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Elect Working People For Everything

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The 2022 midterms were full of surprises to many political pundits, analysts, and consultants. A popular narrative predicting a massive Republican wave election turned out to be wrong, with Democrats retaining the U.S. Senate and performing stronger than expected in many states despite serious inflation and low favorability ratings for national party leaders.

A major force behind these election results is an often overlooked list of scrappy, grassroots organizations focused on building working class power through political engagement, voter education, and better candidates. In my corner of rural America, that group is Down Home North Carolina.

‚ÄúOur strategy is going places where no door knockers and no phone canvassers have gone before,‚ÄĚ Down Home‚Äôs Dreama Caldwell told me when I asked her about the group‚Äôs 2022 election efforts. ‚Äú80 of our state‚Äôs 100 counties are rural. We focus on rural people and rural places because there‚Äôs no path to victory in our state without a rural strategy. There tends to be less voter engagement in rural communities, and we‚Äôre flipping that script here in North Carolina.‚ÄĚ

Wearing shirts that read ‚ÄúElect Working People for Everything,‚ÄĚ Down Home‚Äôs volunteers and staff knocked on more than 150,000 doors during the election cycle, leading to 36,712 in-person conversations with potential rural voters. The group‚Äôs phone canvass team made more than 155,000 phone calls and sent over 181,000 text messages. They also sent more than 500,000 pieces of rural mail.

The goal of this massive mobilization was to support Down Home’s slate of working class candidates for state legislative races, county officials, and multiple school board districts. Ultimately, Down Home’s election efforts helped to elect two new rural working class candidates to the state house and one to the state senate, preventing the Republicans from obtaining their sought-after supermajority.

Down Home member Lisa Hanami knocked on hundreds of doors in Cabarrus County. She was particularly proud to be getting out the vote for newly elected state representative Diamond Staton Williams, a Black nurse who won by just 425 votes.

‚ÄúWe knocked on doors and talked to people about the issues that matter to us. Issues like being able to put food on the table, being able to just pay your bills. Most people we talked to agreed that we need stronger candidates who are actually working class themselves, and Diamond, she‚Äôs one of us. She‚Äôs a nurse, a regular working class person,‚ÄĚ Hanami said.

When she was growing up, Hanami was challenged by her grandparents to become politically active, to join the family tradition of activism and organizing for racial justice and economic equality. Her experience knocking doors in Carrabus County was her first major campaign.

‚ÄúWhen you meet people in person, get to know them, you start to realize there are different problems than we hear about in the mainstream media. And that especially matters based on what media people are listening to or watching. I found out so many people had bad information, even misinformation. That‚Äôs a problem, and one way to solve it is more face-to-face interactions,‚ÄĚ Hanami said.

Caldwell told me that Down Home is committed to deepening its voter engagement work in rural North Carolina in the years to come.

‚ÄúWhat we‚Äôre trying to do is build a bigger ‚Äėwe.‚Äô Our organizing in rural communities is a year-round commitment. And we‚Äôre finding that where we work the election results are a little less red each time. And we‚Äôre inspiring more working class people to get involved, to run for office themselves.‚ÄĚ

I’m hoping that voter engagement efforts like this can spread throughout the countryside, growing in impact and influence here in rural North Carolina as well as other areas where working class issues are being neglected by mainstream politics. And selfishly, I’m hoping that Down Home can get the attention and funding they deserve to grow their organizing efforts to where I live in the mountains of Transylvania County.

Working class politics grows the map in rural America, and that’s a lesson we all need to remember come 2024.

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on December 7, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Oates is a freelance reporter and opinion writer covering rural issues, policy, and politics. He lives and works in Transylvania County, North Carolina.

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Labor Did Not Get Much in the Good Years

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Hamilton Nolan

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, and an invisible clock started ticking.

That clock has been measuring the window of opportunity: The time during which Democrats held the White House and both branches of Congress. History told us that window would probably be closing with the 2022 midterm elections.

When you think back over the past two years, they may feel, subjectively, like a¬†time of great chaos — Covid, economic peril and great political struggles over democracy¬†itself.¬†

Wrong! The last two years were the good times.

The Democrats did better than expected in the midterms, but they appear likely to lose the House (thanks to gerrymandering). That’s all it will take to shut down the chance at any progressive legislation for the next two years.

For organized labor, the question worth asking now is: Did we take advantage of that opportune moment we had? The answer is no. And working people will suffer for that failure for many years to come. 

Political party power ebbs and flows, but movements are permanent. The labor movement has the same job after the midterms that it had before the midterms: to increase the power of working people relative to the power of capital. In the long sweep of American history, the movement has not been doing this job very well.

The political parties have swapped off control for the past half-century, but for virtually the entire time, union density has continued to decline, and economic inequality has widened. Individual victories notwithstanding, organized labor as an institution has been getting its ass kicked for generations now. 

Since Ronald Reagan swaggered into office, the national political situation has been that Republicans try to wipe unions off the face of the earth, and the Democratic Party — in exchange for huge campaign contributions — agrees not to try to wipe unions off the face of the earth.

Joe Biden’s election offered a respite from this depressing dynamic. Biden has been rightly called the most pro-union president of our lifetime. It’s a low bar, but one he meets. Jennifer Abruzzo, Biden’s choice to lead the NLRB, has pursued the most aggressive pro-union agenda that agency has ever seen. Though starved of resources and funding, the NLRB has been the one beacon that illustrates what a government that cared about labor could be. 

Legislatively, the union establishment made the passage of the PRO Act, which would transform America’s broken labor laws, their top priority.

This was a mistake. It was clear from day one that the PRO Act would never pass the 50-50 Senate unless we finally scrapped the filibuster. By lobbying for the law itself more voraciously than the structural change that is necessary to get the law passed, we got neither.

Even in this administration, the one that unions cannot stop declaring is the best ever, organized labor has had to settle for a smattering of nice-but-not-amazing regulatory changes from the White House, rather than any meaningful legislation. In retrospect, unions would have been better served by training all their firepower for the past two years on abolishing the filibuster and fully funding the NLRB, the only real government firewall against the hellacious illegal union-busting that corporations routinely engage in. 

The Democratic Party did in fact make an attempt to advance some transformative things in its big reconciliation package, once called Build Back Better, but those attempts crashed against the sullen wall of Joe Manchin. If the labor movement is being honest with itself, it will look back on 2021 and 2022 as a period of potential that was not taken advantage of.

If Republicans take control of even a¬†single house of Congress, all legislative hope will instantly die; everything becomes mired in performative recriminations. There is plenty of promise on the state level for worker power — Illinois just¬†enshrined¬†collective bargaining in its state constitution, and Nebraska, for god‚Äôs sake, just¬†passed¬†a $15¬†minimum wage — but the climate for unions in Washington, D.C. is not going to be¬†improving.¬†

The fact that this meager collection of crumbs is all that the labor movement has been able to shake loose from Washington over the past two years is a stark reminder that political power will always follow from labor power, not vice versa.

Do not fall into despair when the midterms spawn two years of mind-numbing debt limit showdowns over border walls and House investigations into Hunter Biden’s love life. Do not make the mistake we made in the Obama years, settling for the wolves of neoliberalism out of fear that the dragons on the right were even worse.

Go organize workers. Spend every last cent possible on organizing workers, before this moment of enthusiasm fades. Washington, D.C. is but one small speck in a vast nation of working people waiting impatiently to win a union. The labor movement’s future rests not on the outcome of the midterms, but on its willingness and ability to organize workers. Good things happen when we organize workers, and bad things happen when we don’t.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 14, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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Union Members Are Democrats’ Last Defense in Swing States

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Maximillian Alvarez

The soul of the labor movement is the fight for democracy in and outside of the workplace.

From the shop floor to the ballot box, organizers, volunteers, and rank-and-file workers with UNITE HERE are putting everything they have into that fight. Even in the midst of a deadly pandemic that hit the service and hospitality industries especially hard, union members with UNITE HERE hit the pavement in record numbers ahead of the 2020 general elections. 

As Harold Meyerson¬†notes¬†in¬†The American Prospect, UNITE HERE members canvassed “more precincts than any other organization on the Democratic side of the ledger that year.”

Talking to well over a million voters in Vegas, Reno, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Atlanta, they played a key role in Joe Biden’s victory and in the Democrats winning control of the Senate.

This year, ahead of the¬†2022¬†midterm elections, “they have even more members knocking on doors than they did two years ago.” As working people face an increasingly unbearable cost-of-living crisis, as the right continues to attack abortion rights (and voting rights, and workers‚Äô rights, and LGBTQ people, and teachers, etc.), as basic human needs like healthcare, housing, and clean water are put farther out of reach for the poor and working classes, as more people give up on a¬†political system they feel gave up on them a¬†long time ago, the fight for a¬†better society is happening at the grassroots¬†level.

In a special panel, recorded a¬†week before the¬†2022¬†midterm elections, we talk with three UNITE HERE members — Maggie Acosta (Arizona), Bryan Villarreal-Vasquez (Nevada), and Sheila Silver (Pennsylvania) — about their tireless canvassing efforts in battleground states, what they‚Äôre hearing from voters, and what the struggle for democracy means to them and their¬†union.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 8, 2022 alongside a podcast. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvazerez s editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InTheseTimes.com.

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With Democrats in Full Control, It’s Time to Pass the PRO Act

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In this special episode, we talk with three representatives of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades ‚ÄĒ Jim Williams (General Vice President), Kellie Morgan (Political Director¬†&¬†Community Organizer, District Council¬†77), and Salvador Herrera (Director of Organizing, District Council¬†88) ‚ÄĒ about labor‚Äôs fight to pass the PRO Act. We break down what the PRO Act is, why passing it would institute a¬†monumental shift in worker power, and how it would impact the daily realities of workers and¬†organizers.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on January 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, ?‚Äúa podcast by, for, and about the working class today.‚ÄĚ His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.

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Unions disagree over Biden’s Labor secretary pick

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Union leaders are hoping to influence Joe Biden’s pick for Labor secretary ‚ÄĒ but they’re increasingly at odds over who should get the job.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and some of his organization’s largest affiliate unions are singing the praises of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who previously led the city’s Building and Construction Trades Council and could appeal to construction workers who supported President Donald Trump. But other unions in the federation are publicly pushing Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat who worked as a labor organizer and ran the state’s job training program before he was elected.

The federation, which spans 56 unions representing over 12 million of the more-than 14 million unionized workers in the U.S., was supposed to discuss the potential Labor secretary pick and a possible endorsement at a meeting of union presidents who serve on its political committee on Friday. But that didn’t happen and another meeting hasn’t been scheduled, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

The split over Walsh and Levin was the reason why, one of the people said. ‚ÄúA number of the presidents were sort of furious at the whole thing,” said the person, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

Union leaders have long been expecting to hold sway in a Biden administration, given his support for workers’ right to organize ‚ÄĒ and the Labor Department will play the leading role in implementing Biden‚Äôs sweeping pro-worker agenda, making the role an obvious choice for organized labor to weigh in.Biden met on Monday with Trumka and the heads of Service Employees International Union, United Auto Workers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and United Food and Commercial Workers.

But the early division over potential candidatescould make it difficult for Biden to choose someone who would win support from all sides of the labor movement. It’s also unclear whether any of the white male candidates whom unions are supporting would appeal to the Biden camp, which is trying to build a diverse Cabinet.

Also in the mix for the position is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who‚Äôs been courting the Biden camp ‚ÄĒ and, according to CNN, the AFL-CIO ‚ÄĒ as he pushes himself for the job. California Labor Secretary Julie Su, who is well-regarded by unions in her state, is another contender.

Biden and his team have said they do not expect to make any Cabinet appointments until closer to Thanksgiving, and those close to the transition say announcements for leaders at higher-profile agencies such as the Treasury and State Departments are likely to come before the Labor Department.

Unions will unify behind whomever Biden chooses, Trumka said in an interview.

‚ÄúOnce the nomination is made, everyone will get on the same page,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúBecause I have no doubt that the person Joe Biden will name will be an effective friend of workers and do right by working people.‚ÄĚ

Still, Trumka and others in the labor movement are trying to put their thumbs on the scale.

The AFL-CIO‚Äôs two largest affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, threw their weight last week behind Walsh. Trumka, while stopping short of endorsing Walsh, said he would be a ‚Äúgreat choice.‚ÄĚ

But not everyone has fallen in line: United Auto Workers and Utility Workers Unionof America sent letters to Biden’s transition team Tuesday backing Levin, who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee. National Nurses United and Communications Workers of America have thrown their weight behind Levin as well.

Levin has stronger ties to labor than some of the other names floated, with time spent as an SEIU organizer and more than a decade working for the AFL-CIO. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he also served in the Labor Department during the Clinton administration and as Michigan’s chief workforce officer under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

‚ÄúLevin has both the knowledge and the expertise and the connections, both in the labor movement and in the broader progressive movement, including the environmental movement, to really be effective and a forceful advocate for families,‚ÄĚ Economic Policy Institute President Thea Lee, who worked with Levin at the AFL-CIO, told POLITICO.

Levin was elected to represent Michigan in the House in 2018 after his father, longtime congressman Sander Levin, decided against running for reelection. So far, he’s not openly campaigning for the Labor Department job.

“The power behind this, if it‚Äôs happening, is not me,‚ÄĚ Levin said in an interview. ‚ÄúI’m humbled to have people I’ve worked with shoulder to shoulder for decades saying they’d like for this to happen.‚ÄĚ

Walsh, for his part, led Boston‚Äôs Building and Construction Trades Council before becoming mayor, credentials that may help a Biden administration draw in workers from the other side of the aisle: 75 percent of construction workers who made political donations gave them to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Walsh and Biden also have a well-documented personal relationship: Not only did Biden speak at the mayor‚Äôs 2017 inauguration, but the pair have been spotted together in Walsh‚Äôs city at the anniversary of the Marathon bombings, at a Stop & Shop workers rally and even on a dinner date.

‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a friend and knows Joe: They‚Äôve worked together on numerous occasions,‚ÄĚ Trumka said. ‚ÄúThey have the relationship I think is necessary.‚ÄĚ

Current and former union officials have raised concerns about revelations of corruption under Walsh‚Äôs watch as mayor, including one city employee who pled guilty in September 2019 to accepting a $50,000 bribe. But Trumka was quick to dismiss those: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs nonsense,‚ÄĚ Trumka said. ‚ÄúIt had nothing to do with him.‚ÄĚ

Walsh, for his part, has stayed tight-lipped.

‚ÄúI‚Äôm excited about what a Biden-Harris administration means for Boston,” he said in a statement. “While it’s an honor to be mentioned among the many highly qualified individuals being considered for a role in the Biden Administration, I am focused on my job as mayor of the City of Boston.”

This article originally appeared at Politico on November 16, 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‚Äôs rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton‚Äôs careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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

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The $15 Minimum Wage Won in Florida, But Biden Didn’t. Here’s Why.

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On Novem­ber 3, Florida’s polit­i­cal­ly diverse elec­torate showed resound­ing support for Amend­ment 2, an ini­tia­tive to grad­u­al­ly raise the state min­i­mum wage from $8.56 an hour to $15 by 2026. This makes Flori­da the eighth state nation­wide, and the first state in the South, to get on track towards a $15 min­i­mum wage.

This vic¬≠to¬≠ry con¬≠trasts sharply with the loss of Biden in the state, as well as sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant loss¬≠es for the state Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty. The activists behind Amend¬≠ment 2 say their cam¬≠paign offers lessons for how pro¬≠gres¬≠sive ideas can win the day by pri¬≠or¬≠i¬≠tiz¬≠ing improv¬≠ing the mate¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al con¬≠di¬≠tions of work¬≠ers, and speak direct¬≠ly to the hard¬≠ship that peo¬≠ple face.

‚ÄúFar too many work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple in Flori¬≠da do crit¬≠i¬≠cal work to keep our com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties going but are under¬≠paid and under¬≠val¬≠ued, often bare¬≠ly mak¬≠ing enough to get by,‚ÄĚ said Esther Segu¬≠ra, a Jack¬≠son Health Sys¬≠tem nurse and union mem¬≠ber with the Flori¬≠da for $15 coali¬≠tion, a net¬≠work of labor, racial, eco¬≠nom¬≠ic jus¬≠tice and grass¬≠roots orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions statewide. ?‚ÄúWe call them essen¬≠tial work¬≠ers, and now it‚Äôs clear the major¬≠i¬≠ty of Flori¬≠da vot¬≠ers agree that it‚Äôs time to pay them the wages they deserve!‚ÄĚ 

A vic¬≠to¬≠ry for workers

Amend¬≠ment 2, known as the Fair Wage Ini¬≠tia¬≠tive, faced a dif¬≠fi¬≠cult ter¬≠rain, includ¬≠ing oppo¬≠si¬≠tion from the Flori¬≠da Cham¬≠ber of Com¬≠merce, the Nation¬≠al Restau¬≠rant Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion, and the anti-Amend¬≠ment 2 PAC Save Flori¬≠da Jobs‚ÄĒwhich warned vot¬≠ers of dis¬≠as¬≠trous effects on Florida‚Äôs small busi¬≠ness own¬≠ers and eco¬≠nom¬≠ic recov¬≠ery. Yet, the ini¬≠tia¬≠tive secured 60.8% approval among Flori¬≠da vot¬≠ers, just bare¬≠ly meet¬≠ing the 60% thresh¬≠old need¬≠ed to pass.

Under Amend¬≠ment 2, the wage floor will increase to $10 next Sep¬≠tem¬≠ber and rise in $1 incre¬≠ments each year until reach¬≠ing $15 on Sep¬≠tem¬≠ber 30, 2026. For tipped employ¬≠ees, wages will increase from $5.54 to $11.98 by 2026. Orlan¬≠do attor¬≠ney and mil¬≠lion¬≠aire John Mor¬≠gan, who bankrolled Florida‚Äôs bal¬≠lot mea¬≠sure to legal¬≠ize med¬≠ical mar¬≠i¬≠jua¬≠na in 2016, poured mil¬≠lions of dol¬≠lars into Florida‚Äôs Amend¬≠ment 2 cam¬≠paign, char¬≠ac¬≠ter¬≠iz¬≠ing it as ?‚Äúa vote of moral¬≠i¬≠ty and compassion.‚ÄĚ

Rough¬≠ly 2.5 mil¬≠lion work¬≠ers are expect¬≠ed to see a pay increase next Sep¬≠tem¬≠ber, includ¬≠ing 38% of women of col¬≠or in the work¬≠force, accord¬≠ing to a report from the left-lean¬≠ing Flori¬≠da Pol¬≠i¬≠cy Insti¬≠tute. Black and Lat¬≠inx women?‚ÄĒ?who in the Unit¬≠ed States earn 63 cents and 55 cents on the white, male dol¬≠lar respec¬≠tive¬≠ly?‚ÄĒ?are expect¬≠ed to see the great¬≠est gains from Florida‚Äôs wage bump. 

For those who orga¬≠nized around Florida‚Äôs Amend¬≠ment 2 across the state, the ben¬≠e¬≠fits of rais¬≠ing wages weren‚Äôt a hard sell. Indi¬≠vid¬≠u¬≠als with Flori¬≠da for $15 sent more than 3.1 mil¬≠lion texts to vot¬≠ers ahead of Elec¬≠tion Day, and sup¬≠port¬≠ed a num¬≠ber of work¬≠er strikes and car car¬≠a¬≠vans led by Flori¬≠da fast food and air¬≠port work¬≠ers. The effort also gar¬≠nered the involve¬≠ment of for¬≠mer¬≠ly incar¬≠cer¬≠at¬≠ed work¬≠ers like Alex Har¬≠ris, a 24-year-old Waf¬≠fle House work¬≠er and Fight for $15 leader. ‚Äú[Florida‚Äôs cur¬≠rent min¬≠i¬≠mum wage] is just a way to keep peo¬≠ple incar¬≠cer¬≠at¬≠ed, to keep them strug¬≠gling, and to keep them from being free,‚ÄĚ Har¬≠ris said, dur¬≠ing an Octo¬≠ber Fight for $15 ral¬≠ly in Tam¬≠pa, Flori¬≠da. Har¬≠ris, a return¬≠ing cit¬≠i¬≠zen who regained his right to vote with Florida‚Äôs 2018 Amend¬≠ment 4 bal¬≠lot mea¬≠sure, vocal¬≠ized the need for vot¬≠ers to show up for Amend¬≠ment 2 through¬≠out the campaign.

Dis¬≠ap¬≠point¬≠ing results for Democrats

Yet, the Biden cam¬≠paign did not fare as well. In some¬≠thing of an upset, Biden?‚ÄĒ?who had qui¬≠et¬≠ly endorsed a $15 fed¬≠er¬≠al min¬≠i¬≠mum wage as part of his eco¬≠nom¬≠ic plat¬≠form?‚ÄĒ?lost to Trump in Flori¬≠da by rough¬≠ly 370,000 votes, under¬≠per¬≠form¬≠ing with the state‚Äôs diverse Lat¬≠inx and His¬≠pan¬≠ic com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties in coun¬≠ties like Mia¬≠mi-Dade, where Repub¬≠li¬≠cans put a lot of ener¬≠gy into ?‚Äúsocial¬≠ist‚Äô fear-mongering. 

There was a sharp dis¬≠crep¬≠an¬≠cy between Flori¬≠da vot¬≠ers‚Äô over¬≠whelm¬≠ing sup¬≠port for a $15 min¬≠i¬≠mum wage and a lack of sup¬≠port for Biden, who received more than one mil¬≠lion less votes than Amend¬≠ment 2. (Trump also paled in pop¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠i¬≠ty to Florida‚Äôs min¬≠i¬≠mum wage ini¬≠tia¬≠tive, trail¬≠ing its pow¬≠er¬≠house base of sup¬≠port by more than 700,000 votes.)

Biden wasn‚Äôt the only per¬≠son who faced defeat. Florida‚Äôs state Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty also suf¬≠fered a sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant blow on Elec¬≠tion Day. Democ¬≠rats lost five seats in the state House, and in Mia¬≠mi, Repub¬≠li¬≠cans have forced at least one state Sen¬≠ate race to a recount. 

But despite talk that Flori¬≠da has offi¬≠cial¬≠ly joined the country‚Äôs ?‚Äúred states,‚ÄĚ Flori¬≠da mem¬≠bers of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Social¬≠ists of Amer¬≠i¬≠ca (DSA) who were active¬≠ly involved in the Flori¬≠da for $15 coali¬≠tion are less cyn¬≠i¬≠cal about the poten¬≠tial of Florida‚Äôs mul¬≠tira¬≠cial work¬≠ing class major¬≠i¬≠ty. The mem¬≠bers of DSA, the largest social¬≠ist orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tion in the coun¬≠try, have their own ideas for why Biden?‚ÄĒ?and state Democ¬≠rats more broad¬≠ly?‚ÄĒ?failed to gar¬≠ner the same suc¬≠cess as Florida‚Äôs min¬≠i¬≠mum wage amendment.

Kofi Hunt, a co-chair of the Pinel¬≠las Coun¬≠ty chap¬≠ter of DSA, says the Flori¬≠da for $15 cam¬≠paign was unapolo¬≠get¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly pro-work¬≠er in its mes¬≠sag¬≠ing and spoke direct¬≠ly to the strug¬≠gles of Florida‚Äôs work¬≠ing class. Hunt argues that the state‚Äôs mul¬≠tira¬≠cial work¬≠ing-class base more broad¬≠ly didn‚Äôt get a staunch pro-work¬≠er mes¬≠sage from either Trump or Biden, but con¬≠cedes that the lat¬≠ter offered more of a work¬≠er-friend¬≠ly plat¬≠form. But Hunt and oth¬≠ers involved in the Flori¬≠da for $15 coali¬≠tion argue Biden‚Äôs most pro-work¬≠er poli¬≠cies?‚ÄĒ?such as uni¬≠ver¬≠sal pre-Kinder¬≠garten and a fed¬≠er¬≠al min¬≠i¬≠mum wage boost?‚ÄĒ?didn‚Äôt get the kind of lime¬≠light that could have ben¬≠e¬≠fit¬≠ted him more on the cam¬≠paign trail in Florida. 

‚ÄúThe pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial elec¬≠tion was large¬≠ly about defeat¬≠ing Trump and not what Joe Biden would do for work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple,‚ÄĚ says Richie Floyd, a Pinel¬≠las DSA orga¬≠niz¬≠er and labor activist who con¬≠tributed to Flori¬≠da for $15 efforts. ?‚ÄúDur¬≠ing trips to Flori¬≠da, Biden played ?‚ÄėDespaci¬≠to‚Äô on his phone and pan¬≠dered to right-wing vot¬≠ers in Mia¬≠mi. This strat¬≠e¬≠gy com¬≠plete¬≠ly failed as we can see from the results out of Miami-Dade.‚ÄĚ

Talk¬≠ing to the work¬≠ing class

The Flori¬≠da for $15 cam¬≠paign, on the oth¬≠er hand, empha¬≠sized the strug¬≠gles of Florida‚Äôs work¬≠ing fam¬≠i¬≠lies?‚ÄĒ?such as unaf¬≠ford¬≠able health¬≠care, child¬≠care and hous¬≠ing?‚ÄĒ?and under¬≠scored how achiev¬≠ing high¬≠er wages could direct¬≠ly address those con¬≠cerns. ?‚ÄúIt was about telling work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple across the state that there is a real choice on the bal¬≠lot that can improve peo¬≠ple‚Äôs lives imme¬≠di¬≠ate¬≠ly. It was about focus¬≠ing on what we can offer and how we can make lives bet¬≠ter,‚ÄĚ says Floyd. 

Mean¬≠while, as Repub¬≠li¬≠can-friend¬≠ly cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions like Pub¬≠lix?‚ÄĒ?a south¬≠ern gro¬≠cery chain based in Flori¬≠da?‚ÄĒ?report¬≠ed more than $11.1 billion in sales rev¬≠enue this quar¬≠ter, every¬≠day Florid¬≠i¬≠ans have been left to grap¬≠ple with the state‚Äôs bro¬≠ken unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment sys¬≠tem and the dead¬≠ly mis¬≠man¬≠age¬≠ment of the coro¬≠n¬≠avirus pan¬≠dem¬≠ic by Repub¬≠li¬≠can Gov¬≠er¬≠nor Ron DeSantis. 

While Hunt says Democ¬≠rats gen¬≠er¬≠al¬≠ly do a bet¬≠ter job speak¬≠ing to the needs of mar¬≠gin¬≠al¬≠ized pop¬≠u¬≠la¬≠tions, the ?‚Äútug of war‚ÄĚ between the cor¬≠po¬≠rate and pro¬≠gres¬≠sive wings of the par¬≠ty makes it dif¬≠fi¬≠cult to com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠cate a con¬≠vinc¬≠ing, uni¬≠fy¬≠ing mes¬≠sage for Florida‚Äôs work¬≠ing-class base?‚ÄĒ?par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠ly the state‚Äôs poor Black and Brown communities.

Instead of work¬≠ing to meet these com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties where they‚Äôre at, Hunt says many Flori¬≠da Democ¬≠rats scram¬≠bled to pan¬≠der to sub¬≠ur¬≠ban¬≠ites and adopt con¬≠ser¬≠v¬≠a¬≠tive posi¬≠tions more broad¬≠ly, to make them¬≠selves more appeal¬≠ing to Repub¬≠li¬≠cans who already show up to the bal¬≠lot box.

Floyd agrees with Hunt‚Äôs assess¬≠ment. ?‚ÄúIf the Flori¬≠da and Nation¬≠al Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic par¬≠ties want to be suc¬≠cess¬≠ful here, then they need to real¬≠ize that focus¬≠ing on the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic plight of the mul¬≠ti-racial work¬≠ing class is the only way for¬≠ward,‚ÄĚ he says. ?‚ÄúTo win, we have to focus on the needs of the work¬≠ing class, and not the donor class.‚ÄĚ

Car¬≠men Laguer Diaz, a leader of the SEIU Flori¬≠da Pub¬≠lic Sec¬≠tor Union and an adjunct fac¬≠ul¬≠ty pro¬≠fes¬≠sor at Valen¬≠cia Col¬≠lege in Orlan¬≠do, also believes there‚Äôs a need to iden¬≠ti¬≠fy com¬≠mon¬≠al¬≠i¬≠ties between work¬≠ing indi¬≠vid¬≠u¬≠als?‚ÄĒ?like the appeal of high¬≠er wages?‚ÄĒ?and cross-cul¬≠tur¬≠al mes¬≠sag¬≠ing. ?‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not about par¬≠ty. It‚Äôs about work¬≠ers. It‚Äôs about all of us,‚ÄĚ she said.

Flori¬≠da for $15 coali¬≠tion part¬≠ners aren‚Äôt alone in their crit¬≠i¬≠cisms. State Rep. Anna Eska¬≠mani (D?Orlando)?‚ÄĒ?a pro¬≠gres¬≠sive who eas¬≠i¬≠ly secured a sec¬≠ond term in the Flori¬≠da House on Novem¬≠ber 3?‚ÄĒ?is one of sev¬≠er¬≠al Flori¬≠da Democ¬≠rats who has been open¬≠ly crit¬≠i¬≠cal of the state par¬≠ty since Elec¬≠tion Day, par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠ly of the fail¬≠ure of cor¬≠po¬≠rate Democ¬≠rats to deliv¬≠er any¬≠thing more appeal¬≠ing than vague promis¬≠es for ?‚Äúchange.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúEvery¬≠thing is con¬≠nect¬≠ed, and I think that the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty did a very, very poor job of demon¬≠strat¬≠ing those con¬≠nec¬≠tions and anchor¬≠ing the [Amend¬≠ment 2] issue with our can¬≠di¬≠date [Joe Biden],‚ÄĚ says Eska¬≠mani. ?‚ÄúAnd of course, it‚Äôs often due to cor¬≠po¬≠rate influ¬≠ence. You know, many of the cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions that were against Amend¬≠ment 2 write checks to Democ¬≠rats. And that‚Äôs a prob¬≠lem, because then you end up hav¬≠ing top Democ¬≠rats, who had been brand¬≠ed as lead¬≠ing the par¬≠ty, express¬≠ing luke¬≠warm sen¬≠ti¬≠ments about Amend¬≠ment 2, when we all should be ral¬≠ly¬≠ing around it and lift¬≠ing up the voic¬≠es of our direct¬≠ly impact¬≠ed people.‚ÄĚ

Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic State Sen. Annette Tad¬≠deo, who rep¬≠re¬≠sents parts of Mia¬≠mi-Dade Coun¬≠ty, also expressed being unim¬≠pressed with Biden‚Äôs ground-game down south. ?‚ÄúYou need a con¬≠stant pres¬≠ence, and you can¬≠not take minor¬≠i¬≠ty com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties for grant¬≠ed,‚ÄĚ she told AP News in a Novem¬≠ber 4 arti¬≠cle. ?‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt come in two months before an elec¬≠tion and expect to excite these communities.‚ÄĚ

Flori¬≠da Democ¬≠rats who refuse to embrace pro¬≠gres¬≠sive mea¬≠sures like Medicare for All (which has major¬≠i¬≠ty sup¬≠port nation¬≠wide) and the Green New Deal pro¬≠pos¬≠al claim that it‚Äôs a polit¬≠i¬≠cal lia¬≠bil¬≠i¬≠ty to cam¬≠paign on these poli¬≠cies in swing states. For¬≠mer guber¬≠na¬≠to¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al can¬≠di¬≠date Andrew Gillum, for instance, faced anti-social¬≠ist red bait¬≠ing when he cam¬≠paigned on Medicare for All in Flori¬≠da in 2018. So did Biden this elec¬≠tion cycle, for that mat¬≠ter, despite denounc¬≠ing social¬≠ism at every turn.

But activists says ret¬≠i¬≠cence to embrace left ideas is mis¬≠guid¬≠ed, even in areas like Mia¬≠mi-Dade where demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic social¬≠ists are well-aware of the uphill bat¬≠tle they face in address¬≠ing the bag¬≠gage of the ?‚Äėsocial¬≠ist‚Äô label. Can¬≠di¬≠dates across the coun¬≠try who backed pro¬≠gres¬≠sive posi¬≠tions like the Green New Deal per¬≠formed exceed¬≠ing¬≠ly well. Social¬≠ist can¬≠di¬≠dates and mea¬≠sures also faced con¬≠sid¬≠er¬≠able suc¬≠cess on Elec¬≠tion Day: As Mindy Iss¬≠er report¬≠ed for In These Times, DSA ?‚Äúendorsed 29 can¬≠di¬≠dates and 11 bal¬≠lot ini¬≠tia¬≠tives, win¬≠ning 20 and 8 respec¬≠tive¬≠ly,‚ÄĚ includ¬≠ing Florida‚Äôs $15 min¬≠i¬≠mum wage initiative. 

‚ÄúBiden‚Äôs cam¬≠paign, and most Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic statewide cam¬≠paigns before him in the past 20 years, have nev¬≠er laid out a coher¬≠ent plat¬≠form to work¬≠ing class vot¬≠ers here [in Flori¬≠da],‚ÄĚ says Orlan¬≠do DSA orga¬≠niz¬≠er and Flori¬≠da for $15 coali¬≠tion part¬≠ner Grayson Lan¬≠za. ?‚ÄúBeing the par¬≠ty of ?‚Äėalso not social¬≠ist‚Äô and noth¬≠ing else is clear¬≠ly not working.‚ÄĚ

While some argue that a $15 min¬≠i¬≠mum wage isn‚Äôt going far enough?‚ÄĒ?espe¬≠cial¬≠ly by the time we reach 2026?‚ÄĒ?this initiative‚Äôs pas¬≠sage sig¬≠ni¬≠fies more than just a wage increase. It demon¬≠strates the pop¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠i¬≠ty of poli¬≠cies that stand to ben¬≠e¬≠fit the work¬≠ing-class major¬≠i¬≠ty across the ide¬≠o¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal spec¬≠trum, and shows Flori¬≠da work¬≠ers are moti¬≠vat¬≠ed to orga¬≠nize around issues that are per¬≠ti¬≠nent to their mate¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al con¬≠di¬≠tions. As Floyd puts it, ?‚ÄúThis could bode well for future labor vic¬≠to¬≠ries, as I am hope¬≠ful that politi¬≠cians will see that work¬≠ers rights is a win¬≠ning issue, and take action accordingly.‚ÄĚ

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mckenna Schueler is a¬†free¬≠lance writer based in Tam¬≠pa, Flori¬≠da. She is an avid read¬≠er and con¬≠sumer of pod¬≠casts who writes about local news, pol¬≠i¬≠tics, and men¬≠tal health. She has had work pub¬≠lished in Cre¬≠ative Loaf¬≠ing Tam¬≠pa Bay, Orlan¬≠do Week¬≠ly, the Health at Every Size¬ģ blog, and McSweeney‚Äôs Inter¬≠net Ten¬≠den¬≠cy. You can find her on Twit¬≠ter @SheCarriesOn.

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California proves it’s not as liberal as you think

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OAKLAND, Calif. ‚ÄĒ The myth of lockstep liberal California took a hit this election.

Voters in the deep-blue state rejected a progressive push to reinstate affirmative action, sided with technology companies over organized labor and rejected rent control. They are poised to reject a business tax that had been a decadeslong priority for labor unions and Democratic leaders.

President Donald Trump regularly portrays California as a land of complete liberal excess, and Democrat Joe Biden currently has 65 percent of California’s vote. Yet decisions on ballot measures this week reflect a state that remains unpredictable, flashing a libertarian streak with a tinge of fiscal moderation within its Democratic moorings.https://e3b374dfacf220d92b4c6008a9eb8004.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not going to go for everything that‚Äôs progressive,” said Mindy Romero, head of the University of Southern California’s Center for Inclusive Democracy. ‚ÄúWe think of ourselves as such a progressive state, and I‚Äôve always said we‚Äôre a blue state but really we‚Äôre many shades of blue.”

California has long been an incubator for policies that go national, so industries and labor unions know that winning a ballot fight here has much wider implications. Already, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Thursday that he wants to build on his California success by pursuing the same law in other states and nations. And just as the state’s 1996 affirmative action ban touched off a similar set of laws across the nation, the California vote this week could deter other states from trying to reinstate racial or gender preferences.

The ballot outcomes underscore that California voters are not a liberal monolith even as Democrats enjoy unprecedented control in the state that produced Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Liberals thought 2020 was their moment to secure long-desired changes: California’s electorate has steadily more diverse and Democratic in recent decades, relegating its once-mighty Republican Party to the political margins. A deeply galvanizing presidential election tantalized liberal groups as a potential high-water mark for turnout and a chance to enshrine ambitious ideas.

Decades after a more Republican California electorate curtailed property tax increases in 1978 and banned affirmative action in 1996, campaigns believed that demographic shifts would produce different outcomes a generation later.

But they seemingly miscalculated. There was no bigger example than voters’ decisive rejection of Proposition 16. The ballot measure would have reinstated affirmative action and directly repudiated what liberals consider a racist chapter of California’s recent past.

State lawmakers, inspired by a summer of racial justice activism, saw a rare window to repeal Proposition 209, the 1996 law backed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican widely blamed for turning Latino voters against the GOP for good in the state. The affirmative action ban passed when California still had a white majority population, and it was the second major wedge issue initiative that Wilson championed.

Many of the Democratic lawmakers of color who placed the repeal measure on this year’s ballot were inspired to enter politics during that divisive era. They saw Proposition 16 as not only a legal change but a moral imperative ‚ÄĒ and figured voters would as well.

The ballot measure had a clear cash advantage with $31 million from wealthy activist donors and foundations, compared to only $1.6 million raised by opponents. Yet it failed badly, securing only 44 percent support as of Thursday.

California is not uniformly liberal. It is still home to millions of Republicans, while the ever-larger Democratic tent includes plenty of moderates. And the state’s booming minority population still lags in voter participation.

“We have a history of being a more red state,” Romero said. “A big reason why California is blue is because of the growth of communities of color, most dominantly because of the growth of the Latino community,” but “it does matter the shape of the electorate. We still have a voting electorate that is white, wealthier, better educated than the rest of our population.”

Democrats saw a chance to go after another long-sought target: commercial property tax hikes.

Since its passage in 1978, Proposition 13 has been blamed for starving governments and schools of tax dollars by keeping property taxes low relative to the soaring value of housing and commercial real estate in California. Liberals acknowledge the political reality that they can’t convince homeowners to repeal Prop 13 provisions on residential property, often called the third rail of California politics. But they have long wanted to untether business property from the same protections.

Unions, education groups and the foundation started by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were so convinced that November 2020 was their best opportunity that they gathered enough signatures for the ballot twice, the second one taking revisions they believed were an easier sell. It landed on the ballot as Proposition 15.

They presumed that high turnout from liberals and anti-Trump voters would translate into an anti-business vote; their ads regularly featured white businessmen in board rooms as a foil. Yet the initiative is poised to lose, trailing with only 48.3 percent of the vote.

Former Assemblymember Catharine Baker, a moderate Republican who was the last GOP lawmaker from the Bay Area, suggested Prop 15’s failure could “be an example of how a gigamajority Legislature might have not its finger on the pulse of the California electorate.”

The pandemic loomed inescapably over the election and reshaped campaigns’ appeals to voters. On Proposition 15, for example, backers argued they needed the money more than ever during a debilitating recession, while opponents countered that it would be foolish to further burden reeling businesses. The message of economic caution appeared to resonate, Baker said.

‚ÄúThere‚Äôs just no embrace right now for Californians, many of whom are suffering economically, for more taxes, the possible cost of that, and any closure of economic activity,‚ÄĚ Baker said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs made all the worse by the pandemic, in a time like this you want people to be able to make a living and be able to afford living here.‚ÄĚ

Yet, the California electorate defies easy conclusions. The criminal justice landscape was a mixed bag after a year of surging activism. Voters handily rejected law enforcement’s effort to increase property crime sentences and limit early prison releases. They overwhelmingly voted to enfranchise felony parolees. Progressive Los Angeles district attorney candidate George Gascón built an early lead over incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey in a bellwether contest for criminal justice reform.

But Californians voted to keep cash bail, repudiating a 2019 law that sought to prohibit it and undercutting a state-by-state movement to eliminate the practice. In rejecting Proposition 25, the electorate sided with bail companies that spent millions to stay in business. They also vindicated civil libertarians and criminal justice advocates who warned a replacement system of predictive algorithms would perpetuate discrimination.

Those dynamics led the bail bonds industry to adopt the rhetoric of criminal justice reformers in warning about systemic bias ‚ÄĒ a tactic that reflected a calculation that progressive messages would resonate with voters.

‚ÄúI think they knew they had to in order to win,‚ÄĚ said Democratic strategist Katie Merrill. ‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt win statewide in California on issues unless you are appealing to Democrats and progressives, and they knew they had to do it.‚ÄĚ

Those licking their wounds this week pointed to one thing: money.

They said massive campaign spending can be a better predictor than partisan affiliation when it comes to ballot initiatives. Health care unions failed again to rein in kidney dialysis providers after they were outspent enormously by the dialysis industry’s $100 million counterattack. Real estate groups poured money into defeating a second consecutive rent control initiative.

But nowhere was cash clout more evident than in a battle over the tech industry’s employment practices. Homegrown Silicon Valley giants like Uber shattered state spending records by plowing more than $200 million into Proposition 22, which allows them to circumvent a state mandate to convert their independent contractor workers into employees. That massive outlay was enough to surmount unified labor opposition.

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know if we should be looking at this as progressive versus not progressive or if we should be looking at the overwhelming impact that money has in campaigns,‚ÄĚ said Sandra Lowe, a Democratic consultant and former top California Democratic Party strategist. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs pretty hard to compete against $200 million of advertisements and most of the people that‚Äôs the only thing they know, is what they‚Äôre seeing on their television.‚ÄĚ

Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo echoed that sentiment, noting that for all of organized labor’s political California clout, “labor’s money isn’t infinite.” Well-funded special interest groups were better able to sway critical Democrats, he said.

‚ÄúCalifornia‚Äôs a liberal, Democratic state so if Democrats want to get an initiative passed it‚Äôs really on the backs of Democrats,” Trujillo said, and “for the most part, the folks that were able to get their message through in a very expensive state like California tended to do well.”

Some campaigns likely had a harder time breaking through airwave saturation and mailbox inundation of other big-money measures, said Public Policy Institute of California president Mark Baldassare. That may have been the case with affirmative action, which failed despite polls showing widespread support for racial equity measures. Though backers had $31 million, that was a fraction of the money other campaigns had to blitz voters.

‚ÄúIt was a very difficult landscape for other ballot initiatives to get attention and get support for voters,‚ÄĚ which often means people default to voting no, Baldassare said. ‚ÄúThe connecting of dots in some cases just didn‚Äôt take place.‚ÄĚ

Still, Republican consultant Rob Stutzman pushed back on the notion that cash mismatches were the sole determining factor in organized labor getting “creamed at the ballot.”

If money exclusively swung elections, Stutzman argued on a post-election panel, “there would be 60 Democratic senators as well,” referring to cash-soaked challenges to GOP senators like Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn and Lindsey Graham, all of whom won.

This article was originally published by Politico on November 12, 2020 Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeremy B. White co-writes the California Playbook and covers politics in the Golden State. He previously covered the California Legislature for the Sacramento Bee, where he reported on campaigns, myriad nationally significant policy clashes and multiple FBI investigations of sitting lawmakers.

He has a bachelor‚Äôs degree in English from Tufts University and a master‚Äôs degree in journalism from Columbia University. A native of Bethesda, Maryland, one of his life dreams is to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game ‚ÄĒ although he would settle for winning a playoff series. He lives in Oakland with his partner and his cat, Ziggy Pawdust.

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Bernie Sanders Is Actively Running for Labor Secretary

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.) is active­ly reach­ing out to allies in a bid to build sup­port for being picked as Sec­re­tary of Labor in the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, accord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton source who spoke to Sanders directly. 

Sanders‚Äô inter¬≠est in the posi¬≠tion was report¬≠ed by Politi¬≠co in Octo¬≠ber, pri¬≠or to Biden‚Äôs vic¬≠to¬≠ry in the pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial elec¬≠tion. At the time, Sanders said he was focused sole¬≠ly on the elec¬≠tion ahead. Last week, Axios report¬≠ed that Biden‚Äôs team was ?‚Äúcon¬≠sid¬≠er¬≠ing an infor¬≠mal ban on nam¬≠ing Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic U.S. sen¬≠a¬≠tors to the Cab¬≠i¬≠net if he wins,‚ÄĚ which would pre¬≠clude Sanders from being selected. 

If that is the case, Sanders him¬≠self is not let¬≠ting it slow him down. This week, he has already begun mak¬≠ing calls to allies in pol¬≠i¬≠tics and the labor world, say¬≠ing that he wants to make a run at the posi¬≠tion of Labor Secretary. 

Phil Scott, the Repub¬≠li¬≠can gov¬≠er¬≠nor of Ver¬≠mont, said last month that he would appoint a replace¬≠ment who would cau¬≠cus with Democ¬≠rats should Sanders leave the Sen¬≠ate to join the Biden admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion, a move that means Democ¬≠rats would not be at risk of los¬≠ing a valu¬≠able Sen¬≠ate vote. Still, the con¬≠ven¬≠tion¬≠al wis¬≠dom is that Biden‚Äôs abil¬≠i¬≠ty to get very pro¬≠gres¬≠sive cab¬≠i¬≠net sec¬≠re¬≠taries like Sanders con¬≠firmed hinges on the Democ¬≠rats tak¬≠ing con¬≠trol of the Sen¬≠ate?‚ÄĒ?an uncer¬≠tain propo¬≠si¬≠tion that would require them win¬≠ning two runoff elec¬≠tions in Georgia. 

Oth¬≠er names float¬≠ed recent¬≠ly as pos¬≠si¬≠bil¬≠i¬≠ties for Biden‚Äôs Labor Sec¬≠re¬≠tary include for¬≠mer Cal¬≠i¬≠for¬≠nia Labor com¬≠mis¬≠sion¬≠er Julie Su, AFL-CIO econ¬≠o¬≠mist Bill Sprig¬≠gs, and Michi¬≠gan con¬≠gress¬≠man Andy Levin?‚ÄĒ?him¬≠self a for¬≠mer AFL-CIO offi¬≠cial. Major unions have not come for¬≠ward with for¬≠mal endorse¬≠ments, but all of the can¬≠di¬≠dates have their back¬≠ers inside orga¬≠nized labor. (Levin has already received the pub¬≠lic sup¬≠port of Chris Shel¬≠ton, the head of the Com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ca¬≠tions Work¬≠ers of Amer¬≠i¬≠ca.) Though Biden‚Äôs record is not as pro¬≠gres¬≠sive on labor issues as Sanders, he ran as a vocal ally of unions, and his choice for Labor Sec¬≠re¬≠tary will be expect¬≠ed to have strong pro-union bona fides. 

The news that Sanders is still try¬≠ing for the posi¬≠tion is sure to ener¬≠gize pro¬≠gres¬≠sives who believe that they are owed sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant rewards for their sup¬≠port of Biden dur¬≠ing the cam¬≠paign. After Biden won the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry, he formed a task force with sup¬≠port¬≠ers of both him and Sanders, which issued a set of rec¬≠om¬≠men¬≠da¬≠tions wide¬≠ly seen as a tool to pull Biden to the left. Hav¬≠ing Bernie Sanders as Labor Sec¬≠re¬≠tary would give him an inside perch from which to launch efforts to put those rec¬≠om¬≠men¬≠da¬≠tions into prac¬≠tice inside the administration. 

Today, Biden’s tran­si­tion team announced the mem­bers of its Agency Review teams, which are tasked with prepar­ing each fed­er­al agency for the new admin­is­tra­tion. Among the 23 mem­bers assigned to review the Depart­ment of Labor is Josh Orton, a senior advi­sor to Bernie Sanders. Orton declined to com­ment on Sanders’ pur­suit of the agency’s top job. A spokesper­son for Sanders’ office also declined to comment.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ¬≠ing about labor and pol¬≠i¬≠tics for Gawk¬≠er, Splin¬≠ter, The Guardian, and else¬≠where. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

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What a Biden victory will mean for the American workforce

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With Joe Biden about to enter the Oval Office, the American workplace is going to look much different.

The former vice president and U.S. senator has four decades of relationships with union leaders behind him, setting him up to potentially be the most labor-friendly president the U.S. has ever had.

Biden, who won the endorsement of almost every major union in the country, has made labor reform a fundamental part of his program and is widely expected to name at least one union leader to his Cabinet.

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think [Obama] ‚Äėgot‚Äô labor. And I think Biden gets it,‚ÄĚ said Bill Spriggs, the AFL-CIO‚Äôs chief economist. ‚ÄúWhen Biden walks in a room with labor leaders, he feels like ‚ÄėOh, I‚Äôm at home.‚Äô”

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to stoke permanent job losses and compromise worker safety, the case for structural change may be stronger than ever.

‚ÄúThe coronavirus has raised public consciousness and awareness about the plight of the working class in America, including low-wage workers and the kind of people who used to be unionized, and revealed the utter lack of worker protections,‚ÄĚ former Labor Secretary Robert Reich told POLITICO.

The scope of what Biden can accomplish could be limited by the Senate, where two crucial races ‚ÄĒ both in Georgia ‚ÄĒ won’t be decided until runoffs take place in January. If Republicans maintain control of the chamber, that could curtail many of Biden’s plans.

Still, the transition will be a sharp turn from the Trump White House, under which union membership has droppedpay inequity has widened and enforcement has dwindled. Some of the Democrats’ highest priorities will be counteracting action taken ‚ÄĒ or in some cases, not taken ‚ÄĒ by the current administration.

‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a litany of things the Trump administration has done that we have to undo,‚ÄĚ said Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee.

Here are some things lawmakers and experts say workers and employers can expect from a Biden White House:

1. Heightened worker safety enforcement

One of the first things a Biden administration will likely move to do is instruct the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to step up worker safety enforcement, including by enacting an Emergency Temporary Standard, or a set of guidelines governing how employers must protect their employees from Covid-19, and ramping up penalties on violators.

With an estimated 72,015 workers having tested positive for coronavirus and 315 fatalities in the food system alone, Democrats and labor advocates have become increasingly vocal in criticizing the Labor Department for what they say is leniency. Despite having received more than 10,000 complaints since the pandemic started, the agency hasn’t proposed a penalty greater than $30,000 for coronavirus-related risks, even in cases where workers died. And Republicans have shot down an emergency standard, insisting that employers need extra flexibility during the recession.

Biden‚Äôs campaign advocated to ‚Äúimmediately release and enforce an [ETS] to give employers and frontline employees specific, enforceable guidance on what to do to reduce the spread of COVID‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúdouble the number of OSHA investigators to enforce the law and existing standards and guidelines.‚ÄĚ

2. Pursuit of progressive labor policy

Biden campaigned on enacting much of the Democratic labor legislation passed out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi‚Äôs House in 2020 and 2019. He said in July that he would push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminate the so-called tipped wage, which allows employers to count tips toward servers‚Äô mandated wages ‚ÄĒ both provisions included in the House-passed Raise the Wage Act. The federal minimum wage hasn‚Äôt gone up since 2009, when it was hiked to $7.25.

Biden also¬†pledged¬†he would sign¬†the House-passed Protecting the Right to Organize Act,¬†or PRO Act, which would strengthen workers’ ability to unionize, including by allowing them to form unions via card-check elections, where employees sign forms authorizing the union to represent them.

‚ÄúThe PRO Act would be the most important labor law reform since the Wagner Act itself in 1935 or the National Labor Relations Act,‚ÄĚ Levin said.

Passing these bills will be highly unlikely if Republicans control the Senate. And even if some of the measures made it through, signing them would be an uphill battle for Biden, who will have to balance unions’ demands with competing business interests and some of the more moderate voices that helped win him the office.

‚ÄúThe business community is going to place a lot of demands on Biden and the Biden administration,‚ÄĚ Reich said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not going to like his tax increases on the wealthy and on big corporations; it‚Äôs not going to like his environmental regulations and laws he has promised.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúAnd there‚Äôs only a limited amount of political capital that a new president has.‚ÄĚ

3. A boost to manufacturing via trade

Biden has been outspoken against Trump‚Äôs trade war with China, labeling some of the White House‚Äôs tariffs “damaging” and “disastrous.‚ÄĚ Were he to lift some of the Trump administration‚Äôs trade restrictions, it could provide an immediate boost to the manufacturing workforce. Despite gaining 66,000 jobs in September, factory employment is still down 647,000 jobs from February because of the pandemic, according to Labor Departments statistics.

In his manufacturing plan, Biden advocates for ‚Äúa Pro-American worker tax and trade strategy to fix the harmful policies of the Trump Administration and give our manufacturers and workers the fair shot they need,‚ÄĚ along with a series of tax credits and executive actions. Although Biden could in theory lift any tariff as soon as he took office, he must also answer to business and other interests that might want the restrictions to stay in place for months as he forms a plan. A top trade adviser said his administration wouldn’t rule out imposing new tariffs on imports.

Unions including the United Steelworkers, which represents over a million workers and retirees across several manufacturing industries, say they have confidence in Biden’s plan whatever it may entail.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro‚Äôs daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.

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Voters pass pro-worker laws where the Congress lags, this week in the war on workers

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The presidential and Senate elections were the headlines on Tuesday and through the rest of the week, but it‚Äôs worth noting a few key places where voters said yes to ballot measures making life a little better for working families. In Florida, voters passed a $15 minimum wage amendment. It phases in very slowly, not reaching $15 until 2026, but it‚Äôs progress. If you‚Äôre wondering WTF is going on with more than 60% support for a minimum wage increase while Donald Trump won the state, welcome to Florida. The state‚Äôs voters did the exact same thing in 2004, voting for George W. Bush and a minimum wage increase.

Colorado voters passed paid family leave. The state legislature had failed to pass such a bill, so organizers took it to the voters, and won. The law, which doesn‚Äôt go into effect until 2024, will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave at between 65% and 90% of their pay, up to $1,100 per week. It‚Äôs funded by a payroll tax.

And Arizona voters approved a tax on high-income households that will raise hundreds of millions of dollars for education. That comes after Arizona teachers went on strike for school funding in 2018.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

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