA chapters have also been on the ground organizing a working-class base of supporters by engaging with people where they are: overwhelmingly, in cities.

There is an additional political advantage to organizing at the city-level: dense urban areas, to a great degree, are more inclined to vote blue than their rural counterparts. And enough large cities, accounting for much of the country’s population, taking serious climate action can put pressure on the federal government to pass decisive legislation.
Over 1,200 cities around the world have already declared a state of “climate emergency,” Oxford Dictionary’s 2019 word of the year. It’s a necessary first step and one national governments have been disinclined to take. “We have to shift into emergency mode,” says Laura Berry, research and publications director at The Climate Mobilization (TCM), which has helped lead this movement through their Climate Emergency Declaration campaign.

The goal of the organization is to catalyze a World War II-scale mobilization to reverse the climate crisis. In 2016, Bernie Sanders embraced TCM’s demand, and helped introduced it to the Democratic Party platform. But when Trump won the election, the organization shifted its focus to the local level. With Republicans holding the White House, Senate and a majority of state legislatures, cities are proving the best option for short-term change.

The organization has laid out a template for local government to declare a state of emergency with the hopes of “building upward.”  “Federal and international negotiations have been incredibly ineffective in addressing the crisis that we are facing,” Berry says. “We see local governments as playing a really important role in advocating and pushing for stronger action at the state and national level.”

Nothing can substitute the need for international cooperation or a federal Green New Deal. But without municipal efforts to cooperate and enforce climate legislation, many of these policies, to borrow a pun from Sikora, will just be blowing a lot of hot air.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on December 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Indigo Olivier is an editorial intern at In These Times. Follow her on Twitter: @IndigoOlivier.

Share this post

Charter Schools’ Billion-Dollar Fraud Stinks Worse Than We Thought

Share this post

Jeff Bryant

Earlier this year, when members of Congress repeatedly confronted U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about a study finding the federal government’s charter school grant program had wasted an estimated $1 billion on schools that had never opened or opened and quickly closed, she dismissed the findings and accused the report authors of having a “political agenda against charter schools.” On December 10, the organization that published the study DeVos disparaged issued a more detailed examination of waste in the government’s charter grant program and concluded the $1 billion figure was indeed likely not correct—it was an underestimate.

The report “Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste” by the Network for Public Education (NPE) calculates approximately $1.17 billion in federal funding has been spent on charters that either never opened or that opened and have since shut down. Much of the added waste the study found in the charter program comes from the researchers’ findings that way more of these charters have closed or never opened than originally estimated. Based on its second pass through of the data, NPE upped the failure rate of taxpayer-funded charter startups from 30 percent to 37 percent.

The new report arrives at an especially critical time in the discussion about charter schools in the Democratic presidential primary.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the four front-runners in the race, has proposed “halting the use of public funds to underwrite new charter schools.” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, another front-runner, has pledged to, if elected, “eliminate” the federal charter school grant program and “end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools.”

Warren in particular has been taking the brunt of the pushback from charter supporters, who contend her call for ending the federal grant program for charter schools is “threatening the freedom” charters enjoy.

A pro-charter advocacy group recently interrupted Warren when she spoke at a campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia, and a video interview Warren recently had with the National Education Association, in which she restates her opposition to charter school expansions, prompted New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait to imply Warren’s opposition to federal funding of charter schools is for political reasons and an effort to gain the support of teachers’ unions.

In her K-12 plan, Warren cites the first NPE report, “Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride,” which I coauthored with NPE executive director Carol Burris. Warren’s campaign document repeats that report’s conclusions that “the federal government has wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never even opened, or opened and then closed because of mismanagement and other reasons.”

Because the newer report, which I also contributed to, finds the amount of waste is even worse, Warren and Sanders have had their positions strengthened, and other presidential candidates will likely feel more pressure to explain exactly how they would, if elected, stanch the drain of public funds from the federal charter grant program and take steps to address widespread fraud, corruption, and financial mismanagement of public money in the charter school industry.

Deeper Dive Into Wasted Charter School Funding

The first “Asleep at the Wheel” report, admittedly, “barely skimmed the surface” of the waste in the federal charter program. It also called attention to warnings from the education department’s own inspector general that the charter grant program was poorly monitored, and it scrutinized the application process to get the grants, noting that applicants frequently gave false or misleading information about their schools and programs, and application reviewers did little to no research on individuals and organizations asking for the money.

This new report provides a more thorough, state-by-state accounting of federal funds given to grantees from 2006 to 2014, the only data window the department has made available. (Astonishingly, during the first decade of the program, from 1995 to 2005, there is no record of how charter school grant money from the federal government—over $1 billion—was spent.) Based on the failure rate of schools in the publicly available dataset, the amount of federal tax dollars wasted on charter schools that never opened or quickly closed is likely $1.17 billion.

Although the overall rate of failed charter projects was 37 percent, in some states the rate of failure was much higher. States where the failure rate of charters receiving federal grants exceeded 50 percent include Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Virginia, and Washington (state).

The amount of waste in taxpayer funds varied considerably from state to state.

In Georgia, 23 million federal dollars were wasted when 75 percent of the charter schools awarded government grants failed. The percentage of defunct charter school grantees in Florida matched the national average at 37 percent, resulting in $34.2 million in wasted taxpayer funds. In Michigan that failure rate was over 44 percent, costing taxpayers $21 million, and in Louisiana, $25.5 million went down the drain as 46 percent of the charter startups failed. But the most scandalous waste was in California where nearly $103 million was awarded to charters that never opened or have shut down—a 37 percent failure rate.

Money Given to ‘Ghost Schools’ That Never Opened

Details about the amount of money wasted on charter schools that never opened, which the report calls “ghost schools,” are infuriating.

NPE identified 537 charter schools in total that received public-financed government grants and never opened for even one day. According to the education department’s data, those schools received, or were due to receive, a total of $45.5 million.

Twenty-eight states had at least one charter ghost school, but California again was among the worst, where 61 charter operators pledged to open schools but never did, wasting $8.36 million. Michigan topped the list, though, where 72 grant recipients never opened their schools. Over $7.7 million was wasted there.

Drawing from records NPE obtained through a FOIA request to Michigan’s state education department, the report spotlights some egregious examples of how money given to start new charter schools never made it to classrooms, teachers, and students. Hundreds of thousands of precious education dollars went instead to the charter developers themselves, to for-profit consulting and education management organizations, to lease arrangements with school building owners, and to purchases of computers, printers, and other equipment that was never accounted for or given back to school districts when the schools failed to open.

One story the report recounts is about how a private consultant and her company hopped from one defunct charter school in Michigan to another, taking advantage of federal grants every time, to extract tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from schools that never opened or were open for only brief periods of time.

Another example: a Michigan couple who received a $100,00 “planning grant” to open a new charter used the grant to pay themselves $53,920 and purchase laptops, a printer, and Wi-Fi services worth $4,679.11. The school never opened.

Public Funds Went to For-Profit Schools

NPE’s report also found substantial funds from the federal charter school grant program went to for-profit businesses even though the program’s guidelines limit grant awards to only nonprofit organizations. A total of $124,929,017 in federal start-up funds in the education department’s database of grant awardees went to 357 schools that are run by major for-profit chains.

How does this happen? As the report notes, only one state, Arizona, technically allows charter schools to be incorporated as for-profit corporations, yet 34 states allow for-profit management companies to contract with charter schools. These contracts create a convoluted system in which the charter serves as a passthrough for the for-profit corporation to make money from the school by providing staffing, curriculum, classroom furniture, computer equipment and software, and, in many cases, serve as the school’s landlord.

One example the report delves into is a chain of charter schools in Florida that were connected to White Hat Management Corporation, a now-defunct Ohio-based, for-profit school management company that used to be in five states. Nine of the schools in the Florida charter chain received grants from the federal government ranging from $25,000 to $705,696. All the schools are now closed, but nearly all that money likely ended up in White Hat accounts.

Some of the schools paid 97 percent of their income to White Hat, including to a separate White Hat real estate company for lease payments on buildings owned by White Hat. When White Hat also went out of business, any remaining assets the company had were sold to other privately operated charter management groups, even if those assets had been purchased with public money.

Both Sanders and Warren have called for bans on federal money going to for-profit charter schools. Other presidential candidates including former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have joined in this proposal. But candidates need to be clear that when they call for ending federal funds to expand for-profit charter schools, they also must call for ending federal funding of for-profit real estate businesses and management firms connected to the schools.

‘Down the Drain’

DeVos and the charter school industry will quite likely dismiss this new report from NPE as they did the first one.

There’s a substantial history of charter school proponents refusing to reflect on even the most reasonable criticism of their schools. Any negative reporting on the practical reality and consequences of charter schools, no matter how well documented, is often branded by charter school proponents and the media as an “attack” on all charters and an effort to undermine African American and Latinx families who send children to charters in greater proportions than white parents do.

After Warren was interrupted by a pro-charter group of predominantly black parents during her speech at the Atlanta campaign rally, she met with the protest organizers to learn more about their objections to her K-12 education plan and its proposals to curb the growth of charter schools.

During the exchange, there was a revealing moment when Warren pointed out to her critics that even if she were successful in her efforts to end the federal charter school grant program, her other proposal to increase federal spending on K-12 schools—principally, her proposal to quadruple federal Title I funds that go to schools serving low-income children, which includes many charter schools—would exceed what charters would lose by shutting down the grant program.

One of the charter school organizers, former superintendent of Milwaukee public schools Howard Fuller, who is a longtime advocate of charter schools and school voucher programs, countered that public schools will just “absorb” whatever additional money Warren proposes and the money “is going to go down the drain” unless there are “significant structural changes” that allow for charters and other forms of school choice in the system.

But given the results of this new report, anyone truly concerned about financial “drains” on public education would conclude Warren’s proposal to end the federal charter grant program is really the right way to go.

 

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.  Jeff Bryant, chief correspondent for Our Schools  is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on December 16, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.


Share this post

DNC expresses hope that labor dispute will be defused ahead of this week’s debate

Share this post

Caitlin Oprysko

The Democratic National Committee said Monday that it expects parties involved in a labor dispute threatening to upend this week’s Democratic primary debate to “promptly” return to the negotiating table.

Xochitl Hinojosa, the committee’s communications director, cited Chairman Tom Perez’s experience as Labor secretary under former President Barack Obama, writing that he’d handled “several labor disputes” in that role and “understands how much of a priority it is to get people back at the table.”

She added: “We expect it to happen promptly. Stay tuned.”

Throughout the day Friday, all seven White House hopefuls who’d qualified for Thursday’s PBS NewsHour/POLITICO debate threatened to skip the event, pledging they would not cross the picket line of campus workers locked in a labor dispute.

UNITE HERE Local 11, a union representing 150 cashiers, cooks, dishwashers and servers at Loyola Marymount University, where the debate is scheduled to be held, said last week that it had not yet reached a collective bargaining agreement with Sodexo, a global services company that employs the workers and is subcontracted by the university to handle food service operations.

The union began talks with Sodexo this spring, but said the company recently canceled scheduled contract negotiations after workers and students began picketing on campus in November.

In a statement Friday, the DNC said both the committee and Loyola Marymount had only found out about the dispute that day, and would work to find a solution to allow the debate to go forward. Perez said then that he “would absolutely not cross a picket line and would never expect our candidates to either.”

On Sunday, union co-President Susan Minato said that the group hoped to resume negotiations on Tuesday “or sooner” in hopes of reaching a resolution by Thursday, and expressed gratitude for the Democratic candidates who’d offered their support.

The planned protests and candidates’ ultimatums represent the second time a campus labor fight has scrambled plans for the December debate, which will be the last such event of 2019. After announcing the University of California, Los Angeles, as the debate’s initial venue in late October, the DNC later announced the university would not host the event.

This article was originally published on Politico on December 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Caitlin is a breaking news reporter for POLITICO. She joined POLITICO Pro in 2016 as a web producer before moving into the senior web producer role, where she edited and produced Pro content daily in addition to authoring the Afternoon Energy newsletter and contributing to the Prescription Pulse newsletter. During a stint on POLITICO’s Legislative Compass team, she covered an omnibus spending bill, the farm bill and several appropriations bills from their introduction to the president’s desk.Before coming to POLITICO, Caitlin worked on the social desk for ABC News’ D.C. Bureau, where she used social media to monitor coverage areas, curated images and videos for broadcasts, pitched and reported out stories and collaborated on breaking news. Caitlin is a graduate of the University of Georgia, where she covered state and local news and worked for the student-run newscast Grady Newsource.


Share this post

Democrats box in Republicans on drug pricing

Share this post

Burgess Everett

After months of wrangling, House Democrats finally passed a massive bill aimed at lowering drug prices. And Senate Republicans are flummoxed over how to respond.

The GOP is in a jam that makes action appear somewhere between unlikely and impossible. But if Republicans fail to act, it could easily become a major political liability for the party given the salience of high drug prices in public polling and President Donald Trump’s desire for sweeping reforms.

Yet with an election year cresting and massive divisions among his members, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is staying put. Associates say the Kentucky Republican is not eager to make a move that splits his caucus and could incur the wrath of the well-financed pharmaceutical industry.

A final decision will wait until after the Senate’s impeachment trial. Many Senate Republicans, however, know they need to do something to satisfy Trump and avoid the awful optics of doing nothing at all.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) this summer advanced a bill that would fine drugmakers that hike prices above inflation rates, but from the start it had more Democratic support than Republican backing. Even though a significant number of GOP members say it’s a bold stroke with crucial presidential support, many Republicans liken the move to price controls that would kill innovation.

“God, I don’t know. We’re stuck with a price control concept,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, referring to his opposition to Grassley’s bill. Trump “is nonconventional as a Republican. He would go to price controls … [McConnell] probably wants what I want.”

Summing up the party’s headache, the South Carolina senator said: ‘We’re not divided on if we should do something. We’re divided over what we should do. And I don’t think either of us as a party can walk away and end up doing nothing.”

Fresh off their victorious vote last week on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sweeping drug bill allowing the government to negotiate drug costs, House Democrats are trashing Senate inaction — and McConnell specifically. The GOP leader has likened Pelosi’s bill to “socialist price controls” and said in no uncertain terms it has no chance in the Senate. Trump also pledged to veto the measure.

Senate Republicans “keep saying they care about it, but then they do nothing,” said progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), whose battle with House leadership led to last-minute changes that pushed the bill further left.

Republicans across the Capitol have slammed Pelosi’s bill as an even bigger boogeyman to biomedical innovation than the Senate option, and even Grassley has used it as evidence that the GOP needs to get behind his legislation or face a world with fewer new life-saving medicines.

“Thank goodness Republicans control the Senate. That said, we still need something to make medicines affordable,” said Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who voted for Grassley’s effort in committee and still backs it.

Yet without a clear path forward, senators say they feel stuck. And publicly, the White House is waffling on potential compromises. Joe Grogan, the director of the Domestic Policy Council who has worked closely with the senators on their package, first told POLITICO that the controversial inflation cap wasn’t a hill to die on — then later said it was a necessary compromise to keep Democrats on board.

When it comes to the Senate floor, McConnell is not eager to put anything up that doesn’t at a minimum have the support of half his members. He’s warned colleagues that the drug-pricing bill could result in a circular firing squad — exposing his Republicans to tough attacks as they run for reelection.

Take Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, whose state is a hotbed for the pharmaceutical industry. He opposes the Grassley bill — but if he voted against it he’d be sure to take flak from Democrats looking to oust him. He said the need to put caps on drug prices is being “driven by a lot of populist pressure.”

This article was originally published on Politico on December 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Owermohle is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro covering drug policy and the industry. Before joining POLITICO, she covered the business of health care for S&P Global Market Intelligence and spent five years in Dubai and Beirut reporting on business, finance and development in the Middle East and Africa, including a three-year stint as the editor of Banker Africa. She graduated from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
About the Author: John Burgess Everett is a congressional reporter for POLITICO. He previously was a transportation reporter for POLITICO Pro, Web producer, helping run POLITICO’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a contributor to the On Media blog.

Share this post

Loyola Marymount cafeteria workers win a deal, so Thursday’s debate will go on as scheduled

Share this post

Happy holidays! This week’s gift is that the Democratic presidential debate will go on as scheduled on Thursday, Dec. 19, after food service workers at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles reached a tentative deal with Sodexo, the company that employs them. All seven candidates who’ve qualified for the debate had said they would not cross a picket line, even if it meant missing the debate, and the Democratic National Committee was pressing for a resolution after Sodexo walked away from contract negotiations with the workers and their union.

DNC Chair Tom Perez, a former labor secretary, said, “I was proud to help bring all stakeholders to the table, including Unite Here Local 11, Sodexo and Loyola Marymount University, to reach a deal that meets their needs and supports workers.”

Workers will receive increased pay and job security and reduced healthcare costs under the tentative deal. That’s the value of organizing and solidarity, with the workers’ union, UNITE HERE 11, effectively using the leverage provided by the debate, and the Democratic candidates standing where they should, with workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Share this post

Sanders and Warren pledge to skip next debate if the alternative is crossing a picket line

Share this post

The next Democratic presidential debate had its location changed over a labor boycott of the University of California. Now, top contenders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren say they will skip the debate if a labor dispute with the new location, Loyola Marymount University, isn’t settled.

Food service workers at the university have been in contract negotiations with Sodexo, the company that employs them, for over a year. With the negotiations stalled, the workers have held pickets, and a Democratic debate could provide them leverage. It’s a little late in the game for the debate to be moved again, but the university could pressure Sodexo.

At the time of this writing, none of the other candidates who have qualified for the debate have committed to honor a picket line.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.