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Mark Meadows predicts no Covid-19 relief bill until after September

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Matthew Choi, Digital Producer, POLITICO, photographed Sept. 3, 2019 in Arlington, VA. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday he is not optimistic about reaching a new coronavirus relief deal before the end of September, predicting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will use the government funding cliff at the end of next month as leverage to strike a deal on pandemic aid.

Speaking with POLITICO’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer, Meadows said his staff had reached out to Pelosi’s office Tuesday but added that he does not anticipate a response. The White House chief of staff said lawmakers from both parties have privately expressed to him a desire to make progress on coronavirus relief. The hold up, Meadows said he suspects, is that Pelosi is holding back her party’s rank and file in order to secure more Democratic priorities in any legislation.

“It’s really been Speaker Pelosi really driving this train as a conductor more so than really anybody,” Meadows said. “And I think privately she says she wants a deal and publicly she says she wants a deal, but when it comes to dealing with Republicans and the administration, we haven’t seen a lot of action.”https://4fee4843261b3bebc0da3603fc4c1230.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told POLITICO that a member of Meadows’ staff texted the speaker’s staff to confirm they had the correct number for the chief of staff, but did not mention resuming talks. Meadows also said he would call Pelosi during an interview on ABC News on Sunday, but Hammill said he never did.

“Democrats have compromised in these negotiations,” Hammill said in a statement to POLITICO. “We offered to come down $1 trillion if the White House would come up $1 trillion. We welcome the White House back to the negotiating table but they must meet us halfway.”

Senate Republicans floated a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill earlier this month that could be tacked onto a continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond the end of next month. That proposal also included $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, which has faced economic precarity during the pandemic even as millions of Americans are expected to cast ballots in November’s presidential election by mail. But Democrats rejected that measure as a piecemeal solution

Senate Democrats, for their part, have placed blame on Republicans for being unwilling to negotiate a comprehensive coronavirus relief package. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) predicted Republicans would turn a more amenable leaf after the Republican National Convention ends this week.

“It was clear the White House, for some reason, they wanted to go into their convention blaming Democrats,” Kaine said last week.

This article originally appeared at Politico on August 26, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Matthew Choi is a breaking news reporter. Matthew started at POLITICO as an editorial intern on the breaking news team. He later joined staff full-time as a digital producer. Previously, he was a reporting fellow with the Texas Tribune and managing editor at The Daily Northwestern. Matthew studied journalism and political science at Northwestern University, and enjoys listening to Simon and Garfunkel while cooking French country food.


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What the 19th Amendment Meant for Black Women

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One hundred years ago this month, suffragists celebrated the amendment’s adoption. For Black women, it wasn’t a culminating moment, but the start of a new fight to secure voting rights for all Americans.

In August 1920, women across America celebrated the adoption of the 19th Amendment. At the National Woman’s Party headquarters in Washington, Alice Paul, the group’s leader, triumphantly unfurled a banner displaying 36 stars, one for each state that had voted to ratify the women’s suffrage amendment. For Paul and the many suffragists who had picketed the White House or paraded along Pennsylvania Avenue, it was the culmination of decades of work. The next step was getting new women voters registered in anticipation of the fall election.

Alice Paul, seated second from left, sews the 36th star on a banner celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920. The 36th star represented Tennessee, whose vote to ratify completed the number of states needed to put the amendment in the Constitution.
Alice Paul, seated second from left, sews the 36th star on a banner celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920. The 36th star represented Tennessee, whose vote to ratify completed the number of states needed to put the amendment in the Constitution. | AP Photo

But the moment looked very different to America’s 5.2 million Black women—2.2 million of whom lived in the South, where Jim Crow laws threatened to keep them off the registration books. For Black women, August 1920 wasn’t the culmination of a movement. It marked the start of a new fight.

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In the following months and years, Black women around the country who had pushed for the 19th Amendment persisted. They came together in citizenship and suffrage schools, preparing one another to overcome legal hurdles and reluctant registrars. Fannie Williams worked out of St. Louis’ Phyllis Wheatley YWCA. Mary McLeod Bethune toured Florida as head of that state’s Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. In Richmond, Virginia, Maggie Lena Walker gathered Black women through the Independent Order of St. Luke, a fraternal business organization. They tested the promise of the 19th Amendment, and they exposed its limits.

Left to right: Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Williams and Maggie Lena Walker, all of whom worked to expand Black women’s rights at a time when many states still denied them the vote.
Left to right: Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Williams and Maggie Lena Walker, all of whom worked to expand Black women’s rights at a time when many states still denied them the vote. | Wikimedia Commons; Library of Congress

Notably, Black women did not do this work under the auspices of the country’s major suffrage associations. As the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association and the National Woman’s Party had increasingly bent their cause to accommodate anti-Black racism—a position intended to win white Southern supporters—African American women worked independently. They knew that their voting rights would fully arrive only with federal legislation that would override the states’ Jim Crow laws. Hallie Quinn Brown, head of the National Association of Colored Women, was disappointed when Paul declined to join Black women in the next chapter in the story of women’s votes. Black women moved forward alone.

In the winter of early 1921, Brown wrote to Paul about the upcoming unveiling of a monument to “our three pioneers of suffrage.” The likenesses of three white women—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott—were scheduled to be revealed at the U.S. Capitol on February 15, the 101st anniversary of Anthony’s birth. Brown’s words admitted the strain she felt: “I am anxious,” she wrote, that the NACW “be represented on that occasion and shall appreciate all information bearing upon this matter.”

Brown got what she sought in one sense. Paul made sure that Brown was there in the Capitol rotunda during the unveiling ceremony, representing the NACW in grand style. Accompanied by a flower girl, Brown posed before the statue, while a royal purple banner proclaimed the presence of the NACW. Applause followed. Behind the scenes, however, things did not go her way. A delegation of Black women called upon Paul just days before the NWP convention was set to begin that week. Their delegation aimed to win support for federal legislation that would give strong teeth to the 19th Amendment, such that Black women could overcome the state laws that continued to disenfranchise them. The delegation was received. But before the NWP convention concluded, the delegation’s aims had been rejected. Rather than continue to work toward women’s full and free access to the polls, the NWP declared its work completed and then folded. Paul moved on to launch a campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment.

When Brown had reached out to Paul, she had offered a slim olive branch by terming Stanton, Anthony and Mott “our” pioneers. Those women might just have been foremothers for Black and white women. But Paul did not return the sentiment—no Black woman was included on the monument or her political agenda.

The dedication ceremony for a monument to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott at the U.S. Capitol in February 1921.
The dedication ceremony for a monument to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott at the U.S. Capitol in February 1921. | Courtesy Architect of the Capitol

Yet Brown, and many other women like her, moved forward. Their efforts are all too often left out of the history of women’s suffrage in America. But as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this month, it is important to remember the new fight that Black women took up that year. They sought to further what they termed the interests of humanity. They made the case to the American people that voting should be a right for all citizens, regardless of gender and race—a message that resonates in the months before the 2020 election: Black women and men still face hurdles to voting, while leading the nation toward universal access to the polls.


When the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution, Black and white women stood alongside one another more equal than ever before. But what equality meant depended on where you were in a nation divided by Jim Crow. In the North and to the west, Black women successfully cast ballots in 1920, voting for the very first time alongside their husbands, fathers and sons. Officials in Southern states confronted Black women with unevenness, hostility and downright refusal. And without the opportunity to register, many Black women never made it to the polls in that election year.

Several states imposed grandfather clauses that ensured that the descendants of disenfranchised slaves, though now free people, could not vote. Other states subjected voters to literacy tests, which local election officials administered differently to Black versus white voters. So-called understanding clauses demanded that potential voters read and then explain a text—another requirement that disproportionately disenfranchised Black Americans. When Black voters did overcome these hurdles, they often learned that they had accumulated years of unpaid poll taxes, all of which had to be paid before they could cast a ballot.

Registration numbers reflected the effects of discriminatory laws. Black women did present themselves to officials in the fall of 1920, but many found the doors closed.

Registration numbers reflected the effects of discriminatory laws. Black women did present themselves to officials in the fall of 1920, but many found the doors closed. Their numbers in Kent County, Delaware, were “unusually large,” the Wilmington News Journal reported, but officials refused Black women who “failed to comply with the constitutional tests.” In Jefferson County, Alabama, laws stymied Black women when they set out to register, and some blamed Black leaders, who themselves could not navigate the maze of requirements. In Huntsville, Alabama, the Nashville Tennessean explained, “only a half dozen Black women” were among the 1,445 who registered, and the explanation was clear: Officials applied “practically the same rules of qualification to [women] as are applied to colored men.”

Worried that Black women might manage to register, state lawmakers went so far as to change laws to keep the doors locked shut. In Mississippi, rule makers changed poll taxes to “require the same poll tax of $2.00 of women, as now required of men,” the Vicksburg Herald said. It was no secret that this change was important, vital even, to those who feared that the old law “would permit negro women to register without being required to pay a poll tax.” In Savannah, Georgia, officials imposed the letter of the law, concluding that although “many negro women have registered here since the suffrage amendment became effective … the election judges ruled that they were not entitled to vote because of a state law which requires registration six months before an election,” according to news reports. This ruling meant that no woman in the state of Georgia could vote—too little time had passed between the ratification of the 19th Amendment and Election Day. But this was a reading of the law meant to suppress Black women’s votes because “no white women presented themselves at the polls.”

Charlotte Hawkins Brown in her wedding dress, 1912
Charlotte Hawkins Brown, pictured in her wedding dress in 1912. | Wikimedia Commons

Charlotte Hawkins Brown, a well-known educator and advocate who led North Carolina’s State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, saw firsthand the backlash that emerged in response to Black women beginning to gain more political power. In early October, reports surfaced about a letter that was appearing in mailboxes across the South. The letter was addressed to Black women and explained that the terms of the 19th Amendment, which gave “all women the right of the ballot regardless of color.” It went on to “beg all the colored women of North Carolina to register and vote on November 2nd, 1920.” It was a call to action: “The time for negroes has come. Now is our chance to redeem our liberty.” If refused at the polls, the notice instructed Black women to “go at once to a Republican lawyer and start proceedings in the United States courts—don’t waste time with State courts [which] are Controlled by Democrats.” The tone was militant, and it emphasized that Black voters might overtake the system: “White women of North Carolina will not vote and while they sleep let the negro be up and doing. When we get our party in power we can demand what we wish and get in.” It was postmarked Greensboro, North Carolina, and signed, “Yours for negro liberty. colored women’s rights association, for colored women.”

Who, newspaper editors and Democratic Party leaders asked, was responsible for this incendiary manifesto, one that was branded a conspiracy influenced by Republican Party promoters “from the North”? Brown’s name very quickly surfaced; Democrats charged her with conspiring to oppose them and using the new political power of Black women to do so. Her defenders stepped in, calling the circular and the charges against Brown “the lowest, dirtiest piece of political trickery that has ever been practiced by any political party.” These were awkward defenses, though, ones that labeled a circular that stridently promoted Black women’s power at the polls and in party politics “Bosh!”

The storm was rough enough that Brown publicly issued a rebuttal, one in which she invoked the name of every white philanthropist who had supported the school she ran and emphasized her commitment to education, not politics. Brown denied how Black women were intently interested in the potential of 1920 and what it could mean to vote. Once, twice and then a third time on the page of the Stanly Albemarle News-Herald, where the controversy had begun, Brown denied the circular and its views: “I do not hold, or endorse, the views which [the circular] expresses.” Between the lines, Brown expressed her indignation but also her fear of retribution. An association with voting rights could have cost her school its supporters, land, buildings and students—her reputation and her power.

A purple and gold silk banner created for the Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, dating to circa 1924 and reading, “Lifting as we climb.”
A silk banner created for the Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, circa 1924. | National Museum of African American History and Culture

Although it was risky, in many places, Black women organized and prepared one another to face the scrutiny of local officials. In St. Louis, they organized in a “Citizenship League” and ran suffrage schools for men and women. In New Albany, Indiana, Black women met in local churches, where Republican Party officials helped them register and vote. In Akron, Ohio, they met under the auspices of the Colored Women’s Republican Club and canvassed, going house to house to encourage women to register. In Baltimore, from the pulpit a local minister urged that women’s votes were part of God’s vision and the ballot was a “weapon of protection to self and home.”

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In some places, Black women triumphed, registering to vote in important numbers. In Frederick, Maryland, 75 percent of Black women planned to register. In Staunton, Virginia, the local newspaper noted those Black women who registered by name and, at least on one day, they outnumbered white women 18 to one. In Wilmington, Delaware, Black women were early to the registrar’s office. In Chatham County, Georgia, the courthouse was “stormed by Negro women who wanted to put their names on the registration books,” according to news reports. In Asheville, North Carolina, women participated in a mass meeting and then “appeared at the various polling places in the city and nearly 100 were registered.” Their presence, it was reported, “came as a surprise to Democrats.”

In Richmond, Virginia, a fracas followed when Black women outnumbered white, 3 to 1, at a registrar’s office. The official in charge underscored the sense that Black women were unwelcome when, in response to the demand, he called upon police to “keep the applicants in line” according to Jim Crow rules: White and Black women were separated.


In the fall of 1920, Black women didn’t just work to organize and encourage fellow voters. They also began to make their case to the American public.

As the newly elected president of the NACW, Hallie Quinn Brown urged that the ratification of the 19th Amendment was an opening for Black women’s power. “Let us remember that we are making our own history. That we are character builders; building for all eternity. Woman’s horizon has widened. Her sphere of usefulness is greatly enlarged. Her capabilities are acknowledged,” she wrote in the NACW’s national association notes. “Let us not ask: what shall we do with our newly acquired power? Rather, what manner of women are we going to be?” She framed women’s votes as a next chapter in the long struggle for Black political rights: “We stand at the open door of a new era. For the first time in the history of this country, women have exercised the right of franchise. The right for which the pioneers of our race fought, but died without the sight.”

Hallie Quinn Brown
Hallie Quinn Brown, head of the National Association of Colored Women and author of “Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction.” | Library of Congress

The book Brown published in 1926, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction, leveled one of Brown’s best shots at those who doubted Black women’s suitability as voters. Today, it is still a go-to text for understanding how Black women’s diverse personal histories fit together to tell a story about their readiness for citizenship. Brown collaborated with more than 25 other women to produce—across 250 pages and 60 biographical sketches, essays and poems—an argument about the past, present and future of Black women. The book demolished myths and brought to light the lives of real women—their ideas and their activism. As Brown put it in her introduction, Homespun Heroines aimed to inspire young people to “cleave more tenaciously to the truth and to battle more heroically for the right.” On the horizon, Brown suggested, was a time when universal womanhood suffrage would be realized.

“Let us remember that we are making our own history,” wrote Hallie Quinn Brown. “That we are character builders; building for all eternity.”

The women of Homespun Heroines were paradigmatic voters, women of independence and integrity. For many, formal education had bestowed the insight, reason and discernment that suited them for citizenship. Others, especially those born enslaved, still made manifest qualities—piousness, fidelity, benevolence, selflessness and compassion—all of which evidenced their suitability as voters. Black women had earned the vote, Homespun Heroines argued. As suffragists, they had worked to secure for all American women a constitutional amendment. Homespun Heroines may have been shorter than the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage, begun by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage in the 1880s. But it was no less a chronicle of the history of women’s activism.

left: Mary Church Terrell in front of a bust of Frederick Douglass; right: past presidents of NACW club. 1962 Anniversary publication of the NACW Club
Left: Mary Church Terrell in front of a bust of Frederick Douglass. Right: Past presidents of National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, pictured in a 1962 anniversary publication. | Mary Church Terrell Papers; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

As the celebration in 1920 of the 19th Amendment faded, Brown and the women of the NACW were left with serious work ahead of them. The way forward was fraught—the NACW faced competition from the increasingly influential NAACP, and suffered from the indifference of white-dominated women’s suffrage organizations like the National Woman’s Party. The elite politics of respectability kept the NACW at a distance from Black women of the working class. It lost members who rejected the vote and party politics in favor of radical, internationalist and pan-African approaches to power.

The road to the 1965 Voting Rights Act was long, arduous and, at many times, dangerous. But Black women in the NACW—allied with women in Black churches, civil rights organizations, sororities, teachers association and more—paved the way to 1965. Club women’s political networks became companions to litigation, advocacy through federal agencies and, by the 1940s, nonviolent direct action. And the NACW’s earliest leaders, women such as Mary Church Terrell and Mary McLeod Bethune, remained active at the heart of struggles for racial justice, from voting rights to desegregation, education and even collaborations with women of color across the globe.

Top: Picketers representing the National Association of Colored Women march past the White House in July 1956. Bottom: Activists Gloria Richardson, Rosa L. Gragg and Diane Nash Bevel are interviewed outside the White House in July 1963, after a meeting in which President John F. Kennedy asked representatives of women’s organizations to back his civil rights program.
Top: Picketers representing the National Association of Colored Women march past the White House in July 1956. Bottom: Activists Gloria Richardson, Rosa L. Gragg and Diane Nash Bevel are interviewed outside the White House in July 1963, after a meeting in which President John F. Kennedy asked representatives of women’s organizations to back his civil rights program. | AP Photo

For Black women, ratification of the 19th Amendment was not a guarantee of the vote, but it was a clarifying moment. Like the 15th Amendment before it, so much about voting rights depended on state law and the discretion of local officials that the 19th Amendment was little more than a broad umbrella under which a wide range of women’s experiences unfolded. More than anything, it marked a turn: Black women were the new keepers of voting rights in the United States. They were at the fore of a new movement—one that linked women’s rights and civil rights in one great push for dignity and power.

This article originally appeared at Politico on August 26, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Martha S. Jones is professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University and author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.


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Overturning Austerity 101: California’s Prop 15 Will Tax the Rich

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California’s November ballot will feature a challenge to the notorious Proposition 13, which in 1978 helped to inaugurate the decades-long neoliberal assault on labor.

Prop 13’s anti-tax, small government campaign, with a dog-whistle racist subtext, created a national template for conservatives to simultaneously attack public sector unions, public employees, and the people they served. For the right wing, this was the lab experiment for Austerity 101.

In a time of high inflation, Prop 13 exploited fear—older homeowners on fixed incomes were afraid that rising taxes would drive them out of their homes. It rolled back assessments to 1975 rates, set property taxes at 1 percent of value, and capped increases at 2 percent per year, no matter the inflation rate or the increase in market price of the property. When it passed, grandma breathed more easily.

But grandma was not the biggest beneficiary of Prop 13. The same rules applied to commercial property—including giant corporate-owned properties like Chevron and Disney. The consequent plunge in property tax revenues to local and state government forced enormous cuts to social programs and schools, led to layoffs of public employees, and established a new normal in the Golden State, described by former California Federation of Teachers president Raoul Teilhet as “poor services for poor people.”

ANSWER TO A DISASTER

Prop 15 is the long-awaited answer to this disaster. It’s the product of a 10-year-old coalition of unions and community groups, now known as Schools and Communities First, with a couple of previous progressive tax victories under its belt. Prop 15’s passage will mean commercial property is assessed at current market value, not purchase price, for tax purposes. In a non-COVID year that change will raise $10 to $12 billion for schools and local services. In the Pandemic Depression, it will mean a bulwark against soaring class sizes and public sector layoffs due to plunging tax revenues.

Carefully crafted after years of opinion research funded by public sector unions, it exempts commercial property below $3 million and all residential property, including rental units. It also eliminates a tax on business equipment that mostly affected small businesses.

The bulk of the campaign’s funding comes from two of the biggest unions in the state, the California Teachers Association (affiliated with the NEA) and the state council of the Service Employees (SEIU). But the backbone for the coalition over the years has been three organizations that spearheaded a Millionaires Tax ballot campaign in 2011: the California Federation of Teachers (the other statewide teacher union, affiliated with the AFT), California Calls, and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

They have been joined in the Schools and Communities First coalition by virtually the entire labor movement, as well as hundreds of community, civil, and immigrant rights organizations, and a seemingly odd bedfellow or two like the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife.

Although the measure is opposed by the usual suspects like the California Chamber of Commerce and the right-wing Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, some large commercial property owners like Facebook stand to gain from the measure: Prop 15 would level the playing field that currently gives an unfair tax advantage to older businesses that purchased their properties decades ago.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted signature gathering, initially causing worries whether the measure would qualify for the ballot, in fact the coalition had already pulled in a record-breaking 1.7 million signatures by the end of March. This was due to the scope of the coalition and a massive volunteer effort alongside paid signature collection.

EASY TO SELL

Until the coronavirus put a stop to it, I staffed a table on campus along with other members of my union, AFT 2121, which represents faculty at City College of San Francisco. One union sibling, Kathe Burick, a dance instructor, said, “I’ve never had such an easy time filling petitions. Students, staff, faculty, even administrators—as soon as they heard what Prop 15 would do, they signed.” Local 2121 contributed 1,600 signatures to the CFT’s 20,000. In all the campaign’s volunteers collected 225,000.

Passage of Prop 15 is not a slam dunk. By their nature progressive tax measures attract well-funded enemies who, in addition to their war chests, have few scruples about lying to the electorate. On August 6 a judge ruled that the election information guide mailed by the Secretary of State to every registered voter had to be changed to eliminate “false or misleading” arguments by opponents. One claimed Prop 15 would allow the legislature to raise taxes on homeowners.

Another common tactic is to muddy the waters by implying that the tax in question will affect everyone. Undaunted by the judge’s decision, a spokesperson for the opposition commented, “This one will be won once voters know that Prop 15 is a $12.5 billion tax increase they can’t afford.”

In fact Prop 15 will draw 92 percent of its revenues from just 10 percent of commercial property holders, a reflection of the concentration of wealth in a state that, if a country, would contain the world’s fifth-largest economy—yet can’t seem to find money to properly resource its schools and services.

In addition to the usual flood of misleading advertising, Yes on 15 activists face the challenges of a pandemic election. Without the ability to canvass in person, the campaign will have to rely on phone banking, text banking, virtual house meetings, and the like. It remains to be seen whether labor’s grassroots “people power” can be channeled as effectively as usual under such conditions. But the need and the momentum for progressive taxes are real.

The California Labor Federation emerged from its annual convention the first week in August—held on Zoom—with solid commitments on two November ballot initiatives: Yes on 15 and No on 22. The latter is an attempt by Uber and Lyft to reverse legislation passed earlier in the year that reclassified drivers from contractor status to employees.

Speaking at a recent Zoom rally for Prop 15 hosted by California chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz said, “We’ve got to be able to pass Schools and Communities First, as one measure, and then come back with another measure, and another, so that we make the rich pay their fair share.”

This blog originally appeared at LaborNotes on August 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Fred Glass is the retired communications director of the California Federation of Teachers, and the author of From Mission to Microchip: A History of the California Labor Movement (UC Press, 2016).


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Economy hurting after Congress fails to act on stimulus

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Just weeks after Washington lawmakers allowed a $600-a-week boost in payments for millions of unemployed workers to expire, the economy is already starting to feel the pain.

The number of workers lining up for jobless aid has been rising. The retail and delivery sectors, which especially benefited from laid-off Americans spending the extra cash, have cut back on hiring. Walmart, the nation’s biggest retailer, reported record profits in the second quarter thanks to government aid to consumers but now says sales growth is slowing.

As lawmakers dig in their heels over how much cash to spend to prop up the pandemic-battered economy, the cut in unemployment aid and the expiration of a program that provided more than $500 billion in loans to small businesses to keep workers on the job are threatening to drag on the recovery. That’s likely to ratchet up pressure on Congress and the White House to come to a deal on a new economic relief package.

Unemployment insurance added about $25 billion a week to the economy during the four months the additional aid was in place, and now since the expiration of the extra benefit, it’s running closer to $10 billion, former U.S. Treasury economist Ernie Tedeschi said. That’s going to have “devastating individual implications for the families that receive that payment and also going to have economic implications for America as a whole,” he said.

“When you have $60 billion less going to families,” Tedeschi added, “that means that there’s going to be something close to that less in spending.”

With less money to spend on groceries, gas and other goods, the lapse of federal pandemic aid has aggravated the labor market outlook. Businesses acutely affected by consumption have started hiring fewer workers, according to Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed Hiring Lab. Listings for jobs in beauty and wellness seeking workers like hairdressers, nail technicians, fitness instructors and cosmetologists are falling, as are those for retailing and delivery drivers and truckers.

The number of job listings posted in the week ending Aug. 14 were 20 percent lower than they were at this time in 2019 — and the first drop the website has seen since late April, according to Indeed.

“Really the last few weeks we’ve started to see a significant slowdown in the trend in job postings,” Bunker said.

Hiring, hours worked and the number of employees working over the last six weeks — a period that began before the extra unemployment aid ended on July 31 — has slowed down or flatlined, according to data from workforce management platforms Kronos and Homebase.

At the same time, the number of jobless claims rose to 1.1 million in the week ending Aug. 15, halting several weeks of decline and suggesting that large numbers of people are still being pushed out of work due to the pandemic.

Economists say the July-to-August plateau is especially concerning because jobs usually pick up this time of year due to increased demand in the summer season.

“We’re expecting the next few months to be — even barring a significant recurrence of some Covid hot spots — a very slow recovery,” said David Gilbertson, vice president at Kronos.

Republican lawmakers have argued that the $600-a-week boost allowed many laid-off workers to make more money at home than they earned at their previous jobs. That, they said, was creating a disincentive for them to return to work and slowing down the economic recovery.

But the lack of a pickup in business activity is “a warning sign,” said Ray Sandza, vice president of data and analytics at Homebase. “Any expectation that removing [unemployment insurance] benefits was going to suddenly fill a bunch of jobs was, predictably, misplaced,” he added in an email. “There just aren’t enough jobs to go around right now; it’s not a supply issue.”

According to the Real-Time Population Survey, which was created by researchers at Arizona State University and Virginia Commonwealth University, the unemployment rate was 15.5 percent in the week ending Aug. 15.

“There was a really rapid recovery going on in May and June, and then since June things still have been modestly getting better but just at a much slower pace,” said Adam Blandin, assistant professor of economics at VCU, who helps develop the real-time survey. “And between the new virus cases and the changes in policy … the million dollar question is are we going to stay at something above 10 percent unemployment, for a long period, or is it going to continue to go down like it did early in the summer?”

Without another stimulus deal from Congress and less money for Americans to spend, companies are unlikely to risk expanding their workforce, meaning fewer jobs available for laid-off workers to fill and tamer growth in the economy.

“Consumers are not spending money, at least in some sectors,” Gilbertson of Kronos added. “The face of our economy is changing.”

Until businesses are confident that Americans will start spending more, “they’re probably not going to be expanding their hiring,” he said.

The stock market’s robust performance isn’t doing much to spur lawmakers into agreeing to provide more relief. While fears of a slowdown led shares to plummet in March — and motivated Congress to take sweeping action to rescue the economy — the precarious state of the nation’s workforce now hasn’t generated a similar reaction.

While jobless Americans are facing dire economic conditions, Wall Street has gained back all the losses it suffered early on in the pandemic. The S&P 500 has been hitting record highs.

Even a slide in share prices at the opening bell Thursday, in response to newly rising unemployment claims, was short-lived as prices recovered by midday.

The stock market also isn’t representative of most Americans, especially the low-wage workers hit hardest by the recession. While about half of American families own stocks, the vast majority of the value of shares is held by wealthier investors.

The stalemate in Washington over how much additional Covid-19 aid the federal government will offer to help struggling businesses and Americans has also clouded the outlook for large companies, many of which have done considerably well during the pandemic.

When Walmart touted its second-quarter profits during its quarterly earnings call on Aug. 18, it cited spending “aided by government stimulus.” But Brett Biggs, the chief financial officer and executive vice president, said sales began to revert back to normal toward the end of the quarter when $1,200 stimulus checks the government had doled out to millions of Americans ran out.

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now and so much variance in how customers are feeling about their situation,” said Douglas McMillon, Walmart’s president and CEO, during the call.

Target, bracing for an additional drop in expected fall demand because of schools switching to remote learning, has offered to extend its back-to-school season.

“It’s a very challenging environment for us to provide guidance,” Brian Cornell, the chairman and CEO of Target, said during the company’s earnings call Wednesday. “We’ve got the pandemic in front of us. We’ve got uncertainty about back to school, back to college, the state of the economy.”

Now that laid-off workers are no longer receiving the extra $600-per-week unemployment payment, Behnaz Mansouri of the Unemployment Law Project, which provides services to laid-off workers in Washington state, says her clients are facing more difficult choices than they encountered at the beginning of the pandemic.

The year “has been made bearable by this patchwork of financial assistance,” Mansouri said. “And now without it, I fear, it’s going to become unbearable.”

“I’m hearing a lot of people struggling to assess their living situations over the next couple of months,” she added. “Do they potentially start looking for jobs, even if they’re in a high risk category or live with someone who’s in a higher risk category?”

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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We Organize Domestic Workers. Here’s Why We Decided We Need a Union, Too.

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We are in a moment of great uncer­tain­ty. The Covid-19 pan­dem­ic and sub­se­quent unem­ploy­ment crises are mak­ing all work­ers take a sec­ond look at their employ­ment sit­u­a­tion. As mil­lions of work­ers lose their jobs, oth­ers are fight­ing for pro­tec­tion, safe­ty and rights at work?—?and some are even union­iz­ing. That includes us, the staff at the Nation­al Domes­tic Work­ers Alliance (NDWA). We are orga­niz­ers, com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ists, accoun­tants, fundrais­ers, lawyers, press strate­gists and more.

In March, long­time whis­pers about orga­niz­ing turned into sus­tained con­ver­sa­tions about how to form a union. As an orga­ni­za­tion that’s pri­mar­i­ly fund­ed by foun­da­tions, we didn’t know what would hap­pen if that fund­ing dried up in a reces­sion; we didn’t know if there would be lay­offs, and if there were, if there would be sev­er­ance pack­ages. NDWA pro­vides a com­pre­hen­sive ben­e­fits pack­age?—?yet we rec­og­nize that if times get tough, or if foun­da­tion fund­ing ends, these ben­e­fits could cease to exist. We’ve seen the dev­as­ta­tion the pan­dem­ic is inflict­ing and how ben­e­fits like employ­er-pro­vid­ed health insur­ance can be lost overnight. With­out a union and the abil­i­ty to nego­ti­ate a col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, work­ers are that much more vul­ner­a­ble?—?and eco­nom­ic upheaval puts them in a place of even greater pre­car­i­ous­ness. These are the sce­nar­ios that were play­ing out en masse as the pan­dem­ic spread, and they were the spark that set in motion the first orga­niz­ing dri­ve in the his­to­ry of our orga­ni­za­tion.

For many of us, our work­loads sky­rock­et­ed dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. The scale of our work ramped up as the domes­tic work­ers we orga­nized were faced with mass job loss, unsafe con­di­tions at work, inad­e­quate pay to account for their risk, and the threat of catch­ing the dead­ly virus. We orga­nize and move­ment build in a sys­tem that already deval­ues work­ers and neces­si­tates work­er exploita­tion. Covid-19 cre­at­ed a height­ened need for our folks to orga­nize and be orga­nized, fight for our fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, and demand more. This meant the orga­niz­ing nev­er stopped. We were work­ing inces­sant­ly to con­nect with and sup­port domes­tic work­ers, who were dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed by Covid-19 and its eco­nom­ic reper­cus­sions. Many of us were also deal­ing with our own Covid-19 relat­ed prob­lems and try­ing to bal­ance work, child­care and the care of our fam­i­lies.

As we moved our work to the dig­i­tal sphere, we simul­ta­ne­ous­ly became more con­nect­ed to oth­er staff in our orga­ni­za­tion. Work areas that were pre­vi­ous­ly sep­a­rat­ed due to focus or geog­ra­phy became more inte­grat­ed, and new con­nec­tions were forged. Our con­ver­sa­tions about want­i­ng to mod­el our organization’s vision of ?“dig­ni­ty, uni­ty, and pow­er” for its own staff grew loud­er and more seri­ous. What were once off­hand remarks about the dual­i­ty of our labor orga­ni­za­tion not hav­ing its own union or inter­nal work­er bar­gain­ing unit turned into action and com­mit­ment. Our con­ver­sa­tions spoke to how much we appre­ci­at­ed our orga­ni­za­tion, and yet how we rec­og­nized that NDWA wasn’t above per­pet­u­at­ing com­mon pit­falls that all work­ers can expe­ri­ence in their work­place.

Dur­ing our orga­niz­ing process we learned of chal­lenges like salary dis­par­i­ties?—?due to what we believe are arbi­trary and unclear process­es for deter­min­ing and rene­go­ti­at­ing our pay. We engage our domes­tic work­er mem­bers often in skills build­ing to nego­ti­ate their salaries and know that indi­vid­ual advo­ca­cy absent of large-scale stan­dards set­ting can only go so far. With­out clear guide­lines and met­rics for salaries, favoritism and per­son­al rela­tion­ships can all affect pay. This also means that peo­ple who don’t have the nec­es­sary tools to advo­cate for them­selves can lose out on rais­es and pro­mo­tions. Because these tools are social­ly and cul­tur­al­ly imbued, this has a greater detri­men­tal impact on Black women and women of col­or, who make up the major­i­ty of our staff. As an orga­ni­za­tion that’s tasked with orga­niz­ing and ele­vat­ing the voic­es of a work­force that’s dom­i­nat­ed by women of col­or, we need to put our mon­ey where our mouth is.

Bar­gain­ing direct­ly with our employ­er as a group will help us bet­ter under­stand our organization’s finan­cial sit­u­a­tion and allow us to raise the salary floor so pay is trans­par­ent and fair. Col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments have been proven to help even the play­ing field for women work­ers and work­ers of col­or. Through our dis­cus­sions and con­ver­sa­tions, it became obvi­ous that we need­ed to unite togeth­er to form a union and exer­cise our col­lec­tive strength?—?which is why, after four months of orga­niz­ing, we approached our boss­es with near­ly 100% sup­port, demand­ing union recog­ni­tion.

We love where we work and what we do, and our union affords us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­nect, learn about each other’s work, and use our col­lec­tive voice for improve­ments at NDWA. Many of us worked remote­ly before the pan­dem­ic, and now it’s obvi­ous­ly unclear when or if some of us will go back to offices. We work on so many dif­fer­ent projects at NDWA?—?orga­niz­ing domes­tic work­ers to fight for respect and recog­ni­tion, win­ning poli­cies (includ­ing Domes­tic Work­ers Bill of Rights in two cities and 9 states), ele­vat­ing domes­tic work­ers’ voic­es, cre­at­ing tech­nol­o­gy to sup­port domes­tic work­ers, and more?—?that it’s some­times hard to keep up. Because of this lack of cohe­sion, we suf­fer from high turnover. Even in the best work­places, with­out a col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, work­ers may feel afraid to speak up about things they want to change. We think our silence and inabil­i­ty to make real changes only hurts NDWA?—?and that’s why we orga­nized. Our union will help us cen­tral­ize our cam­paigns, improve com­mu­ni­ca­tion and retain work­ers. Our union will make NDWA stronger! A union will make your work­place stronger, too.

We want to have a voice at NDWA, and we want oth­er work­ers to have one too?—?whether they work at a non-prof­it, a union, or some­place else entire­ly. And in a soci­ety where work­ers are con­stant­ly under attack?—?espe­cial­ly women work­ers and Black work­ers and work­ers of col­or?—?we are proud to be part of a resur­gence of the labor move­ment. We fight hard for our mem­bers to have dig­ni­ty and respect, and we encour­age them to come togeth­er with oth­er work­ers to win the rights and recog­ni­tion that they deserve. We are fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of domes­tic work­er lead­ers like Dorothy Bold­en?—?and we encour­age you to do the same!

This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes on August 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The NDWA Staff Union Organizing Committee


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‘Not just a low-wage recession’: White-collar workers feel coronavirus squeeze

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Megan Cassella, Reporter — Staff mugshots photographed Feb. 22, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

The drop in overall employment that white-collar industries have seen in five months is already on par with or worse than the hits they took during the Great Recession.

The coronavirus recession that began as a short-term shutdown devastating low-wage workers is now bearing down on white-collar America, where employers have been slower to rehire and job losses are more likely to be permanent.

Lower-paid workers are losing their jobs at about three times the rate of higher-wage employees. But the drop in overall employment that white-collar industries like real estate, information and professional and technology services have seen in five months is already on par with or worse than the hits they took during the Great Recession — underscoring how even highly paid workers with the ability to telework are vulnerable now.

As the economy begins to crawl back toward its pre-coronavirus normal, lower-paying industries are recovering at a faster clip than those at the higher end of the pay scale, where new job postings have been weak by comparison. Job postings for higher-wage occupations — those offering roughly $50,000 or more annually — remain 28 percent below last year’s trend, while lower-wage postings for jobs offering around $30,000 or lessare down only 12 percent, according to the hiring platform Indeed.

Thetrend suggests that white-collar employers are increasingly unwilling to take expensive risks and hire more higher-wage employees at a time when the economy is precarious at best, economists say. That could spell trouble for the broader economy in the longer-term, in part because spending by high-income consumers supports low-wage jobs. Some economists fear how much more damage higher-paying industries could see in the coming months if economic growth stalls or dips downward again.

“This is not just a low-wage recession,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, who compared job losses in industries paying at least $30 an hour between February and July to the share lost between December 2007 and June 2009.

Swonk found that employment in the information industry is down 11.4 percent now compared to 7.7 percent during the Great Recession, as one example, while employment in management services is down 4.7 percent now compared to 2.4 percent then.

For lower-wage workers who have lost their jobs, “their situation is clearly much more desperate,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that the pain isn’t still broader-based than we’ve acknowledged.”

Layoffs in high-wage industries have been mostly overshadowed by those in low-wage occupations that have rolled in at unprecedented levels — more than 28 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, the Labor Department says — and comprise the bulk of the country’s job losses. More than 9 million workers in the bottom 40 percent of wage earners remained out of work at the end of June, compared to 3.3 million in the top 40 percent.

Lower-paid workers are also likely to have a harder time recovering from a period of joblessness, in part because they tend to have fewer savings and are less likely to own a home.

But judged by any other measure — including against previous recessions — the damage to higher-wage workers has been significant.

These industries saw smaller initial declines in employment, but in many cases their losses have since grown even as other sectors of the economy have begun to recover. Employment in finance and insurance was down just over 1 percent between February and late April but nearly 5 percent between February and late June, according to economists from the Federal Reserve and University of Chicago, who analyzed data from the payroll processor ADP.

Each of the 14 other industries analyzed — from food services and retail to construction and manufacturing — had seen larger overall losses but had improved between April and June, the study showed, with the exception of educational services.

Some high-wage sectors, the information industry among them, also continued to see layoffs in July even as the economy added workers, the Labor Department’s latest monthly data shows.

“Those are typically fairly recession-proof industries now that are continuing to lose jobs, even though every other industry is recovering to some degree,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with the job-posting platform ZipRecruiter. “That’s really cause for concern and pause.”

Data suggests that layoffs in white-collar industries are more likely to be permanent than those in frontline sectors such as restaurants or retail. The so-called core unemployment rate, which excludes all layoffs that are classified as temporary, has increased more for workers with more education, even as the unemployment rate has generally increased more rapidly for those with less education, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Jed Kolko, Indeed’s chief economist.

The core unemployment rate has risen by 1.7 percentage points for workers with a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with 0.7 percentage points for those with a high school degree or less, Kolko found.

Nearly 7 million workers have also seen their pay cut since the pandemic began, according to the ADP analysis — most in high-wage industries.

Persistent white-collar layoffs and wage cuts would hold significant effects for the rest of the economy, particularly because spending among wealthier Americans helps support jobs in blue-collar service sector jobs at restaurants, for example, and hair salons or workout studios.

To be sure, if the economic recovery accelerates, higher-paying industries could ultimately emerge relatively unscathed, and continued spending among those workers would help repair damage the shutdowns caused to lower-paying service sectors. Wells Fargo economists acknowledged concerns that layoffs could spread throughout high-wage sectors, hindering any recovery, but said they expect those job losses to be limited.

Still, high-income spending remains down more than 8 percent compared to January levels, more than any other income bracket, according to the Opportunity Insights tracker. Economists warn that trend could continue even after businesses fully reopen if a share of white-collar workers remain unemployed.

“It’s in those kinds of high-wage cities like New York and San Francisco where low-wage workers have actually seen the steepest losses, and one reason is because of the decline in spending in higher-wage households,” Pollak said.

White-collar layoffs could also spark a trend of underemployment, where better-educated workers are applying for jobs below their skill level, edging out applicants who might be more suited for the position, economists say. More than 2 in 5 active job seekers already say they are applying for jobs for which they are overqualified, according to a ZipRecruiter survey published this month.

And more broadly, the sluggish uptick in hiring in high-wage sectors could be a warning sign from employers who see so much uncertainty that they would rather wait and see where the economic recovery is headed before bulking up their workforce.

“It’s a red flag for the job market,” Kolko said. “I think it’s telling us something about where those employers think the economy is going to be in quarters or even a couple years from now.”

It’s both expensive and time-consuming for high-paying employers to recruit and hire new employees, and that process likely won’t begin for many until they feel certain the economy is picking up again.

“If you’ve weathered the storm so far,” Swonk said, “you don’t want to place big bets until you get to the other side of it.”

The relative lack of attention these job losses have gotten could be creating a false sense of security among some high-wage workers who so far have felt removed from the effects of the coronavirus shutdowns battering frontline industries, some economists say.

Murphy Whitsitt was earning $105,000 annually as a national service manager for Polytype America, a company that builds printer machinery for product labels. He was able to work from home for the first few months of the pandemic, but his company furloughed him in June once “there was no end in sight.”

He and his family moved from New Jersey back to Iowa, where they owned a home, to save on rent costs. They’ve gotten a delay in paying their Iowa mortgage, and he recently received his first unemployment check after eight weeks of waiting.

He recognizes that he’s far better off than lower-paid workers who have fewer resources to lean on. But he’s not expected back at work until at least January, and without further help from Congress, he’s not sure how he’ll pay his mortgage bill when it comes due in the fall.

“We’ll eventually be okay,” Whitsitt said. “But it’s definitely been stressful.”

This article originally appeared at Politico on August 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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Postal workers are speaking out to save our democracy, this week in the war on workers

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As Postmaster General Louis DeJoy slows down mail delivery to help Donald Trump accomplish his goal of undermining mail-in voting and to continue the decades-long Republican war on the U.S. Postal Service, postal workers have sounded the alarm. “You don’t just go and tell management, ‘Hey, I saw that. That’s not allowed,’ ” Scott Adams, an American Postal Workers Union local president in Maine told the Portland Press-Herald’s Bill Nemitz. “At some point you have to hold their feet to the fire and say, ‘I’m telling you, and I have been telling you, you follow the rules. And when you don’t, we’re blowing it up.’”

It’s not just in Maine. Postal workers in other locations are pushing back against DeJoy and Trump’s sabotage, as in the Milwaukee area where workers organized and refused to follow the new rules. With DeJoy having removed many sorting machines, though, it’ll take more than workers doing their jobs—against the rules—to fix things. As American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein told The American Prospect, “Can the union do something specifically about what machines they have or don’t have in the post office? No. Can the union be part of a movement to share with the public what’s really going on and be part of a movement for change? We’ve seen that in the last month.”

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on August 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Teachers unions test goodwill with strike threats, hardball negotiations

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In addition to safety measures, some unions are pressing for police-free schools, canceling rents and mortgages, and bans on new charter programs and standardized testing.

Teachers won newfound respect at the start of the pandemic as parents learned just how difficult it was to teach their kids at home.

But teachers unions now risk squandering the outpouring of goodwill by threatening strikes, suing state officials and playing hardball during negotiations with districts.

In California, unions fought Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom hard for teacher protections and job security as campuses were shuttered, and are demanding high-income tax hikes to fill education budget shortfalls. In New York City, a social justice caucus within the United Federation of Teachers called on the union to threaten “severe disruption” if the governor and the mayor implement what they describe as “reckless reopening plans.” The Florida Education Association is in a legal battle with state officials to try to overturn an order requiring schools to physically open five days a week or risk losing state funding.

“Let’s be honest: Teachers went from heroes in March when parents saw what we do everyday, and now we’ve become, in some people’s eyes, the villains because we are speaking up about the safety concerns we see,” said Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

Safety concerns have been at the heart of union objections to reopening as they confront teachers getting sick or even dying from Covid-19. Many union leaders have worked collaboratively with management on contracts and reopening plans, and they have spent months calling for additional federal money to secure personal protective equipment and allow for socially distanced instruction. But more recently, a coalition including some local unions has pushed further, laying out demands such as police-free schools, a cancellation of rents and mortgages, and moratoriums on both new charter programs and standardized testing.

The American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.7 million members, has called for “safety strikes” as a last resort if school reopening plans don’t protect the health of educators and the larger 3-million member National Education Association says nothing is off the table.

Those threats and demands have raised the ire of some lawmakers, school districts, parents and conservative groups who argue that teachers are taking advantage of the chaos the pandemic has caused to push policy changes the unions have wanted for years.

“No question, there’s a risk that some will use this moment to politicize these challenges in a way that simply is counterproductive,” said Shavar Jeffries, national president of Democrats for Education Reform, a progressive political organization that advocates for students and families. “I don’t think anything that’s not related to either the health or educational implications of Covid makes sense.”

Members of a coalition of activist parents called the National Parents Union largely agree with teachers unions over what reopening should look like, and their “Family Bill of Rights” emphasizes a need to implement safety measures like masks, temperature checks and updated ventilation systems, said Keri Rodrigues, the group’s president.

But Rodrigues, whose organization represents primarily minority and low-income parents, also criticized the unions for trying to “dominate the conversation” and promote a “long-standing political agenda,” which she called an “overreach.”

“I think that parents were willing to extend a lot of grace in March, in April, even into May,” she said, adding that feeling began to erode after a long summer with little guidance and few decisions made about how to move forward. “At this point, parents are very frustrated.”

Many union officials said they are aware of the need to balance their own demands with parents’ anxiety over their children falling behind — and they know the support they have so far enjoyed could slip.

In Ohio, local unions are focused on the “balancing act” of advocating for both quality learning and teacher and student safety, said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association. The state union has called on Republican Gov. Mike DeWine to restrict any schools in counties with the highest levels of coronavirus cases to remote learning only, while requiring all others to follow the CDC’s safety guidelines for reopening.

“We’re very conscious of the need to be partners with parents, not to end up being in adversarial relationships,” DiMauro said. “But the longer this goes on, it’s just like everything about coronavirus — there are vulnerabilities in the system, and we can’t go on like this forever.”

Others have been more defiant. Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, defended the demands that critics have slammed as going too far, including a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

“How can you do remote learning from home if you don’t have a home?” she said. “This is fundamentally about a city, about a mayor who has failed to repair a safety net.”

In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially announced a hybrid reopening model before reversing course earlier this month and announcing that schools would open online-only. The decision came just days after news broke that the union, which has more than 25,000 members, was considering a potential strike vote if the district did not change its plans.

“A win for teachers, students and parents,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey posted on Twitter at the time. “It’s sad that we have to strike or threaten to strike to be heard, but when we fight we win!”

The pandemic has made some union leaders hopeful that it will strengthen their cause and influence for the foreseeable future, as teachers who feel forced into unsafe working conditions look for support and want to get involved.

“More of our members, and more educators in general, are questioning their beliefs on things like strikes. For the first time, they’re really seeing the depths and magnitude of what it actually takes to force change and are rethinking their beliefs on work stoppages,” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 65,000 of the nearly 365,000 teachers in the state. “I’ve never received as many unsolicited new memberships.”

Union strikes won’t “sit well” with those working parents who want their kids to return to the classroom, said Dan Domenech, who runs AASA, The School Superintendents Association. “That emerges as a major bone of contention, for example, with a lot of the red states that have been pushing for the kids being in the building physically,” he said.

But he said superintendents, generally, have described their negotiations with unions as a “fairly agreeable process,” and some superintendents see union pushback at the state level as an effort to prevent an “open-schools-at-all-costs attitude.”

“The unions, in a situation like this, where they have the support of the parents and the community because what they’re advocating for is the safety of the students and the staff — that’s a very powerful position,” Domenech said.

The debate over whether and how to reopen schools safely is about more than getting children back in classrooms. Proponents of fully reopening schools, including President Donald Trump, say doing so would help reopen the U.S. economy, allowing parents to get back to work, while helping more students access mental health services and meals from their schools. It would also represent a step toward normalcy, which Trump badly wants before voters head to the polls in November.

Asked about the threat of teacher strikes, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told Fox News recently that “parents and children can’t be held captive to others’ fears or agendas.”

In a June poll, 76 percent of AFT members surveyed indicated they were comfortable returning to school buildings with “proper safeguards,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said last month. That was before the virus started to spread more rapidly in the U.S. and Trump, as well as DeVos, began what Weingarten called “reckless ‘open or else’ threats.”

“Now they’re angry and afraid,” Weingarten said of her members. “Many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills. Parents are afraid and angry too.”

Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents the country’s second-largest school district, urged union members to ramp up their demands in her inaugural speech. “We can’t count on the politicians, whether it’s the White House, Congress or the governor to open up the economy in a safe and equitable manner. We can’t count on them to fully fund public education,” she said.

Both NEA and AFT have issued their own guidance for reopening schools. And AFT recently adopted a resolution setting some specific parameters for reopening, including a daily community infection rate below 5 percent and a transmission rate below 1 percent.

But local unions’ work on reopening plans have been used against them, with critics alleging that teachers are putting themselves over the needs of students. Some parents who are essential workers argue that if they are reporting to their jobs, so should teachers.

The Center for Education Reform, an organization that advocates for school choice and charter schools, slammed unions in a policy brief this month, saying that union leaders are “only interested in strikes not solutions.”

“Unions are attacking states and locales that are trying to provide options for everyone, while demanding billions more,” CER said.

The open question is where parents themselves fall in this debate. National polls largely show a majority remain uneasy about reopening: Two-thirds of parents say they see sending their children to school as a large or moderate risk, according to an Axios-Ipsos survey released last week — and almost three in four of Americans surveyed said they are concerned about schools in their community reopening too soon.

Parents of color have also been more worried about reopening than white parents, surveys show. An earlier Axios-Ipsos poll from July found nearly 90 percent of Black parents and 80 percent of Hispanic parents viewed sending their children back to school as a large or moderate risk, compared to 64 percent of white parents.

Some outside groups and experts warn that those numbers could start to shift the longer the debate goes on and students remain out of the classroom.

“With the economy reopening, a lot of individuals are putting themselves in uncomfortable positions in terms of working in light of the pandemic, and might expect teachers to have some give there as well,” said Bradley Marianno, an assistant professor of educational policy and leadership at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, who has been tracking negotiations between teachers’ unions and school districts since the spring.

Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, said “parents rightly have given teachers and unions a lot of grace,” especially during the “chaotic” roll out of remote learning in the spring. But there’s “potential for increasing tension” between parents and unions as leaders negotiate with districts on issues such as how much live virtual instruction they will provide.

“They’re issues that parents have a vested interest in, but they’re not at the table, right? So that’s that’s where the potential tension comes in,” she said.

Some parents, frustrated with their experience in the spring, are already banding together to create private tutoring pods for small groups of students during the pandemic.

If they have to choose between the teachers and their own student’s welfare, Lake said, “they’ll choose their student.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. 

About the Author: Nicole Gaudiano is an education reporter for POLITICO Pro. In more than two decades of reporting, she has covered crime, the military, Congress, presidential campaigns and, now, education. She is a reporter who cares deeply about accuracy, asks tough questions and loves learning. Along with reporting, she enjoys shooting videos and photos.

About the Author: Mackenzie Mays covers education in California. Prior to joining POLITICO in 2019, she was the investigative reporter at the Fresno Bee, where her political watchdog reporting received a National Press Club press freedom award.


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Florida may turn down Trump’s plan to increase jobless aid

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Republican and Democratic legislators alike say they don’t understand why Florida hasn’t acted yet.

TALLAHASSEE — Although Florida has some of the lowest unemployment payments in the nation, Gov. Ron DeSantis remains undecided about whether to ask for the stripped-down federal benefits recently authorized by President Donald Trump.

Eleven states have applied for a $400 weekly extra unemployment payment program, which was initiated following Trump’s expansion of jobless aid via executive action. Florida, however, remains on the sidelines and it could stay that way.

The longer the DeSantis administration delays, the longer it will take for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Floridians to receive the extra help Trump promised — if the state eventually does apply for it. There is also a risk that the limited federal funding available could run out before the state acts.

But the delay speaks to the conundrum that Trump’s actions pose for Florida, a state led by a key campaign ally of the president. While extending the benefits could pump tens of millions into the battleground state’s economy, the federal proposal could prove extremely costly — and unwieldy — for the state to carry out given the rules surrounding the effort.

When asked about the funding on Thursday, a spokesperson for DeSantis did not say when — or if — Florida plans to act.

“Florida is currently reviewing guidance issued by the Department of Labor and the Federal Emergency Management Administration to determine the best course of action that will preserve the state’s financial stability while providing important assistance to Floridians in need,” said Cody McCloud, a spokesperson for the governor.

Republican and Democratic legislators alike say they don’t understand why Florida hasn’t acted yet.

“We should be exploring every option and following the lead of other states that have been successful,” said State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Florida’s tourist-based economy collapsed amid the coronavirus pandemic and the forced business shutdown. More than 3.5 million Floridians have filed jobless claims since mid-March — including another 66,000 who filed their initial claim last week. The state has paid out more than $13 billion in the last five months, but most of that money has been an extra $600 a week payment that Congress included in the CARES Act. That extra payment expired at the end of July, but the House and Senate have been at odds over a new coronavirus relief package.

Trump stepped in and authorized dipping into $44 billion worth of disaster relief funds to pay for a new round of extra benefits. DeSantis last week suggested he was considering having Florida apply to FEMA to receive what is being called “lost wages assistance.”

The problem, however, is that the FEMA aid requires 25 percent matching money from states. Initially Trump suggested states could use unspent money that was part of the CARES Act but DeSantis has told the White House that such an approach could not work. The governor plans to use the more than $5 billion sent to Florida to help pay for coronavirus response and to patch holes in the state’s budget.

Federal authorities then told states they could use money they are already spending on state unemployment benefits to count toward the matching requirement. But there are complications with that approach as well. The first obstacle is that money spent by the state must be on or after Aug. 1.

That’s a problem because Florida benefits — which pay out a maximum of $275 a week — are capped at 12 weeks. Congress authorized additional payments to workers whose state benefits are exhausted but those are paid entirely out of federal aid. Many jobless Floridians already have rolled over from the state program to the federal one. Florida’s budget is in tatters and there’s no other place the state could easily get the matching money. DeSantis suggested that the state could perhaps borrow money for its unemployment trust fund, but such a move risks triggering tax hikes on employers.

Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy for the Florida AFL-CIO, said all the complications with the extra aid show that it’s “not a workable solution.”

“This really seems like a campaign soundbite just to get us through November with no real understanding how this will work,” Templin said.

Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach) saaid DeSantis still needs to act quickly and take care of Floridians reeling from the economic collapse.

“If Donald Trump is going to offer him a bucket and a mop then he needs to take the bucket and mop and clean up the mess,” Jenne said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Gary Fineout came to POLITICO Florida in February 2019 after spending more than two decades covering Florida politics and government.


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Unemployment claims jump back over 1 million

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States have been processing roughly 1 million new unemployment applications each week since mid-March.

The number of workers applying for unemployment benefits jumped to 1.1 million last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, the first time in two weeks that new claims have gone up.

States have been processing roughly 1 million new unemployment applications each week since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping through the country, forcing the shutdown of many businesses.

An additional 542,797 workers filed for jobless aid under the new pandemic unemployment assistance program, created for those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits like the self-employed and gig workers.

How bad is it?: New jobless applications filed in state programs are still far above the previous record of 695,000 in 1982 — and have topped that record for 22 weeks in a row.

That figure also doesn’t include the thousands of workers who are applying for jobless benefits under the federal pandemic assistance program.

In total, there are more than 28 million people receiving jobless benefits, the department said.

New Jersey saw the largest jump in new claims last week, reporting an estimated 24,646 new applications, a more than 10,000 increase from the previous week. New York also received 62,397 new claims last week, nearly 10,000 more than it saw the week before.

Where’s Congress?: Lawmakers left Washington after Democratic leaders and the White House were unable to agree on another round of pandemic aid.

The House will gavel in for a rare weekend session on Saturday to vote on a bill to shore up the U.S. Postal Service, but Democratic leaders have been facing pressure within the party to also vote on aid programs like beefed-up unemployment insurance. Democrats are considering a proposal that would automatically extend jobless benefits to millions of Americans if the economic and health crises continue.

Unemployed workers were receiving an extra $600-a-week boost from the federal government under a program created by the CARES Act, the massive economic relief bill passed in March. But those payments expired on July 31, cutting most unemployed workers’ checks by at least 50 percent.

Republicans meanwhile, are planning to introduce a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill that is expected to include $300 in boosted weekly federal unemployment benefits until Dec. 27.

What are states doing?: Eleven states so far have applied to tap into a $400 extra unemployment payment program initiated following President Donald Trump’s move to expand jobless aid via executive action.

Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah have been approved for extra federal assistance, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The program was launched after Trump on Aug. 8 issued an executive memorandum instructing FEMA to use disaster relief funding to send the extra $400 a week to unemployed workers.

But laid-off workers in those states will probably not see the extra cash on their unemployment checks for several weeks. The president’s memo required states to create and implement a new system and fund one-fourth of the additional $400 benefit.

Because states have to adjust their unemployment insurance system to access the funds and “accommodate program requirements,” the DOL estimates it will take each state three weeks to set up the program.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

 


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